Standalone using Fluke 5700A REF-DAC module


What is the Ref-Amp?

Ref-Amp consists of an NPN transistor in series with a zener diode. When biased properly, the combination has a extremely low temperature coefficient. The reference voltage that the can vary from +6.5 VDC to +7 VDC, depends on actual production bath. Also since both zener and transistor are located on same substrate and enclosed in hermetic package, they are tightly thermally coupled and protected from ambient humidity. This allows to improve stability over long time spans.

There are two well-known examples of this device family, Ref-Amps used by Fluke in high-end instrumentation equipment. These are Motorola SZA263 and Linear LTFLU-1H/LTFLU-1AH.

The Motorola SZA263 is a “Ref-Amp” that was made by Motorola, and later discontinued after getting out of high-volume semiconductor business. This forced Fluke to find a partner to design a replacement for the obsolete SZA263, as Motorola would not sell the design files and masks of original design. Linear Technology was happy to help big customer like Fluke with the design, and that’s how LTFLU-1AH Ref-Amp emerged. It’s pin-2-pin and function compatible with the original SZA263, but the LTFLU-1AH use bit aluminum alloy for the interconnects, which is not the same one Motorola used. This rendered in different long-term stability, visible by positive drift over time on SZA263, but negative in LTFLU-1AH (same as LTZ1000/LTZ1000A and the LMx99 ICs).

If you have a bank of 4 × 732A’s and a bank 4 x recent 732B’s that you get calibrated once a year, you will clearly see these drift patterns. Care need to be taken though, as early batches of Fluke 732B were still using left-over SZA263’s, but later all production 732B were updated to LTFLU-1AH.

Main differences summary between the SZA263/LTFLU-1AH IC and the market-available Linear LTZ1000 are:

  • Different package. LTFLU-1AH is 4-pin hermetic can, the LTZ1000 in an 8-pin TO-99. They are far from drop-in compatible.
  • SZA263/LTFLU-1AH has the transistor for temperature compensation in series with the zener, not parallel as LTZ1000 design.
  • Due to different manufacturing process, Motorola SZA263 have positive long-term drift, while Linear LTFLU-1AH has negative long-term drift.
  • Opposite to LTZ1000A, there is no on-die heater in SZA263/LTFLU-1AH
  • SZA263/LTFLU-1AH require much more time (vs LTZ1000 design) and care for support resistor matching and tempco testing

Last item is due to different tempco compensation transistor arrangement in SZA263/LTFLU-1AH circuit, which needs more attention for temperature and current compensation than LTZ1000 circuits. LTZ1000 design is fine even with standard datasheet reference schematics, without any analog black magic or voodoo.

All this above of course less a problem than zero availability of LTFLU-1AH, as Fluke have exclusive rights for this design and chip, and Linear is not allowed to sell Ref-Amp on open market. So Motorola SZA263/Linear LTFLU-1AH are less friendly solution to implement a stable DC reference, as even if you get LTFLU-1AH chip, lot of time and money for resistor matching and temperature testing is required.

Die photos of LTFLU-1AH and other references


LTFLU-1CH die photo. Courtesy branadic (Dipl.-Ing. A. Bülau) from the EEVBlog

On the die photo we can see much more complex design than just diode and transistor.


Here’s die photograph of Linear LTZ1000ACH chip:


National Semi LM399 die photo. Courtesy branadic (Dipl.-Ing. A. Bülau) from the EEVBlog


Instruments list using Ref-Amp

Known instruments to implement SZA263/LTFLU-1AH as primary DC reference:

There is also great thread here on EEVBlog created by lymex, revealing guts of various DC voltage standards.

Overview of A11 DAC PCBA from Fluke 5700A MFC

Fluke 5700A Service manual has schematics and short description of DC reference and DAC module operation theory, so it’s worth to refresh memory reading related sections to get familiar with DAC module design.

PCB with blue soldermask is 6-layer FR4, with most of the routing buried on inner layers. There are only few ground mesh fill polygons, around digital components, such as MCU, clock generator and ADC. Stripline routing might serve two purposes here – act as additional protection sensitive analog traces from environment and surface contamination. Book Basic Linear Design from Analog Devices covers some of ideas how PCB leakage and bad layout could introduce errors and issues in sensitive analog design.

DAC assembly provide adjustable stable DC voltage output, from 0 to +11VDC and features multiple subassembly units.

  • DC Reference hybrid (HR5)
  • DC Amplifier hybrid (HR6)
  • DAC Filter SIP
  • DAC mainboard

Fluke used PWM-controlled method to generate adjustable voltages. There are also few auxiliary support circuits on-board, such as sense-current cancellation block, linearity tune control, negative offset control. Block diagram below on Image 4 can help to understand overall function of circuitry on A11 DAC PCBA.

Output DC voltage is generated by 5-pole discrete filter, which has two precision square waves of different amplitude as the input. First input channel of the filter is CH1, and it’s amplitude is from 0V to reference voltage, which is around +13 VDC. This is coarse adjustment channel. Second CH2 channel is operated similar way but goes up only to attenuated reference voltage at +0.78 mVDC. This is fine tune adjustment channel. Filter is designed as LPF with bandwidth 30 Hz, and input square wave frequency is 190 Hz. So the output is clean and filtered DC voltage, derived from controlled PWM CH1 + CH2.

