Editorial Feature

Hall Effect Sensors

A sensor is defined as a detector that measures the quantity of a signal or stimulus and then converts it into an electrical signal. Examples of sensor stimuli include temperature, humidity, pressure, force, chemicals, and gases, etc. A typical sensor output signal is measured as a voltage, current, or electrical charge. For example, a temperature sensor senses variation in temperature expressed as a change in voltage.

The Hall Effect sensors are commonly used in the automotive industry and can be found on most vehicles to measure the position of the crankshaft or camshaft. These sensors work on the principle that an electrical current flows through a detector triggering a magnetic field to push the electrical charge onto the opposite end of the conductor, a process that is referred to as a pulse. By measuring the number of pulses, the speed of a vehicle can be calculated.

The Hall Effect

The basic principle to the Hall Effect is based on a thin metal sheet of semiconducting material, such as copper, that carries the flow of an electrical current, normally supplied by a battery device. The output connections are perpendicular to the direction of the current. When there is no magnetic field, current distribution is uniform and the potential difference across the output is 0 volts. When a perpendicular magnetic field (B) is present and positioned at a right angle to current flow, a voltage disturbing the current is exerted across the semiconducting metal plate, and this current flow can then be measured by probes. The potential difference in voltage across the output is termed the Hall voltage (VH). The Hall voltage is proportional to the vector cross product of the current (I) and the magnetic field (B). The video below introduces visual aid to explain the basic principle to Hall Effect sensors.

We have described the mechanism to the Hall Effect across a metal platform; however, metals have a high carrier density (often referred to as carrier concentration) per unit volume, which will struggle to exhibit the Hall Effect to any given current. In contrast, semiconductor material including silicon, germanium, and gallium-arsenide are three commonly used materials with low-carrier density to display the Hall Effect more strongly. The Hall Effect found its first applications with the advent of semiconducting materials in the 1950s. Hall Effect sensors can be applied to various types of sensing devices, where the quantity of a sensory stimulus incorporates or can incorporate a magnetic field. It should be noted that Hall Effect sensors require amplifiers for practical applications, as the order of Hall voltage is 7µV/Vs/gauss.

Design of Hall Effect Sensors

Hall Effect sensors comprise of a thin piece of rectangular p-type semiconductor material such as gallium arsenide (GaAs), indium antimonide (InSb) or indium arsenide (InAs) passing a continuous current through itself. A bias current (I) is introduced via two contacts (the current contacts [CC1 and CC2] and the sense contacts [SC1 and SC2] – both types of currents are positions at the edge of the semiconducting plate). When the device is placed within a magnetic field, the Hall voltage is detected between the sense contacts. This Hall voltage that appears between the sense contacts is directly proportional to the output (product) of the magnetic induction, which provides a measure of current density (j). By knowing the semiconductor plate thickness (t) and its width (w), the current density can be calculated:

J = I/tw

Hall Effects Sensor Outputs

Hall Effect sensors are available with either analog or digital outputs. The analog output sensors provide linear output values and are taken directly from the output of the operational amplifier with the output voltage being directly proportional to the magnetic field passing the Hall sensor.

Digital output sensors employ a Schmitt trigger with built in hysteresis connected to the op-amp. The sensor device switches between the “off” and “on” condition, when the sensor output exceeds a preset value.

Classifications for Hall Effect Digital Output Sensors

Digital output sensors are classified into bipolar and unipolar sensors, based on their input characteristics. The input characteristics of a digital output sensor are defined as a Maximum Operate Point and Minimum Release Point. The output states to the digital sensor are “on” or “off”. These two states can be referred to as Hall Effect switches to indicate whether or not a magnetic field is present. The Hall Effect switch will behave like a sensor; when a magnetic field is present a digital output is generated. A drop in the magnetic field forces the Hall Effect switch to drive the output inactive.

If the Maximum Operate Points and Minimum Release Points of a digital output sensor are positive (i.e., the south pole of a magnetic field), then the sensor is referred to as Unipolar; whereas, bipolar sensor has a Maximum Operate Point (south pole) and a negative Minimum Release Point (north pole). Though three combinations of actual operate and release points are possible with a bipolar sensor, a true latching device using a bipolar sensor will always have a positive operate point and a negative release point.

