August 17, 2023

Laboratory Instrument Software Controlled Spread Spectrum Time Domain Reflectometry for Electrical Cable Testing


This research discusses development of a software-controlled laboratory instrument based spread spectrum time domain reflectometry system (SSTDR). This constitutes one task within PNNL’s Light Water Sustainability Program (LWRS) whose mission includes advancing nondestructive examination (NDE) techniques for off-line and on-line in-situ cable condition monitoring. In 2022, PNNL evaluated SSTDR for detection and characterization of a number of cable anomalies (Glass et al. 2022). The review included comparison of SSTDR to Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR) techniques which have enjoyed encouraging feedback and are starting to be used in nuclear power plants for periodic cable condition monitoring of cable systems as part of the plant’s overall cable aging management program. The FDR test introduces a broad-band chirp onto the cable at the cable end then listens for any reflection from a change of impedance along the cable caused by a damaged conductor or insulation, splices, contact with moisture, or other cable anomalies. The signal is captured in the frequency domain then transformed back to the time domain using an inverse Fourier transform (IFT). Based on the velocity of propagation, the impedance response signal is plotted against distance along the cable. Peak locations along the X-axis indicate the distance along the cable where a portion of the signal has been reflected back to the instrument as a result of a cable anomaly. The FDR test is considered the gold standard of reflectometry however it does require the cable to be de-energized to perform the test. The LIVEWIRE commercial SSTDR produces a similar plot to the FDR however all processing is in the time domain. A pseudo-random noise code (PN code) is input onto the cable conductor and the instrument listens for any reflected response from cable anomalies. The SSTDR processes the signal as an autocorrelation comparing the input PN code to any reflected signal detected. The autocorrelation analysis for thermal aging, water and water ingress detection, ground fault and phase-to-phase fault detection at various locations along the cable and with the cable attached and detached from a motor load, and on both energized and un-energized conditions were performed. These results were contrasted to Frequency Domain Reflectometry (FDR) measurements of the un-energized cable. Results were encouraging but indicated more work was warranted – particularly with the SSTDR, it seemed that the insulation damage would likely be better evaluated with multiple bandwidth cable tests particularly including larger bandwidths than were possible with the current commercial instrument. The commercial instrument’s bandwidth was set at 6, 12, 24, and 48MHz but note that SSTDR and FDR definitions of bandwidth trend similarly but are not the same. The FDR response could be more broadly adjusted, and the bandwidth of 100 to 500 MHz produced the best responses. FDR responses to anomalies were clearer than SSTDR responses and indications were that a broader bandwidth SSTDR may lead to improved SSTDR detection capability. This project used a laboratory instrument based SSTDR (primarily using an Arbitrary Waveform Generator (AWG) and a digital oscilloscope plus Python in-house software) that allowed software adjustment of the SSTDR bandwidth, window functions applied to the exciting Pseudo-random Noise (PN) code plus and other aspects of the SSTDR signal processing. Hereafter, this will be referred to as the PNNL SSTDR. Evaluating specific performance of the PNNL SSTDR is left to a separate report. This report documents hardware and software development to produce the SSTDR cable test system.

Published: August 17, 2023


Glass S.W., J.R. Tedeschi, M.P. Spencer, J. Son, M. Elen, and L.S. Fifield. 2023. Laboratory Instrument Software Controlled Spread Spectrum Time Domain Reflectometry for Electrical Cable Testing Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.