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Resistive Sensors

A resistive sensor is a transducer or electromechanical device that converts a mechanical change such as displacement into an electrical signal that can be monitored after conditioning. Resistive sensors are among the most common in instrumentation. The simplest resistive sensor is the potentiometer. Other resistive sensors include strain gages and thermistors. Resistive sensors are often combined with Wheatstone bridges. Older carbon microphones are also resistive sensors. The theoretical background for all these sensors is the theory of resistivity. Resistivity and Resistance Resistivity is the electrical resistance measured for any material having uniform cross-sectional area and is usually stated in terms of the material s length and/or cross sectional area. Resistivity is resistance stated in terms of length and cross-sectional area as shown in the equation Resistance = (Resistivity * Length)/Area The unit of resistivity is the ohm-ft or the circular mil-ohm-ft. The resistance of a material depends on four factors: Composition Length Temperature Cross Sectional Area To change the resistance of a material, you must change the value of one of the above factors. When length is modified the change in resistance is direct. If you double the material s length, it s resistance doubles. When the cross sectional area is modified the change in resistance has an inverse effect, IE R = k/A. If you double the cross-sectional area of wire, its resistivity is cut in half. Changes in composition and temperature do not change the resistivity of a material in such a simple way. Theory of Operation of Potentiometers A potentiometer is an electromechanical device containing a movable wiper arm that maintains electrical contact with a resistive surface. The wiper is coupled mechanically to a movable member or linkage. The wiper and resistive surface form a voltage divider circuit when voltage is applied across the entire resistance within the potentiometer. See figure 1.

INPUT: Movement of Wiper Wiper OUTPUT: Voltage

Figure 1.

A variable voltage can then be produced at a wiper arm relative to one end of the resistor as the wiper is moved. The wiper is usually made of a material such as beryllium or phosphor bronze. The rotating shaft is generally a bearing for industrial applications or bronze sleeves for inexpensive operations. If the potentiometer is wire wound, specially formulated platinum or nickel alloy is used. This yields a high resistance that doesn t change with age and doesn t affect the voltage divider with changing temperatures. A mandrel is used for support of the wire wound wrap or resistance material. The mandrel can be composed of plastic, glass, or insulated metal. For a wire wrap potentiometer, wire is wrapped around a circular former. The wiper is mounted on a shaft through the center of the former and slides along one of the circular edges of the wire ring. The insulation is removed from the wire in the area of contact.

Types and Designs There are several types of potentiometers besides wire wound. There are also carbon film, metal film, conductive plastic film, cermet (ceramic-metal combination), and slide wire. These types can also be designed as multi-turn or continuous turn potentiometers. The disadvantage for any rotary potentiometer is that a dead zone is required so that the sensor doesn t short out the beginning of the potentiometer surface to the end of the surface. Potentiometers used for standard electronic work have about 270of usable rotation. Instrumentation potentiometers typically have about 358of usable rotation, leaving a dead zone of just a few degrees. Carbon film potentiometers are subject to wear. Carbon granules form on the track and accumulate under the wiper forming a variable resistance layer. This phenomenon is very noticeable in radios that crackle when the volume knob is turned

Wiper Granules Track


Figure 2. The simplest of all potentiometers is the slide wire. It consisted merely of a straight piece of wire with a power source connected across it. A wiper moves along the wire picking off the voltage. The metal film potentiometer consists of a partially conductive metal sprayed on the mandrel in its molten state to form the variable resistance surface over which the wiper travels. The continuous plastic film potentiometer consists of a conductive plastic molded into a film that has been mounted on a stiffened, nonconductive backbone or substrate. The carbon film potentiometer consists of a mixture of carbon and a nonconductive clay-like substance bonded in the form of a thin layer or film over a plastic or metal form. The cermet potentiometer consists of a mixture of metal particles and a ceramic material fired onto a surface to form a very hard and

durable resistive surface. The composition of the material for any of these films determines their resistive value. One advantage of film potentiometers is that they can be designed to have a logarithmic or linear output. Advantages Slide Wire

Simple to construct, linear output, self cleaning, high power, and low resistance, low noise, long lifetime Metal Film Rugged and able to withstand shock and vibration before the conductive path is fractured. High resolution, low noise, long lifetime Carbon Film High resolution Cermet High resolution, low noise, long lifetime Wire Wound High power, long lifetime (>10 million cycles), self cleaning, resolution of 0.051%, rugged and reliable Plastic Film Long lifetime (>10 million cycles), high resolution (100 ohms/mm 0.001mm resolution), long lifetime All Can sense, linear displacement, angular displacement, linear acceleration and angular acceleration and. Able to measure large displacements (7200 degrees for a 20 turn or several meters for a slidewire or much longer distances for a string pot.). Easy to understand. Simple to install. Inexpensive. Accurate. Linear. Low friction. Excellent sensitivity. Wide operating temperature. Wide resistance available (10 to 1 million ohms). Simple operation (only a voltage source and voltmeter is required for a complete instrumentation system. Disadvantages Slide Wire Low resistance and high power requirements of voltage source, large size Metal Film Wear Carbon Film Wear creates carbon granules. Variable resistance with temperature. (microphone) (cheap radio volume control) Cermet Trimming is required after production because of process inconsistencies. Wire Wound Digitizing limits hurts linearity. Output increases in a stepwise manner as the wiper moves from one turn to the adjacent turn. This step change in resistance limits the resolution of the potentiometer to Length/number of turns. The step change is not uniform but varies with half-step. The half-step resistance change depends on where on the winding the wiper is. Inductive (especially with a metal mandrel). Poor AC performance. Electrical noise as wiper moves from one wire turn to the next. This noise can be minimized by ensuring that the coil is clean and free of oxide films and by lubricating the coil with a thin film of light oil. Plastic Film Wear All Limited dynamic response because shaft and wiper assembly has inertia so it is only good for static and quasi-static measurements where a high frequency response is not required. frequency response limited by mechanical construction. Application Potentiometers can be applied in almost any application where a movement needs to be measured.

