Tools: Smart Tweezers

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We’re big fans of surface mount parts. SMD components are cheaper, take less board space, and don’t require drilling; all the coolest new parts are only available in SMD packages.

Smart Tweezers are an advanced multimeter tool specifically designed to test and troubleshoot SMD circuits. It automatically identifies resistors, capacitors, and inductors, and displays the relevant measurements. Advanced Devices sent us a pair of Smart Tweezers to review. We used them while building our last few SMD projects, read about our experience with this tool after the break.

Tool overview

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Smart Tweezers are a multimeter that measures resistance,  capacitance, inductance, and voltage with tweezer-like probes. The probes are shaped to hold loose SMD components, or test components already soldered to a PCB. Measurements are displayed on a small graphic LCD that reverses for left or right hand use. If you’ve ever tried to measure SMD components with a typical multimeter, the value of the tweezer profile is immediately apparent.

Starting at $300, this tool is intended for professionals who regularly debug, test, or repair SMD electronics. It’s a bit out of reach for a hobbyist who just wants to salvage SMD parts.

Using it

We tested the Smart Tweezers while developing three recent SMD projects: the DIY digital picture frame, the Bus Pirate version 1, and an upcoming ethernet device. It’s a real headache to debug an SMD circuit with typical multimeter probes: balance the probes on the correct pins, ensure that the probes don’t create momentary contacts that aren’t due to soldering, and then hold this position long enough to get a good measurement. This only gets worse if you have to repeat several times. The Smart Tweezers test SMD components with a quick single-handed squeeze.

The Smart Tweezers’ graphic menu is navigated with a simple jog wheel. The tool turns on with a press of the jog wheel, and turns off automatically after an adjustable timeout. The default auto-measurement mode attempts to detect the type of component and chooses the best properties to display, but auto-mode is a bit slower than setting a specific measurement mode.

Resistance

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Every multimeter measures resistance, a typical multimeter has several test ranges that are toggled manually. The Smart Tweezers measure resistor values between 0.1Ohm and 5MOhms, without manual range adjustments. In the photo we’re measuring a 390ohm, 1% resistor.

Capacitance

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Capacitance measurement is a feature that’s found on some high-end multimeters. The Smart Tweezers measure capacitance between 10pF and 499µF. In the photo we’re measuring a 27pF, 5% capacitor commonly used in a crystal oscillator.

A measurement taken from a single capacitor shows its value. A measurement taken from a circuit board shows the total capacitance of all connected components and of the PCB itself.

Inductance

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Inductance measurement is rarely found on a multimeter. The Smart Tweezers measure inductance between 1µH and 1H. We didn’t have an SMD inductor to measure, but we tried a through-hole inductor coil from a switch mode power supply.

Voltage

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The Smart Tweezers also measure up to 8volts AC or DC. After navigating to the voltage mode, the Smart Tweezers beep until you flip a small, recessed switch in the side of the case. The switch is too recessed to flip with a fingernail, so we used a through-hole resistor lead.

In the photo we’re doing a quick check to make sure that a tiny SOT-23 LTC2631a digital to analog converter is properly soldered to an adapter board and receiving power.

Continuity/Open Test

The Smart Tweezers have a continuity checking mode that beeps to verify connections between parts. This is an easy way to make sure every leg of a large SMD chip is properly soldered, or to hunt for broken/damaged components.

Current

The Smart Tweezers don’t directly measure current consumption, but it’s easy to calculate using voltage and resistance measurements with the equation Ir=Vr/R.

A look inside

As with any tool, we can’t help but take it apart and see what’s inside.

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The batteries are replaced by removing three screws and the front cover of the device. This view reveals the batteries, the LCD screen, a small piezoelectric speaker, and the back of the circuit board.

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A single screw in the back of the case holds the circuit board in place. We removed the screw to expose the front of the circuit board. The Smart Tweezers are powered by a Texas Instruments MSP430F135 microcontroller and a half-dozen analog chips. The MSP430 line is well-known for low power consumption, and it’s a logical choice for a portable device. Most of the passive support components are size 0402 or smaller.

