Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in December 2012 they published the USB Power Monitor by Nicholas Vinen. Jaycar picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. This small device plugs inline between a USB port and another device, and can display the current drawn, power and voltage at the USB port with a large LCD module. This is useful when you’re experimenting with USB-powered devices such as Arduino projects or curious how external USB devices can affect your notebook computer’s battery drain.
The kit arrives in typical Jaycar fashion:
… everything necessary is included with the kit:
The instructions arrive as an updated reprint of the original magazine article, plus the usual notes from Jaycar about warranty and their component ID sheet which is useful for beginners. The PCB is quite small, and designed to be around the same size as the LCD module:
As you can see below, most of the work is already done due to the almost exclusive use of SMD components:
That’s a good thing if you’re in a hurry (or not the best with surface-mount work). Therefore the small amount of work requires is simply to solder in the USB sockets, the button and the LCD:
It took less than ten minutes to solder together. However – take careful, careful note of the LCD. There isn’t a pin 1 indicator on the module – so instead hold the LCD up to the light and determine which side of the screen has the decimal points – and line it up matching the silk-screening on the PCB. Once finished you can add the clear heatshrink to protect the meter, but remember to cut a small window at the back if you want access to the ICSP pins for the PIC microcontroller:
How it works
The USB current is passed through a 50 mΩ shunt resistor, with the voltage drop being measured by an INA282 current shunt monitor IC. The signal from there is amplified by an op amp and then fed to the ADC of a PIC18F45K80 microcontroller, which does the calculations and drives the LCD. For complete details purchase the kit or a copy of the December 2012 edition of Silicon Chip.
First you need to calibrate the unit – when first used the meter defaults to calibration mode. You simply insert it into a USB port. then measure the USB DC voltage brought out to two pads on the meter. By pressing the button you can match the measured voltage against the display as shown below – then you’re done.
Then you simply plug it in between your USB device and the socket. Press the button to change the measurement. The meter can measure the following ranges:
For an operational example. consider the next three images are from charging my phone – with the power, current and voltage being shown:
“P” for power…
current in mA
“b” for bus voltage
If you want to use the USB ports on the right-hand side of your computer, just press the button while inserting the meter – and it flips around:
Finally – here’s a quick video of the meter at work, whilst copying a file to an external USB hard drive:
I really like this – it’s simple and it works. Kudos to Nicholas for his project. You can purchase it from Jaycar and their resellers, or read more about it in the December 2012 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.
In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitter, Google+, subscribe for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other – and we can all learn something.
The purpose of this article is to examine the Tenma 72-7222 Digital Clamp Multimeter supplied for review by element-14/Farnell/Newark. The Tenma is a strongly featured yet inexpensive piece of test equipment – and considerably good value when you consider there is a current clamp for measuring high AC currents. So let’s have a look and see what we have.
The Tenma arrives in a retail box, and generally nicely packaged. Naturally this has nothing to do with the performance of the meter at all, but at least they made an effort:
Opening up we find a nicely rounded group of items: the meter itself, some no-name AAA cells, test leads, a thermocouple for temperature measurement, a surprisingly articulate and well-written user manual, and the unit itself – all within a nice pouch. Wow – a pouch. Agilent? Fluke? All that money for a DMM and you don’t include a pouch?
Recent test equipment reviewers have made pulling apart the unit part of the review – so here goes… the back comes off easily:
No user-replaceable fuses… instead a PTC. A closer look at the PCB:
A very neat and organised PCB layout. There are plastic tabs that hold the PCB in along with a screw, however the case flexed too much for me to warrant removing the PCB completely. The spring for the clamp meter is locked in nicely and very strong, it won’t give up for a long time. Pulling the clamp base out reveals the rest of the PCB:
Installation of the battery is two stage procedure, first you need to remove a screw and then slide out the rear door:
… then insert the AAA cells into a frame, which is then inserted inside the unit:
The physical feel of the unit is relative to the purchase price, the plastic is simple and could be quite brittle if the unit was dropped from a height. The user manual claims the unit can be dropped from up to a height of one metre. Onto carpet? Yes. Concrete? Perhaps not. However like all test equipment one would hope the user would take care of it whenever possible. The clamp meter is very strong due to the large spring inside the handle, which can be opened up to around 28mm. The included leads are just on one meter long including the length of the probe:
The leads are rated to Category I 1000V (overkill – the meter can’t go that high) and 600 V Category II – “This category refers to local-level electrical distribution, such as that provided by a standard wall outlet or plug in loads (for example, 115 AC voltage for U.S. or 200 AC voltage for Europe). Examples of Measurement Category II are measurements performed on household appliances, portable tools, and similar modules” – definition from from National Instruments. Unlike discount DMMs from unknown suppliers you can trust the rating to be true – otherwise element-14 wouldn’t be selling it.