The only theory involved in application is the voltage divider rule, which is derived directly from Ohm s law. The formula for linear voltage output is simply: Output voltage = (wiper distance)*(input voltage)/(total length) This formula can be easily rearranged to find any component. Note that all potentiometers draw power through the resistor at all times. Using a very high resistance potentiometer can reduce the power drawn. This has the unfortunate side effect of creating a high-impedance output to the next stage of the instrumentation chain. We usually desire a low-impedance source so that the input impedance of the next stage does not affect the accuracy of the measurement. Design with potentiometer sensors becomes a trade-off between current consumption and impedance matching. Potentiometers can also have logarithmic scales. Logarithmic pots can be very useful as part of the signal conditioning of a sensor. If a measurement is inherently exponential then a logarithmic pot can be used to compensate. This is why logarithmic pots are used for volume control in audio work. Perceived sound is an exponential quantity (dB). One interesting application for potentiometric sensors is known as the String Pot design. In this design a string is attached around a spring-loaded drum so that linear motion is converted to rotary motion. Half Stepping of Wire-wound potentiometers Wire wound potentiometers rely on the change of resistance as the wiper passes from one loop of the winding to the next. The resistance, therefore, does not change continuously, but in steps as the wiper passes from one winding to the next. Furthermore, when the wiper bridges between one winding and the next a single loop is short-circuited and a half-step resistance change occurs. The resistance change between one step and the next is step0-wise linear. The resistance change between a step and a half step depends on the position of the wiper relative to the beginning or the end of the winding. Consider a wire-wound potentiometer with 100 windings. Let each winding have a resistance of 0.5 ohms. The wiper on any particular winding can be considered as a voltage divider with the output voltage fraction equal to the portion on resistance up to the wiper divided by total resistance. a) Wiper on 20th winding: Vout = Vin 20 x 0.5 = 20.0% Vin 100 X 0.5

On the half step when the wiper is bridging across a winding there is one less winding less in the total. Wiper bridging 21st winding: Vout = Vin 20 x 0.5 = 20 Vin = 20.2% Vin (100-1)0.5 99 So the half step added 0.2% to the resistance c) Wiper on 70th winding: b)

Vout = Vin 70 = 70.0% Vin 100 d) Wiper bridging 71st winding: Vout = Vin 70 = 70.7% Vin 99

Here the half step added 0.7% resistance. A half step at the 50th winding would add 0.5%. So the increase in R is digitized and the steps are non-linear but the increase is monotonic. This limits resolution. The resolution varies from zero to a single step. Usually we describe the resolution and the accuracy of wire-wound potentiometers in terms of full step size. Improved resolution could be obtained by calibrating for the varying half step with, for example, a look-up table in software, but it is probably easier and cheaper to use a wire-wound potentiometer with closer spacing. Example: A wire wound potentiometer has 700 windings spread over 350 . The resolution (in full steps) is 350 /700 steps = 0.5 /step. If a 10V DC supply is attached to the potentiometer and the total resistance is 15 K then the average sensitivity is 10V/350= 29mV/ . The continuous power consumption is (102)V/15 K = 6.7 mA plus the power drawn by the load. Additional Information Principle difference between common electronic pots and instrumentation pots is quality of construction - bearings etc. instrumentation pots should be friction free and lightweight to cause minimum load and provide maximum frequency response for the system being measured. Sources: The majority of the information for this handout was taken from: Carstens, Electrical Sensors and Transducers, Prentice Hall, 1993, pages 185-199 Dally, Riley, and McConnell, Instrumentation for Engineering Measurements, Wiley, 1993, 2nd Ed, pages 124-126 Problems 1. A wirewound potentiometer has 360 windings. The input voltage is 5 Volts. What is the output voltage when: a) The wiper is on the 180 winding. b) The wiper is bridging the 181st winding. 2. What supply voltage is required if the wiper on a 2 inch logarithmic metal film potentiometer is to have a value of 1 Volt at 1 inch? 3. What is the output voltage of the above potentiometer when the wiper is at:

a) 1/2 inch b) 1 1/2 inches 4. A rotary wire-wound potentiometer has 648 windings for its 9/10 circle operating range. There is +10V at one end and -10V at the other end of the winding. What is the resolution of this rotary position sensor? (ignore half-steps)