Best Practices to Avoid Costly Repairs of Your Network Analyzer

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By Nancy Brady, NSCA & Tra-Cal

A network analyzer (NA) creates a signal and characterizes the devices that receive the signal. It is used to measure components, equipment, circuits, and subassemblies. An RF network analyzer measures both amplitude and phase information (frequency or power sweeps) for the device under test (DUT), which includes reflection, insertion loss, scattering parameters (S parameters), and transmission and return loss. [1] Network analyzers are often used in research and design (R & D) for radio frequency design laboratories as well as manufacturing including wireless, aerospace and defense, science, and Medical industries to test systems that need to transmit electromagnetic signals reliably and fast (e.g., communication systems). [2] Network analyzers are critical to accurately assess operation and performance levels of many electronic devices. With the right combination of fast measurement speed, low trace noise, and stability, NAs can help reduce the cost of testing and get products to market faster. [3]

Best Practices for NA Measurement

When using network analyzers to make precise measurements, make sure you follow these practices to ensure the best results:

  • Use quality components and sound measurement practices.
  • Use high-quality connectors, adapters, and cables to reach the highest measurement quality and precision from the NA.
  • Provide proper care for the components, connectors, adapters, and cables and clean them periodically.
  • Use a calibrated torque wrench to ensure accuracy and consistent connections between the NA and DUT, or the NA and calibration standards.

Highlights: Do’s and Don’ts for Preventive Maintenance

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When handling your precision test and measuring instruments, it is important to use preventive measures to avoid unwanted downtime and costly repairs. Here are some tips to maintain and care for your network analyzer.

Do

  • Clean instrument before/after use to prevent measuring accuracy from being negatively affected by dirt or dust.
  • Ensure proper grounding
  • Read warning labels and specifications
  • Protect the RF connector
  • Follow proper RF cable and connector care
  • Ensure that connectors, adaptors, and cables are the correct sizes and are in good condition. Always use torque wrench and follow cable connector care procedures.
  • Follow electrostatic discharge precautions; static electricity charge from your finger on the input connector can fry your attenuator and mixer.
  • Check for proper ventilations and humidity [4]
  • Maintain temperature at ~ 23 °C (73 °F)
  • Use proper lifting techniques
  • Use proper packing for transport
  • Check the instrument’s calibration periodically and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for recalibrating if necessary.
    • Make sure the vendor you select for calibrating your test equipment offers a full calibration to meet the manufacturer’s specifications, and not a low-cost abbreviated calibration that only includes a self-check and sample point evaluation. For example, calibrating an 18-gigahertz (GHz) network analyzer takes a trained technician four to five hours to properly calibrate. In that time, hundreds of points are measured to ensure optimum performance as well as precision and accuracy of your test equipment. Therefore, labs that spend a fraction of that time to calibrate a network analyzer are not doing it adequately.
read-operators-manual-warning-labeloptimum temperature 73 degrees F
Figure 1. Read warning labels and specificationsFigure 2. Maintain temperature at around 23 degrees C (73 degrees F)

Don’t

  • Overpower the instrument.
  • Drop or throw your instrument.
  • Use an extension cable, power cable, or autotransformer without a protective ground conductor.
  • Lay the instrument on the bench where it can be damaged.
  • Put your instrument together with hand tools (e.g., cutting tools, files, hammers, and drills) to avoid bumping that may cause vibrations and distortions in readings.
  • Lay the instrument in any kind of debris (metal chips or grinding grit).
  • Use your instrument as a substitute for other tools.
  • Use magnetic areas (magnetic worktable) to prevent instrument from being magnetized.
  • Exceed the measurement range of the instrument.
no magnetsno extension cords
Figure 3. Avoid Magnetic AreasFigure 4. Avoid Using cables without protective ground conductor

Advantages of Calibrating Your Precision Test and Measurement Instruments

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  • Provide repeatable accuracy, saving time, money, materials, and labor.
  • Calibrating your precision test and measurement instruments is the easiest way to avoid errors.
  • Reduce the risk of products failing in service.
  • Prevent costly recalls and damage to your company’s reputation.
  • Save money from warranty and rework costs.

Care and Maintenance

Preventive Maintenance

Regularly scheduled maintenance including cleaning, adjusting, and verification will ensure optimal performance, avoid unplanned downtime, and extend the instruments life.

Benefits

  • More likely that your instrument is available when you need it
  • Maintain optimum performance
  • Avoid costly unplanned downtime and repairs
  • Extend the instrument’s useful life

Operation/Verification

Functional Tests

Operation/Verification tests check various parameters of the instrument to make sure the analyzer is operating correctly. The functional tests are designed to test analyzer’s performance when operating within the temperature range specified. If it does not pass the test, performance tests must be run to determine that a problem exists.

Performance Tests

You can find performance tests for your network analyzer in both Manual Tests and Automated Software provided by the instrument manufacturer

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