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Potentiometers -

Technical Definitions
Page 1

1. Introduction
2. Terminology/Terms and
3. Linearity/Conformity
3.1 Independent linearity
3.2 Absolute linearity
3.3 Absolute conformity
4. Contact resistance
5. Linearity errors arising from
electrical circuity
6. Linearity errors arising from
mechanical coupling
7. Smoothness definitions
7.1 Smoothness
7.2 Microlinearity
7.3 Relative gradient
variations (RGV)
7.4 Interpretation RGV
8. Resolution, hysteresis,
repeatability and
8.1 Resolution
8.2 Hysteresis
8.3 Repeatability
8.4 Reproducibility
9. Temperature and
humidity coefficients
10. Service life
11. Appendix
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1. Introduction only apply if the potentiome- U = f(x) + a + b (Fig. 8) so that there is no

Rapid developments in the ter is connected as voltage the deviation is referred to as need for subsequent system
fields of control engineering divider rather than as a varia- conformity. trimming.
and in microprocessor and ble resistor (rheostat) (Fig. 2). 3.1 Independent linearity The definition of an index
semiconductor technology The wiper voltage must be If a voltage Uo is applied to a point establishes a relations-
have resulted in the wide- connected, free of load, to an potentiometer with a linear hip between the mechanical
spread use of electronically operational amplifier such as characteristic as in Fig. 5 and input value (travel or angle)
controlled systems in every a 741, OP 07 or some other the wiper is moved in direc- and the output voltage.
branch of industry today. component with a high input tion (standardized move- Potentiometers whose line-
This has created a need for impedance. Fig. 3 explains ment, angle 0;1 ) then the arity is defined by these
sensors that are inexpensive the terms used, such as elec- relationship illustrated in Fig. criteria can be installed with-
but, at the same time, suffi- trical and mechanical travel. 6 will exist between the out- out a need for subsequent
ciently robust, both electrical- L1 indicates the defined elec- put voltage and the mechani- adjustment. As with indepen-
ly and mechanically, to with- trical travel. L2 indicates the cally input value. The maxi- dent linearity, it is best to
stand a wide range of tempe- continuity travel which also mum deviation of the poten- determine the absolute line-
ratures (e.g. from -40 to +160 includes the nonlinear con- tiometer curve from an ideal arity of a potentiometer by
degrees centigrade), particu- nection fields Fig. 4. L3 indi- straight line is referred to as comparing its output with that
larly in applications involving cates the total electrical con- the independent linearity of a master potentiometer.
large quantities, such as the tact travel of the potentiome- error. The slope and axis With absolute linearity, it is fre-
automobile industry. Fig. 1 ter. L4 indicates the mechani- intercept of this straight line quently necessary for the
provides a summary of the cal travel. An electrical poten- can be so chosen that the tolerance fields to be step-
various types of sensors for tial need not be defined for error f within the travel L1 is ped. Fig. 9 shows a practical
angular and linear motion that the whole of this travel. minimized. The error +/-f is example.
are in use today. This paper is indicated as a deviation in
concerned with quality criteria 3. Linearity/Conformity percentage terms of the out- 3.3 Absolute conformity
(1) and (2) applicable to con- Of all the quality features put voltage from the theore- As already indicated under
ductive-plastic potentiometers mentioned, linearity and con- tical in relation to the input Point 3, conformity is a more
for use as sensors for angular formity are the values most voltage. Since direct measu- general concept than linearity.
and linear motion. often defined in the existing rement of the potentiometer The definition of absolute
Such potentiometers essen- literature (2). These terms characteristic does not make conformity is similar to that of
tially comprise the following express the extent to which it possible to assess the absolute linearity. It is essenti-
components: the voltage output from a extent of such an error, only al for an index point to be de-
potentiometer, and also other the difference between the fined. The functional relation-
1. The resistance element types of angular of linear potentiometer characteristic ship can either be determined
(support material + a resist- movement sensor, differs and that of an essentially per- mathematically or by plotting
ance track of conductive pla- from a prescribed theoretical fect master potentiometer is a number of points to esta-
stic) function. In by far the majority plotted as in the practical blish a curve with the aid of
2. A wiper of cases, the desired output example given in Fig. 7. suitable interpolation. It is also
(precious metal alloy) function is directly proportio- Typical values for indepen- possible with a potentiometer
3. A drive shaft or acutating nal to the angle or linear dent linearity now days lie to achieve steadily increasing
rod movement that is input. between 0.2 % and 0.02 %. or steadily decreasing func-
4. Bearings U/Uo= m* + a tions such as logarithmic,
(ball bearing or plain bearing) whereby m characterizes the 3.2 Absolute linearity exponential, sinusoidal or
5. Housing gradient, a the offset voltage With the ever increasing auto- cosinal functions.
of the potentiometer and mation of assembly lines,
2. Terminology / Terms and the linear or angular travel. users are finding that values 4. Contact resistance
Definitions Where there is a linear re- for absolute linearity are stea- Contact resistance is the resi-
When we refer nowadays to a lationship, deviation is re- dily gaining importance. stance between the wiper ter-
potentiometer as a sensor, it ferred to as linearity. Where Unlike independent linearity, minal and the wipers immedi-
is important to bear in mind the relationship is non-linear. for absolute linearity the refe- ate point of contact on the
the statements made here rence slope is fully defined potentiometers resistive
Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 2

