by Thermo 1. October 2011 12:47

Reflections on a TDR

Dear Thermo,

The blog entitled "Neutral Corrosion - How much is too much?" includes a waveform from a TDR (time domain reflectometer, often called a radar) that is used to pinpoint bad sections of cable neutral. The TDR is also used to pinpoint splice locations on the cable. Please provide the details of how the TDR determines the neutral corrosion and splices on the cable and how the wave form is read to tell them apart and to pinpoint their locations.

Reflective in MD 

Dear Reflective-

Step-by-step instructions for how to identify and pinpoint neutral corrosion and splices on concentric medium voltage power cables are provided in Novinium Rejuvenation Instruction 12 entitled, “Electronic Cable Diagnosis and Pinpointing.” Click NRI-12 to view the document as a PDF. The TDR sends a low voltage (10-20 volts), short wave length (1-20 nanoseconds) pulse down the cable. A portion of the wave is reflected when it encounters a change in impedance. There are four main types of impedance changes encountered along the length of a test cable.  Remember – impedance includes three elements, resistance, capacitance, and inductance. 

(1)       Instrument-Cable Interface

The first impedance change that is encountered results from the mating of the test instrument lead, an RG59 coaxial cable, which has a characteristic impedance of 75 ohms, with the power cable, which has a characteristic impedance of 8 to 38 ohms depending upon its geometry and polymer system. To minimize the reflection from this unavoidable impedance change, the masters of reliability at Novinium use a proprietary impedance streamliner. This is akin to an aerodynamic sports car versus a squarish pick-up truck. The impedance streamliner is like the smooth curves of the sports car, reflecting less of the input pulse, minimizing signal attenuation and dispersion. Attenuation is the reduction of signal amplitude and dispersion is the smearing of narrow pulse into a broader, less discrete pulse. Both are undesirable. Some reflection is unavoidable. The signature of Novinium’s impedance streamliner shown in red is superimposed upon the green signature of an older impedance technology device (ITD) in the image nearby. Untoward noise and reflections avoided improve the usability and hence the sensitivity and accuracy of the TDR.

(2)       Splice 

In the image nearby I am standing next to a very typical splice during a recent coffee break. The neutrals are all dirty as they are prone to be in a pit, but if you look carefully along the orange annotation, you can see how the neutrals are close to the conductor on the cable, then are pig-tailed together and lay farther from the conductor as they jump across the molded splice body. On the far end of the splice the neutrals again come back to intimate proximity. This change in the separation of the two signal conductors – the conductor and the neutral – changes the circuit impedance. The resistance is not significantly changed, the already low capacitance decreases with increasing distance, but that capacitance change is trivial compared to the change in inductance. The inductance and hence the impedance skyrockets as the neutrals leave the insulation shield and then plummets when the neutrals return to the cable. I have superimposed the actual TDR image of a splice, a characteristic sine wave, in the lower-right-hand corner.

(3)       Neutral Corrosion

The physics are even simpler for neutral corrosion. The capacitance and inductance components are insignificant. A good old-fashioned resistance increase is displayed as an impedance increase. Check out the nearby image.


(4)       End-of-cable

Simpler still, the end of the cable is characterized by either an infinite impedance increase if the circuit is open or an infinite impedance decrease if the conductor is grounded to the neutral. When used, grounding devices add some more color to the wave shape, but the basic idea remains the same.

The TDR signal is reflected by each of the above impedance changes and the time the signal takes to travel to and then from the impedance change can be used to estimate the distance to that change. Note that the TDR is not a pinpointing technology, it provides a location estimate. To pinpoint splices and corrosion a second technology, radio-frequency (RF) locating, is utilized. If you desire, I will be happy to explain how that works too. NRI-12, described earlier, provides step-by-step instructions to accomplish RF pinpointing.

Your adroit amphibian,

T. B. Frog

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