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Heating headache spawns a novel fault-finder

01 July, 2003

Heating headache spawns a novel fault-finder

A small engineering company based in Norfolk, UK, has developed an instrument to help pinpoint faults - including intermittent ones - on complex electrical installations. The company, Laplace Instruments, believes that its Birdie-FTR FaulTracker (shown below) is unique.

Fault-finding is a new market for Laplace, which has previously focused on EMC test equipment. Laplace`s managing director, David Mawdsley, reveals that the idea was born after the company experienced an intermittent fault on its central heating system which conventional instruments could not identify.

"The problem bugged us," he explains. "We needed something that could look at multiple inputs, but there was nothing on the market to help us cure the problem."

So Laplace decided to develop its own instrument, with the help of a Smart award from the UK Department of Trade and Industry. The resulting instrument can monitor, record and display data from 16 points in an electrical system, and adapts itself automatically to any input voltage from 12V DC to 265V AC. "Wire it up and off you go," says Mawdsley.

The status of each input is indicated by an LED, and is also depicted on a LCD display which shows not only the current state, but also the previous 40 changes, making it easy to identify what led to the current conditions. Rapid sequences can be replayed a step at a time to determine the precise chronology. The LCD can show data against a time base which can be set from 1 second to 30 days per pixel.

A user-selectable "debounce" mode ensures that contact bounce does not cause lots of unnecessary events to be recorded. With the debounce off, the instrument has resolution of 4ms and will record any change at the inputs longer than 12ms.

The FTR is designed to be left on site recording activity for as long as is needed to pinpoint a problem. It can operate from the mains, or from batteries which can power it continuously for 50 days. Its memory is large enough to store 32,000 events, complete with time and date information.

Laplace, which consists of just five people, is sub-contracting the manufacturing. RS Components plans to add the Birdie-FTR to its catalogue. It will be priced at £699, or £785 for a version with a PC interface and software.

Laplace eventually managed to track its central heating problem down to an auxiliary contact on a contactor, that was sticking.

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