Back in October, I posted an explanation about what was a bipolar (four-quadrant) power supply (see post here: http://powersupplyblog.tm.agilent.com/2012/10/what-is-bipolar-four-quadrant-power.html). That post covered two-quadrant supplies as well. Last week, while in Lorton, Virginia, I had an opportunity to meet with some of our U.S. Army customers - engineers working at Fort Belvoir. Many of the engineers worked in the Counter Measures Research Laboratory (CMRL). While they are very careful to not reveal any details about the specifics of the work they do, one of the engineers shared a story with me about two-quadrant operation that is worth repeating.
A battery operated device (he did not mention what it was) came into his lab because it was not functioning properly: it had some type of intermittent problem. In an attempt to reproduce the problem, he removed the battery and connected the device’s power input terminals to a power supply on his lab bench. But even after running the device for long periods of time and through all of its operating modes, he was unable to reproduce the intermittent problem.
This example demonstrates the importance of choosing a power supply with the right output characteristics for your test. When testing a device or circuit with a power supply, the closer that power supply’s behavior is to the actual power used with the device or circuit, the more you will reveal about the actual performance of your device or circuit. There are applications in which a two-quadrant power supply will better replicate a battery’s behavior than a single-quadrant power supply, even if you don’t expect the battery to absorb power during test. One CMRL engineer experienced this firsthand.