Choosing the Right Diagnostic Automotive Oscilloscope for Your Auto Repair Shop

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Searching for Answers: Choosing Your Oscilloscope

Every shop will have different needs and uses for an oscilloscope, so it’s important to identify your facility’s specific needs from the equipment. Here are six steps to cover so your choice is the most correct one.

Step 1: What kind of vehicles are worked on? Take a look at the shop’s mix. What kind and type of vehicles are repaired the most? What makes, models and years are seen most often? “The more specific and ‘specialized’ the work that can be provided, the better off the shop will be. Choose the 10 most worked-on vehicles, and figure out the needs for those.

Step 2: Consider what isn’t worked on. Obviously, an oscilloscope should be able to help in bringing in additional business, jobs, revenue and, as is the overall goal – profitability. Will it be a tool that can help in bringing in vehicles in the area that the shop is missing out on? Are there any other shops working on a specific vehicles? If not, can the right oscilloscope help the shop take advantage of this opportunity?

Step 3: Research oscilloscopes. Here’s where shops often get off track or go the easy route. But if the proper approach is used and the correct observance of the shop’s work mix (Steps 1 and 2), then it narrows it down quite a bit. Here are six things to consider:

Coverage. What software does the tool come with? What updates? What vehicles does the software cover? Makes and model years? Because of changes in vehicle design and capabilities, how often is the software updated? It needs to be understood what each software package is capable of diagnosing.

Training/Ease of Use. Most oscilloscopes are “plug & play” aftermarket tools. Higher-end oscilloscopes often come with a steeper learning curve for first-time users. Try to get a feel for how long it will take shop technicians to master the equipment, and what training or support is offered.

Compatibility. Some oscilloscopes are Windows-based PC or laptop-based, and that often means one oscilloscope with powerful software can provide a wide range of coverage.

Technical Support. Got hotline? Some oscilloscope manufacturers provide hotlines of sorts to call for additional information or for support for difficult diagnoses. Understand how each oscilloscope is supported.

Upgrades/Updates. Oscilloscopes are constantly being upgraded and updated. Research the companies you’re considering and see what they offer in terms of upgrades. Not only for the purpose of the software but also for the oscilloscope.

Cost. An obvious point. Do you want a high-end do it all oscilloscope, then get ready to pay significantly. There’s going to be a large discrepancy in price between oscilloscope makers. This is why understanding the work mix of the shop is important to grasp the value of the tool.

Step 4: Analyze the return. There are a lot of ways to try to analyze how valuable a diagnostic oscilloscope is for a shop. One way to analyze the return is to low-ball the return and only compare the cost of the tool (including subscriptions and upgrades) to the amount of profit made on diagnostic charges. This will gave an absolute minimum that can serve to directly pay off the tool.

Step 5: Demo the tools. Be wary of any company that isn’t confident enough in its oscilloscope to let you have it for trial period. What is their return policy? If the oscilloscope doesn’t fit your needs, can you return it NQA? Using the oscilloscope on your own is important in making the right decision.

Step 6: Implement the tools. Although this step must come after you selected and purchased a tool, it will also help to confirm your decision. Don’t just simply buy diagnostic equipment and hand it off to the technician. Create processes and systems for your shop to use it correctly, Seyfer says, and make sure to market your capabilities.

Keep It Simple

Choosing an oscilloscope for the shop can be a difficult task. The most important thing to remember, is to find the best fit for your shop. Get as much information as possible. Speak with other shops, talk with vendors, ask about it in association gatherings, and on message boards—anywhere you can. There’s plenty of information out there about each tool.

In the end, try to make the process as simple as you can.

Should you have any questions, you can contact us directly by filling out the form below.

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10 Reasons Why You Need A PC Oscilloscope

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PC Oscilloscopes (PCOs) are rapidly replacing traditional digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs) as the essential item for your test equipment arsenal. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Compact and portable units
  2. Uses your PC monitor to provide a large and detailed color display
  3. Signal storage is limited only by your PC’s storage capability
  4. Captured waveforms and instrument settings can easily be shared with others
  5. New functionality through free software updates
  6. Can be used with desktop or laptop PCs
  7. High-speed USB 3.0 connection (parallel port oscilloscopes are also available)
  8. Hardware and software in one package
  9. Use your PC Oscilloscope for data acquisition
  10. A complete test and measurement lab in one unit

1.  Compact and portable units

By integrating several instruments into one small unit, PC Oscilloscopes (PCOs) are lighter and more portable than traditional test equipment. When used with a laptop computer, you can carry a complete electronics lab in the same bag as your PC.

