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Crest Factor: A Key Troubleshooting Parameter

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Crest Factor: A Key Troubleshooting Parameter
Electrical Construction and Maintenance

John DeDad , Senior Director, Editorial and EC&M Development
Sat, 2008-03-01 12:00

Understanding this value is important when taking low-frequency signal measurements We all know that electric utilities in the United States generate electricity at various 60-Hz voltage levels that result in a sine wave waveform. The height, or amplitude, of this sine wave is called its “peak value.” Instead of using the peak value, however, we describe the amplitude of a sine wave as its effective, or root-mean-square (rms), value.

One key parameter derived from the two values mentioned above is crest factor, which is the ratio of the peak value to the root-mean-square (rms) value of a waveform. This is expressed by the equation C = XPEAK ÷ XRMS. For a pure sine wave (Figure), the peak is 1.0, and the rms value is 0.707. Thus, the crest factor of a pure sine wave is 1.414 (1.0 ÷ 0.707). It's interesting to note that crest factor is also an important parameter in mechanical systems. According to the paper, “What is ‘Crest Factor’ and Why Use It,” by Alan Friedman of DLI Engineering, Bainbridge Island, Wash., crest factor can indicate rolling element bearing wear, gear tooth wear, or cavitation. Quite often, it's trended over time to see if the amount of impacting is increasing or not. DC voltages have a crest factor of 1.0, because the rms and peak amplitudes are equal. It's the same for a square wave (50% duty cycle). For a triangle wave, it's 1.73. Crest factors for other waveforms are shown in the T able (click here to see T able). As you can see, crest factor is a dimensionless quantity.

Measurement instrument performance
The IEEE dictionary has a somewhat different definition of crest factor — one that can be attributed to average reading or rms voltmeters: “The ratio of the peak voltage value that an average reading or rootmean-square voltmeter will accept without overloading to the full scale value of the range being used for measurement.”


especially if the source impedance is high. as noted in the June 1998 edition of his column. and an additional error of 0. for example. If you're measuring a triangular wave. Crest factors above this critical value will usually read low (possibly severely so). Be careful here.03% + 0. and microcomputer pioneer best known for his column. According to Donald E.23% (0.0 when measuring 150VAC.03%. let's suppose you're measuring voltage on a 120V circuit.414. 3. This crest factor value will vary from 1. Use the following three-step test to verify voltage clipping due to harmonics: 1. the waveform is distorted and contains harmonics. he states that most ordinary wattmeters are totally unsuited to accurately measure lower duty cycle waveforms with high crest factors and recommends that you check the wattmeter's crest factor limit to be sure. A true-rms measuring instrument typically has a crest factor performance specification. a “good” sine wave will have a peak value that's close to 1.31/8/13 Crest Factor: A Key Troubleshooting Parameter Crest factor is an important parameter to understand when you're trying to take accurate measurements of low-frequency signals.414 (value for a pure sine wave) if the waveform is distorted. computer loads. For voltage harmonics. If they're significantly different. Measure the true rms value of the voltage. For example. the better the performance of the device. Wattmeter accuracy is also susceptible. At half scale. For example. Basically.0. suppose you have a digital multimeter with an AC accuracy of 0. The difference between peak and rms readings When taking field measurements with a digital multimeter. For current harmonics. and power sources ecmweb. That's because the distortion results in a peak value that's different than that of a pure. A typical DMM will have a crest factor number of 3. Many nonlinear loads will cause these peaks to be reduced or clipped.414 and 5. which has a crest factor of 1. Crest factor.0 when measuring 300VAC and 6. as in “flat-top” waveforms.2% for crest factors between 1.0 at full scale. A measured voltage peak. the peak value of this voltage waveform would be 169. it's important to understand the difference between peak and rms readings. Theoretically. The higher the performance number. 2. inventor. “Tech Musing. He goes on to say that every wattmeter design has its specific maximum allowable crest factor. Compare the actual value to the theoretical value. Finally. For example.” which appeared in Electronics Now and Poptronix magazines. some meters will have a crest factor specification of 3.414 to get the theoretical peak value.7V (120V × 1. the crest factor is double. you use this capability to compare the measured peak value to the theoretical peak value. Lancaster. Therefore. which is adequate for most distribution measurements. which relates to the amount of peaking this instrument can measure without error. which is always specified for sine waves. the ratio of rms to average current will change wildly from waveform to waveform and is very much duty cycle dependent. the typical crest factor is a great deal above 1. then the total error using this multimeter would be 0. undistorted sine wave.0. Measure the actual peak value using the peak-capture feature.73.414 times its true rms value.0. or 6. This is where the “peak capture” capability of a multimeter comes into play. that's significantly higher than this indicates the presence of harmonics.0 to 2/3 . You'll find these specification numbers in the range of 2.2%). the typical crest factor is below 1. and then multiply this value by 1. the term “crest factor” describes the ratio of the peak value of a measured waveform to its rms value.414).414. an author. using the peak capture feature. As previously stated.

unless the reduction is accompanied by excessive distortion of the input voltage waveform to the computer load.4. it results from an interaction between the load itself and its AC power source. routers. computer manufacturers go to great lengths to reduce the crest factor of the computer because high crest factor causes overheating of power supply components. Basically. The paper also notes that most people mistakenly believe that it's desirable to operate a computer at as high a crest factor as possible. and storage devices. or power conditioner is a positive side benefit.4 to 1. and 8 when operated at quarter load. surge suppressor. Typical sine wave UPS systems have crest factor capabilities of approximately 3 when operated at full load. For a source waveform that is a stepped approximation to a sine wave — as used in most uninterruptible power supplies rated below 1kW — a PC will exhibit a crest factor of 1.” by American Power Conversion (APC). “Understanding Power Factor. when in fact. as do computers and IT equipment with power factor-corrected power supplies. R. the output voltage waveform of the UPS will be distorted.. Any excess peak current will deform the source voltage if the source cannot supply the correct current.31/8/13 Crest Factor: A Key Troubleshooting Parameter According to the white paper. The paper goes on to say that most people believe the crest factor of a computer or other electronic load is an inherent characteristic. are power factor-corrected has all but eliminated crest factor as a problem in data centers. Such distortion could possibly result in a significantly reduced peak voltage being supplied to the load. When a load exhibits a crest factor of more than 1. Instead. the crest factor required by a computer load depends on the AC source's waveform. must supply the peak current desired by the load. UPS systems with this performance will maintain the proper peak voltage into the computer load for computers with any input crest factor specification. and Surge 3/3 . if you don't size a UPS to supply the crest factor desired by the load. crest factor problems today are limited to call center or trading floor installations with a high density of PCs.6 at full load and 2 at half load.9. Typical smaller stepped-wave models have crest factor capabilities of 1. The reduction in crest factor that occurs when a computer load is operated from a UPS. a non-power factor-corrected PC will typically exhibit a crest factor of 2 to ecmweb. For example. Crest Factor. Source URL: http://ecmweb. 4 when operated at half load.I. which may be an online UPS. Therefore. personal computers (PCs) and stackable hubs exhibit a crest factor of 2 to 3. For a sine wave source. The fact that virtually all equipment installed in data centers today. In fact. the power source. equivalent to a brownout condition. such as servers. W. most common electrical appliances exhibit a crest factor of 1.4. Other computer loads are unusual in that they exhibit a very high crest factor. Kingston.