track. As will be subsequently up to 10 m/sec can be radius decreases in relation to smoothness and linearity
explained, this contact resist- achieved without any the degree of eccentricity. values. For this reason,
ance affects all the important appreciable increase in the The following equation deter- Novotechnik has sought over
quality features of a potentio- dynamic component of con- mines the maximum relative the past 15 years to develop
meter. Contact or transition tact resistance. error: definitions better suited to the
resistance can be broken current state fo the art.
F max = E/ * rk
down into three components. 5. Linearity errors due to The various methods used
The first component, descri- electrical circuitry where E = eccentricity and are discussed and evalutated
bes the integral voltage drop From here onwards, we are rk = the coupling radius. below.
between the current-carrying only concerned with the linear
track and the contact sur- characteristics (linearity). It is only possible to take full 7.1 Smoothness
face. This component is Relationships must be suitab- advantage of the linearity or Smoothness is a measure of
largely dependent on techno- ly adapted for applications conformity of potentiometers, the deviations from perfect
logy factors and amounts to with non-linear characteristics as indeed of any rotationary regularity that appear in the
several hundred Ohm. (conformity) but there are no sensor system, if coupling output voltage of a potentio-
The second component, the essential differences. As al- alignment errors (offset and meter. This irregularity is mea-
external component, is far ready mentioned in Section 2, angular misalignment) are sured over a specified travel
more difficult to master than the required linearity values avoided or at least reduced to increment, for example 1 %,
the first. This external transi- can only be utilized so long a mimimum. This means that and is expressed as a per-
tion resistance has much in as the signal output by the with highly accurate measure- centage of the applied volta-
common with the contact sensor potentiometer car- ment systems, due allowance ge. For the measurement of
resistances occurring in swit- ries no current. We have now must be made for any coup- smoothness, the VRCI defini-
ches and plug- and socket- to consider the effect of wiper ling misalingment in accor- tion calls for a bandpass filter
connectors. It is caused by current on linearity. Fig. 10a dance with the above equa- to be used as a means of
the transition between the illustrates the functional rela- tion. suppressing any linearity error
wiper and the potentiometer tionship between wiper cur- and for the potentiometer to
track not being ideal from an rent, contact resistance and 7. Smoothness definitions be operated with a load resis-
electrical viewpoint. Metal linearity error. As is shown by When, some 30 years ago tance (e.g. 100 . Rp). This
oxides, chlorides and sulphi- the example in Fig. 10b conductive plastic potentio- method has certain disadvan-
des, mixed with various (Characteristic 4), with a meters were first introduced tages:
organic substances, can wiper current of 10 A and a onto the market, it was appa-
result in the formation of thin contact resistance of 10 k , rent that although the winding a)
nonconductive facings at the a potentiometer which has a jumps which were a feature The use of a filter causes
interface. If not kept within resistance of 2 k already of wirewound potentiometers both the absolute wiper velo-
bounds, this external transi- has linearity error of 1.1 %. had been overcome, abso- city and any changes in such
tion resistance can, under A similar situation arises with lute smoothness of the velocity to affect the smooth-
unfavourable conditions, lead an ohmic load. This clearly output voltage could not be ness values.
to complete failure to keep shows how important are achieved. Following some Since the filter partly inte-
within a tolerance range. It is the roles played by both basic reserach by. h. grates and partly differen-
absolutely essential that the wiper current and contact Wormser 4, 5, 6 , the term tiates, the chart-recorded
materials used in potentiome- resistance. smoothness was included smoothness curve does not
ter manufacutre be subjected in the standard issued by the accurately indicate the varia-
to stringent quality control 6. Linearity errors resulting Variable Resistive tions in the output signal.
and be matched one with From mechanical coupling Compontents Institute (VRCI).
another. The third component, If there is axial misalignment Although this definition was b)
the dynamic component, is (eccentricity) between the adequate at that time it can- The load applied to the
related to dynamic drive drive shaft and the shaft of a not serve as a system defini- potentiometer also contribu-
forces acting on the wiper at potentiometer used to sense tion for many applications. tes to error by causing varia-
high speeds of actuation. angular, motion, this will This is because it is now pos- tion in the contact resistance
With the aid of damped cause a linearity error that sible to produce potentiome- which is greatest with the
wipers, actuation speeds of increases as the coupling ters with appreciably better wiper at the voltage appli-
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cation end and lowest at the cations because any varia- tuations are statistically distri- sion of defective positions
grounded end of the poten- tions in gradient (sensitivity) buted to travel increments of and faults in the system
tiometer track. can only be determined with less than 1m, i.e. there is no potentiometer as a whole.
considerable difficult. periodicity or regularity. Fig. These values are vital criteria
c) 14a shows the RGV curve for assessing the stability and
The use of a 1% evaluation 7.3 Relative gradient variation and Fig. 14b the RGV values repeatability to be expected
window is not accurate (RGV) with step widths of 0.1, 0.2 of a control system.
enough for many of todays If, in a highly sensitive control and 0.3. The form of these
applications. system, the amplification distributions more or less in 8. Resolution, hysteresis,
should, for example, be so conformity with the normal repeatability and reproduci-
d) arranged that the control cir- distribution to be expected in bility
The sometimes arbitrary se- cuit will be stable with the view of the central limit value
lection of a filter type, load mean slope (gradient) of the principle. The mean distri- 8.1 When measuring RGV
resistance and travel incre- sensor, then it is important to bution value is around 1 values of potentiometers up
ment results in-smoothness be aware of any variations (mean gradient), the variance to synchro size 20 from series
values not being directly there may be in that slope (STDEV) decreases as the production, with step widths
comparable. (Fig. 12a, Fig. 12b). If, at any step width increases. Since of 0.1 RGV values of 10 %
point, the gradient is appre- each individual RGV value are obtained. If we specify the
7.2 Microlinearity ciably steeper than the mean represents a mean value, it is RGV value of 100 % as the
In 1978, Novotechnik intro- gradient, then there will be a to be expected that the resolution limit, from the
duced the term Microlinearity, higher closed-loop gain in this variance of such mean values equation in 7.4 we obtain
which is defined as the maxi- position and this could lead will decrease with a root func- with 10 % a resolution of
mum linearity variation within to feedback oscillation. If, on tion in proportion to the in- 1/1000. The degree of reso-
a travel or angular increment the other hand, the gradient crease in step size, since lution is primarily determined
that amounts - as with is less steep at some point each such increase amounts by the homogeneity and
smoothness measurement - than the mean gradient, then to an increase in the size of grain-size distribution in the
to 1 % of the electrical range repeatability would be redu- the random sample. conductive plastic layer, by
if nothing to the contrary is ced and there would be less the wiper contact surface
defined. Microlinearity is indi-
cated as a percentage of the
absolute voltage that is app-
control accuracy. If we relate
this type of local gradient
variation gl to the mean gra-

