Fundamentals of Building a Test System: Selecting Instrumentation

Engineers can generally agree on the high importance of the adage “pick the right tool for the job.” Using the wrong tool can waste time and compromise quality, whereas the right tool can deliver the correct result in a fraction of the time. When building automated test systems, the primary tools at your disposal come in the form of measurement instruments. These instruments include known commodities like digital mulitmeters (DMMs), oscilloscopes, and waveform generators as well as a variety of new and changing categories of products like vector signal transceivers and all-in-one oscilloscopes. To select instrumentation, a skilled test engineer must be knowledgeable and proficient in navigating:

  • Technical measurement requirements of the device under test (DUT)
  • Key instrument specifications that will influence an application
  • Various categories of instrumentation available and the trade-offs in capabilities, size, price, and so on
  • Nuanced differences between product models within a given instrument category

Picking the right tool for the job is much easier said than done, specifically when it comes to navigating and evaluating the many trade-offs at play. In this guide, see the major categories of instruments available, and learn about common selection criteria to help you narrow in on the best choice for your application.

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