Filter output does not have capability to drive large currents, so output stage on separate ceramic hybrid takes filter output and provide driving capability for DAC output. Hence after all, circuit output voltage can be predicted and calculated by simple formula:

*VOUT = DutyCH1 * VREF13V + DutyCH2 * VREF0.00078V*

Here’s realtime example to try some values to generate precise 10V:

DC output VDC = VREF V * Duty_CH1 REF % * VREFuV uV * Duty_CH2 REFuV %

Use of this combined PWM scheme allows us to have efficient way to generate arbitrary voltage levels without use of very expensive resistor networks and expensive complex multi-bit DAC ICs. PWM duty cycle resolution of PWM generator used in Fluke calibrator is 0.0024%, which provides resolution of CH1 = 309 µV/bit and CH2 = 18.5nV/bit. PWM signal also electrically isolated by optocouplers.

Dark color covers around HR5 and HR6 hybrid assembly are not metal, but metallized plastic. Main purpose of these covers is to prevent stray airflow around reference circuity and DAC chopper amplifier. This is important due to parasitic thermocouple EMF-generation effect present with any thermal gradient within the board. Also since hybrids are actively heated, enclosure helps with thermal stability of inner thermostat area. Don’t forget, Fluke 5700A dissipate plenty of power during operation and has two large fans to provide airflow around power amplifiers and high-power components and boards.

ADC section and PWM generator/digital controller are separately enclosed in metal cage shield on the top side. This serve dual purpose, to keep generated RFI/EMI enclosed and localized and to provide additional shielding from external fields. These shields are grounded to module power ground plane.

Main DC reference hybrid is built using sandwich of ceramic substrates. Main thin substrate has two Ref-Amp, hybrid resistor network, few opamps, temperature resistors and circuit tracks. Back side of HR5 has large area 27 Ω resistor acting as a heater. Then there is glued spacer to act as a heat-spreader and coupled to it hermetic hybrid resistor with clear quartz window for laser trim access.

All parts except Ref-Amps, which as Motorola SZA263 are SMT-mount. Two Ref-amps are used to provide higher +13 VDC (6.5 + 6.5) reference level to further reduce amount of noise and improve stability of the DAC. Excellent temperature coefficient of used Ref-Amps is achieved by using stable collector bias current of their transistors provided from stable thin-film resistor hybrid between Ref-Amps. This design allow to have very small output voltage impact from circuit component errors, so it’s output stability directed almost entirely from Motorola SZA263 performance.

To prevent output drift with respect to ambient temperature whole assembly is heated to constant +62 °C by external circuit block on main A11 PCBA. Temperature feedback element is thermistor RT1, located right near the Ref-Amp packages. As ceramic is a good thermal conductor, any change in temperature of hybrid will drive correction signal to Q2 on main board and have circuit adjust power to 27 Ω film resistor to adjust temperature back to set-point. There is also thermal runaway protection, implemented with second thermistor RT2, which activates Q9 to bypass base current of Q1 to avoid overheating. This protection kicks in once substrate temperature reaches +67 °C, and normally should be never used.

Interesting to note that improved Fluke 5720A also has changes in this HR5 DC reference hybrid, as we can see thanks to lymex from chinese forums, who released photo of HR5 used in Fluke 5720A A11:

Pair of Motorola SZA263 chips replaced by Linear LTFLU-1ACH, and LF351 opamps are replaced with Linear LT1006 and TL071C.

Hybrid laser-trimmed resistor network is smaller and have different configuration as well.

Very similar dual Ref-Amp assembly used also in Fluke’s AC measurement standard, Model 5790A on A16 DAC board.

Bit simpler version with only one Ref-Amp is used in Fluke 5500A/5520A and system calibrator 57LFC. There is thermal control over ref-amp assembly in these calibrators either. So as a result DCV performance of these calibrators is “only” 11 ppm annual, with daily stability 2 ppm. Fluke 5700A has 8 ppm annual, and updated 5720A/5730A are half of that, 4 ppm.

Of course if better temperature stability is achieved with removal of all airflow, actual Ref-Amp can provide much better performance. This is proven by ± 2.0 ppm/year and 0.3 ppm/day specifications and actual performance of double-oven Fluke 732B reference assembly.

Let’s take a brief look on 732B reference assembly block diagram:

Power supply requirements of A11 PCBA

In this section we determine what requirement are to get A11 PCBA operational and working, without calibrator mainframe itself.

CAD dimensions of A11

This section will cover physical measurements and dimensions to design a suitable enclosure to fit A11 and other support electronic parts.

Backplane design and signaling

This section will cover electrical and physical design of interconnect backplane board.

Power supply design for A11

This section will cover design of power supply board to power up A11.

Bring-up for DAC/REF

This section will first tests.

Comparison with LTZ1000 reference

Author: Illya Tsemenko
Published: Oct. 14, 2016, 9:19 a.m.
Modified: Dec. 1, 2016, 1:57 a.m.