How to test the bias batteries in a 9103 picoammeter

The 9103 USB picoammeter is often equipped with a +90 V bias option which improves the accuracy of electron and ion current measurements (by reducing the number of low energy secondary electrons that are generated by the beam from leaving the target).

The +90 V bias comprises two 45V batteries in series which are located inside the 9103 chassis.   This blog post will explain how to test and replace the batteries in a 9103 picoammeter.

1. Connect a DVM (digital volt meter) to the 9103 Input BNC connector.  A BNC to double banana cable works well.  Set the DVM to DC volts.

2. In Actuel (the 9103 software), select the input Grounded and bias On.

3. Sample the current.

4. When the bias ON is checked there will be about +90V DC on the input of the 9103.

5 .The input impedance of most DVMs when measuring DC voltage is 10 meg ohms.  The two 45 volt batteries should total 90 to 95V DC.    The bias voltage divided by the input impedance of the DVM will  equal the current.  In this case the voltage of the two 45 volt batteries totaled 94V and the current was 9.414 uA.

9.4 uA in Actuel

9.4 uA in Actuel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

94 V DC on DVM

94 V DC on DVM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. It is recommended that the bias batteries be tested every 6 months and replaced when the voltage drops below 80 volts.  It is normal for the batteries to wear out over time and with use.  Once the bias voltage drops to less than 50 V the effectiveness of preventing secondary electron emission is greatly reduced, which in turn reduces the accuracy of electron and ion beam current measurements.

The RBD part number for the 45 V battery is BAT-45-213.

Whether you have an RBD 9103 USB picoammeter or an older Keithley with a PHI model 78 bias box, you should test the batteries as part of your preventive maintenance procedure and replace them as needed.

To replace the batteries in a 9103:

Unplug the 9103 USB power and input cables.

Using the Torx wrench that was included with the 9103, remove the screws from the front and rear 9103 chassis covers.

Slide the board out from the front of the 9103.   You will need to rotate the back cover to feed it in. The back cover has a ground wire that is attached to the 9103 board. Also note which groove the 9103 board is in as you will need to put it back in the same groove.

Remove the battery support bracket (white plastic).

Carefully remove the old batteries.

Install the new batteries.You may need to adjust the contacts on the batteries to get them to fit onto the board snaps more easily.

Reattach the battery support bracket.

Carefully slide the back cover and board back into the chassis. Make sure that you put the board back in the same groove that it came out of.  If the front cover does not line up with the chassis then you are not in the correct groove.

Reattach the screws to the front and back covers.  Do not over tighten the screws!

Once you have installed the new batteries, test the voltage. You should have 90 to 95 Volts.

9103 bias batteries

9103 bias batteries

 

 

New Feature: Use the 9103 Picoammeter to Automatically Read microCMA Target Current

The latest software releases of Actuel for the 9103 Picoammeter and CMapp for the microCMA now support the ability to automatically read target current when acquiring data.

To use this feature, you must (of course) have a 9103 Picoammeter running RBD’s Actuel software.

Run CMapp for the microCMA, select Hardware Properties from the System menu, and check the option “Use 9103 Picoammeter to read target current.” You only have to do this once.

Turn on the 9103 Picoammeter, run Actuel, and measure your target current as usual. Leave Actuel open. It doesn’t matter whether the 9103 is sampling, but keep in mind that your current settings (sample rate, etc.), will be used.

Now, whenever you take an acquisition (except for an alignment), the target current will be measured at the beginning of the acquisition and displayed with the other electron gun settings when the acquisition is complete.

If you don’t have a 9103, you can still manually enter a value for the target current in the acquisition dialog.

Download the latest release of Actuel for the 9103 Picoammeter here.

Download the latest release of CMapp for the microCMA here.

 

Resolving USB Conflicts with Virtual COM Ports

If you run multiple USB devices that operate as virtual RS232 COM ports (the ubiquitous serial port standard) on Windows, you may have run into problems with conflicts between devices. An application may connect to the appropriate device when it’s the only one connected, only to “get confused” if there is another device sharing the PC. Happily, there are a few simple things you can try that will often resolve the problem.

9103s and Arduinos Playing Nice Together

9103 and Arduino USB Devices

A 9103 Picoammeter and Arduino

To most Windows applications, virtual COM ports (VCPs) all look the same. An application can open a port and and attempt to communicate with the connected device, but since there’s no fixed protocol – each device speaks its own “language”, any message sent can have undetermined effects if the device you’re communicating with is not the one your were expecting. Some applications simply connect to the first COM port available, other’s may provide a way to select the COM port your device is connected to – but you’re still responsible for figuring that out.

When manufacturers produce hardware for PCs they can apply for unique vendor ad product IDs for their device, and there are ways for applications to safely query these. But that only solves part of the problem. Many devices use third-party USB chips and drivers from companies like FTDI, so they share the same IDs. These devices look the same to a Windows client application, or to a person perusing the Device Manager in Control Panel.

RBD’s own 9103 Picoammeter utilizes FTDI’s popular USB VCP chips, as do many versions of the popular Arduino microcontroller boards, so these two sets of devices can be confused by client applications when used on the same PC. And s it turns out, they are often used together. Here are a few tricks for getting these device to play nice together.

Solution 1: Connect Each Device and Run Each Client in Order

Many applications require you to specify the port for the selected device. Others (like Actuel for the 9103) poll the COM ports in numerical order and check and connect to the first available. If these devices first check the vendor and product ID (like the 9103), they will at least skip ports that do not match. But they cannot distinguish between two devices using the same USB chip (like FTDI’s). Setting up a device connection / application order can solve this.

In the case of a 9103 / Arduino conflict, remove all other devices, then plug in the 9103 and power it on. Next run the Actuel software. The software will find and take control of the 9103 port, and once assigned, you can safely plug in the next device and run its client.

Another order might make more sense for your particular application. Experiment with your configuration, and there are more than two devices, try getting two working first. Document the process and just make sure it’s followed anytime you reboot / power-on.

Solution 2: Change the COM Port Number for a Particular USB Port

You can force Windows to use a different COM port number than the one automatically assigned. This may help with applications that select the lowest numbered port.

For example, if the 9103 is connected to COM4 and another FTDI device is on COM3, the 9103 client software may incorrectly select the device on COM3. Setting the 9103 to COM2 may allow you to now connect the devices and run the client applications in any order, depending on how those other devices / applications behave. Some experimentation may be necessary.

With the 9103 connected and turned on, run Control Panel / Device Manager, and find the selection for “Ports (COM and LPT)”, click and you should see an entry for “USB Serial Port (COM4)” (the COM# may be different of course). Double-click for properties.

The COM port settings for the 9103 USB VCP

The COM port settings for the 9103

Now select the “Port Settings” tab, and click the “Advanced…” button. From this window you can select a new COM port assignment:

Choosing a COM port for the 9103

Choosing a COM port for the 9103

Keep in mind that plugging a device into different USB port will change the COM port assigned to it.

More Info

Of course, you’ll want to ensure you have the latest drivers installed. For FTDI, they can be found here:

http://www.ftdichip.com/FTDrivers.htm

If you’re thinking of programming your own serial port application, here’s a quick tutorial at the API level. Many popular languages include code for VCP programming, and third-party libraries are available:

http://xanthium.in/Serial-Port-Programming-using-Win32-API