- Voltage Measuring Range DC:200mV, 2V, 20V, 200V, 600V
- Voltage Measuring Range AC:2V, 20V, 200V, 600V
- Current Measuring Range AC:2A, 20A, 200A, 400A
- Resistance Measuring Range:200ohm, 2kohm, 20kohm, 200kohm, 2Mohm, 20Mohm
- Temperature Measuring Range:-40°C to +1000°C
- DMM Response Type:True RMS
- DMM Functions:AC Current, AC/DC Voltage, Resistance, Temperature
- Display Count:1999
- AC Current Range Accuracy:± (1.5% + 5d)
- AC Voltage Range Accuracy:± (1.2% + 5d)
- Accuracy:± (1.0% + 3d)
- Current AC Max:400A
- Current Range AC:2A, 20A, 200A, 400A
- DC Voltage Range Accuracy1:± (0.8% + 1d)
- Resistance Range Accuracy:± (1.0% + 2d)
- Temperature Measuring Range:-40°C to +1000°C
The only measurement missed out on is DC current, however there is the Tenma 72-7224 which has DC current and frequency ranges. Finally, all the modes and buttons can be selected while holding the meter with one hand – for both left- and right-handed folk.
Normally I would compare the measurements against my Agilent U1272A, however it’s out to lunch. Instead, a Fluke 233. First, AC voltage from the mains:
Next, a few DC voltage measurements:
Now for some resistance measurements. Higher values near the maximum of 20M Ohm can take around four seconds to measure:
Forward voltage of a 1N4004 diode:
Now off to the kitchen for some more measurements – first with the thermocouple:
The boiling water test – 100 degrees Celsius (you can also select Fahrenheit if so inclined):
And now to test out the AC current clamp meter function with a 10A kettle at boiling point. First, using the 20A current range:
And then again on the 400A current range:
As always, it’s best to use the multimeter range that more closely corresponds with the current under test. The meter also has a continuity test with a beeper, however it was somewhat slow and would often take around one second to register – so nothing too impressive on that front. The meter can record the maximum value with the grey button, or hold a reading using the yellow button.
The Tenma 72-7222 works as advertised, and as expected. It is a solid little unit that if looked after should last a few years at a minimum. It certainly has a few limitations, such as the 1999 count display, lack of backlight, and the average continuity function. But don’t let that put you off. For the price – under Au$30 – it is a certified deal. If you need a clamp current meter for odd jobs or a casual-use multimeter and you are on a limited budget, the Tenma will certainly prove a worthwhile purchase. Full-size images are available on Flickr.
Thanks for reading! Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitter, Google+, subscribe for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other – and we can all learn something.
Time for another kit review. Over the last few days I have been enjoying assembling a useful piece of test-equipment – a Current Clamp Meter adaptor. This kit was originally described in the September 2003 issue of Silicon Chip magazine. The purpose of this adaptor is to allow the measurement of AC current up to around 600 amps and DC current up to 900 amps. A clamp meter is a safe method of measuring such high currents (which can end you life very quickly) as they do not require a direct connection to the wire in question. As you would realise even a more expensive type of multimeter can only safely measure around ten amps of current, so a clamp meter becomes necessary.
To purchase a clamp meter can be expensive, starting from around $150. Therein lies the reason for this kit – under $30 and a few hours of time, as well as a multimeter that can measure millivolts DC/AC.
