FROM ALPHA TO BETA: smaller and smarter
A brand new generation of signal conditioning modules is being launched by instrumentation specialist Lee-Dickens, whose AlphaDIN and AlphaMINI modules have been 'signal conditioners of choice' for engineers, electricians, system integrators, designers, panel builders, technicians and maintenance staff in all areas of industry. The functionality of the Alpha series is being migrated across to the new Beta series, which is also up-rated to accommodate the 'smart' digital signals used by protocols such as HART.
Beta builds on the field experience of Alpha, which has been manufactured since 1985 and now includes over 30 basic models and thousands of variants. These modules find application in many different environments – for example where two separate items of equipment such as sensors and controllers having standard inputs and outputs need to be interfaced. “It never ceases to surprise me,” says Gyles Dickens, Sales and Marketing Director of Lee_Dickens, “how often systems are built with the final tiny piece of the jigsaw missing. We also find many applications where older equipment must be linked to newer systems and our modules are ideally suitedd for that too.”
Trends in this ‘stand-alone’ market include a move towards smaller size and lower cost. Lee-Dickens is aiming to bring the cost of Beta modules down below £100. The addition of higher performance electronics enables Beta modules to handle ‘smart’ digital signals as well, enabling their use in all kinds of modern instrumentation loops.
Cost savings are achieved by making increased use of commercial off-th-shelf (COTS) components, particularly transformers. Alpha series modules used a special transformer transformer to achieve a very high specification but this is no longer such an issue for most users, particularly as technology improvements have increased the performance of standard components generally. COTS allow prices to be cut by up to 30%.
The first Beta module is the BD300, a mains-powered isolator which will accept virtually any sensor signal, including DC currents and voltages, resistance and potentiometer signals, resistance thermometer signals (2, 3 and 4 wire) and most thermocouples. After conditioning an input signal, BD300 feeds it through an opto-isolating circuit and then outputs it as a standard current or voltage signal e.g. 4-20mA or 0-10V, maintaining full 3-port isolation. BD300 is half the size of its Alpha counterpart.
BD300 options include subtractor/adder/averager functions and true 4-wire RTD conversion. Another version – BM300 – is available as a two-port isolator offering similar functionality but designed for high level mA or voltage signals. BM300 can battery powered or mains powered.
The next Beta series module is likley to be the BD100/120 trip amplifier, says Lee-Dickens. Gradually, all Alpha series modules will be moved across to the new format. The market for the higher performance Alpha series is expected to remain intact for some time, though at a lower level than previously.
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