= Y

running parallel to the equipo-
tential lines (Fig.16a and 16b)
and by the wiper current.
lied. Fig. 11 illustrates the dient go of the potentiometer,
characteristic obtained for a then this criterion is indepen- *)applies for STDEV 8.2 Hysteresis
potentiometer with a micro- dent of the potentiometer The hysteresis value specifies
linearity error. This was evalu- length and can be used for In Fig. 15 this variance has the signal differential resulting
ated by a computer-suppor- the direct comparision of been plotted as a function of if a prescribed position is
ted system while making line- various potentiometers. the step width. RGV variance approached from one side,
arity measurements. The tra- local gradient gl can thus be considered as a the point is travelled over
vel increments are super- RGV = = characteristic quality feature and the same position
imposed on the linearity curve mean gradient go of a potentiometer. The func- approached from the other
and have an overlap of at (Fig. 13) tional relationsship also ser- side. Hysteresis is mainly
least 50 %. Contrary to a ves to indicate the maximum affected by mechanical fac-
smoothness measurement, The RGV is indicated as a +/- resolution of a potentiometer tors such as the bearings, the
the error here is purely a line- deviation in percentage terms which is not infinite, as many stiffness of the wiper system
arity error that describes the from L (standardized mean potentiometer manufacturers and the coefficient of friction
maximum error within a de- gradient). would imply. Maximum RGV between the conductive layer
fined increment. Microlinearity values have also been plotted and the wiper. For this rea-
does not, however, make it 7.4 Interpretation of RGV in Fig. 15. This curve, like the son, attention must be paid
possible to determine whet- Measurements have shown minimum value curve, does to ensure a backlash-free,
her a potentiometer will be that with conductive-plastic not of course, obey statistical rigid mechanical coupling.
suitable for a particular appli- potentiometers, gradient fluc- laws but arises from the inclu- This can be achieved using,
Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 3

