Importance of Directional Sensitivity in Magnetic Field Sensor Applications

Figure 1
Figure 1: Mounting of a standard T or C-slot magnetic field sensor

When using a T-slot or C-slot (Figure 1) magnetic field sensor to determine positioning in a pneumatic cylinder, the sensing face is oriented directly toward the magnet inside of the cylinder. But on the other side of the coin, how
susceptible is the sensor to magnetic interference of some outside source that may contact the sensor from other angles?


Figure 2
Figure 2: The angle between the AMR Bridge current and the applied magnetization will determine the quality of the sensor output signal.

The behavior of anisotropic magnetoresistive sensing devices can vary under certain conditions. Most critically, the magnetoresistive effect can be extremely angular dependent. The angle between the AMR Bridge current and the applied magnetization on the device determines how much the resistance will change. This is depicted in Figure 2, while Figure 3 shows a demonstration of how the output can change as the angle changes.

Figure 3
Figure 3: The change in resistance of the AMR Bridge shown as a function of the angle between magnetizing current and the magnetization.

When used in a standard application with only the sensor face looking at the magnet, this is not an issue as the AMR device is angled to allow for ideal operating conditions. But in the event that the device senses a magnetic field from someplace other than directly in front of it, double switching conditions and generally unpredictable behaviors can be seen.

At this point, the question becomes “how can we minimize the risk of the sensor’s susceptibility to unintended magnetic fields?” The answer to this comes in the directional sensitivity of the AMR Bridge. AMR devices can be either unidirectional, bidirectional, or omnidirectional.

The unidirectional sensor is designed to only be activated by one of the poles, and the output turns off when the sensor is removed.

Bidirectional sensors are activated by a pole like the unidirectional is, however the output must be turned off by using the opposing magnetic pole.

Lastly, the omnidirectional sensor is capable of being activated by either pole and turns off when the magnet is removed from the sensing zone.

Since the omnidirectional device is designed to be able to detect a magnetic field coming from multiple poles and directions, it has a much more consistent response when in an application that could be prone to encountering a magnetic field that isn’t directly in front of the sensing face.

There are a handful of factors that determine directional sensitivity of an AMR chip; however, the largest comes from the handling of the resistance bridge offset.

Figure 4
Figure 4: The transfer curve of the magnetic field vs. output voltage (resistance change across the bridge) shows an offset from the origin that must be accounted for. How this is dealt with plays a major role in determining directional sensitivity of AMR devices

The offset is simply the voltage difference when no magnetic field is present. This is a problem that arises due to the transfer characteristics (Figure 4) of the AMR sensor and is a common property on the datasheet of an AMR chip. This offset is usually handled within the AMR IC, which means that the directional sensitivity is pre-determined when you buy the chip. However, there are some AMR manufacturers that produce “adjustable offset” devices, that allow the user to determine the directional behavior.

While unidirectional and bidirectional devices have their place in certain applications, it remains clear that an omnidirectional sensor can have the most angular versatility, which is critical when there’s a possibility of magnetic fields surrounding the device. While many anisotropic magnetoresistive sensors do have built in stray field concentration, it is still a good idea to evaluate the needs for your application and make an informed decision in regards to directional sensitivity.

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Difficulties Faced in Externally Mounted Magnetic Transducer Applications

In a previous blog post, we looked at the basic operating principle of magnetostriction and how it is applied in a linear position transducer. In this post we’re going to take a more in-depth look at this popular sensing technique and the factors that can contribute to its usability in transducer applications.

magnetostricive response
Figure 1: Magnetostrictive response (λ) as the absolute value of the Magnetic Field (H) changes.

As we’ve seen, the magnetostrictive effect is produced using a permanent magnet that is fixed either around or mounted some distance away from the ferromagnetic alloy that is being used. Now, if you’re like me and you’ve spent countless nights lying awake wondering how the effect of magnetostriction in a transducer is changed by the strength of the applied magnetic field and how that pertains to the output of a magnetostrictive transducer, then there isn’t need to look much further than this blog post. The strength of the magnetic field (which is directly related to distance through an inverse cubed relationship) projected onto the ferromagnetic material plays an incredibly critical role in the effect of magnetostriction. In Figure 1 you can see a depiction of the how the magnetostrictive effect varies at differing values of magnetic field strength.

Since magnetostriction does not behave perfectly linearly, some consideration must be taken into account when choosing a magnet and mounting system for your transducer. Potential problems occur if the magnet is mounted too far away from or too close to the transducer (thus producing either too much or too little magnetic field). But before we explore why too much or too little magnetic field is a problem, let’s compare it to the most desirable magnetic conditions.

Figure 2: Standard Application in which a magnet is in a fixed position therefore, allowing no variance in the strength of the magnetic field seen by the ferromagnetic material.

Ideally, the goal is to choose a magnet and mounting distance which can produce a magnetic field that will fall within the green region from Figure 1. In this region, the magnetostrictive effect can be approximated as linear, thus being used to produce a strong and consistently predictable output response. As for what actual magnetic field strength values fall within this range, that is almost entirely dependent on the properties of the ferromagnetic alloy that you are using. In a standard application, for instance, one in which a magnet and transducer is fixed inside of a hydraulic cylinder where the magnet is mounted in a fixed position relative to the transducer rod (as shown in Figure 2.), this magnetic field value will not vary so there is no reason to worry about how the magnetostrictive response could vary. The device is designed to operate in Figure 1’s green region.

Figure 3: Externally mounted magnets that are not fixed to the transducer typically need to have stronger magnetic properties for the field to reach the device. However, if it is too strong the magnetostrictive effect can saturate and cause a loss of output.

Problems can arise when dealing with externally mounted transducers in which the user has a significant amount more freedom in the selection of magnet and its mounting design. These instances could look incredibly different depending on the application. However, Figure 3 shows how this sort of design would come into play in a “floating” magnet application. At greater distances or when using weaker, non-standard magnets, the magnetic field will fall into the first red zone on Figure 1. In this region, the magnetic strength is too weak for a signal to be processed as an output by the transducer. This is primarily caused by the effect of magnetic hysteresis which is essentially a “charge up” zone and creates an exponential relationship in this zone, rather than the desired linear relationship. On the other hand, if you attempt to use a strong, rare-earth magnet too close to the transducer, it will produce too strong of a magnetic field and move beyond the green region into the second red zone. The problem here is that the magnetostriction will saturate and can potentially cause output loss. Also, similarly to the weaker magnetic field strength, the behavior cannot be approximated using the same linear relationship that we see in the green zone of Figure 1. As with the green region of the graph, the magnetic field strength values that lie in the red zones are dependent on the properties of the material as well as the response processing electronics of the transducer.

Due to these issues, there are many things to consider if you’re using an externally mounted transducer and choosing a non-standard mounting method in your application. You need to be careful when mounting a magnet too far away or using a rare-earth magnet too close to the transducer.

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