How the adaptor works is quite simple. It uses a hall-effect sensor to measure magenetic flux which is generated by the current flowing through the wire being measured. The sensor returns a voltage which is proportional to the amount of magnetic flux. This voltage is processed via an op-amp into something that can be measured using the millivolts AC/DC range of a multimeter. As the copyright for the kit is held by Silicon Chip magazine, I cannot give too much away about the design.
John’s soapbox: People may ask “hey, can you send me the schematic? I don’t want to pay for the reprinted article or buy the kit”. My answer will be no. The hobby electronics industry in this country is shrinking every day, so please support Leo and the gang at Silicon Chip by paying for a reprint or Altronics by buying the kit (it’s out of production at Jaycar). The less kits they sell, the less-inclined they will be to produce new kits.
You can purchase a complete kit from Altronics, or build one yourself by following the article in the magazine. The hall effect sensor UGN3503 is now out of production, but according to the data sheet (.pdf), the Allegro A1302 is a drop-in replacement.
Now, time to get started. To make life easier I forked out for the whole kit, which arrived as below:
Upon opening the bag up, one is presented with the following parts:
It is great to see everything required included with a kit. And the extra battery-clamp is a nice bonus. As usual an IC socket was not included, however these can be had for less than five cents each… so I have recently solved that problem by importing a few hundred myself. The hall effect sensor is very small; considering the graph paper below is 5mm square:
The PCB was very well done – to a degree. The solder-mask and silk-screening was up to standard:
… however a few holes needed some adjustment. Doing a component test-fit before soldering really paid off, as none of the holes for the PCB pins were large enough to accept the pins, and one of the sensor socket holes needed some modification:
A small hand-held drill is always a handy thing to have around. Once those errors were taken care of, actually soldering the components to the PCB was simple and took less than ten minutes. The potentiometer VR3 needed to be elevated by 3.5mm so it would fit through the enclosure panel in line with the power switch. As I couldn’t use PCB pins, a few link offcuts from the resistors worked just as well. When soldering the components, start with the low-profile items such as resistors, and finish with the switch and potentiometer:
Now it was time to make the clamp. First up was to cut the iron-powdered toroidal core in half. All I had to do this with was a small hacksaw, so I hacked away at it for about half an hour. This process will make a mess, filings will go everywhere. So you will need some pointless rubbish to catch the filings with:
Each half of the core is placed inside the clamp. Until I am completely happy with the clamp they will be held in with blutac. A lead also needs to be constructed, with the sensor at one end and the 3.5mm stereo plug at the other. Some heatshrink is provided to cover the ribbon cable, but I recommend placing some over the solder joints where the sensor meets the ribbon cable, as such:
Next, the sensor needs to be placed between the two halves of the core – however a piece of plastic slightly thicker needs to sit next to the sensor, to stop the clamp damaging the sensor by closing down on it. Then, using the continuity function of a multimeter, check that there aren’t any shorts in the lead. Feed the newly-constructed lead through the battery clamp in order to keep things relatively neat and tidy, and you should result with something like this:
As you can see I have had a few attempts at cutting the core. The next step was to drill the holes for the enclosure, and then solder the wires that run from the PCB, run them through the hole in the side of the enclosure, and fasten the banana plugs to plug into the multimeter.
Now it was time to start calibration. There are two stages to this, and both are explained well in the instructions. This involves adjusting the trimpots which control the output voltage in millivolts, which can be affected by charge in the human body. Therefore it is recommended to use a plastic screwdriver/trimming tool to make the adjustments:
They are generally available in a set or pack for a reasonable price. The second stage of calibration involves creating a dummy DC current load using a 12v power supply, 5 metres of enamelled copper wire and a 18 ohm 5 watt resistor:
By putting 100 turns of the copper wire around one side of the clamp, putting the resistor in series and looping it into 12 volts, the current drawn will be 0.667 amps. (Ohm’s law – voltage/resistance = current). Then it is a simple task to set the multimeter to millivolts DC and adjust potentiometer VR1 until it displays 66.7 mA:
So there you have it – 66.7 millivolts on the multimeter represents 660 milliamps of current. So 1 amp of current will be 100 millivolts on your multimeter. Excellent – it works! The whole mess was inserted into the enclosure, and I was left with something that looked not terribly unprofessional (time to invest in a label-maker):
It turns out that the thick OFC cable and the battery wouldn’t be able to coexist in the enclosure, so the battery is external.
