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Useful Test Adapters for EMC Testing and Electronics Development

Working in an EMC test lab means I get to see all kinds of equipment. No two devices are ever the same so I have to make up / adapt cables to interface various devices. If you work with a wide range of products or just want a bit more versatility in your lab then read on.

I have no affiliation to any of these products, I just use them a lot.

Clever Little Boxes

These versatile little test adapters from Clever Little Boxes are great for being able to quickly hook up one thing to another. As you can see they come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve got a box full of various ones, including the ones shown in the above photo.

Go Bananas

The ubiquitous 4mm “banana” plug and socket is super common on power supplies and other kinds of test equipment. They give a surprisingly low resistance connection for their size which, along with their simplicity, goes a long way to explaining their popularity.

If you’ve ever made up a cable assembly with standard connectors then you know they can be a pain. That’s why I really like these connectors that have a spring loaded gate that accepts a bare wire up to 2.5mm^2.

I’ve just got the standard red and black colours to keep things simple. These work well when paired with a set of crocodile clips

Get Me a Crocodile Sandwich…

I really like to pair these crocodile clips with the 4mm connectors above for super versatile connections to anything big like metal frames or enclosures of equipment.

Hook and Spring

Big numb adapters get a bit crowded when trying to connect onto individual connector pins or component legs. That’s where these teeny spring clips come in. I’ve often ended up with one of my development boards looking like an electronic porcupine with these stuck all over them!

 

Something More Permanent for Sir?

If I’m wiring up anything using mains voltages that I want to be a bit more permanent and safe then my go to are these spring terminal blocks from Wago. They are like choc block terminal strips with the main exception that these are not rubbish. Rated at 32A they can accept much larger wires that you would think and the spring clips retain the wires with a remorseless grip.

They come in multiple ways although I tend to use 2, 3 and 5 by default. Best of all they are ridiculously cheap. Just don’t get your thumbnail caught underneath the orange lever when it clicks down otherwise you’ll be using some language that is distinctly NSFW.

So “be prepared” (Scout motto) and happy testing.

James

 

p.s. don’t get me started on the adaptor vs adapter debate.

 

Simple RF Current Transformer for EMC / EMI Investigation

This post contains some background info related to the video I posted on YouTube on how to make a simple RF current transformer, a great tool for debugging EMC / EMI issues such as radiated emissions from cables, or tracing conducted RF immunity noise paths.

RF current transformers (or probes) are commercially available products from places like Fischer CC or Solar Electronics and they work really well, have specified bandwidth and power handling characteristics, built in shielding, robust case, etc.

They also cost a few hundred £$€ each which, if you are on a budget like most people, represents a significant investment for a individual or small laboratory. However, this one can be built very cheaply; most labs will have a development kit with some clip on ferrite cores, if not the core I used only costs £5 from RS.

DIY Current Probe

I’m a big fan of making my own test adaptors and equipment as its a great way to really understand how things work and the compromises in any design. As such I decided to share how I go about making this kind of really useful tool.

It’s primary use is for A-B comparison work; measuring the current, performing a modification and then measuring the current to see the improvement.

It is to be stressed that my version is a crude but effective piece of equipment and does not replace a well designed commercial product. There’s a time and a place to invest in quality equipment and one should use engineering judgement on when that is. For instance, measuring the RF current accurately is definitely a job for a properly designed and characterised device.

If you want to explore RF current transformers in more detail then there is plenty of info on Google, but these links are useful places to start.

Some of the design compromises involved in this low cost approach include:

Core Losses / Insertion Loss

The ferrite material in these cores is specifically designed to be lossy at the frequencies of interest, which will result in a lower reading than a higher bandwidth core and a reduction in the amount of noise on the cable downstream from the noise source. This can in some cases mask the effect you are trying to measure. The commercially available products use low loss, high bandwidth ferrite cores.

A high insertion loss also makes these parts more unsuitable for injecting noise into circuits for immunity testing. they can be calibrated for this task using a simple test setup (to be covered later)

Secondary Turns

Number of secondary turns controls sensitivity but the more you add, the inter-winding capacitance increases, decreasing the bandwidth of the tool. I generally use 5 or 6 turns to start with but I do have a 20 turn part made with micro coax on a solid core which also helps to deal with…

Capacitive pickup

From the cable under test to the secondary winding. Normally a split shield (so that it doesn’t appear as a shorted turn) is built in to commercial products. Guess what, that’s easy to do on this with a spot of copper tape or foil.

Not as Robust

Although a well designed product, the plastic hinges and clips on the cores are not designed for repeated opening and closing. The Wurth Elektronik system of a special key to open and close the core is much more robust at the expense of having to keep a few keys to hand for when they inevitably go missing. However these parts are so cheap and quick to make that a broken clip on core is no real obstacle.

Future Videos

I’ll be following this video with some hints and tips on how to use these devices effectively for finding radiated emissions problems and for looking at conducted RF immunity issues. Stay tuned.

Video and Construction Errata

The sharp eyed of you will have spotted that I originally assembled the BNC connector on the core so that it covered the key-way to open the clamp. I rectified this but didn’t film the change.

Also, you can wrap the wire round the core without removing it from the housing but that means you don’t have a nice flat surface to affix the BNC connector to. It does make it easier to close the clamp however so make your choice.