Tektronix Encore

Make Older Gear Work When New Test Equipment Cannot Be Found

January 03, 2022

Global supply chain challenges have forced many manufacturers to look back when components are not available. It has been quite noticeable in the commercial automotive market, which experiences a “new car season” every year and a great deal of anticipation from consumers in search of new car models. In some cases, new car models have been promoted, including electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) from leading suppliers, but dealers are without inventory because manufacturers cannot get all the parts they need.


The same is true in many other markets, including for commercial, industrial, medical, and military/aerospace electronic products where manufacturers may design a new product based on what turns out to be a novel but hard-to-find electronic device. Shortages due to the global supply chain that have been linked to the global pandemic have led to a great deal of creativity in electronic design and manufacturing when a part cannot be found. Amplifier designers, for example, may have to change transistors and integrated circuits (ICs) and with them the circuit materials that best suit the amplifier. If it is possible to modify an electronic product with available components, then comes the challenge of testing it with the measurement equipment that are available. As with automobiles, new models of test equipment offer many solutions and can appear quite attractive for filling the needs of an R&D laboratory or manufacturing production line. But what if the new test gear has been delayed by global supply chain problems, or the new equipment simply is not coming? Is it possible to handle the test requirements with older equipment?


To answer that question, several still available older equipment models were compared with newer counterparts, which may be difficult to find due to current supply chain delays. One of the more essential equipment types for in-field or laboratory use is the spectrum analyzer, especially with growing use of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum for wireless communications, radar, command and control, surveillance, and monitoring, whether those markets are for commercial, industrial, medical, or military users. The spectrum analyzer has become the modern-day version of the voltmeter for many measurement applications. Rohde & Schwarz is among the leading suppliers of this equipment with its model FSW50, with a DC-coupled frequency range of 2 Hz to 50 GHz and an AC-coupled range of 10 MHz to 50 GHz. As with many newer equipment designs, it features a modular architecture which simplifies upgrades and changes in measurement capability. One of those add-on options supports an in-phase/quadrature (I/Q) demodulation bandwidths as wide as 500 MHz to capture and analyze newer broadband modulated communications signal formats.


Older and Wiser


Of course, that assumes the analyzer and any necessary options are available for those measurements. Supply chain issues can cause delays in the availability of the analyzer, forcing a user in need of spectrum analysis through 50 GHz to reconsider measurement solutions. For several years, the predecessor to the model FSW50, the Rohde & Schwarz FSU50 spectrum analyzer, has been one of the leading frequency measurement tools from 20 Hz to 50 GHz, with the same impressive 0.01-Hz resolution as the FSW50. It has many of the traits of an older model, such as a GPIB (rather than USB) interface. While it may still contain automated measurement functions for older signal formats, such as GSM and CDMA, with adjustments and programming, it is certainly a capable measuring tool that can provide the accuracy and precision needed for many of the same applications as the FSW50 over the same frequency range.


Similarly, network analysis into the mm Wave frequency range is an important measurement capability for electronic designers and manufacturers involved at the higher frequencies of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) automotive radars and the expanding bandwidths of Fifth Generation (5G) wireless communications networks. The Keysight Technologies N5227B PNA network analyzers provide the frequency range and bandwidth for much network analysis required at mmWave frequencies, with a specified frequency range of 900 Hz to 67 GHz and a usable frequency range extending to 70 GHz. The two- and four-port analyzers include advanced correction methods and flexible modular architectures for flexibility along with state-of-the-art test limits. The standard dynamic range, for example, is 95 dB to 50 MHz, 129 dB to 500 MHz, 124 dB to 50 GHz, and 123 dB to 70 GHz.


Still, this is the newest family of PNA analyzers, and the availability of these latest models depends on the supply chain that provides the advanced electronic components and devices that make the N5227B PNA models possible. Should delays interrupt the availability of these extremely accurate network analyzers, an older option is available in the Keysight Technologies E8361C PNA network analyzer. Although it lacks the outstanding dynamic range and advanced error correction of the newer N5227B models, the E8361C PNA is capable of comprehensive network analysis from 10 MHz to 70 GHz with a quite respectable dynamic range of 94 dB at 70 GHz.


Keeping pace with advances in semiconductor devices has not been easy and testing new analog and digital semiconductor devices can prove challenging for the best-equipped measurement laboratory. Newer test solutions such as the Keysight/Agilent Technologies B1500A Semiconductor Device Analyzer, feature a modular configuration that simplifies adapting the test platform to different measurement applications. The model B1500A analyzer provides the flexibility of an extremely wide supply range, with current from 0.1 fA to 1 A and voltages as high as 200 V for continuous-wave (CW) and pulsed current-voltage (I-V) device measurements. As with many newer units, it is microprocessor controlled and can perform a series of automated tests, including capacitance-voltage (C-V) and capacitance-time measurements.


But what if the newest solution in semiconductor parameter testing is not available “off the shelf” due to supply-chain issues? Whether for designing or manufacturing a circuit or electronic product, semiconductor device testing must still be performed if needed. A viable test solution may be an older model that is at least in part capable of making the measurements of the newer tester.


As an example, the Keysight/Agilent Technologies 4155C Semiconductor Parameter Analyzer is an older model that can perform within a major portion of the model B1500A’s test limits and can provide a practical test “stand-in” when a model B1500A is not available. The model 4155C was designed for device measurements as well as stress testing over voltage ranges as wide as ±100 V and current from 1 nA to 100 mA. It includes a pulse generator unit (PGU) for high-power testing and, if it is not required to reach the extreme measurement limits of the B1500A, can do quite nicely for semiconductor parameter analysis. (For more on semiconductor parameter analyzers, read the Axiom blog, “Provide a True Score on Device Parameters,”


When a choice must be made between the old and the new, test equipment specialists like Axiom Test Equipment can help with the decision making. By explaining or providing several options in older and newer equipment, real-time comparisons can be made in a working environment. By renting several different units, they can be compared in a real-world application under actual working conditions, and even compared with current equipment setups.

New test equipment is being designed and developed to meet new measurement challenges, such as the higher, mmWave frequencies needed for 5G and ADAS automotive radar testing. But the newest test gear may not always be available, especially when it is being produced with a specialized electronic device or IC that is in short supply from its manufacturer. While the newest test equipment may offer the latest and greatest performance and functions, procuring those units may involve a long waiting list and many months before actual measurements can be performed with a new tool. A practical solution may be based on using older but readily available test equipment and working within the limits set by those older units. Fortunately, Axiom Test Equipment maintains stock of newer and older test equipment and can even suggest a substitute or replacement for a new model that simply may not be available because of a supply chain shortage.

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