The current clamp meter kit was an interesting and satisfying kit to assemble. Originally I assumed it would be simple, but it required plenty of drilling, cutting the darn toroid in half, tricky soldering for the clamp lead, and some patience with lining up the holes for the enclosure. Not a kit for the raw beginner, but ideal for teaching with a beginner to improve their assembly skills, or anyone with some experience. Plus it really does work, so money has been saved by not having to buy a clamp meter or adaptor.
As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter or facebook, or join our Google Group for further discussion.
High resolution images are available on flickr.
[Note - The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]
Otherwise, have fun, be good to each other – and make something!
Time for a new component review – the Linear Technology LTC6991 low frequency oscillator. This is part of Linear‘s Timerblox series of tiny timing devices. The full range is described on their web site. It is available in DFN or SOT-23 (below) packaging. Our example for today:
The graph paper in the image is 5mm square, so the IC itself is tiny yet worthwhile challenge. Although reading the data sheet may convince you it is a difficult part to use, it is actually quite simple. This article will give you the “simple way”.
Once again I have lashed out and will hand-solder an SMD onto a SOT-23 board:
Messy, but it works. Moving along…
My reason for examining the LTC6991 was as a lower-power substitute to using a 555 timer to create a square wave at various frequencies. Normally I wouldn’t give two hoots about the current draw, as everything on my bench is powered from a lab supply.
However when designing things for external use, they are usually powered by a battery of some sort or solar – so the less current drawn the better. The bog-standard TI NE555 has a current draw (with output high) of between two and five milliamps (at 5V). Which doesn’t sound like much – but our 6991 is around 100 to 170 microamps at 5V. These figures are for the respective timers without an output load. You can source up to 20mA from the output of the 6991, and when doing so will naturally increase the current load – but still it will be less than our triple-nickel.
The LTC6991 offers a period range of 1 millisecond to 9.5 hours; which translates to a frequency range of 29.1 microhertz to 977 Hz, with a maximum frequency error or <1.5%. Only one to three external resistors are required to setup your timing requirements. For a more detailed explanation, please see the data sheet.pdf. The duty cycle defaults to 50% however this can be altered by using the IC in voltage-controlled period mode.
Linear have made using the IC very easy by providing an Excel spreadsheet you can use to make your required calculations, available from this page. For example, to create a 1 Hz oscillator, we enter our figures in as such:
and the macro returns the following details:
Very convenient – a schematic, the required resistors, and example timing diagram. I recreated this example, however not having the exact values in stock caused a slight increase in frequency – with Rset at 750k, Rdiv1 at 910k and Rdiv2 at 180k my frequency was 3.1 Hz. Therefore to match the accuracy of the LTC6991 you need to ensure a your external components are close to spec and a very low tolerance. It produces a good square-wave:
If you cannot use the exact resistor values recommended, use resistors in series or parallel to achieve the desired values. Don’t forget to measure them in real life if possible to ensure your accuracy does not suffer.
Pin one (RST) can be left floating for nomal oscillation, when high it resets the IC and forces output (pin six) low. As you can see, it is very simple to use especially with the provided spreadsheet. The required formulae are also provided in the data sheet if you wish to do your own calculations. Pulse width can be controlled with a fourth resistor Rpw, and is explained on page sixteen of the data sheet.
Although physically it may be difficult to use as it is SMD, the power requirements and the ability to generate such a wide range of oscillations with so few external parts makes the LTC6991 an attractive proposition.
As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.
[Note - The LTC6991was a personally-ordered sample unit from Linear and reviewed without notification]
Otherwise, have fun, be good to each other – and make something!
Today we are going to start examining Optocouplers. These are an interesting and quite convenient component, and relatively easy to implement.
First of all, what is an optocoupler?
