Source Measuring Units (SMUs): Adding Power and Flexibility to Test Equipment

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



The global test and measurement equipment market is expected to exceed $31 billion by 2025, according to a recent report from VNZ research. The major driver of this growth is the development of sophisticated modular test instrumentation. Not only does it have amazing networking and communications capabilities, the size, weight and power consumption of the actual equipment has dramatically shrunk. All this means that testing that had to be done on site just a short time ago is now portable.  

When a very major customer recently asked me about testing protection diodes to the datasheet specifications for very low leakage currents at low voltages, I realized I needed specialized test equipment to see if this could even be measured and documented. I contacted several makers of Source Measure Units (SMUs). Some didn’t respond. Others sent cryptic emails suggesting I buy an instrument from one of their distributors (translation: “good luck with that, we sales-qualified you, please stop bothering us.”)

The one positive response came from a long-famous maker of low-level measurement equipment who sent an SMU in about a week – and, my word, was it fantastic. First of all, the compact unit replaced what not long ago would have been a bench full of specialized equipment. The instrument could do Statistical Process Control (SPC) data analysis on a batch of 100 parts (which is what our customer wanted) using built-in software. It was very easy to use – no external computer, programming or equipment was needed. And the time it took to do the test was shaved to a fraction compared to what would have taken weeks of programming few years previously. I plugged a USB drive into the instrument, pulled off the data file -- including beautiful distribution curves and a complete report -- and emailed it to the customer. I also recommended they buy an SMU since the time and money savings were extraordinary. 

The communications capabilities and edge computing functions of today’s test and measurement equipment were unheard of until very recently. The equipment’s portability and ability to work on battery power means that you can take their advanced test and measurement and networking capabilities with you. You can also set up an instrument and take measurements remotely. This lets you look for events that occur infrequently and access the data logger functions over the internet from sites where it would be prohibitive to remain for long periods of time. 

Engineers and production professionals working on leading-edge technologies need the best test equipment possible. Additionally, ISO requires test equipment to be calibrated, typically yearly, to be compliant. So, managers, please don’t scrimp here! Get your people the best gear you can and keep it maintained, calibrated and traceable to NIST on the manufacturers’ recommended cycles. In the long run, you lower your costs by getting more ROI and value from the test gear than ever before.