2.  Uses your PC monitor to provide a large and detailed color display

The display of a traditional oscilloscope is limited by the physical size of the oscilloscope, and may only be a single color. With a PC Oscilloscope your computer controls the display, so not only do you get a full color display, but the display can be the size of your monitor, projector or plasma display.

3.  Signal storage is limited only by your PC’s storage capability

PC Oscilloscopes store the signals that you are measuring directly on your PC. With the power of today’s modern PCs this gives you vast storage capabilities. Along with allowing you to record lengthy signals this also lets you save signals for reviewing at a later date.

4.  Captured waveforms and instrument settings can easily be shared with others

Need to show your customer or colleague the signal you have captured? Just save the waveform and email them a copy. They don’t have a copy of the oscilloscope software? No problem – just export it as text, an image or in a binary format for use with third-party software. (If they want to set up their equipment to run the same test, simply send them the oscilloscope settings too.)

5.  New functionality through free software updates

If you’re lucky you can return a traditional DSO to the supplier for a firmware upgrade and maybe get improved functionality. With a PC-based oscilloscope new features and improved functionality can be added at any time with a simple software update. Free software updates means that a PC Oscilloscope is one of the few things that can actually become more powerful and useful with age.

6.  Can be used with desktop or laptop PCs

PC Oscilloscopes are external devices that are connected to your PC using the ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus (USB). Virtually every laptop or desktop PC sold comes with multiple USB ports so there’s no problem using your PC Oscilloscope with either a desktop or a laptop PC.

7.  High-speed USB 3.0 connection

USB 3.0 can transfer data at speeds of up to 1 GS/s. Using powerful PC Oscilloscope software it give you incredible performance with fast screen updates and the ability to stream data.

8.  Hardware and software in one package

Choose PC Oscilloscopes that come complete with the hardware and software in one package.

9.  Use your PC Oscilloscope for data acquisition

Using the sw, you can transform your PC Oscilloscope into a data logger that can log data over extended periods of time.

10.  A complete test and measurement lab in one unit

When you buy a PC-based oscilloscope make sure you don’t just get an oscilloscope: make sure you also get a spectrum analyzer, meter and data logger rolled into your PC-Oscilloscope choice. Some models even include a built–in signal generator or arbitrary waveform generator. So with a PC Oscilloscope you really do get a complete test and measurement lab in one cost–effective unit.

NorthTree Associates is a distributor and supplier of Electronic Test & Measurement Equipment. Companies represented include ITIC USB 2.0 Protocol Analyzers, LabNation SmartScopes, Micsig Oscilloscopes, Oscium iOS Test Tools, OWON Oscilloscopes.

The Basics Of Oscilloscopes – What Is An Oscilloscope – Part 2

Instek GDS-2000

What other factors should be considered when purchasing a digital storage oscilloscope?

Beyond the basic four specifications, it is common to consider:

  • Number of channels (typically two or four). If you need to record multiple high-speed signals beyond four, you might want to look at a dedicated recorder.
  • Size of the display is often a consideration. Larger, clearer screens make it easier to see multiple signals at once. Luckily today’s digital storage oscilloscope also has different color lines for each signal.
  • How you capture a signal is also important. This is where triggers come into play. It is often important to see only signals with specific characteristics among the many captured. With most digital storage oscilloscopes, a variety of different trigger types are available to find particular events that happen during signal analysis.
  • If you are looking at packets of serial data, you may also find it useful to decode the signal to make sure that the correct instructions are being sent. Protocols such as I2C, SPI, CAN, LIN, RS232 are commonly used to communicate between devices. It is important to make sure that the right commands are communicated when a specific event happens.

When graphing a signal, what do you want to find out?

  • The time and voltage value of a signal
  • The frequency of an oscillating signal
  • How much of a signal is direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC)
  • How much of the signal is noise and if the noise is changing over time
  • To see the “moving parts” of a circuit represented by the signal
  • To tell if a malfunctioning component is distracting the signal

Oscilloscopes come in many different versions

  • Digital
  • Analog
  • Mixed signal
  • Portable
  • PC based versions

If the recording of a waveform is required, a digital scope will be applicable. If you need to see the waveform in real time, or to see the original intensity an analog scope would better suit that requirement.  The higher the input signal frequency is, the higher the bandwidth that will be required. If you do not have the appropriate amount of bandwidth, you risk the possibility of not getting accurate results.

If there is doubt about the amount of bandwidth that is required, then you should go the next step up. The bandwidth can usually be calculated by this formula: BANDWIDTH = (0.35 / rise time of the signal)

The higher the sampling rate, the more accurate and precise the captured waveform is. As the sampling rate increases, it allows for more samples a captured waveform has, for any given period of time.

