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Capacitor Wizard - No ordinary Meter
One of my customers phoned me for help with a BT-SVS250 satellite receiver.
"I replaced all the parts in RELKIT 17 and it still gives no decoder messages on-screen!"
I recommended that he use his wife's hair dryer on the main circuit board since the electrolytics in the video section are notorious for causing this symptom, as well as "streaky pictures". He phoned me back an hour later:
"Hah, your hair dryer idea was a waste of time but I found the fault right away with my 'Capacitor Wizard'".
"It was C232 and I found it with my 'Wizard'".
"Umm, sorry, what's this 'Wizard' thing?"
"Advertised in 'Television' magazine. Bought one. Wonderful! You should buy one."
Now I confess that, although I write the occasional piece for "the mag", I don't often read the adverts so this recommendation came as something of a surprise. For a start, your erstwhile Reviewer does not usually "buy" things.
I mean, it wouldn't be right to actually pay for something for review ... would it?
I sent an email immediately to I.C.H.E. and ordered one. It arrived next day and I posted my cheque by return.
First impressions were "clunky" and "expensive for what it is". It uses what is obviously a proprietary moulded black box with brown feet glued underneath. The meter movement seemed to have been fitted as an afterthought and stands a centimetre proud of the box. It was large, compared with a modern multimeter this was not going to fit in my pocket!
But first impressions can be deceptive. This is an instrument designed for a specific purpose and part of that purpose is to sit on a work bench without wandering about with every draught from the window. The "clunky" box makes sure of that and the brown feet are functionally perfect.
The meter face is colourful and easy to read. The controls are simple: an on/off switch and two recessed preset adjusters which, so far, I have not needed to touch. The bright yellow-printed cover may be "clunky" but it's the sort of "Morris 1000" type of clunkiness thay you learn to love. And the probes... I just love to hold those probes!
This is NOT a capacitance meter!
"But I already have a capacitance meter!" you say.
This is NOT a capacitance meter. It measures "Effective Series Resistance" (ESR) of electrolytics and it does so IN CIRCUIT !
Of course you will all have read Ray Porter's excellent articles on the subject of ESR back in "Television" issues January and April 1993 but, just to recap:
In the case of electrolytics, ESR is a much better guide to the state of health of a capacitor than its actual capacitance value. In switch mode power supplies, for example, the electrolytics take a continual hammering from fast-risetime, high-current pulses which can degrade a capacitor in such a way that it no longer "smoothes" those pulses. Its capacitance value might still be all right but its Effective Series Resistance can be way too high. This is what the "Capacitor Wizard" measures.
How could I have managed without this instrument for so long? For years I have treated electrolytics with suspicion, replacing without measurement those which were discoloured or "oozing" and continually being surprised when the culprit turned out to be one I had not suspected. Then being even more surprised to find that its capacitance value was almost correct!
Now, with the wizard, I simply ensure that the big electrolytics are discharged then poke each one with those wonderfully long-pointed probes. If the Wizard bleeps, the capacitor is OK; no need even to look at the meter. If it does not bleep, I look at the meter and make a judgement. If the needle rests in the "compare" region then I measure a new capacitor of the same value and make a comparison. If it rests in the "bad" region, I file the capacitor in the round cabinet and replace it!
This works fine for electrolytics of value down to 10uF. With practice you can still make a considered judgement down to 1uF. Above 100uF, by the way, the meter always bleeps unless the capacitor is bad.
How it works
The Capacitor Wizard generates a 100kHz sine wave of only 5 millivolts RMS. This is insufficient to turn on any semiconductor device so the meter is unaffected by other components in circuit. It measures reactance and will, therefore, happily ignore even a 100 resistor across the capacitor being tested. In fact the only time it is fooled is when the capacitor under test is short-circuit (check with an ordinary meter if in doubt) or if there's a good capacitor in parallel with a bad one. You soon get to spot these.
The Capacitor Wizard was designed by an American engineer who uses it himself and it shows! The booklet is clear, concise and even includes tables to enable you to check capacitors as low as 0.1uF as well as small-value inductors. There's also an explanation of how to check for leaky or shorted semiconductors. This meter is more versatile than you think!
The total price including carriage and vat is around £169.00.
Of course, you say, I thought long and hard before committing myself. Well, no I didn't actually! Once I realised what this thing would do and how much time and money it was going to save me, I posted off my cheque right away.