Advantages of Hall Effect Sensors

The advantages of using Hall Effect sensors are as follows:

  • Production of an output voltage signal independent of the rate of the detected field.
  • Hall Effect sensors are not affected by ambient conditions, such as dust, humidity, and vibrations and are due to are insensitive to some ambient conditions based on the principle that these sensors display a constant flow of an electrical current making their characteristics constant over time.
  • Hall Effect sensors do not have contact with neighboring mechanical parts, making these sensors strong and sensitive enough to detect movement. These sensors do not wear over time thus maintain quality and unlimited use.
  • Hall Effect sensors are built from semiconductor material that display low carrier density, hence conductivity is smaller and their voltage is larger.
  • Hall Effect sensors depends on carrier mobility, which eliminates any perturbations due to surface elements; thus, making these conductors reproducible and highly reliable.
  • A high speed operation is possible.
  • Hall sensors can measure zero speed.
  • Hall sensors work in a wide temperature range, provide highly repeatable operation, and are capable of measuring a large current.

Disadvantages of Hall Effect Sensors

The Hall Effect sensor does have its disadvantages:

  • The Hall Effect sensor is not capable of measuring a current flow at a distance greater than 10 cm; however, use of a magnet strong enough to generate a magnetic field wide enough may make this possible.
  • Hall Effect sensors work on the principle of a magnetic field, making it possible for external magnetic fields to interfere with this and bias the measurement of a current flow.
  • Temperature affects the electrical resistance of the element and the mobility of majority carriers and also the sensitivity of Hall Effect sensors.
  • Even with well-centered electrodes, the offset voltage still presents as an output voltage in the absence of a magnetic field.
  • An offset voltage occurs when there are physical inaccuracies and material non-uniformities. It can be as high as 100 mV for a 12V source. To solve this problem, an additional control electrode would need to be added and through this a necessary current can be injected to obtain a null output when no magnetic field is present.

Applications of Hall Effect Sensors

Hall Effect sensors are considered as magnetic sensors with a wide range of applications. Some of the most popular and effective ways of utilizing Hall effect sensing devices are listed below for both analog and digital output sensors.

  • Analog output sensor applications include:
  • Current sensing
  • Variable speed drives
  • Motor control protection/indicators
  • Power supply sensing
  • Motion sensing
  • Diaphragm pressure gage
  • Flow meters
  • Direct current electricity
  • Encoded switches
  • Rotary encoders
  • Voltage regulators
  • Ferrous metal detectors (biased Hall)
  • Vibration sensors
  • Magnetic toner density sensor
  • Rotational speed sensor

Digital output sensor applications include:

  • Wireless communication
  • Pressure sensors
  • Proximity sensors
  • Flow sensors
  • Valve position sensors
  • Lens position sensors
  • Shaft position sensors

Summary

Hall Effect sensors were developed in 1950, and have come a long way to become a major requirement for several industrial and automotive applications.

References

  • Hall Effect Sensing and Application, Honeywell.
  • Hall Effect Sensors and Magnetoresistance, University of Dayton.
  • Handbook of Modern Sensors, Physics, Designs and Applications, Springer Verlag.
  • Santini, A. (2013). Automotive Electricity and Electronics. 2nd ed. New York: Delmar, Cengage learning. 161-164.
  • Ramsden, E. (2006). Hall-Effect Sensors. Theory and Application. 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Elsevier. 1-9.
  • Boll, R., Overshott, K.J. (1989). Magnetic Sensors. Volume 5. New York (USA): VCH Publishers Inc. 46-48.
  • Shetty, D., Kolk, R.A. (2010) Mechatronics. System Design. 2nd Ed. Cengage Learning. 224-225.
  • Ball, S. (2004) Analog Interfacing to Embedded Microprocessors. Real World Design. 2nd Ed. Massachusetts: Elsevier. 82-84.
  • Hall Effect Sensors and Magnetoresistance.

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