Background: The company I work for makes a variety of special-purpose cable assemblies to go with equipment we make. The people who build these cables aren't doing a 100% reliable job, and nobody really likes sitting there with a multimeter testing them, so I've been asked to make some cable test fixtures to streamline the process of getting these items verified and shipped out the door.
Ok, no problem - for our simplest cables, a power source and a LED or two will make an adequate tester. For somewhat fancier cables, I'm fond of making fixtures that are basically just connectors, a bunch of resistors, and two terminals - if the cable is correctly wired, all of the resistors are in series with the terminals, which can be verified with a single multimeter reading. And for the fanciest ones (like this assembly with 30 pins spread over 5 different connectors), I'm working on microcontroller-based testers with a text LCD to indicate exactly what's wrong with the cable.
However, all of the above is merely verifying electrical continuity, which is hardly the only requirement for a "correct" cable. I have two specific areas of concern (which I believe are closely related enough to belong in a single question) that I am looking for suggestions on how to incorporate into a tester:
- Some of our cables incorporate one or more shielded wires. I would like to verify that these have been used correctly - that nobody has swapped the conductor and shield at both ends of the cable, for example.
- Some of our cables incorporate an Ethernet data channel, using twisted-pair wiring. I would like to verify that the correct pairs are twisted together. This is a particularly subtle problem - split pairs are not likely to make the cable fail, it will just be slower than it should be due to packet retransmissions.
The microcontrollers I'm using for the fancier testers are PICs (that's what I have on hand, and am familiar with), which often include some number of channels of capacitance measurement (intended for touch switches). That seems like it might be a useful feature here, although I'm not seeing how I could distinguish a center conductor from its shield that way.