It is a small device that allows the transmission of a signal between parts of a circuit while keeping those two parts electrically isolated. How is this so? Inside our typical optocoupler are two things – an LED and a phototransistor. When a current runs through the LED, it switches on - at which point the phototransitor detects the light and allows another current to flow through it. And then when the LED is off, current cannot flow through the phototransistor. All the while the two currents are completely electrically isolated (when operated within their stated parameters!)
Let’s have a look at some typical optocouplers. Here are the schematic symbols for some more common units (click to enlarge):
Switching DC current will flow from A to B, causing current to flow from C to D. The schematic for figure one is a simple optocoupler, consisting of the LED and the photo-transistor. However, this is not suitable for AC current, as the diode will only conduct current in one direction. For AC currents, we have an example in figure two – it has diodes positioned to allow current to flow in either polarity. Figure three is an optocoupler with a photodarlington output type. These have a much higher output gain, however can only handle lesser frequencies (that is, they need more time to switch on and off).
Physically, optocouplers can be found in the usual range of packaging, such as:
Notice the DIP casing doesn’t have the semi-circle moulded into one end like ICs do, so the white dot indicates pin one.
Some of you may be thinking “why use an optocoupler, I have a relay?” Good question. There are many reasons, including:
- Size and weight. Relays are much larger, and heavier;
- Solid state – no moving parts, so no metal fatigue;
- Optocouplers are more suited to digital electronics – as they don’t have moving parts they can switch on and off much quicker than a relay;
- Much less current required to activate than a relay coil
- The input signal’s impedance may change, which could affect the circuit – using an optocoupler to split the signal removes this issue;
Furthermore, the optocoupler has many more interesting uses. Their property of electrical isolation between the two signals allows many things to be done. For example:
- you might wish to detect when a telephone is ringing, in order to switch on a beacon. However you cannot just tap into the telephone line. As the ring is an AC current, this can be used with an AC-input optocoupler. Then when the line current starts (ring signal) the optocoupler can turn on the rest of your beacon circuit. Please note that you most likely need to be licensed to do such things. Have a look at the example circuits in this guide from Vishay: Vishay Optocouplers.pdf.
- You need to send digital signals from an external device into a computer input – an optocoupler allows the signals to pass while keeping the external device electrically isolated from the computer
- You need to switch a very large current or voltage, but with a very small input current;
- and so on…
But as expected, the optocoupler has several parameters to be aware of. Let’s look at a data sheet for a very common optocoupler, the 4N25 – 4N25 data sheet.pdf – and turn to page two. The parameters for the input and output stages are quite simple, as they resemble those of the LED and transistor. Then there is the input to output isolation voltage – which is critical. This is the highest voltage that can usually be applied for one second that will not breach the isolation inside the optocoupler.
Side note: You may hear about optoisolators. These are generally known as optocouplers that have output isolation voltages of greater than 5000 volts; however some people regularly interchange optocouplers and optoisolators.
The next parameter of interest is the current-transfer ratio, or CTR. This is the ratio between the output current flow and the input current that caused it. Normally this is around ten to fifty percent – our 4N25 example is twenty percent at optimum input current. CTR will be at a maximum when the LED is the brightest – and not necessarily at the maximum current the LED can handle. Once the CTR is known, you can configure your circuit for an analogue response, in that the input current (due to the CTR) controls the output current.
Finally, the frequency, or bandwidth the optocoupler can accept. Although this can be measured in microseconds, these parameters can be altered by other factors. For example, the higher the frequency of the current through the input stage, the less accurate the output stage can render the signal. The phototransistors can also be a function of the maximum bandwidth; furthermore if the optocoupler has a darlington output stage, the bandwidth can be reduced by a factor of ten. Here is an example shown on the old cathode-ray oscilloscope. I have set up a digital pulse, at varying frequencies. The upper channel on the display is the input stage, and the lower channel is the output stage:
Notice as the frequency increases, the ability of the output stage to accurately represent the input signal decreases, for example the jitter and the generally slow fall time. Therefore, especially working with high speed digital electronics, the bandwidth of your optocoupler choice does need to be taken into account.
Thus ends the introduction to optocouplers. I hope you understood and can apply what we have discussed today. In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitter, Google+, subscribe for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other – and we can all learn something.