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Designing digital panel meter

Posted: 16 Aug 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Panel meters  Analogue  digital 

Panel meters are typically mounted in industrial control panels to measure various physical quantities such as temperature, pressure, voltage, current, power, and speed.

These meters take an electrical signal that is proportional to the physical quantity being measured and display the value either on a mechanical dial (in the case of analogue panel meters) or a display (in case of digital panel meters). Panel meters come in various standard sizes as listed in the table.

Table: Size standard for panel meters.

Analogue panel meters (figure 1) display the measured quantity on a dial using a needle. These analogue meters suffer from various drawbacks like non-linearity and parallax errors. They are also hard to calibrate and have a short life due to ageing and mechanical wear and tear. Also, they provide fewer features to meet today's changing market needs.

To overcome these disadvantages, analogue panel meters are being widely replaced by digital panel meters (figure 1b). Unlike analogue panel meters, digital panel meters (DPM) are linear, more accurate, and easier to read as they are equipped with LED or LCD displays.

They also have memory to store various configuration and user parameters. In addition, they can perform functions beyond making simple measurements. For example, they can monitor system health and generate alarms when a particular input is outside a specified range.

Figure 1: a) An analogue voltmeter and b) a digital voltmeter.

There are various implementations available for digital panel meters. Each of these implementations offers specific advantages and some disadvantages, as discussed in this article.

ASIC and ASSP based solutions
Application specific ICs (ASICs) and Application Specific Standard Products (ASSPs) for digital panel meters usually integrate the ADC and the display driver in a single device. Figure 2 below shows the basic block diagram of a digital panel meter implementation using an ASIC.

Figure 2: ASIC-based digital panel meter.

In the above block diagram, the signal conditioning circuit varies based on the range and physical quantity being measured. Generally these ASICs support a couple of standard input voltage ranges; for example, from 0 to 199.9 mV or 0 to 1.999V.

For inputs other than those supported, external signal conditioning circuits have to be used to scale the input signal to within the range supported by the device. For example, if an input is 0-19.9mV, the signal conditioning circuit would be an amplifier with a gain of 10. For an AC input, a precision rectifier or an RMS converter would be used. And so on.

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