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Board Test Probes: A Comprehensive Guide

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When it comes to board test probes, one of the most common questions asked is, "How many cycles will probes last?" It's a valid concern, as probe life directly impacts maintenance cycles and the cost of testing. However, answering this question isn't as straightforward as providing a single number. Probe life is a variable that depends on several factors, and the answer, in essence, is: "Results will vary."

Understanding Probe Life

Smiths General Purpose probes, for instance, were rigorously tested during their design phase, demonstrating a capability of up to 1 million cycles. However, this impressive number is rarely achieved in real-world customer applications. To set realistic expectations, it's crucial to consider the following factors:

  1. Tip Shape: The shape of the probe tip plays a significant role in its longevity. Pointier tips, especially when used against hard surfaces, tend to wear out faster compared to flatter tips with more surface area and similar force.
  2. Force: Higher force exerted by a probe can also reduce its lifespan when compared to probes with lower force. Selecting the right force for your specific testing needs is essential.
  3. Performance Expectations: Different users have varying performance expectations for their probes. Some may prioritize low contact resistance, while others may require only a reliable signal. This discrepancy in expectations can affect probe life.
  4. Testing Conditions: The environment in which probes are used is critical. Smiths' tests are conducted in ideal conditions against, with flat gold plates, precise vertical alignment, automatic actuation, low controlled current, and in a clean laboratory environment. Real-world conditions may not always match these ideal parameters.

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