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Troubleshooting Unexpected Analog Measurements

Updated Jul 12, 2019

Reported In

Hardware

  • PXI Analog Input Module
  • C Series Universal Analog Input Module
  • Voltage Input Module for SCXI

Issue Details

I see crosstalk, floating, random spikes, fluctuations, excessive noise, or some other kind of unexpected voltage on my analog input channel. What are some possible reasons for this behavior, and how do I troubleshoot?

Solution

There are a number of reasons that you may be seeing unexpected voltages or cross talk on an analog channel. Some of the more common reasons are:  
 

  • High Source Impedance

    Sometimes the source an ADC is measuring can have a high impedance. This high source impedance can cause a noticeable drop in the measured voltage of the ADC. This can lead to inaccurate measurements.

    More information on this is available in the Input Impedance section of Specifications Explained: C Series.
     

  • Impedance Matching

    Another way that impedance can affect a system is transmission line impedance. When two systems are connected, if one system’s impedance is much higher or lower than the other, this can lead to signal reflection. For example, if multiplexed systems are driven by sources with high source impedance compared to the input impedance of the NI device, you may see voltages from one scanned channel reflected on another scanned channel. In order to eliminate these reflections, the source impedance and input impedance should be matched.

    More information on troubleshooting mismatched impedance issues is covered on Impedance and Impedance Matching.
     

  • Unconnected or Open Channels

    Similar behavior to high source impedance occurs if unconnected channels are included in your scan list. Another common behavior of an unconnected channel is slow drifting or floating to one of the rails caused by charge injection.

    For detailed information on troubleshooting and resolving unconnected channel issues see Incorrect Readings on Unconnected or Open Channels
     

  • Ghosting

    If you are experiencing an unexpected voltage in your digital channel measurement or your unexpected measurements go away when you are only sampling from one channel, this may be due to ghosting between signals. Ghosting can be caused when using a high sample rate on multiplexed devices. See How Do I Eliminate Ghosting from My Measurements? for more information.
     

  • Improper Grounding

    If the signal to be measured is not in reference to the same ground plane as the DAQ device, there is the potential for ground loops. Ground loops can cause offsets and error in measurements.

    For information on troubleshooting grounding issues see the Field Wiring and Noise Considerations for Analog Signals article. Specifically, section two on Measuring Grounded Signal Sources and section three on Measuring Floating (Nonreferenced) Sources.
     

  • Noise and Crosstalk

    Measured signals will almost inevitably include some amount of noise or unwanted signal from the surrounding environment (crosstalk). Proper shielding and connections can reduce the effect of crosstalk between channels and other noise from the environment. The distance of wiring connecting the module to the sensor will also play a factor in how much noise is picked up. 

    For information on resolving noise and crosstalk see the Field Wiring and Noise Considerations for Analog Signals article. Specifically, section four Minimizing Noise Coupling in the Interconnects, section six Solving Noise Problems in Measurement Setups, and section seven Signal Processing Techniques for Noise Reduction .
     

  • Overvoltage on Connected Channels

    Any overvoltage on any of the channels, whether you are scanning it or not, can lead to crosstalk when signals exceed the range of the channel or when common mode voltages allow the signal to exceed the operating range of the device. In addition, if the channel is scanned, an overvoltage can increase the settling time of measurements and may result in crosstalk-like behavior.
     

  • DAQ Device Needs Calibration

    Most DAQ devices should be calibrated at least once every year. Temperature variations can affect the accuracy of a measurement causing you to see unexpected measurements. To reduce the effects of temperature variations ensure that you have calibrated your DAQ device properly. For more information on how to calibrate your device visit Calibration Solutions Overview.

 

  • Improper Measurement Mode

    Be sure to use the same Measurement mode in your hardware and software setup.  For example, Differential (DIFF) measurement mode takes the value between two analog input channels labeled with a positive and negative terminal (e.g., AI1+ and AI1-). While, Referenced Single Ended (RSE) mode measures between a analog input and ground (e.g., AI1 and GND. Using Differential in software while using RSE wiring, where you are measuring between AI1 and GND, will yield unexpected results.
    Note: Make sure the device supports the measurement style you are using as not all modules support RSE. See the user manual for your device for this information.

    The Field Wiring and Noise Considerations is a helpful resource for checking proper wiring practices for a given measurement mode. Additionally, read about the Difference Between Differential, RSE, and NRSE Terminal Configurations to determine if you are using the correct configuration/mode.
     

  • Damaged DAQ Device

    If the DAQ device becomes damaged, it is very likely you will receive improper readings. If you have an E or M Series device you can troubleshoot the issue by running the DAQ Diagnostic Utility. Otherwise, you should verify that the behavior is consistent across chassis / systems to confirm that an individual module or card is damaged.

 

Additional Information

Less Common Issues:
 

General:

  • Incorrect or unexpected output from the device under test or sensor - Use an oscilloscope to check the output of your device under test or sensor to see if the unexpected behavior is caused by the NI device or the third party hardware. Also test your oscilloscope to make sure it is functioning properly by testing other known signals.

Hardware:

  • Blown fuses on your SCXI chassis, PXI(e) chassis, or other signal conditioning.
  • Bent pins on DAQ device or signal conditioning modules - causes symptoms like unconnected channels.
  • Large bias resistors - causes symptoms like high source impedance.
  • If your module supports it, try using analog input channels that aren't adjacent to each other, or as spread apart as possible.
  • You might be wiring your NI module for a current setup and not a voltage setup or vice versa.
  • Your NI device may be reading in Vrms while your sensor or device under test is outputting VDC, which can cause measurements to appear incorrect. Consult your device specification sheets to see what the output and input measurement types are. You can do a quick check for this by multiplying your data by √2 to see if it causes the data to fall within expected values.
  • If you are using an adapter break out board with your device, note that the terminal indexing of the adapter may not match with the module channels. Be sure to consult the pinout diagram for your device as well as the adapter indexing to make sure you are observing the right channels.
 

Software:

  • Incorrect settings in software - more common when using jumper configurable signal conditioning; software settings should match jumper settings.
  • Software corruption in the driver may cause unexpected values as well. Try force reinstalling your DAQmx driver.
  • You may have a filter setting configured that may not be set for the correct cutoff frequency for your desired application requirements.
  • If you are using a microcomputers or single board computers, it relatively easy for these to break. Ensure the DAQ card is the problem by replacing the computer with another working computer.
 

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