In almost every electric application, including lab use, research and development, and product development there is a need for an oscilloscope to provide waveform analysis.

Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes (MSO)

Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes (MSO) can capture both analog and digital signals at once. A mixed signal scope usually combines 2 or 4 analog channels with either 8 or 16 digital ones. This is useful when looking at logic signals after a specific input has occurred when developing a system that combines physical input and computer controls.

There are both digital and analog channels that provide the ability to accurately time-correlate both signals. The measurements are compiled by using a single time base on a single display. Any combination of these measurements can be used to trigger the scope.

The key advantage of the MSO is that only one unit is required for conducting tests that you would normally need two units for.

An oscilloscope is a test and measurement instrument used primarily to measure voltage over time. The input signal is converted from an analog wave to a series of digital signals. Once it is digitized, oscilloscope can then store the information in memory and display it on the screen. The faster the signal is processed, the better the display will be.

Refer to the above general and digital oscilloscopes discussions that cover the common features of an MSO with a DSO.

Applications for Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes

  • Aerospace
  • Defense
  • Industrial Electronics
  • Communications
  • Research and Development

The MSO treats the oscilloscope and logic channels in different ways

  • Logic Channels: These channels are converted to digital format, where no analog information is shown
  • Oscilloscope Channels: These channels use an analog to digital converter to allow the analog input to show in digital format

MSO scope vs. Logic Analyzer factors to consider

  • State Analysis

o             MSO- Yes. Separate channels for clocks

o             Logic Analyzer- No. No provision for clock input

  • Triggering

o             MSO- Single events on both the analog and digital channels

o             Logic Analyzer- Advanced sequential capabilities

  • Channel Count

o             MSO- 16 / 32

o             Logic Analyzer- 64 – 204 +

  • Timing Analysis

o             MSO- Yes

o             Logic Analyzer- Yes

What other factors should be considered when purchasing a mixed signal oscilloscope?

Beyond the basic four specifications, it is common to consider:

  • Number of analog channels (typically two or four). If you need to record multiple high-speed signals beyond four, you might want to look at a dedicated recorder.
  • Number of digital channels, usually 8 or 16
  • Size of the display is often a consideration. Larger, clearer screens make it easier to see multiple signals at once. Luckily today’s digital storage oscilloscope also has different color lines for each signal.
  • How you capture a signal is also important. This is where triggers come into play. It is often important to see only signals with specific characteristics among the many captured. With most digital storage oscilloscopes, a variety of different trigger types are available to find particular events that happen during signal analysis.
  • If you are looking at packets of serial data, you may also find it useful to decode the signal to make sure that the correct instructions are being sent. Protocols such as I2C, SPI, CAN, LIN, and RS232 are commonly used to communicate between devices. It is important to make sure that the right commands are communicated when a specific event happens.

PC Based Oscilloscopes

PC based oscilloscopes are the modern alternative to the traditional bench top oscilloscope. All data and configurations measured on these oscilloscopes can be saved into a PC for further data analysis.

One of the key factors involved is the USB connection. The USB (universal serial bus) is intended for communications between interfaces, such as the oscilloscope and the PC in this instance.

PC based oscilloscopes come in either internal or external versions.

The external version(s) is a small unit that connects to a PC, usually by a USB. They can be used by a laptop or a desktop computer.

The internal version(s) usually come with a plug in card that is PCI format. This does not allow for portability and being that the card is placed in the actual PC, there is a lot of noise which could interfere with the results that are being measured.

Advantages of PC Based Oscilloscopes:

  • Easy to Use
  • Portable
  • Cost Effective
  • Large Display
  • Uses already “off-the-shelf” equipment- USB and PC

Portable Oscilloscopes

Portable Oscilloscopes are otherwise known as handheld oscilloscopes. They are typically used for on- site contractor maintenance and either in the industrial or electronic field.

If you need to move your oscilloscope around to many locations or from bench to bench in your lab, then the portable oscilloscope would be ideal for you.

Advantages of a Portable Oscilloscope

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to Use
  • Turn On and Off Quickly

To read Part 1 – click here:  http://wp.me/p42MUZ-6Z

Use the contact form below to contact NorthTree Associates with any questions you may have on this article or about oscilloscopes in general.

