Even the best relays can fail at some point, but what causes them to fail? Conventional wisdom lays the blame on worn out contacts. And there is some truth to that view. Every electromechanical relay has a finite number of cycles it can endure before the contacts call it quits.
The truth about relays, however, is that they sometimes fail to last as long as they should because of overload or contamination.
Fortunately, both of these failure modes can be diagnosed by measuring the relay’s contact resistance. The very same measurement can also help you predict when relays are reaching the end of their expected lifecycle.
Two methods are generally used to measure contact resistance:
- Digital Multimeter Method (DMM): As its name suggests, DMM uses a multimeter to directly measure resistance across the contacts. While it is commonly used, DMM can produce misleading results whenever the surfaces of the contacts are not clean. For example, oxidation films that build up on the contact surfaces produce DMM readings that are unstable or that exaggerate the contact resistance.
- 6V1A Method: This method applies one amp of current through the contacts and derives a resistance value using Ohm’s Law. The 6V1A method produces a more accurate contact resistance value than DMM because the heat going through the contacts removes oxidation and other contaminants. Here at Panasonic, we use 6V1A method as our standard measurement method—for our own testing purposes and for the development of our data sheet specifications.
Keep in mind that contact resistance specifications on data sheets represent an initial value. This value can change over time, depending on operating conditions.
Using Contact Resistance Measurements
With contact resistance measurements in hand, you can diagnose the most common causes of relay failure, including:
- Overload occurs when the relay is used beyond its design specifications. High inrush currents and voltages can cause overload conditions as well as excessive switching of the relay. Overload conditions ultimately trigger electrical arching, which generates heat that degrades the contact material. In overload conditions, contact resistance can vary depending on how completely overload conditions have degraded the contact material. Mildly degraded contact materials may produce resistance values ranging from very low to near normal. If the contact material is severely degraded, resistance measurements will likely indicate an open contact condition.
- Contamination. In industrial environments, contamination routinely interferes with the operation of the relay’s contact. Contaminants, which can include oxidation films or foreign particles, tend to produce contact resistance readings that are either high or unstable. Contamination commonly happens during extended periods of storage, usage in high temperature and humidity environments, as well as low load conditions of use.
- End of Life. As electromechanical relays reach the end of their lifecycle, they frequently start to experience a degradation of their contact materials. Contact resistance measurements offer a way to predict when the relay is likely to wear out. As relays exceed their maximum cycle count, contact resistance values can become unstable or read as an open contact.
For more information on how to avoid relay failure and the resulting downtime, visit our online support system: http://pewa.panasonic.com/support/contact/?div=components
To keep pace with advances in the electronics industry, test and measurement systems increasingly require advanced solid-state relays that combine low capacitance, low on-resistance, physical isolation and high linearity.
All these characteristics play an important role as data acquisition devices become faster and more precise. Here’s why:
- Low capacitance improves switching times and isolation characteristics for high frequency load signals.
- Low on-resistance reduces power dissipation when switching high currents and increases switching speeds to improve the precision of measurement.
When considering on-resistance values, pay close attention to the temperature range the relay must withstand. Rising temperatures decrease the mobility of electrons, driving up the on-resistance. Starting with a relay that has low on-resistance will minimize the effects of temperature drift.
- Physical isolation. Sometimes referred to as galvanic separation, physical isolation between the relay’s input and output or between different output channels enhances precision by minimizing noise. Optically-isolated relays offer a true physical separation of the input and output, and the best of these products exhibit isolation voltages as high as 5,000 volts AC.
- High linearity ensures accurate measurements.
With a variety of signals at work in a typical test system, it’s particularly important to find relays that offer the right combination of electrical characteristics. For example, many systems have both DC and AC switching needs and will require relays that combine low-on-resistance and low capacitance: The low on-resistance minimizes signal loss when switching DC signals, while low capacitance improves isolation when switching AC signals.
For Suitable Relays, Go Optical
Of all the types of relays on the market, optical MOSFET-based relays offer the most complete lineup of the electrical characteristics needed for test and measurement applications. Consider our Low CxR PhotoMOS Model AQY221N2M as a prime example. It offers:
- Low capacitance of 1.1 pF. A laterally diffused metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOSFET LDMOS) lowers the relay’s capacitance.
- Low on-resistance of 9.5 ohm. A vertical-type double-diffused metal-oxide-semiconductor (DMOS) limits the relay’s on-resistance.
- Fast Switching and Physical Isolation. Thanks to the low capacitance and on-resistance values, this relay supports switching times as fast as 20µs and provides the isolation required to switch high-frequency load signals.
- Linearity. Optical MOSFET-based relays like PhotoMOS have highly linear input and output characteristics that outshine those of alternatives such as Triacs or OptoCouplers. PhotoMOS relays can also control small analog signals without distortion, unlike Triacs and Bipolar transistors whose offset voltages distort and clip signals.
- Minimal Signal Propagation Delay. Measurement applications benefit from a reduced length of internal bonding and flat lead terminals, which results in reduced signal propagation delay.
Besides using Low CxR PhotoMOS relays for switching signals and I/O lines to devices being tested, these relays may also be employed in data acquisition circuits. For instance, they can be used to selecting the gain of operational amplifiers. With the help of an optically-isolated relay, the device’s digital control unit and the analog signal system can be physically isolated, enhancing the precision of the device by minimizing noise.
For more detailed information on how to apply Low CxR PhotoMOS relays in your test and measurement systems, contact Aiman Kiwan.