Copyright ©1998 Martin Pickering
Version 1.1 updated on 3/5/99
This file may be downloaded for private and personal use but NO part of it may be published in any form without the prior permission of the author.
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Doug's Tech Notes
By Doug Jones, President Independence Electronics Inc.
Using the Capacitor Wizard for the First Time
This article is in response to new customer feedback. It was brought to my attention that the Capacitor Wizard operating manual needed a "getting started" section for first time users. I decided to write a whole article on the subject. Measuring for ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance) may be new to many techs so lets briefly review ESR and its detrimental effects on various electronic circuits.
ESR is the DYNAMIC pure resistance of a capacitor to an AC signal. High ESR can cause time constant problems, capacitor heating, circuit loading, total circuit failure etc. A switching power supply may not reliably start - or start at all. Slight hum bars appear in the video of a VCR or monitor. A TV may be pulled in from the sides/top/bottom. Partial loss of a colour, intermittent operation, diode and transistor failure over a period of time. These problems and many more are often caused by capacitors with normal capacitance but high ESR.
Why do I need the Capacitor Wizard? - why not use a standard capacitance checker or a DC ohm meter? ESR does not exist as a STATIC quantity therefore it cannot be measured by a conventional capacitance meter or a DC ohm meter. ESR exists only when alternating current is applied to a capacitor or when a capacitor's dielectric charge is changing states. ESR can be considered to be the TOTAL IN PHASE AC resistance of a capacitor. ESR includes the DC resistance of the leads, DC resistance of the connections to the dielectric, capacitor plate resistance, and the IN PHASE AC resistance of the dielectric material at a particular frequency and temperature. ESR is affected by every capacitor physical quantity - so any problem with a capacitor (except a short) shows up as an increase in ESR! The combination of components that make up ESR are symbolised by a resistor in series with a capacitor as shown above. This symbolic resistor does not really exist as a physical entity so direct measurements across the ESR resistor are not possible! However, if a method of correcting for the effects of capacitive reactance is provided, and considering all ESR resistances are IN PHASE, ESR can be calculated and measured by using the basic electronics formula E = I x R! This is the Basic Electronics foundation used to design the Capacitor Wizard!
From the above definition of ESR you should now understand that any capacitor failure mode will cause the ESR of that capacitor to increase in resistance (except shorts). If a capacitor has dried out, is open, or otherwise has suffered DRASTIC failure, the measured ESR wig be near inanity. If a capacitor has changed capacitance slightly it has a problem and that problem will show up as a several ohms increase in the ESR. For this reason a standard capacitance meter that does not measure ESR could lead you t o conclude that a bad capacitor is actually good! ! I have had many reports from Capacitor Wizard owners that have found bad caps using the Capacitor Wizard that other cap testers found good - and proved it by replacing the cap!
Get experience measuring known bad caps: OK, lets test some caps. As a new user of the Capacitor Wizard I highly recommend that you test some known bad caps to see how they respond and build your confidence in the instrument. The Capacitor Wizard probes ar e nonpolar so don't worry about polarity. You will probably have mostly open capacitors and they will barely move the meter. Get a 100 ohm resistor and put it in parallel with a bad open cap. Notice that the meter still just barely moves! Try different values of resistance and see how the meter responds. Get a transistor or a diode and try to measure across the junctions. You will notice the Capacitor Wizard does NOT respond. That is because the Capacitor Wizard test signal is only about 5 millivolts RMS. It takes 300 to 600 millivolts to turn on solid state devices. Get a transformer or a choke similar to what you expect to find in the equipment you repair. Measure across the primary, secondary or anywhere you like. You will notice that the Capacitor Wizard does not respond. That is because the INDUCTIVE REACTANCE at the 100 kHz test frequency of the Capacitor Wizard is many orders of magnitude larger than the resistance range of the Capacitor Wizard. A high percentage of your bad caps will fall into this category - OPEN. This demonstration proves that open caps are very easy to find IN CIRCUIT and the associated circuitry has little effect on the Capacitor Wizard operation IN CIRCUIT.
You probably noticed that not all of your bad caps checked open. I'm sure that some of the caps probably rang the "Cap Good" beeper (ESR less than 1/2 ohm). Those caps are more than likely GOOD. Every shop accidentally replaces a good cap now and then. Just to make sure they aren't shorted, check them with a standard ohm meter. Check them on your standard out of circuit capacitance reading meter. You'll probably find that they are all good. Shorted caps are pretty rare. I've got boxes of bad caps from repour shops around town and have yet to find a shorted cap.
