Multimeter: The Swiss Knife of Electronic Test & Measurement Tools

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Recently, there has been a move towards increasing the functionality of many Electronic Test & Measurement tools that engineers use. The supposition is if one tool can do multiple tasks, engineers will need fewer tools, which can mean fewer tools on the workbench and fewer tools to calibrate. However, it has been indicated additional functions may limit the effectiveness of a tool to complete its primary task and any secondary features may not perform as well as a single-purpose product.

A multimeter is a multipurpose tester that has been a commonly used test tool that has been around a long time. Although analog multimeters are still being used, most multimeters now are digital. For engineers, it is a must have portable tool.

The latest DMM models have increased capabilities along with wireless functionality, and virtually limitless options. A single multimeter can meet varying needs.
Engineers may be more interested in fast go/no-go (noncontact) testing for voltage presence, and low-impedance modes for preventing false readings caused by ghost voltage.

Instead of searching for a digital multimeter that has 20 or 30 dial positions to cover every possible measurement, engineers should look for a DMM with measurement capabilities that fit their most common tasks. Wireless communications is a common feature of digital multimeters. These units take a single, momentary measurement and stores it in a database. Having the capability to store readings can prove helpful when conducting a series of readings that need to be logged. Taking it a step further, advanced DMMs offer Bluetooth capabilities to stream readings to a mobile device which would display readings remotely. Using a smartphone or tablet for remote viewing can help improve safety and also make it easier to operate equipment not immediately adjacent to the point of measurement.

Current multimeters are more versatile beyond the scope of standard multiple measurement modes. For example, a low-pass filter can ensure precision readings even when signals are noisy. It would be useful for working on variable frequency drives [VFDs]. Low Z mode does not allow so-called ‘ghost voltage’ to affect readings. Point-and-shoot infrared surface temperature measurement is a popular option on multimeters.

Also, richer, higher quality color displays has increased the usability of multimeters. High-contrast, dot-matrix LCDs are easier to read and brings the multimeter display beyond numerical values and labels and to a more advanced graphical reading displays for better testing results. A side benefit of being able to incorporate mobile capabilities is connectivity with other tools like infrared cameras. A multimeter can transmit electrical readings to an infrared camera, which can imprint those readings on related thermal images for effective testing and documentation.

There are now two distinct types of multimeters: units with high display count and accuracy for electronics engineers and units with high CAT safety ratings (IEC 61010) with acceptable functions for the electrical engineer or field engineer. If portable durability is needed, a user should check to see durability specifications.

Established in 2004, NorthTree Associates (Cologne, MN) is a North American distributor that provides unique Electronic Test & Measurement tools for design engineers, test engineers and production engineers.wireless


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