Tag Archives: Hall Effect Switches

Hall Effect Sensors for Position Selection

User systems often require the detection of position for operating in a specific switch mode. Such type of On or Off functionality is a straightforward requirement and many devices implement it with Hall-effect switches, including power tools, light switches, safety harnesses, and laptop lids.

The output of the sensor toggles its state as soon as the input magnetic field crosses the operating threshold. Likewise, the output reverts to the idle state when the magnitude of the magnetic field reduces below the release threshold. Hysteresis built into the device prevents the output from toggling rapidly where the magnitude of the magnetic field is close to the operating threshold.

Many applications use this functionality. For typical cases, two output states are adequate, thereby helping to reduce mechanical wear and preventing interference from grease and dust.

Although two positions may be adequate for detection in many applications, others require the detection of additional states. For instance, a tool may require a three-position power switch, denoting Off, Low, and High power modes. Detecting all three states is difficult using a single sensor. Initially, it may seem possible by adding a sensor for every switch position in the system.

A unipolar switch is well-suited for such an application. The designer places the magnet very close—so the air gap is small—thereby ensuring the pole of the magnet facing the sensor will always exceed the worst-case operating point. When the magnet is above the sensor, it results in an upwardly directed field vector. When the magnet has traveled greater than its own width, the sensor will not activate, as the direction of the field is now downwardly directed. Therefore, there can be an array of sensors representing any number of positions, provided the sensor spacing exceeds the full width of the magnet.

While the above arrangement is convenient for a low number of positions, the number of components required gets more difficult to manage as the number of positions increases. For such arrangements, dual-unipolar switches are more convenient.

Texas Instruments offers a dual-unipolar switch, DRV5032DU. It has two independently operating outputs. Each output is sensitive to an opposite polarity of the magnetic field. Where one sensor responds as it nears a North pole, the other will respond as it nears a South pole. This functionality allows the detection of three positions with a single magnet.

With the magnet mid-way between the two sensors, there is no component of the magnetic field available to activate the sensors, and therefore, both sensors remain deactivated. When the magnet moves to the left, it activates the N pole-sensitive output. Likewise, when the magnet moves to the right, the S pole-sensitive output activates. However, for this arrangement to function correctly, the magnet must have a length two times the distance of travel between the switch positions. When the magnet moves by one-half its length, one of its poles is directly above the sensor, thereby activating it.

Extending this format makes it possible to sense more than three positions. It requires an array of sensors spaced appropriately for creating additional unique positions.

Using Hall-Effect Type Sensors Effectively

We are familiar with appliances such as wine coolers, freezers, and refrigerators. They keep out beverages and food cold, extending their useful life. Most often, these appliances have lights that illuminate the insides when the user opens their doors. Since the lights only need to be on when the user opens the door, usually, the designer of such appliances place a sensor to detect the opening and closing of the door.

A sensor of the Hall-effect type can detect the position of the door. In refrigerators, the position of the sensor is within the frame, while a permanent magnet is placed on the door directly opposite the Hall-effect type sensor. For refrigerators with multiple doors, each door needs a magnet and for the detection, each magnet must have a corresponding sensor placed in the frame. The adjustment of proximity of each Hall-effect type sensor and magnet pair is such that the Hall-effect type sensor detects the magnet only as the door closes completely.

An electronic control unit inside the electronics assembly of the refrigerator monitors the output from the Hall-effect type sensors and turns the lights on or off as necessary. Hall-effect type sensors can detect a variety of proximity- and position-sensing applications such as when there is a need to discover the proximity of a moving part relative to a sensor placed in a fixed location.

For instance, Hall-effect type sensors can help to stop the motor opening or closing a garage door once the door has reached its desired position. Typically, this needs a system of two Hall-effect type sensors to detect the two dominant positions of the door—open or closed. Each sensor also needs a corresponding magnet to trigger it.

The position of one of the magnets on the drive chain of the garage door opener places it directly next to the sensor that detects a closed door. The position of the other magnet, also on the drive chain, is such that the drive chain brings it next to the other Hall-effect type sensor as the door opens completely.

Hall-effect type sensors are preferable to other sensors such as reed relays, as the former has no moving electrical contacts, resulting in long life and improved reliability. Other applications that use Hall-effect type sensors effectively are vending machines, security locks on doors, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers, and similar applications requiring door- and lid-position sensing.

A flow switch is another application that benefits from the use of a Hall-effect type sensor, which detects the motion of a piston, paddle wheel, or a valve fitted with a permanent magnet. For instance, this arrangement suits tankless water heater units, where the flow sensor has a permanent magnet fixed to a piston. The increasing presence of water pressure in the system moves the piston and its associated magnet near to a permanently positioned Hall-effect type sensor. This causes the output of the Hall-effect type sensor to change and it signals the presence of flowing water.

Similarly, a turbine can have a magnet attached to its blades. As the blades rotate, the magnet passes by a fixed Hall-effect type sensor. The speed at which the blades rotate is proportional to the fluid flowing through the turbine.

Integrating Piezoelectric Flexure Actuators

The familiar reed switch comes with a unique set of properties. These include ON resistance of the order of milliohms, OFF resistance of the order of tera-ohms, total immunity to ESD or electrostatic discharge, hot switching capability of about one watt, and almost zero power operation. However, as all electronic components are shrinking to surface mount sizes of 0402, 0201 and even to 01005 (0.4 x 0.2 mm), the large size of the reed switch is anachronistic. Since 70 years of its invention, the conventional reed switch has been steadily shrinking. What began with a 50 mm long glass tube in 1938 has come down to about 5 mm today.

However, even after a sort of following Moore’s law of ever-shrinking transistor size on integrated circuits, reed switches have now reached a brick wall. The fundamental limitations of physics and manufacturing are preventing the conventional reed switches from going below the 5 mm size. Now, a new technology promises to break this barrier of 5 mm size, while retaining all the desirable properties of the reed switch. Manufacturers are using HARM, or High-Aspect Ratio Microfabrication MEMS technology. For instance, reed switches such as the RedRock RS-A-2515 piezoelectric flexure actuators from Coto Technology is based on this technology.

Alternatives to reed switches also exist. For instance, there are Hall Effect switches, AMR or Anisotropic MagnetoResistive switches, and GMR or Giant MagnetoResistive switches in the market. However, all the above are active switches, requiring a power supply to operate them. This is a disadvantage related to these active switches, as they add to circuit complexity and take up PCB real estate. Active switches require three electrical connections instead of two – one for supply power, one for the return ground and the third for the sensor signal.

Active switches have further disadvantages in that they require external circuit elements such as bypass capacitors or pull-up resistors. This increases the cost and effective size of these multi-component switching systems. There is additional complexity as these can only switch milliamp-level currents, and extra buffer circuitry is necessary for switching higher currents. Active switches are also susceptible to damage from ESD. In contrast, reed switches made from the HARM MEMS technology has none of the above disadvantages.

Switches made from the HARM MEMS technology offer very small size, high-current hot-switching capability, and zero-power operation. This performance makes the technology suitable for a wide range of applications including automotive and medical. For instance, HARM MEMS technology allows making endoscopes the size of a pill that patients simply swallow, nearly invisible and tunable hearing aids, convenient insulin delivery systems, and some exciting new automotive switching applications.

Although motor vehicles are large systems with enough battery power, conventional affordable reed switches have been widely used for a variety of functions such as ABS systems, gear lever position sensing, and door lock control. Smaller reed switches are also necessary in vehicles for sensing various fluids, for instance, brake fluids. Usually, a single reed switch, triggered by a float magnet in the fluid reservoir indicates a binary position – there is either enough fluid, or there is none.