Deciding on how to tackle a faulty PCB can be overwhelming. There are many things to check and points to consider, the only thing you have to go on is a note telling you "It doesn't work"
The clock is ticking and you’re conscious of the time required to troubleshoot the circuit. Experience tells you that you should become familiar with the components on the board first, search for their datasheets, measure the input and output pins. Then, depending on expertise (or luck), sooner or later, our life-long friends the multimeter and scope will give us clues as to which devices may have gone rogue.
Doing this for a living does have its benefits though. We feel rewarded when we achieve the feat of repairing what others deemed “unrepairable”, and we know our job is leaving a positive legacy as recovered PCBs not only contribute to the economy but landfills too. On the other hand, it’s frustrating feeling that the young may get a college degree before you can finish fixing the thing!
Now, imagine connecting the board under test to a machine that could tell if an IC works or not. Wouldn’t it be great if heavily populated PCBs could be diagnosed by attaching a couple of cables to their I/O connectors? Ever thought of measuring an 84-pin PLCC chip in one go? All this in one box that won’t break the bank? Read on and what you find below may not be quite what you were expecting to come across when you got out of bed this morning.
Is there a better alternative to the conventional measurement instruments?
The UK has historically produced some of the most advanced engineering technologies applied across many application fields in the world today. In 1983, a design engineer from South Yorkshire set up a company with the goal of building cost-effective and easy to operate troubleshooting systems, aimed at field service and repair instead of end of assembly lines. The manufacturer’s products achieved global recognition over the years and became popular with private and public organisations operating in military, automotive, mass transit, telecoms, aerospace and more. Surprisingly though, the company’s cost-effective approach means its products are also highly affordable to the point that SMEs and independent repair companies represent a large proportion of its customer base.
ABI Electronics makes the BoardMaster 8000, a Swiss-knife type of tester that gathers 25+ measurement tools for multiple applications. Some of the tests can be carried out even without any power being applied to the DUT or PCB. Another interesting aspect is that not only can the system run DEF Standard compliant in circuit dynamic functional tests, it can also identify unknown devices that can be tested later. The user interface, namely SYSTEM 8 Ultimate software, is an integral part of the system and requires a standard Windows PC to run. As standard, it brings all the functionalities that you would expect such as hardware self-test, user management, instrument customisations, test report generation and more.
A standard BoardMaster from ABI comes with six modules pre-installed however different mixes and configurations, with or without a built-in PC for instance, are available. ABI guarantees free software updates for life, available through its corporate website. Users are given a multi-license key allowing them to install and run the software in multiple PCs. The modular nature of the BoardMaster means SMEs and start-up companies may decide to build up their own system over time.
Each module brings different applications developed for a wide range of tests that will help operators deal with those hard-to-find faults without the frustration. The example below shows the Digital IC Tester, a tool developed to run true dynamic functional tests based on the military standard STD 0053. Additionally, the instrument will also show voltage readings for every pin, indicate wiring configuration such as links, shorts to VCC, etc and give V-I plus thermal analysis results in one go.
The software gives access to a built-in library with tens of thousands of components. Through a test clip or device adapter, the system can run multiple tests in a few seconds.
The main picture above shows an SOIC device following a quick selection in the system’s library and the software will display a PASS or FAIL for:
- Functional or Truth-table test
- Connection test
- Voltage test
- Thermal test
- Analog V-I test