Conclusion

The Smart Tweezers saved us a lot of time constructing and debugging three surface mount electronic designs. A simple squeeze and test is much faster and easier than awkwardly probing tiny parts with our cheap multimeter. It’s so much easier, in fact, we could hold the Smart Tweezers with one hand and take all the photos in this article with the other; try that with a normal multimeter.

We think two small changes could make the tool even easier to use. First, a larger button would make it easier to switch to voltmeter mode without a wire or screwdriver.  Second, it would be really nice if it could be turned-on by squeezing the tweezers together, rather than pressing the jog wheel.

We really liked the automatic component detection and auto ranging, and the measurement speed is excellent. We appreciate that the tweezer tips are replaceable because we’re really hard on our tools.

If you’re a professional or student who does a lot of work with SMD electronics, a pair of Smart Tweezers can save you time by reducing awkward multimeter measurements to a simple squeeze. This fairly expensive tool is probably overkill for all but the most hard-core hobbyists, but if you derive income from electronics, like we do, Smart Tweezers can be really handy.

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Comments

  1. gabe says:

    This isn’t a hack….
    It’s more of an ad than anything else.

  2. FDP says:

    It also isn’t a hack when they talk about thermometers or relays or chip sockets. The format is:

    Tools: a tool that you might find useful
    Parts: a part and how you might find it useful
    How-to: how to do something

    They also link to hacks.

  3. royce says:

    I saw a similar write up of this tool in Nut’n’Volts or maybe Circuit Cellar. Having just bought a bunch of Electronics Goldmine SMD assortment bags this tool sure looks tempting. But there is no way I’m shelling out $300 for it.

    I’ve been thinking that maybe I could find some plastic tweezers and strap at least and R and C measuring circuit on to it just using an Atmel. With a crystal I’ll bet I could time the .63Vcc rise time accurately enough to figure out the part that I had in hand. Given that I have decent command of Atmel AVRs it doesn’t seem like it should be all that bad of a task.

    Any thoughts on a DIY version of this tool?

  4. Why not just build a “tweezer peripheral” for regular multimeters? Plug it in to the multimeter you already have and you’re good to go. $5 instead of $300.

  5. I searched for “tweezer banana plug” and found these made by Pomona for $27 http://www.amazon.com/Pomona-Tweezer-Stacking-Banana-Plug/dp/B0000WU2XI

  6. Ryan says:

    I agree that it is very expensive for what it does. Someone could probbably build something very similar that plugs into a multimeter.

    The way it automatically figures out what you are trying to measure and then autoranges is pretty cool though.

  7. mjn says:

    I have something very similar to the banana plug tweezers that eliot mentioned. Maybe even the same – not sure. They work great for measuring across discretes, or even just in tight spaces (like inside of connectors). They plug into my multimeter just like normal test leads.

  8. Sqnewton says:

    Agree. This is more an ad than anything else… HackADay: We expect hacks, good and bad, but not ads!

  9. kikkoman says:

    don’t forget this thing can measure ESR, which most dmm’s can’t. a standalone ESR meter costs >80$ alone.

    this isn’t cheap, but if you earn your money with repairs, it’s not expensive either.

  10. dan says:

    Sometimes I use a pair of sewing needles as probes, insulated with electrical tape. I bet with some practice you could learn to hold them like chop sticks. Using two hands it’s pretty easy to measure just about anything with the needles.

  11. Jose says:

    I don’t know why everyone is complaining, it is relevant to hacking. Relax.

  12. jonny says:

    “Why not just build a “tweezer peripheral” for regular multimeters? Plug it in to the multimeter you already have and you’re good to go. $5 instead of $300.”

    Now I understand what “think outside the box” mean…

    You have potential !

  13. royce says:

    How are you guys measuring capacitance with a multi-meter? Are you breaking out a stop watch in addition to the multi-meter?

  14. Icefox says:

    I remember seeing a banner ad for this thing on this site like 5 months ago.

    I gotta say, I do like the ads on here. Most of them are relevant to the hack they’re posted on and are sometimes even useful (useful ads, what kind of parallel universe is this?).

    And I agree with jose, it’s not like it’s an ad for some kind on Tupperware crap, it’s very hack-related and seems to have inspired some people to make their own. I call this a good post.

