One of the realities of 2021 is that many engineers are still stuck at home with all the cool gadgets and gizmos collecting dust at work. How will you remain productive in the new world we live in? How much work can you do at home? That’ll depend on your projects. You’ll need the proper tools to accomplish your goals.

The Logistics of Bringing Test and Measurement Equipment Home

Many kindergarten teachers who have led their class to create macaroni sculptures will tell you, “There is only so much crap you can make with crap.” That’s also true of tools and test equipment. If you cannot go to work, either you or your employer will have to open up your pocketbooks to bring the work home to you.

The DSO213 4-channel handheld mini digital oscilloscope. Image used courtesy of SainSmart

These devices are small, portable, and very limited in what they can do. They supplement a fully-featured oscilloscope—they do not replace it. These are not logic analyzers, and they have no protocol analysis capabilities.

But the nice thing is that due to the price, I have no qualms about leaving this around my desktop or taking it out to the garage to troubleshoot my CNC machines. Its latest job in life was determining whether the output on the BNC port of a security camera was digital or analog. That gave me the idea it might be 3G-SDI.

A Word of Caution on Pocket T&M Equipment

After you fall in love with the pocket oscilloscopes, it’s likely tempting to find all the pocket-sized test equipment on the internet and add it to your shopping cart. But I encourage you not to go too hog wild.

These devices are more difficult to use and are counterfeited off-shore en mass. They also have a clunky user interface that takes some getting used to and have a limited operating frequency range. And I can’t imagine that they are calibrated all that carefully either.

Vector Network Analyzer

There are pocket-sized vector network analyzers available. That means they are able to capture the amplitude and the phase of a signal. The frequency range usually starts at 10 kHz and peaks around 1–1.5 GHz.

I have one for amateur radio antenna projects but do not use it regularly for work-related tasks. I don’t know how effective or accurate they are at capturing s-parameters, but I’m sure that the answer is disappointing. If you have experience with them in a production environment, please leave a comment below.

The SeeSii vector network analyzer (10 kHz–1.5 GHz). Image used courtesy of SeeSii and Amazon

You might instead consider the DG8SAQ VNWA 3SE fully-automatic, 2-port vector network analyzer. This device plugs straight into your computer and can be used for time-domain analysis, cable fault detection, and network matching. It also has high stability and high dynamic range. The operating frequency is from 1 kHz to 1.3 GHz, which covers several ISM bands.

This is an S11 plot of standing wave ratio (red), dB of loss (blue), and impedance (green). The plots indicate that this particular antenna is tuned for 453 MHz, but should perform adequately across the range of 445–455 MHz.

Sadly, moving up to 3 GHz maximum frequency requires a serious piece of kit and will require that you sell your car to afford it. To move up to 53 GHz requires that you sell a kidney or your first-born child. Personally, I recommend the child since you can’t make another kidney.

Multimeter

The multimeter you choose depends greatly on the type of work that you do. The level of precision, the number of functions, and data logging, among many other features are all options available to you. But you should also know that the multimeter no longer means simply resistance/capacitance/voltage.

Multimeters exist with infrared cameras built right in! FLIR and Fluke both have models available to choose from.

FLIR’s industrial imaging multimeter, the DM285. Image used courtesy of FLIR

The resolution of the IR camera might not be as good as a standalone IR camera, and the multimeter might have specifications that don’t lend it directly to microelectronics work. But if you work with line-voltage level devices, a compelling argument can be made to add this to your toolkit.

If you intend to use the IR camera for inspecting electronics circuits, you should choose a different model with higher resolution. A good rule of thumb is that the minimum width of the component you wish to inspect should be 3 pixels wide.

Alternatively, you might go with a benchtop multimeter that is capable of greater precision.

The SDM3045X 4 1/2 digits dual-display digital multimeter. Image used courtesy of Siglent Technologies

Something to keep in mind is that these devices, used carefully, last a very long time. I still have the same portable and benchtop multimeters that I purchased from RadioShack over two decades ago, and they still work as well today as they did when they were new—which is to say I can check battery voltages and perform other basic troubleshooting.

Consider investing in something that you plan to keep for a very long time.

Invest in Long-Lasting T&M Equipment

If you have to troubleshoot or bring up new designs, you need test equipment. It’s not cheap and someone has to pay for it. So your new job is to convince your boss that you need all of these tools to do your job. That can be difficult, but I have a simple solution: just let your boss know that I said it was okay.

This post was first published on: All About Circuits