Well, finding those open caps and good caps was easy. Now lets look at other bad caps that require a little more experience with the Capacitor Wizard and some knowledge about capacitor TYPES and USES. You probably found caps from 1 to 30 ohms ESR in your bad box. How do you tell the good caps from the bad??
Whether the ESR of a particular capacitor is correct or too high can always be determined by comparing the suspicious capacitor to a known good one of the same value, voltage rating, and type. Unfortunately one doesn't always have another capacitor to compare against. Experience is the best teacher here, however there are some general guidelines:
The higher the rated working voltage, the higher the normal ESR
Capacitors used in power Switching applications need to have really LOW ESR - less than 1/2 ohm
Nonpolar Caps are normally less than 1/2 ohm
The next logical question about ESR is "How HIGH is TOO HIGH"? That's a judgment call that can only be based on experience or comparison to a known good cap (or access to the engineering data from the capacitor or equipment manufacturer - ha ha!). Over 10 ohms is certainly too high for most applications. Over 3 ohms is too high for Horiz/Vert switching applications. Over 1/2 ohm is too high for power switching applications. By comparison you will gain experience and know when to be suspicious. These are my opinions. Here are some actual repair situations:
Example: 47uf @50vdc measures 25 ohms ESR in circuit - BAD CAP The suspect capacitor is a 47uf 850vdc in a switching power supply for a VCR. The Capacitor Wizard has measured 25 ohms ESR in circuit. That is higher than 15 ohms and much to high for any quality cap. A new capacitor measured 5 ohms ESR. The new capacitor fixed the VCR. In my opinion the new capacitor was not of the highest quality (5 ohms is too high) however it did fix the VCR. The use of these low quality inexpensive import capacitors is probably the reason we see so much capacitor failure in consumer electronic equipment! A higher quality cap with a lower ESR of the same kind costs more money but will measure less than 1 ohm and be more reliable. Conclusion: This is a higher voltage capacitor and can be expected to normally measure higher than 1/2 ohm. In my judgment any "switch mode" capacitor that measures more than 3 ohms ESR is suspect no matter what the voltage rating. However you may obviously get by with the 5 ohms ESR in that particular circuit. For comparison, the bad part was checked "out of circuit" on a well known competitors S2000 Cap analyser and it determined that the cap was GOOD even though the ESR measured 25 ohms! That manufacturer made a huge mistake by trying to calculate good and bad ESR from entered and measured data. It can't be done reliably. That is why we don't simply have a good/bad indication on our meter scale. Any cap over 3 ohms is suspect. This is my Experience. Example: 1000uf @ 6vdc measures 1.5 ohms in circuit - BAD CAP This is a little brown 1000uf 6vdc cap used in lots of VCR switching power supplies. The Capacitor Wizard measured 1.5 ohms in circuit. Because the capacitors operating voltage is so low (6vdc) and its used in a switching power supply, I would expect a normal ESR reading of less than 1/2 ohm. Comparison with a known good cap confirmed it should measure less than 1/2 ohm. Replacing this cap cured the trouble. This particular cap goes bad often as I have many in my box of bad caps gathered from local repair companies. If you work on VCRs, I bet you have some too.
Summary: Measuring ESR is a very good indicator of capacitor failure. For switch mode circuits it is the ONLY reliable capacitor test, IN or OUT of circuit!. Open caps and caps with really high ESR (over 10 ohms) are easy to find in circuit and need to be replaced. Marginal caps that measure between 1 and 10 ohms ESR require some experience with the Capacitor Wizard and/or comparison to a known good cap of the same voltage, value, and type. Caps above an operating voltage of 35vdc have a normally higher ESR (around 1 to 3 ohms) than caps of a lower voltage (less than 1/2 ohm ESR).
I know of no perfect formula or rule that can always tell normal ESR from marginal ESR other than comparison with a known good part. The obvious solution is to obtain the capacitor manufacturers data manuals on the EXACT capacitor measured but that is not normally practical. As a technician myself I always follow this rule: "If in doubt, replace". You will eliminate a lot of recalls and cure many weird and undefinable intermittent problems if you follow this rule.
President, Independence Electronics Inc.
Using The Capacitor Wizard - First Time
Copyright C1996 Dependence Electronics Inc.
119 S Main lndependence Mo USA 64050
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