9103 Actuel Beta: Data Cursor and Auto-save

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UPDATE: A new Actuel Beta featuring a data cursor and auto-save is now available.

Actuel, RBD’s Windows application for controlling the 9103 USB Picoammeter, has currently been updated with some great new features. While the official release is a few weeks away, the beta release contains some new features in addition to the previously previewed micro-window display.

Auto-Save while recording:

In response to customer requests, we’ve added a feature to automatically save data while recording. The auto-save feature comes in handy when leaving the 9103 unattended for long periods. While rare, brownouts, etc., can cause a temporary communication failure between the 9103 and PC, and USB failures can sometimes lock-up or crash a system. Auto-save ensures that data is stored to a text file every 5 minutes, and again when recording is stopped (for completeness).

Auto-save always works automatically when multiple 9103 picoammeters are synced together. Simply select the option for all instances of Actuel, then select the file name (and keep the Data window open for each instance you want to record/save from). The data from each 9103 will be appended to the file sequentially, separated by the device identifier.

9103 Actuel Auto-save Feature

Data Cursor:

Sometimes it’s handy to see the exact data at a particular point in time during or after data acquisition. While high sampling rates make it difficult to mouse-over every data point in large data sets, the data cursor can help track current vs. time more easily without the need to export data as text. By simply hovering over the graph, a vertical line appears, while current and time is displayed in the upper right-hand corner of the graph window.

actuel-data-cursor

As always, Actuel is free for all owners of a 9103 Picoammeter. Meanwhile, you can download the most recent version of Actuel here:

Download Actuel for the 9103 USB Picoammeter

More Information on the 9103 USB Picoammeter

9103 Picoammeter Actuel Update: Micro Window Display

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UPDATE: A new Actuel Beta featuring the micro window display is now available.

The Problem: Using Actuel to control and measure current with the 9103 Picoammeter takes up valuable screen real estate:

Actuel is RBD’s Windows application for controlling the 9103 USB Picoammeter. It also provides features like measuring, recording, and graphing current. Although the data recording and graphing display is a separate, optional window, the controller  and measurement window still take up quite a bit of screen real estate.  Sometimes, you just want to display the current unobtrusively while performing other work on your PC.

The Solution: A “Micro” version of the Actuel window that displays only the current and stability.

In response to customer requests, we’ve added a miniature display option to Actuel. By selecting an option in the main window, you can instruct Actuel to display a smaller window when minimized. This windows is much smaller than the main form, yet large enough to be viewed at some distance – a handy feature in many lab environments.

This “micro” window can be moved anywhere on screen and is always displayed on top of other windows. This allows you to use other applications (like RBD’s AugerScan) while simultaneously monitoring current without taking up precious screen real estate. The micro current display window provides a subset of the information available from the 9103 Picoammeter, including the current measurement and polarity, the sampling status, and the range status. There is also an warning overlaid upon the current measurement should the sample be unstable.

If you are using more than one 9103 Picoammeter and running multiple instances of Actuel, you can display a separate window for each 9103. The “micro” window displays the firmware identifier for each individual 9103 picoammeter so you can keep track of which 9103 Picoammeter each display is associated with.

This feature is just one of many additional features coming to Actuel, which will include a data display cursor, and auto-save-to-file while sampling. As always, Actuel is free for all owners of a 9103 Picoammeter! Meanwhile, you can download the most recent version of Actuel here:

Download Actuel for the 9103 USB Picoammeter

More Information on the 9103 USB Picoammeter

Calibrating the 9103 USB Picoammeter

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9103 Picoammeter

Calibrating the 9103 USB Picoammeter

The calibration procedure provided with the 9103 USB Picoammeter is written for use with a Keithley 220 current source and is set up for semi-automatic operation. But what if you want to use another brand or type of current source? The following procedure shows you exactly how to calibrate and verify calibration using any current source.

Preparing for Calibration

In order to calibrate your 9103 Picoammeter, you will need a calibrated current source, and software that can send / receive ASCII commands to the Picoammeter. If you are using the Actuel application supplied with your Picoammeter, there is a built in console window that allows you to communicate directly with the Picoammeter using ASCII commands – simply click the Console button to open the window and type the commands in the field provided.

