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Re: [TowerTalk] SteppIR problem-update from the front lines

To: "'K4SAV'" <>, <>
Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] SteppIR problem-update from the front lines
From: "Dick Green" <>
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2007 10:20:25 -0400
List-post: <>
I'd like to know the answers to Jerry's questions #1 and #2 below, too.
Also, what make and model DVM was used to make the measurements? Was the
resistance of the leads checked and subtracted from the readings?

As I see it, there are three possibilities:

1. The SteppIR controller doesn't work reliably with cables greater than a
certain length. If I remember correctly, Bill has a total of about 520 feet
of cable between the controller and the antenna (440' in the conduit and 80'
on the tower.) It would seem a simple matter for SteppIR to run a series of
tests with a 4-el and lengths of cable ranging from 400-600 feet. I wouldn't
rely on anecdotal evidence from customers.

2. One of the motors has a borderline defect, such that the combined motor
load doesn't overload the controller with shorter lengths of cable, but
somehow the load is increased beyond the capacity of the power supply by the
greater capacitance and/or resistance of the longer cable.

3. There is a marginal defect in the cable or wiring on the tower. Not too
long ago, I moved my SteppIR from a temporary cable to a permanent buried
cable (yeah, I know it's not rated for that.) I stupidly forgot to power
down the controller and unplug the cable before making the switch. Luckily,
I didn't damage the controller. However, when I got to the shack, I found
that the controller was periodically tuning the antenna -- I was alerted by
the N8LP Tuning Relay cycling on and off on a regular basis. I didn't
measure the cycle time, but it was under a minute -- might have been a few
seconds. Anyway, I powered down the controller and checked the cable from
the shack. Sure enough, one of the leads was shorted to ground. The
resistance was not zero -- it was a few ohms. I checked wiring at one of the
suppressor panels and found that a tiny tendril of shield braid was touching
one of the suppressor terminals. Snipping that piece of braid fixed the
problem. My point is that it doesn't take much of a short to confuse the
controller and, depending on the type of DVM you have, and how it does
continuity tests, a partial short may go undetected. Further, it's
particularly easy for tendrils of shield braid to touch the motor wire screw
terminals at the antenna end. That's one reason I switched to telco
waterproof connectors. I'm not saying this is the exact problem Bill has. I
would expect something like that to show up with a long or short cable. But
a marginal condition, where a motor wire is only partly shorted to ground or
another motor wire, might be interacting with the longer cable. A good,
sensitive DVM should be able to reveal a problem like that.

Bill, at this point you can reasonably conclude that the only thing left to
do is take the antenna down, especially if you are seriously considering
another type of antenna. But there's one more test I would do: Take the end
of the spare 440' cable up to the SteppIR and wire it in place of the run
going up the tower. Connect the controller at the other end of the 440'
cable. If it works, there are three possibilities: 1) The 80' cable run up
the tower has a marginal defect, 2) There was a marginal wiring problem with
the 80' cable run at the antenna, 3) 440' is below the threshold for a 4-el
SteppIR cable (again, SteppIR should be able to answer the cable length

If the 440' run works, I'd cut it at the bottom of the tower and wire it to
the cable in the conduit.

If the 440' run doesn't work, it's time to take the antenna down. If it was
me, I'd ask SteppIR for one spare passive EHU and one spare driven EHU, and
substitute to see if there's a marginal motor problem. If that doesn't work,
I'd pack it all up in a big box and ship it back to SteppIR for a refund.
73, Dick WC1M

