Kit review – Current Clamp Meter Adaptor

Hello readers

Time for another kit review. Over the last few days I have been enjoying assembling a useful piece of test-equipment – a Current Clamp Meter adaptor. This kit was originally described in the September 2003 issue of Silicon Chip magazine. The purpose of this adaptor is to allow the measurement of AC current up to around 600 amps and DC current up to 900 amps. A clamp meter is a safe method of measuring such high currents (which can end you life very quickly) as they do not require a direct connection to the wire in question. As you would realise even a more expensive type of multimeter can only safely measure around ten amps of current, so a clamp meter becomes necessary.

To purchase a clamp meter can be expensive, starting from around $150. Therein lies the reason for this kit – under $30 and a few hours of time, as well as a multimeter that can measure millivolts DC/AC.

How the adaptor works is quite simple. It uses a hall-effect sensor to measure magenetic flux which is generated by the current flowing through the wire being measured. The sensor returns a voltage which is proportional to the amount of magnetic flux. This voltage is processed via an op-amp into something that can be measured using the millivolts AC/DC range of a multimeter. As the copyright for the kit is held by Silicon Chip magazine, I cannot give too much away about the design.

John’s soapbox: People may ask “hey, can you send me the schematic? I don’t want to pay for the reprinted article or buy the kit”. My answer will be no. The hobby electronics industry in this country is shrinking every day, so please support Leo and the gang at Silicon Chip by paying for a reprint or Altronics by buying the kit (it’s out of production at Jaycar). The less kits they sell, the less-inclined they will be to produce new kits.

You can purchase a complete kit from Altronics, or build one yourself by following the article in the magazine. The PCB is also available separately from RCS Radio, ask them for PCB number 04109031, in bin 2974. The hall effect sensor UGN3503 is now out of production, but according to the data sheet (.pdf), the Allegro A1302 is a drop-in replacement.

Now, time to get started. To make life easier I forked out for the whole kit, which arrived as below:

Upon opening the bag up, one is presented with the following parts:

It is great to see everything required included with a kit. And the extra battery-clamp is a nice bonus. As usual an IC socket was not included, however these can be had for less than five cents each… so I have recently solved that problem by importing a few hundred myself. The hall effect sensor is very small; considering the graph paper below is 5mm square:

The PCB was very well done – to a degree. The solder-mask and silk-screening was up to standard:

… however a few holes needed some adjustment. Doing a component test-fit before soldering really paid off, as none of the holes for the PCB pins were large enough to accept the pins, and one of the sensor socket holes needed some modification:

A small hand-held drill is always a handy thing to have around. Once those errors were taken care of, actually soldering the components to the PCB was simple and took less than ten minutes. The potentiometer VR3 needed to be elevated by 3.5mm so it would fit through the enclosure panel in line with the power switch. As I couldn’t use PCB pins, a few link offcuts from the resistors worked just as well. When soldering the components, start with the low-profile items such as resistors, and finish with the switch and potentiometer:

Now it was time to make the clamp. First up was to cut the iron-powdered toroidal core in half. All I had to do this with was a small hacksaw, so I hacked away at it for about half an hour. This process will make a mess, filings will go everywhere. So you will need some pointless rubbish to catch the filings with:

Each half of the core is placed inside the clamp. Until I am completely happy with the clamp they will be held in with blutac. A lead also needs to be constructed, with the sensor at one end and the 3.5mm stereo plug at the other. Some heatshrink is provided to cover the ribbon cable, but I recommend placing some over the solder joints where the sensor meets the ribbon cable, as such:

Next, the sensor needs to be placed between the two halves of the core – however a piece of plastic slightly thicker needs to sit next to the sensor, to stop the clamp damaging the sensor by closing down on it. Then, using the continuity function of a multimeter, check that there aren’t any shorts in the lead. Feed the newly-constructed lead through the battery clamp in order to keep things relatively neat and tidy, and you should result with something like this:

As you can see I have had a few attempts at cutting the core. The next step was to drill the holes for the enclosure, and then solder the wires that run from the PCB, run them through the hole in the side of the enclosure, and fasten the banana plugs to plug into the multimeter.

Now it was time to start calibration. There are two stages to this, and both are explained well in the instructions. This involves adjusting the trimpots which control the output voltage in millivolts, which can be affected by charge in the human body. Therefore it is recommended to use a plastic screwdriver/trimming tool to make the adjustments:

They are generally available in a set or pack for a reasonable price. The second stage of calibration involves creating a dummy DC current load using a 12v power supply, 5 metres of enamelled copper wire and a 18 ohm 5 watt resistor:

By putting 100 turns of the copper wire around one side of the clamp, putting the resistor in series and looping it into 12 volts, the current drawn will be 0.667 amps. (Ohm’s law – voltage/resistance = current). Then it is a simple task to set the multimeter to millivolts DC and adjust potentiometer VR1 until it displays 66.7 mA:

So there you have it – 66.7 millivolts on the multimeter represents 660 milliamps of current. So 1 amp of current will be 100 millivolts on your multimeter. Excellent – it works! The whole mess was inserted into the enclosure, and I was left with something that looked not terribly unprofessional (time to invest in a label-maker):

It turns out that the thick OFC cable and the battery wouldn’t be able to coexist in the enclosure, so the battery is external.

The current clamp meter kit was an interesting and satisfying kit to assemble. Originally I assumed it would be simple, but it required plenty of drilling, cutting the darn toroid in half, tricky soldering for the clamp lead, and some patience with lining up the holes for the enclosure. Not a kit for the raw beginner, but ideal for teaching with a beginner to improve their assembly skills, or anyone with some experience. Plus it really does work, so money has been saved by not having to buy a clamp meter or adaptor.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter or facebook, or join our Google Group for further discussion.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Otherwise, have fun, be good to each other – and make something! :)

By John Boxall

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