  15. cynic says:

    It’s called a review, guys, I’m sure you’ve heard of them. This is kit that may aid a hack, it’s relevant.

    Nice little piece of kit, not worth $300, but nice all the same.

  16. fartface says:

    These are also useless. any decent multimeter you can buy “tweesers” probe ends and do the exact same thing.

    I’ll take my fluke 287 with a tweeser probe over this overpriced toy any day.

  17. ngth says:

    This is more of an advertisement, and less of a hack. Any good electronics person will already have a digital multimeter and will use that instead of paying the $300 for this thing.

  18. fartface says:

    @royce all decent multimeters have a cap measure mode. Stop buying the $14.95 crap and spend a couple of hundie on a real multimeter. Mine has a scope in it with a frequency counter and a rs232 port for recording and logging.

  19. gabe says:

    “It also isn’t a hack when they talk about thermometers or relays or chip sockets. The format is:

    Tools: a tool that you might find useful
    Parts: a part and how you might find it useful
    How-to: how to do something

    They also link to hacks.”

    I agree that this is a place for information other than hacks. I should have been more precise in my previous complaint. My objection to this post is that:
    A: Being a hacker isn’t about buying overpriced tools. It is about finding ways to make things work. Some of the suggestions for ways to do essentially the same thing that this does with other tools (sewing needles or multimeter attachments) are what this website should be covering.
    And B: There are thousands of highly useful tools on the market. The only reason that this one is being endorsed is that “Advanced Devices sent us a pair of Smart Tweezers to review”.
    C: Nearly every techie who has ever had the misfortune of using a computer without ad blocker has come across a banner ad for this device. And my guess is that the vast majority of us have decided against it as soon as we saw the price. Because of the rampant advertising that Advanced Devices does, this post is quite superfluous.

  20. trevis says:

    I saw a buddy of mine using the thing. It is pretty cool, actually. It is NOT a multimeter. It measures ESR – LCR Meter. Any _decent_ LCR meter goes well over $300. Try measuring 3pf cap or small inductance with a multimeter or with banana plugs and see what you get.

  21. min says:

    Isn’t it kind of pointless to measure resistance of a device in circuit because there are likely to be parallel paths? Unless they’re doing something like what the Huntron tracker does.

  22. Nick Taylor says:
  23. PunchTheDonkeyOnTheNose says:

    This device looks handy, and even I as a student would find these expensive. I think the same could well be accomplished with some of the suggestions, hell it may even be a future hack-it project.

    @Sqnewton, If you don’t like it, nothing is compelling you to read hackaday.com, if you feel you can do a better job go and form your own blog.

  24. werejag says:

    send me one of these or remove this advert pretending to be a legitmate hack

  25. andy says:

    I want so bad!!!!

  26. nick says:

    This is a neat little toy. If there wasnt this little economic slow down i would happily buy this little bad boy for the electronic work i do, it seems worth it for me.

  27. jproach says:

    @fartface: This is an LCR meter with a voltmeter thrown in. It is definitely not a replacement for a true multi-meter, and should not be compared as such.

    I can’t comment on the quality of this meter, but true LCR meters are much better at measuring components in circuit. A multi-meter with capacitance mode often has issues (also no dissipation/Q, no frequency selection, etc.).

  28. ian lesnet says:

    I noticed a few differences between using the Smart Tweezers and using my multimeter with a tweezer probe. First, the Smart Tweezers automatically detect the type of component and the best measurement range and measurement frequency. Second, the Smart Tweezer display is right above the probes so I don’t have to change focus to the multimeter after each test.

    Neither of these seem like a big deal if you only debug a few parts, but when I used it on a big design I think it made my work flow much smoother.

  29. y3 says:

    good

  30. Pawel says:

    Yes, there is a difference between lcr-meters and multimeters but an lcr-meter can be made very cheaply. I ran across an article in Elektor (a european electronics magazine) describing how to build one using only two resistors, one 1kohm and a 10kohm and a LM358 op-amp. The circuit is connected to a computer’s sound card’s line in and line out.
    The program for the measuring adapter can be downloaded for free on their website. The article can be found there too but you have to register to get the free download points.

    http://www.elektor.com/magazines/2008/june/an-rlc-meter-for-under-2.00.495109.lynkx

    It may seem to be a hassle but its dirt cheap or free if you have the parts.

