Tag Archives: Coreless Magnetic Current Sensors

Coreless Magnetic Current Sensors

Modern industrial drives require accurate current measurement for effectively regulating the torque and ensuring maximization of operational efficiency levels. For achieving necessary efficiency levels along with the safety requirements, the measurement methodology must achieve a high degree of linearity and respond rapidly. This is especially true for detecting conditions such as short-circuit and over-current. For instance, it is necessary to arrest the fault condition from an over-current situation within 3us or less. The detection, evaluation, and triggering process must occur within 1 us or less. Therefore, it makes tremendous sense to include this capability within the current sensor.

A popular current measuring scheme involves using a shunt resistor in series with the current under measurement. However, this involves insertion loss, with the resistance of the PCB track, solder joints, and wiring contributing to the loss in addition to that from the shunt resistance. The design becomes more complex if the shunt resistor requires galvanic isolation between control electronics and power output stages.

A better alternative is the magnetic current sensor, primarily based on Hall effect and using core-based or core-less sensing. Being non-resistive, magnetic current sensors involve an insertion loss of a far lower amount. Moreover, magnetic current sensors are contact-less, thereby providing inherent isolation between low voltage and high voltage circuits.

A current flowing through a conductor generates a magnetic flux. A core-based sensor typically concentrates the flux in its ferromagnetic core. The open-loop configuration of the sensor typically uses a sensing element within the air-gap, where the flux concentration is the maximum. This arrangement can have hysteresis and temperature drift errors.

The closed-loop configuration has a compensation winding with current flowing in the opposite direction to minimize the hysteresis and temperature drift errors. Although providing very precise current measurements, the approach is complex and the introduction of the compensation winding generates additional power losses.

In contrast, a core-less sensor does not use a ferromagnetic core, thereby avoiding the hysteresis and temperature drift errors altogether. Current measurement now depends totally on the magnetic field that the current-carrying conductor generates. Although the flux density that the wire generates is much lower, modern electronics design easily compensates for this.

Like the core-based sensor, the core-less sensor also has an open-loop and a closed-loop design. In closed-loop sensing, compensatory windings equalize the flux density and use Hall element sensing. The open-loop sensing uses highly linear Hall elements. Therefore, closed loop sensing does not depend on the linearity of its Hall elements.

With core-less sensors using very low levels of flux density, industrial environments with EMI often makes it difficult to measure the current accurately. Shielding improves the situation to a certain extent, but may not be totally adequate.

A differential measurement approach resolves the situation. This requires a suitable conductor structure along with the presence of at least two sensor elements arranged with their sensitivities in perpendicular. If the electrical connection has the polarities of the sensors opposing each other, and the positioning of the elements above the conductor is symmetrical, they effectively cancel the common-mode component of any external stray fields that may disturb the current measurement.