Quick Guide to the Indispensable Signal Generator

It has been called indispensable. It ranges in size from something similar to half a shoebox to that of a small television. Walt Disney’s company was among the first to use it, although today you can find it just about anywhere engineers are developing and testing devices and systems.

It is the signal generator, and understanding how it works is the first step toward effectively putting it to work for you.

A signal generator produces an electrical “signal” that is either repeated or singular. The signal is sent through an electrical circuit or system. It allows the engineers or technicians who are designing, maintaining or troubleshooting the electronics to test them, ensure they are working properly, or identify and fix problems. It is a tool that today, every engineer and technician should have at his or her disposal. But this wasn’t always the case.

It wasn’t until 1940 that people who worked with electric circuits and systems had the ability to test their equipment. That’s when Hewlett-Packard Company (from which Agilent Technologies and Keysight Technologies have emerged) developed the very first signal generator: the 200A audio oscillator.

Walt Disney quickly saw potential in the tool and his engineers were among the first in the world to use signal generators. In fact, it was used to calibrate the sound system used to produce the classic Disney animated film Fantasia.

At that time, the signal generator was considered cutting-edge technology - innovative and a luxury. Since then, it has been transformed into a standard “tool of the trade,” but that doesn’t mean its importance has been diminished. In fact, quite the contrary is true.

Today, you’ll find signal generators being used in industries ranging from aerospace to defense, consumer electronics to construction and wireless communications. They’ve gone from making it possible to mix a soundtrack for a Disney musical to supporting unmanned drones, GPS devices, cell phones and some of the most complex—and critical—tools used by the United States Air Force.

If you work with electrical circuits, the signal generator is an indispensable tool—regardless of your industry. And if you’re looking to acquire a signal generator, take a look at MATsolutions online inventory of signal generators.