Note that when using Actuel’s console window, the ampersand character “&” that precedes all commands is automatically entered for you – you do not have to type it.

Note also that the offset and gain calibration apply to all 7 ranges. Range 1 corresponds to the highest resolution range in nA, range 7 corresponds to the lowest resolution range in mA. The Gain Reference Table (at the end of this article) shows the ideal calibration values and limits for each range (both positive and negative polarity).

Perform OFFSET Calibration and Verification Calibrate Offset (all ranges)

  1. Ensure that the current input is disconnected
  2. Send command &R0 (auto-range)
  3. Send command &C1, 9103 responds “Offset Calibration starting…”
  4. Wait for completion (about 30 seconds), until message received “Offset Calibration Completed!”
  5. Send command &C0, 9103 responds “OPEN CIRCUIT Offset Calibration starting…”
  6. Wait for completion (about 30 seconds), until message received “OPEN CIRCUIT Offset Calibration Completed!”

Verify Offset for (all ranges)

  1. Ensure that the current input is disconnected
  2. Send the &I0500 command to start receiving data samples
  3. Send command &R# (where # is a number 1 through 7) to manually select the range to be verified (see the Gain Reference Table below)
  4. Verify measured values received are zero and have at least 1 zero after the decimal point
  5. Repeat until all ranges are checked

Perform GAIN calibration

Refer to the Gain Reference Table below for interpretation of the current values and limits.

  1. Send the &+CC command to unlock the calibration function. The green LED will begin flashing
  2. Connect the current source to the 9103 input
  3. Turn on current source. Ensure current source is at proper operating temperature before proceeding
  4. Send command &C2, and wait for prompt from 9103: “Apply test current…”
  5. Using your calibrated current source, input the specified test current (see table below) and send command &C2 again, the 9103 will respond with “Measuring and calibrating gain…”
  6. Repeat the current application for each of the 7 ranges and polarities, following the prompts provided by the 9103
  7. Wait for response from the 9103: “Gain Calibration completed!”

Perform GAIN verification

  1. Send command &R0 (select auto-ranging)
  2. Send command &I0500 (sample interval 500 mSec)
  3. For each test current (shown in the Gain Reference Table below), set the source to the specified current and select the appropriate current range on the 9103 in turn (&R1, &R2, &R3, &R4, &R5, &R6, &R7), monitoring the data stream for at least 10 seconds after each range, and ensuring that the readings are stable in each range (if a message starting with &S* appears indicating an unstable value, wait a little longer)
  4. Verify that the measured value reported by the 9103 is within 1% of the set current for each range
  5. Send command &I000 to stop sampling
  6. Disconnect current source and turn off the 9103 – calibration is complete

Gain Reference Table
(14 test currents are shown, positive/negative polarities for each of the 7 ranges)

Range

Test Current

9103 Value

9103 Value Limits

1

+ 1.0000 –9

1 nA

0.9900, 1.0100 nA

2

+ 10.000 –9

10 nA

09.900, 10.100 nA

3

+ 100.00 –9

100 nA

099.00, 101.00 nA

4

+ 1.0000 –6

1 uA

0.9900, 1.0100 uA

5

+ 10.000 –6

10 uA

09.900, 10.100 uA

6

+ 100.00 –6

100 uA

099.00, 101.00 uA

7

+ 1.0000 –3

1 mA

0.9900, 1.0100 mA

1

1.0000 –9

1 nA

-0.9900, -1.0100 nA

2

10.000 –9

10 nA

-09.900, -10.100 nA

3

100.00 –9

100 nA

-099.00, -101.00 nA

4

1.0000 –6

1 uA

-0.9900, -1.0100 uA

5

10.000 –6

10 uA

-09.900, -10.100 uA

6

100.00 –6

100 uA

-099.00, -101.00 uA

7

1.0000 –3

1 mA

-0.9900, -1.0100 mA