for example, a spring-borne values are irrelevant. For this particular method of testing. ty in relation to the state
concial pin or lever. application, it is the Tk and Fk It is, of course, most difficult when new and a maximum
Fig. 18 shows the recorded applicable to the voltage divi- to specify a value for wear or contact resistance value.
hysteresis of a Novotechnik der behaviour which are of for an increase in contact
standard potentiometer. The significance. It often also hap- resistance for a given number
measurements were taken pens that the humidity is not of actuation cycles since such
with clockwise and counter- kept constant while making values are markedly influ-
clockwise rotation being re- Tk measurements, with a enced by such external fac-
peated three times. While the result that a mixture of Tk and tors as temperature and
curves recorded in one direc- Fk is often given as a tempe- humidity, and by mechanical
tion almost coincide (indica- rature coefficient. Detailed and chemical influences.
ting good resolution), in the measurements made by Such values need to be
opposite direction they indi- Novotechnik have shown that established for each particular
cate an hysteresis of around the Tk and Fk of the nominal application. This applies to a
four thousands of a degree. resistance in conductive-pla- lesser extent for the method
The fact that the curves in stic potentiometers (without of testing, and here the
one direction almost coincide housing) are of an order of establishment of standard
and that there is a constant magnitude some-what less method would facilitate com-
hysteresis in the opposite than 200 ppm/C and 500 paring the service life of
direction indicates a stable ppm/% RH respec-tively. The various potentiometers.
displacement of the wiper Tk and Fk of the voltage-divi- Unless the customer specifies
contact line which means der behaviour are some two some different procedure,
there is no stick-slip effect. orders of magnitude lower Novotechnik now uses two
which means that here chan- methods of testing. The first
8.3 Repeatability ges within a range of less is a practical test in which
This term is generally than 5 ppm/C and 5 ppm/% extremely small wiper move-
replaced by reproducibility. RH can be expected, ensu- ments are simulated such as
By repeatability we mean any ring constancy over a wide frequently occur in feedback
optional approach movement temperature and humidity control systems. Typical
towards a prescribed position range. However, this advanta- values are: Wiper travel 2
from the same direction. ge can only be utilized given Test frequency 100 Hz. This
a suitably designed housing dither test permits a relatively
8.4 Reproducibility and if, for example, no trim- rapid result to be obtained
This term is taken to mean ming resistances are used in concerning contact reliability
any optional approach move- the potentiometer circuit. and any change in gradient
ment towards a prescribed within a micro range since, at
position from various direc- 10. Service life such a high frequency, some
tions. It represents the sum of The magnitude of the contact 8.6 milion cycles can be
2 x resolution + hysteresis. resistance and the wear to effected daily. The second
which the resistance track is test, the half-stroke test,
9. Temperature and humidi- subjected and the resulting gives information concerning
ty coefficients change in electrical charac- linearity changes, zero-point
In many data sheets issued teristics determine the num- shift and wiper wear. This test
by potentiometer manufactu- ber of operations to which a is performed at a frequency
rers, reference is frequently potentiometer can be subjec- of 10 Hz (0.86 million cycles
made to the temperature ted and thus also its service per day) over 50 % of the
coefficient (Tk) and humidity life. Although of considerable track length. As is shown in
coefficient (Fk) of the nominal importance for industrial app- Fig. 19, this results in a maxi-
resistance. Where potentio- lications, no standard has so mum linearity change.
meters are used as voltage far been issued that specifies A criterion for rejection here
remove dividers (Fig. 2), these a service-life definition or a might be a doubling of lineari-
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Fig. 1
Summary of sensor types

Fig. 2
Mode of operation

Fig. 3
Definition of terms: electrical travel

Fig. 4
Non-linear travel

2 4

Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 4

Fig. 5 Fig. 8
Potentiometer connections Definition of absolute linearity

Fig. 6 Fig. 9
Definition of independent linearity Example of an absolute linearity recor-
ding with stepped tolerances
Fig. 7
Recordings of the independent linearity
of a potentiometer with a capacity of

6 8

7 9
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Fig. 10a
Maximum linearity error caused by
wiper current

Fig. 10b
Linearity error resulting from wiper cur-

10 a

10 b
Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 5

Fig. 11

Fig. 12a
Schematic output of a potentiometer

Fig. 12b
Schematic gradient variation of a


12 a 12 b
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Fig. 13
Definition of Relative Gradient Variation

Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 6

Fig. 14a
RGV recordings with step widths of
0.1, 02. and 0.3

14 a
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Fig. 14b
RGV distribution with step widths of
0.1, 02. and 0.3

14 b
Potentiometers -
Technical Definitions
Page 7

Fig. 15
The relationship between step width
and RGV

Fig. 16a
Wiper-finger contact points


16 a
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Fig. 16b
RGV in relation to wiper adjustment

Fig. 17
The effect of wiper current on RGV

Fig. 18
Curves recording the hysteresis and
repeatability of a conductive-plastic

16 b 18

17 19