Direct Meter analysis using potentiometer


Direct Meter analysis using potentiometer

A potentiometer is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding or rotating contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used, one end and the wiper, it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat.The measuring instrument called a potentiometer is essentially a voltage divider used for measuring electric potential (voltage); the component is an implementation of the same principle, hence its name.

Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on audio equipment. Potentiometers operated by a mechanism can be used as position transducers, for example, in a joystick. Potentiometers are rarely used to directly control significant power (more than a watt), since the power dissipated in the potentiometer would be comparable to the power in the controlled load.

Membrane potentiometers

A membrane potentiometer uses a conductive membrane that is deformed by a sliding element to contact a resistor voltage divider. Linearity can range from 0.50% to 5% depending on the material, design and manufacturing process. The repeat accuracy is typically between 0.1 mm and 1.0 mm with a theoretically infinite resolution. The service life of these types of potentiometers is typically 1 million to 20 million cycles depending on the materials used during manufacturing and the actuation method; contact and contactless (magnetic) methods are available (to sense position). Many different material variations are available such as PET, FR4, and Kapton. Membrane potentiometer manufacturers offer linear, rotary, and application-specific variations. The linear versions can range from 9 mm to 1000 mm in length and the rotary versions range from 0° to multiple full turns, with each having a height of 0.5 mm. Membrane potentiometers can be used for position sensing.

For touch-screen devices using resistive technology, a two-dimensional membrane potentiometer provides x and y coordinates. The top layer is thin glass spaced close to a neighboring inner layer. The underside of the top layer has a transparent conductive coating; the surface of the layer beneath it has a transparent resistive coating. A finger or stylus deforms the glass to contact the underlying layer. Edges of the resistive layer have conductive contacts. Locating the contact point is done by applying a voltage to opposite edges, leaving the other two edges temporarily unconnected. The voltage of the top layer provides one coordinate. Disconnecting those two edges, and applying voltage to the other two, formerly unconnected, provides the other coordinate. Alternating rapidly between pairs of edges provides frequent position updates. An analog-to digital converter provides output data.

Advantages of such sensors are that only five connections to the sensor are needed, and the associated electronics is comparatively simple. Another is that any material that depresses the top layer over a small area works well. A disadvantage is that sufficient force must be applied to make contact. Another is that the sensor requires occasional calibration to match touch location to the underlying display. (Capacitive sensors require no calibration or contact force, only proximity of a finger or other conductive object. However, they are significantly more complex.)

Digital potentiometer

A digital potentiometer (often called digipot) is an electronic component that mimics the functions of analog potentiometers. Through digital input signals, the resistance between two terminals can be adjusted, just as in an analog potentiometer. There are two main functional types: volatile, which lose their set position if power is removed, and are usually designed to initialise at the minimum position, and non-volatile, which retain their set position using a storage mechanism similar to flash memory or EEPROM.

Usage of a digipot is far more complex than that of a simple mechanical potentiometer, and there are many limitations to observe; nevertheless they are widely used, often for factory adjustment and calibration of equipment, especially where the limitations of mechanical potentiometers are problematic. A digipot is generally immune to the effects of moderate long-term mechanical vibration or environmental contamination, to the same extent as other semiconductor devices, and can be secured electronically against unauthorised tampering by protecting the access to its programming inputs by various means.

In equipment which has a microprocessor, FPGA or other functional logic which can store settings and reload them to the "potentiometer" every time the equipment is powered up, a multiplying DAC can be used in place of a digipot, and this can offer higher setting resolution, less drift with temperature, and more operational flexibility.

Linear taper potentiometer

A linear taper potentiometer (linear describes the electrical characteristic of the device, not the geometry of the resistive element) has a resistive element of constant cross-section, resulting in a device where the resistance between the contact (wiper) and one end terminal is proportional to the distance between them. Linear taper potentiometers are used when the division ratio of the potentiometer must be proportional to the angle of shaft rotation (or slider position), for example, controls used for adjusting the centering of the display on an analog cathode-ray oscilloscope. Precision potentiometers have an accurate relationship between resistance and slider position.

Logarithmic potentiometer

A logarithmic taper potentiometer is a potentiometer that has a bias built into the resistive element. Basically this means the center position of the potentiometer is not one half of the total value of the potentiometer. The resistive element is designed to follow a logarithmic taper, aka a mathematical exponent or "squared" profile. A logarithmic taper potentiometer is constructed with a resistive element that either "tapers" in from one end to the other, or is made from a material whose resistivity varies from one end to the other. This results in a device where output voltage is a logarithmic function of the slider position.

Most (cheaper) "log" potentiometers are not accurately logarithmic, but use two regions of different resistance (but constant resistivity) to approximate a logarithmic law. The two resistive tracks overlap at approximately 50% of the potentiometer rotation; this gives a stepwise logarithmic taper. A logarithmic potentiometer can also be simulated (not very accurately) with a linear one and an external resistor. True logarithmic potentiometers are significantly more expensive.

Logarithmic taper potentiometers are often used for volume or signal level in audio systems, as human perception of audio volume is logarithmic.

Oliva G

Managing Editor

Journal of Analytical Electrochemistry