From Pacemakers to Automobiles:
Today’s Arbitrary Function Generators Power Modern Testing

There’s a simple reason you’ll find at least one function generator in every lab and teaching facility. Arbitrary function generators (AFGs) are one of the most versatile and widely used tools on any bench. The signal generator pairs with an acquisition instrument like an oscilloscope or spectrum analyzer to create a complete measurement solution. In its various configurations, the AFG can provide stimulus signals that range from analog waveforms and pulse patterns to modulation, intentional distortion, noise, and more.

Not your grandfather’s AFG

For many years it seemed like the innovation brought significant improvements to many other test tools and instruments had simply passed function generators by. Legacy AFGs functioned much the same way for decades, without appreciable functional and performance enhancements. Those days are gone. Function generators are evolving to keep pace with increasing product design complexity, time-to-market pressures, and financial constraints.

The best AFGs have state-of-the-art technologies built into their design for new capabilities and benefits as well as improved performance. You’ll see many of these improvements in models like the Tektronix AFG31000 , which features both design and functional innovations. But looks can be deceiving. Although the 31000 is compact and easy to use, its sophisticated features allow you to do more than ever.   

Bigger is better… and so is the look

First, it looks different. A large 9-inch capacitive touchscreen has a resolution of 800 × 480. Despite the larger screen, the AFG itself is compact, which is always helpful on the bench. An intuitive interface has become an oft-used buzzword. But in this case, it applies. You can pinch, zoom and scroll to easily locate settings and parameters on a simplified menu and find shortcuts to frequently used settings. Depending on the option selected onscreen, the appropriate physical buttons light up, a feature that came out of user feedback. Operators expressed frustration with confusing traditional buttons and menus and knowing which options were available at any given time.

Embedded Technology for New Capabilities

The AFG31000’s patented InstaView™ technology enables operators to view the waveform of the device under test (DUT) directly on the AFG without an oscilloscope, probes, or additional equipment that has always been required. It detects impedance mismatches between the AFG and the DUT, which can cause waveform distortion if not compensated for.

Innovation extends to embedded double-pulse test software. Now you can generate a waveform with two varying pulse widths (from 20 ns to 150 µs) in under a minute, directly on the touchscreen display. There’s no need for an external PC application or manual programming.

Fig. A typical double pulse waveform, time-consuming to create manually, effortless on the AFG31000

Finally, a built-in arb editing tool, software known as ArbBuilder, enables operators to create, edit and transfer an ARB waveform without connecting or transferring files to a PC. The time wasted experimenting with ARB waveforms while going back and forth between instrument and PC is gone.

Next-Gen Applications

All of these features are ideal for applications of today…and tomorrow. In addition to embedded and semiconductor test applications—clock source, CCD sensors, audio testing, RF, and more—there are numerous education, industrial and research applications, as well as life-saving medical applications.

Using tightly synchronized dual channels, the AFG can simulate normal and irregular biomedical signals (e.g. heart fibrillation) for functional testing of medical devices, including pacemakers, cardioverter defibrillators, and other implantable medical devices. It can also be used for medical ultrasound equipment, driving the transducer with sine wave bursts to test the system.

Heart fibrillation simulation/testing

With the growing electronic complexity embedded in today’s vehicles—both electric and conventional/gas-powered—AFGs bring speed and precision to myriad automotive applications. It’s easy to simulate various automotive sensor signals, including pressure, temperature, speed, rotation and angular position for functional testing and optimization of engine control units (ECUs).

For these and other use cases, operators can leverage the extra-large display to confirm all settings at a single glance, create and edit waveforms using ArbExpress, and conduct tests without the need for an external amplifier thanks to a 10 Vp-p output amplitude.


All of this brings short- and long-term gains for manufacturers and product designers. So many uses from one affordable AFG provides greater ROI, saving both time and money. The ability to streamline testing through the AFG’s multi-functional capabilities eliminates costly, time-consuming workarounds. You can test and gain results faster.

Plus, the forward-looking design and features of a tool like the AFG31000 make it futureproof. You won’t be faced with replacing an aging model. As with any instrument, to make the most of your AFG, make sure you’re well versed in its features and functions. Unlike the 31000’s touchscreen, optimizing any AFG’s many functions isn’t always intuitive. Check out 25 Common Things You Can Do with An Arbitrary Function Generator for applications, benefits and tips.

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