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Calibrate power supplies, boost signal quality

04 Jan 2016  | Chris Grachanen

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Incorporating other test equipment such as an oscilloscope to actively monitor power supply signal integrity against performance specifications adds a resource burden to your work. Plus, using an oscilloscope comes with various measurement and safety issues to consider:

 • Probe loading effects
 • Probe ground lead acting as an antenna and picking up radiated noise signals
 • Nonstandard load feeding noise back to the output of the supply
 • Excessive ground loop(s) requiring isolating or floating the oscilloscope.
 • (For safety reasons, you should never float an oscilloscope.)
 • The need to add components such as capacitors, resistors, twisted wires, and/or coax to the test setup as recommended by the manufacturer to determine compliance, over-voltage protection, bandwidth limiting, etc.
Additionally, users would need to evaluate the monitored waveforms to determine if they are acceptable given their understanding/interpretation of the manufacturer's published specifications. Remember, influences from one or more of the aforementioned adulterations can affect a power supply's output.

Verifying signal integrity specifications is a normal part of calibrating power supplies. On occasion, a calibration reveals an underlying problem that could evolve into a costly failure if left unattended. Even worse, calibration could uncover safety issues such as faulty current limiting, loose/missing/dislodged hardware, and frayed power cords.

The proposition that active monitoring assures a power supply's performance is within all manufacturer's published specifications is, at best, highly unlikely. Calibration minimises a potential testing risk (liability) that you can avoid.

About the author
Chris Grachanen began his Metrology career as a US Air Force technician. Following a six-year enlistment, Chris went to work for US Navy calibration laboratories in Alaska and Bermuda and then NASA calibration laboratories at John Glenn Research Centre (OH) and Kennedy Space Centre (FL). After leaving NASA, Chris worked for Digital Equipment Corp. (MA) before accepting a position with Compaq Computer (TX) now known as Hewlett-Packard (HP). Chris is the operations manager for HP's Houston Metrology Group and holds the title of master engineer. Chris was appointed an ASQ fellow Nov 2013.

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