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A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring electric potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. It is connected in parallel. It usually has a high resistance so that it takes negligible current from the circuit.
Analog voltmeters move a pointer across a scale in proportion to the voltage measured and can be built from a galvanometer and series resistor. Meters using amplifiers can measure tiny voltages of microvolts or less. Digital voltmeters give a numerical display of voltage by use of an analog-to-digital converter.
Voltmeters are made in a wide range of styles, some separately powered (e.g. by battery), and others powered by the measured voltage source itself. Instruments permanently mounted in a panel are used to monitor generators or other fixed apparatus. Portable instruments, usually equipped to also measure current and resistance in the form of a multimeter, are standard test instruments used in electrical and electronics work. Any measurement that can be converted to a voltage can be displayed on a meter that is suitably calibrated; for example, pressure, temperature, flow or level in a chemical process plant.
General-purpose analog voltmeters may have an accuracy of a few percent of full scale and are used with voltages from a fraction of a volt to several thousand volts. Digital meters can be made with high accuracy, typically better than 1%. Specially calibrated test instruments have higher accuracies, with laboratory instruments capable of measuring to accuracies of a few parts per million. Part of the problem of making an accurate voltmeter is that of calibration to check its accuracy. In laboratories, the Weston cell is used as a standard voltage for precision work. Precision voltage references are available based on electronic circuits.
In circuit diagrams, a voltmeter is represented by the letter V in a circle, with two emerging lines representing the two points of measurement.
A moving coil galvanometer can be used as a voltmeter by inserting a resistor in series with the instrument. The galvanometer has a coil of fine wire suspended in a strong magnetic field. When an electric current is applied, the interaction of the magnetic field of the coil and of the stationary magnet creates a torque, tending to make the coil rotate. The torque is proportional to the current through the coil. The coil rotates, compressing a spring that opposes the rotation. The deflection of the coil is thus proportional to the current, which in turn is proportional to the applied voltage, which is indicated by a pointer on a scale.
One of the design objectives of the instrument is to disturb the circuit as little as possible and so the instrument should draw a minimum of current to operate. This is achieved by using a sensitive galvanometer in series with a high resistance, and then the entire instrument is connected in parallel with the circuit examined.
The sensitivity of such a meter can be expressed as "ohms per volt", the number of ohms resistance in the meter circuit divided by the full scale measured value. For example, a meter with a sensitivity of 1000 ohms per volt would draw 1 milliampere at full scale voltage; if the full scale was 200 volts, the resistance at the instrument's terminals would be 200000 ohms and at full scale, the meter would draw 1 milliampere from the circuit under test. For multi-range instruments, the input resistance varies as the instrument is switched to different ranges.
Moving-coil instruments with a permanent-magnet field respond only to direct current. Measurement of AC voltage requires a rectifier in the circuit so that the coil deflects in only one direction. Some moving-coil instruments are also made with the zero position in the middle of the scale instead of at one end; these are useful if the voltage reverses its polarity.
Voltmeters operating on the electrostatic principle use the mutual repulsion between two charged plates to deflect a pointer attached to a spring. Meters of this type draw negligible current but are sensitive to voltages over about 100 volts and work with either alternating or direct current.
The sensitivity and input resistance of a voltmeter can be increased if the current required to deflect the meter pointer is supplied by an amplifier and power supply instead of by the circuit under test. The electronic amplifier between input and meter gives two benefits; a rugged moving coil instrument can be used, since its sensitivity need not be high, and the input resistance can be made high, reducing the current drawn from the circuit under test. Amplified voltmeters often have an input resistance of 1, 10, or 20 megohms which is independent of the range selected. A once-popular form of this instrument used a vacuum tube in the amplifier circuit and so was called the vacuum tube voltmeter (VTVM). These were almost always powered by the local AC line current and so were not particularly portable. Today these circuits use a solid-state amplifier using field-effect transistors, hence FET-VM, and appear in handheld digital multimeters as well as in bench and laboratory instruments. These largely replaced non-amplified multimeters except in the least expensive price ranges.
Most VTVMs and FET-VMs handle DC voltage, AC voltage, and resistance measurements; modern FET-VMs add current measurements and often other functions as well. A specialized form of the VTVM or FET-VM is the AC voltmeter. These instruments are optimized for measuring AC voltage. They have much wider bandwidth and better sensitivity than a typical multifunction device.
A digital voltmeter (DVM) measures an unknown input voltage by converting the voltage to a digital value and then displays the voltage in numeric form. DVMs are usually designed around a special type of analog-to-digital converter called an integrating converter.
DVM measurement accuracy is affected by many factors, including temperature, input impedance, and DVM power supply voltage variations. Less expensive DVMs often have input resistance on the order of 10 MΩ. Precision DVMs can have input resistances of 1 GΩ or higher for the lower voltage ranges (e.g. less than 20 V). To ensure that a DVM's accuracy is within the manufacturer's specified tolerances, it must be periodically calibrated against a voltage standard such as the Weston cell.
The first digital voltmeter was invented and produced by Andrew Kay of Non-Linear Systems (and later founder of Kaypro) in 1954.
An ammeter is a measuring instrument used to measure the current in a circuit. Electric currents are measured in Amperes (A), hence the name. The ammeter is usually connected in series with the circuit in which the current is to be measured. An ammeter usually has low resistance so that it does not cause a significant voltage drop in the circuit being measured.
