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Friday, 27 January 2017

Digital Multi-Meters: A very handy tool for Electrical Engineers

An electrical engineer and electrician must be familiar with a variety of test and measurement instruments. They need to know how to use these instruments in a safe and proper way under different working conditions. It is important to use the right tools and instruments when working with electricity. Appropriate equipments can make a hard task easy and at the same time wrong selection can make an easy job difficult and dangerous.

This article looks at the most common type of meter available with an electrical engineer or electrician; i.e. the Multi-meter. 

Another versatile and handy instrument for an electrical engineer, particularly in the Solar PV field, is the digital clamp meter

Multi-meters are hand-held instruments designed to measure more than one electrical value; for example DC and AC voltages, DC and AC current, resistance etc. They are also used to check the continuity of conductors or to check the diode. Figure 1 shows the icon of some of the electrical quantities measured by a multi-meter.

Fig.1: Icon of some of the electrical quantities measured by a multi-meter.

In other words, a multi-meter is a measuring instrument that combines an ammeter, a voltmeter and an ohmmeter to measure the current, voltage and resistance in a circuit; means no need to carry different meters for measuring different values.

Digital Multi-meter:

Both analog and digital multi-meters are available, but the digital version has superseded the analog one. Digital Multi-meters (DMM) has a digital display to show the measured values, a dial or selector switch to change the mode of the meter, and connecting terminals. Figure 2 shows a low cost commonly available DMM.

Fig. 2: Low cost commonly available DMM.

Accessories such as a pair of red and black probes, is also provided with the meters. The black probe is always considered as the negative probe and is connected to the common terminal. Figure 3 shows the probe provided with the DMM.

Fig. 3: Probe provided with the DMM.

System with Harmonics:

When harmonics is present in the system, only true RMS meters can provide accurate measurement   of AC values. Harmonics are frequencies that are multiples of the fundamental frequency (50 Hz in India) and can cause distortion of basic AC waveform. The common loads which causes harmonics in the system are computers, fluorescent luminaires with electronic ballast, inverters etc. These electrical loads are also called Non-linear loads as their impedance are not constant.

Working of Digital Multi-Meter:

The basic circuit of a Digital Multi-Meter is always a DC voltmeter. The AC quantity is rectified into DC with the help of rectifiers and filters. All the quantities are digitised using an Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and displayed in the digital form on the display.

Figure 4 shows the internal circuit of a commonly available Digital Multi-Meter.
Fig.4: Internal circuit of a commonly available Digital Multi-Meter.

Advantages of Digital Multi-Meter:

Digital Multi-Meters have the following advantages over analog:
1.       Cheap and compact,
2.       Accuracy is very high,
3.       No loading effect,
4.       Reading of values is much easier,
5.       Can be interfaced with external equipment,


“Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions that are supplied with the Multi-meter. Equipments may be damaged badly and or the user may be seriously injured if proper safety procedures and instructions are not followed.”
Safety is very important when using test and measurement instruments. Many a times, the meter is used to make the measurement while the electrical circuit is energized. Ensure to follow the regular and standard safety procedures when working on live circuits. A safe working practice is always mandatory. The following safety tips are recommended-

1.       Ensure the correct position of selector switch,
2.       Do not be alone when working on live circuits,
3.       Keep your hands dry when taking measurements,

4.  Use rubber gloves and wear shoes when taking measurements on energized circuits.