  31. strider_mt2k says:

    Ahhh now _this_ is the dialog we _should_ be having.

    What are the alternatives?
    What’s the difference between this those alternatives?
    How can we implement the alternatives?

    -not whining about content.

  32. Kiwisaft says:

    definitely not worth the money
    100$ would be a “normal” price for this
    better modify a standard multimeter to use it with standard tweezers. should not cost more than 50 bucks to do this, and it will be more handy

  33. The Steven says:

    Not very smart tweezers, when used by a left-handed tech (like me) the display is upside-down.

    And no, they don’t make a left handed version. I checked.

    • Tito Nguyen says:

      I have been using the ” EXCELTA TM-200 ” for many years, It’s look identical to this one, and I love it ! you can change the read out upside down to become left hand or right hand as you want, made in Canada. Yes > $300.

  34. Nice tool..hmm.
    Thx 4ur post.

    Best regards,
    SBO

  35. Ian Lesnet says:

    @steven – A menu option flips the display for lefties. I tried it out because I couldn’t decide if it was easier to take the photos with my left or right hand.

  36. royce says:

    @fartface I spend more like $4 on mine. I find that for for 99% of my DIY applications, the $4 model works spectacularly.

    @pawel Nice! I pulled the article and software. I’ll see if I can’t make it work! Thanks much!

  37. Andrew says:

    Deal-killers for me:

    * $300
    * no inductance measurements below 1uH
    * no voltage measurements above 8V

  38. Diego Bouvier says:

    They (Advance Devices) send to hkdy people two of them so they can make a “review”. I think most of us will make the same, i mean make a “review”, if you can gen two of those for free. or not?

    I agree, it’s tooo expensive, yes is a good measure tool, but is too expensive to people that search for a cheap way to make (and measure) things. There are a lot of LC meters made with a PIC16F84, they are good, they are cheap, and you can find it searching internet. Yes, they’re not perfect, but they work.

    (I’m sorry, but my english is not so good as i want)
    Regards from uy (uruguay)

  39. ferm says:

    just in case advanced devices is listening:

    if you get the price down to 125 or so I’ll buy one.

    not worth $300.

  40. The Steven says:

    @Ian Lesnet

    When I looked at their website, I saw no mention of said menu, I called them and asked about left handed use, I would have paid for it on the spot if they said anything about it.

  41. Diego Bouvier says:

    It’s me, or a lot of people here are left handed? (I include myself)

  42. trevis says:

    There is a left-handed option there. One selects it in the menu and display flips for left-handed use.

  43. Sammy says:

    i like this, but it’s way to expensive for me….

  44. Sammy says:

    …and what eliot Phillips suggested is much more feasible

  45. Mastro Gippo says:

    Smart tweezers for the rest of us!

    http://mondo-technology.com/super.html

    A lot more functions, but some tradeoffs. Very cool anyway.

  46. Roofu86 says:

    I disagree, it’s not an ad, it’s a review. And just think about how many people are buzzing about how to make their own now. I’m pretty sure that more people who come to this site are likely to build one than buy one. And if you didn’t think about building your own, it’s not Hack-A-Day’s fault you’re uninspired.

  47. lens42 says:

    I’ve been using these tweezers for years. They are essentially free and can be made in about 5 minutes.

    http://saselectronics.blogspot.com/2009/03/this-home-made-surface-mount-device-smd.html

  48. Brian Symons says:

    Similar looking Smart Tweezers but only with resistance & capacitance measuring capabilities on eBay are less than $50 with freight. They call them SMD Tweezers MS8910

  49. Doug says:

    Does “pcb debugging” mean that this tool can test components in circuit like my old BK transistor tester can? Only transistors, of course. :) In the event that’s the case it may very well be worth the money to the tech who earns a living trouble shooting boards populated with SMD.

  50. Great and useful tool…but the price is a little high. Thanks for the review.

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