10 Quick Tips On Choosing A PC Oscilloscope

PicoScope 9300

PicoScope 9300

Here are 10 Quick Tips On Choosing a PC Oscilloscope:

1.     Compact and portable

2.     Uses your PC monitor to provide a large and detailed color displays

3.     Signal storage is limited only by your PC’s storage capability

4.     Captured waveforms and instrument settings can easily be shared with others

5.     New functionality through free software updates

6.     Can be used with desktop or laptop PCs

7.     High-speed USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connections (parallel port oscilloscopes are also available)

8.     Hardware and software in one package

9.     Use your PC Oscilloscope for data acquisition

10.  A complete test and measurement lab in one unit

PC Oscilloscopes (PCOs) are rapidly replacing traditional digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs) as the essential item for your test equipment arsenal. In being portable, they can be used in the field or lab. Also, they don’t take up much room on your test bench.

Established in 2004, NorthTree Associates (Waconia, MN) is a North American distributor that specializes in providing design engineers, test engineers, and production engineers the best protocol, bus analysis, and board-level testing and debugging tools available.

How to Choose the Right Oscilloscope

PicoScope 2205 MSO

Pico Technology PicoScope 2205 MSO Oscilloscope

For many engineers, choosing a new oscilloscope can be daunting — there are hundreds of different models to choose from with widely varying costs and specifications. This article guides you through the maze of considerations and will hopefully help you avoid making what could prove to be an expensive mistake.

First Things First

The first step in choosing an oscilloscope is not to look at adverts or scope specifications, rather it is to invest some time thinking about what you will use it for and where.

  • Where will the scope be used (on the bench, at a customer’s site, under the hood of a car)?
  • How many signals are needed to measure at once?
  • What are the maximum and minimum amplitudes of signals that are needed to measure?
  • What is the highest frequency of signal needed to measure?
  • Are the signals repetitive or single shot?
  • How are the signals to be viewed in the frequency domain (spectrum analysis) as well as the time domain?

Armed with the above knowledge, a user can begin to consider what oscilloscope will be best for the applications.

Analog vs. Digital

The focus of this article is on Digital Storage Oscilloscopes (DSOs) as they represent the majority of new oscilloscopes purchased today. Before describing what to look for in a digital oscilloscope, it is necessary to begin by at least touching on analog.

Most electronics engineers will have used an analog scope at some time and will be familiar with its layout and operation. In fact, many people purchasing oscilloscopes today are replacing analog with digital.

Although there are still some engineers who love the look-and-feel (let alone the warmth) of analog scopes, they have few, if any, features that cannot be surpassed by a DSO.

If you are still tempted by an analog scope you will find your choice limited. Only a few manufacturers still make analog scopes; some of the models still on sale are based on rather old technology and often have very limited performance.

Buying a second hand analog scope may initially seem like good economic sense but, before doing so, check for the availability of spares, as high repair costs can make the purchase a false economy.

There are other criteria that have added weight to the analog vs. digital debate. DSOs:

  • Are small and portable
  • Have the highest bandwidths
  • Have single shot ability
  • Have color displays
  • Provide on-screen measurements
  • Have simple user interface
  • Provide storage and printing

Modern DSOs, with their PC connectivity, can also be fully integrated into Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) systems. In addition, the DSO is often used as the front-end of a high speed data acquisition system, making the cost per channel much more economically viable.

Bandwidth

The first feature to consider is bandwidth. This can be defined as the maximum frequency of signal that can pass through the front–end amplifiers. It therefore follows that the analogue bandwidth of your scope must be higher than the maximum frequency that you wish to measure (real time).

Bandwidth alone is not enough to ensure that a DSO can accurately capture a high frequency signal. The goal of scope manufacturers is to achieve a specific type of frequency response with their designs. This response is known as the Maximally Flat Envelope Delay (MFED). A frequency response of this type delivers excellent pulse fidelity with minimum overshoot, undershoot and ringing. However, since a DSO is composed of amplifiers, attenuators, ADCs, interconnects, and relays, MFED response is a goal that can only be approached and never met completely.

It is worth noting that most scope manufacturers define the bandwidth as the frequency at which a sine wave input signal will be attenuated to 71% of its true amplitude (-3 dB point). Or, to put it another way, they allow the displayed trace to be 29% in error of the input before calling it a day.

Remember also that, if your input signal is not a pure sine wave, it will contain higher frequency harmonics. For example, a 20 MHz pure square wave viewed on a 20 MHz bandwidth scope will be displayed as an attenuated and distorted waveform. As a rule of thumb, try to purchase a scope with a bandwidth five times higher than the maximum frequency signal you wish to measure. Unfortunately, high bandwidth scopes are expensive, so you may have to compromise here.

On some scopes, the quoted bandwidth is not available on all voltage ranges, so check the data sheet carefully.

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