An electrometer is an electrical instrument for measuring electric charge or electrical potential difference. There are many different types, ranging from historical handmade mechanical instruments to high-precision electronic devices. Modern electrometers based on vacuum tube or solid-state technology can be used to make voltage and charge measurements with very low leakage currents, down to 1 femtoampere. A simpler but related instrument, the electroscope, works on similar principles but only indicates the relative magnitudes of voltages or charges.
A galvanometer is an electromechanical measuring instrument for electric current. Early galvanometers were uncalibrated, but improved versions, called ammeters, were calibrated and could measure the flow of current more precisely.
An ohmmeter is an electrical instrument that measures electrical resistance. Multimeters also function as ohmmeters when in resistance-measuring mode.
A multimeter is a measuring instrument that can measure multiple electrical properties. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, resistance, and current, in which case it is also known as a volt-ohm-milliammeter (VOM), as the unit is equipped with voltmeter, ammeter, and ohmmeter functionality. Some feature the measurement of additional properties such as temperature and volume.
Electronic test equipment is used to create signals and capture responses from electronic devices under test (DUTs). In this way, the proper operation of the DUT can be proven or faults in the device can be traced. Use of electronic test equipment is essential to any serious work on electronics systems.
In electronics, a shunt is a device that creates a low-resistance path for electric current, to allow it to pass around another point in the circuit. The origin of the term is in the verb 'to shunt' meaning to turn away or follow a different path.
The wattmeter is an instrument for measuring the electric active power in watts of any given circuit. Electromagnetic wattmeters are used for measurement of utility frequency and audio frequency power; other types are required for radio frequency measurements.
For the measurement of an alternating current the signal is often converted into a direct current of equivalent value, the root mean square (RMS). Simple instrumentation and signal converters carry out this conversion by filtering the signal into an average rectified value and applying a correction factor. The value of the correction factor applied is only correct if the input signal is sinusoidal.
A solenoid voltmeter is a specific type of voltmeter electricians use to test electrical power circuits.
AVOmeter is a British trademark for a line of multimeters and electrical measuring instruments; the brand is now owned by the Megger Group Limited. The first Avometer was made by the Automatic Coil Winder and Electrical Equipment Co. in 1923, and measured direct voltage, direct current and resistance. Possibly the best known multimeter of the range was the Model 8, which was produced in various versions from May 1951 until 2008; the last version was the Mark 7.
A capacitance meter is a piece of electronic test equipment used to measure capacitance, mainly of discrete capacitors. Depending on the sophistication of the meter, it may display the capacitance only, or it may also measure a number of other parameters such as leakage, equivalent series resistance (ESR), and inductance. For most purposes and in most cases the capacitor must be disconnected from circuit; ESR can usually be measured in circuit.
A test probe is a physical device used to connect electronic test equipment to a device under test (DUT). Test probes range from very simple, robust devices to complex probes that are sophisticated, expensive, and fragile. Specific types include test prods, oscilloscope probes and current probes. A test probe is often supplied as a test lead, which includes the probe, cable and terminating connector.
An oscilloscope, previously called an oscillograph, and informally known as a scope or o-scope, CRO, or DSO, is a type of electronic test instrument that graphically displays varying signal voltages, usually as a calibrated two-dimensional plot of one or more signals as a function of time. The displayed waveform can then be analyzed for properties such as amplitude, frequency, rise time, time interval, distortion, and others. Originally, calculation of these values required manually measuring the waveform against the scales built into the screen of the instrument. Modern digital instruments may calculate and display these properties directly.
Electrostatic voltmeter can refer to an electrostatic charge meter, known also as surface DC voltmeter, or to a voltmeter to measure large electrical potentials, traditionally called electrostatic voltmeter.
A Megohmmeter or insulation resistance tester is a special type of ohmmeter used to measure the electrical resistance of insulators. Insulating components, for example cable jackets, must be tested for their insulation strength at the time of commissioning and as part of maintenance of high voltage electrical equipment and installations.
An ESR meter is a two-terminal electronic measuring instrument designed and used primarily to measure the equivalent series resistance (ESR) of real capacitors; usually without the need to disconnect the capacitor from the circuit it is connected to. Other types of meters used for routine servicing, including normal capacitance meters, cannot be used to measure a capacitor's ESR, although combined meters are available which measure both ESR and out-of-circuit capacitance. A standard (DC) milliohmmeter or multimeter cannot be used to measure ESR, because a steady direct current cannot be passed through the capacitor. Most ESR meters can also be used to measure non-inductive low-value resistances, whether or not associated with a capacitor; this leads to a number of additional applications described below.
In electrical engineering class of accuracy is a figure which represents the error tolerance of a measuring device.
In electrical engineering, current sensing is any one of several techniques used to measure electric current. The measurement of current ranges from picoamps to tens of thousands of amperes. The selection of a current sensing method depends on requirements such as magnitude, accuracy, bandwidth, robustness, cost, isolation or size. The current value may be directly displayed by an instrument, or converted to digital form for use by a monitoring or control system.
A voltage-controlled resistor (VCR) is a three-terminal active device with one input port and two output ports. The input-port voltage controls the value of the resistor between the output ports. VCRs are most often built with field-effect transistors (FETs). Two types of FETs are often used: the JFET and the MOSFET. There are both floating voltage-controlled resistors and grounded voltage-controlled resistors. Floating VCRs can be placed between two passive or active components. Grounded VCRs, the more common and less complicated design, require that one port of the voltage-controlled resistor be grounded.
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