> -----Original Message-----
> From: K4SAV []
> Sent: Sunday, June 17, 2007 11:03 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] SteppIR problem-update from the front lines
> Doing engineering analysis from where I am sitting is very difficult,
> and you are down to that point.  The part substitution method hasn't
> worked and there is only one part left that hasn't been substituted.
> (And I doubt that will solve the problem either.) Plus you didn't give
> us many details of your measurements other than you made them and they
> were OK. So everyone is just taking wild guesses.  (I thought the water
> in the cable guess was pretty good.)  Here are some questions.  The
> answers to these would help a lot.
> 1.  When you ohmed the lines to the motors what were the readings? Were
> they all very close to the same?
> 2. Did you check every line for resistance between each line and every
> other line and ground?  Were they all open except for the mate for the
> one being tested?
> 3. Is the DC ground for the power supply tied to station ground?  Did
> you measure it?
>   Note: This can be a difficult to measure, because there may be some
> small voltage on it.
>  (This DC ground should not be connected to the tower ground at the
> antenna.)
>  If it is connected, remove the serial cable to the computer and
> re-measure it.  If it is still connected, this may be a problem.
> 4.  Are there any other devices connected to this cable such as
> transient suppressors or a tuning relay?
> I have a 4 element SteppIR with 250 feet of cable.  I just looked at
> the
> output of my power supply with a scope to see if I could learn
> anything.  Seems this is the only way since SteppIR doesn't publish
> their schematics. I was a bit surprised at what I saw.  The supply
> output was close to the nominal 33 volts, but when the antenna was
> tuned
> there was a 12 volt negative going spike on the DC power supply line.
> It then ramped back up the nominal voltage in 30 ms.  This did not
> continue as the antenna was tuning, but occurred only once at the start
> of tuning.  It also occurred each time the antenna was moved one
> frequency step.  I also measured the current spike that was causing
> this
> voltage spike.  It was 6 amps.
> If the cable to the antenna is disconnected, this 12 volt spike is
> still
> present on the power supply, but it only takes 1 ms to recover to
> nominal voltage.
> The cause of this spike or its effect is unknown since I don't have a
> schematic, but it doesn't look like something that is very good, and it
> is sure going to complicate the problem of keeping the controller from
> shutting down when heavily loaded. I could take a guess at the cause of
> this, but I won't because it would only be a guess.  This kind of
> engineering stuff belongs back at the factory.
> I also tested the supply by itself to see if it had good regulation.  I
> did transient load tests up to 2 amps which is the rated current for
> the
> supply.  The output showed no sign of dropping voltage. I did not test
> to see what it would do with a 6 amp transient.
> The resolution of this problem, is it is a problem, belongs at the
> factory.  A beefier power supply might hold the voltage up better,
> however since the controller can cause this spike without the cable
> connected, the source of the problem is probably in the controller.
> I hope FM reads this message because I would like to suggest that they
> set up a test fixture and measure the acceptable limit of cable.
> Having
> someone report that they have one working that has 500 feet of cable
> hardly qualifies as engineering data.  The max limit should be measured
> and the reason for failure above that limit should be determined.  If
> they haven't done the system analysis for the cable system, that should
> be done also.
> Jerry, K4SAV
> Bill Carnett wrote:
> >Ok, Friday I received a new 440 foot control cable
> >from Mike at SteppIR.  In addition he prepared a 6
> >volt DC battery pack to piggy-back on the 33 volt
> >power supply for the controller.
> >
> >Neither worked.  Unit comes on, then shuts off with
> >band selection.  Even tried going into set-up mode to
> >individually select elements, same problem.  Make the
> >selection, and the entire unit shuts down.  With a
> >short control cable, i.e. 80 foot at the base of the
> >tower, the unit works fine...full functioning.
> >
> >So, anybody have other suggestions?  The problem seems
> >to be related to the cable length.  Increasing the
> >controller voltage to the maximum 38 doesn't help.
> >The SteppIR folks, Jerry, Jim, and Mike have been
> >great, but we still can't figure out the problem.
> >
> >This is pretty frustrating.  I want to give this
> >antenna a good opportunity to get functional, but I'm
> >not sure it will in my application, i.e. 500 feet from
> >controller to antenna.  It might be time to start
> >looking for an alternative antenna?
> >
> >Again, thanks to all and any suggestions appreciated.
> >
> >73, Bill
> >AH6FC/7
> >
> >
> >
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> >
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