Power Electronics Enables Test and Measurement Developments

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering, TSC, America


The integration trends driving the test and measurement and the power electronics industries are symbiotic.

As someone involved with the semiconductor world for several decades, I’d describe the relationship with the test companies like this: We need better test equipment performance to assist in advancing power electronics technology and the test equipment industry is benefitting from power electronics developments to create higher performing gear. The culmination of this balancing act has led to simply amazing test equipment consisting of a bench full of instrumentation incorporated into a single, portable box that consumes less power, is smaller and weighs less than ever before. Additionally, the combined bench of instruments rivals the accuracy – and cost – of the individual pieces of equipment used in the past.

A case in point is a Viavi 8800 digital and analog radio test instrument that I was able to test out recently. One small portable box, which self-calibrates every time it’s turned on, contains (and replaces) an accurate power meter, a DMM, a frequency counter, an oscilloscope, two function generators for audio, an RF generator/spectrum analyzer + tracking generator, an analyzer for analog and digital radio modes, and more. It even contains ATE for radios, including eye diagrams for digital modes. (It took a rack full of instrumentation to build an ATE system a few years ago.) You can also measure distance to fault, measure antenna performance and align duplexers – and it’s all housed in a 34.3 cm x 29.3 cm x 14.6 cm box that weighs about 17 lbs. and runs from battery power for two-three hours.

Another example is the new Ridley Box, which I also recently tested. It comprises a 4-channel scope, a frequency response analyzer, expert system design software, a spectrum analyzer, an injection isolator, and a PC.  Ridley works design software and PSIM simulation software in a small box that you can put in a briefcase. All this is much lower cost than individual equipment, plus the size and weight and power consumption are extremely low.

This portability trend in the test and measurement market has meant that those of us in the power electronics industry are seeing more lab bench space available due to the integration and smaller size of these tools. USB connectivity and PC interfaces also offer exceptional real-time data and reporting capabilities for the user. The low pricing is such that no one is left out, and the low weight and small size means that your equipment can be used remotely. For instance, you can use the instruments at home during a pandemic and take them back in the lab when things return to normal.

The bottom line is that the need in the test and measurement industry for portable equipment, matched with the semiconductor industry’s advancements in integration, has led to exceptionally small, light and high-performance test instrumentation at affordable prices. This trend not only creates a great market for component suppliers, everyone gets better test and measurement gear that constantly pushes the boundaries of what is possible.