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Design and fabrication of a low cost water flowmeter
Luis Castaiier. Vicente Jimenez, Manuel Dom'nguez, Francesc Masana and Angel Rodriguez
E.T.S.I. de Telecomunicaci6n, DEE, Universidad P o l i t h i c a de Cataluiia, Barcelona, Spain
A novel low cost packaging solution of a hot-wire

water flow meter up to 9 liter/minute ,avoiding direct
contact of flow with Silicon sensors is presented. The
thermal contact is ensured by pins of a lead frame .
This solution is less sensitive to the geometry and
relative position of the sensor and the pipe, and
simpler to pack than previous solutions [ 11
This paper gives details of the design, fabrication and
/I II Flow

performance of the system extending our previous

work reporting the basic ideas in a qualitative way [2]
and preliminary simulation results [3].

The design described in this work was aimed at
avoiding some of the current problems of hot-wire
silicon flow sensors for water, mainly arising from PIPE
the difficulties of finding a suitable assembly and
packaging solution.
Micromachined devices ensure good thermal isolation
between hot and cold point but exhibit problems to
simultaneously insure good thermal contact with the
fluid and good electrical isolation. For these reasons,
a lead frame and plastic packaging solution was
adopted as depicted schematically in Figure 1.

The temperature sensors of hot and cold points are Figure 1, Schematics of the assembly concept. Top:
bonded to different metal leads . Wiring is also done side view, bottom:cross section view
before: all the structure is placed inside a mould were
the plastic epoxy is poured and cured. The system is From isothermal plots an electrothermal equivalent
hence thermally in contact with the outside by two circuit was drawn and the elements calculated. This
metal wires on one face of the packaging , and was linked with an electronic simulator which was
electrically wireable to other components through able to analyse the complete system behaviour.
other metal leads on the oposite face. Thermal
isolation inside the package is provided by the plastic Finite element simulation
epoxy, selected to have low thermal conductivity,
although some cross-coupling is expected. This The geometry of the system was simulated using
concept is easy-to-mount and a demonstrator has ANSYS and FLOTRAN, and an example of the
been fabricated. results is shown in Figure 2
Various were the parameters used in the simulation:
The design consisted on various phases starting with geometrical dimensions, and main properties of the
a finitle element simulation of the tentative geometry materials used ( Silicon, metal, plastic and water):
which resulted in a plot of the isothermal thermal conductivities, density and specific heat. In
characteristics for various electrical power values. particular a 1.SW/mC, was used as the plastic thermal

0 1997 IEEE
0-7803-3829-4/97/$10.00 159 1997 International Conference on Solid-State Sensors and Actuators
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997
I 299.7 /Heater
Silicon I point

Metal I

M e t a l on
plastic ;

Figure 3 . Equivalent thermal circuit

These values were used to SPICE simulate the
complete system including the electronics assuming a
potential dependence of convective resistance with
flow.As can be seen the resistors bridging the
convection process are R7 and R9 which are the
mutual resistances between hot and cold points inside
the packaging.
Figure 2 , Temperature profiles calculated by a finite
element simulator Simulations showed that in order to have a difference
Electrothermal steady-state equivalent circuit in temperature of 2 5C the power required should be
in the range of looI;lw to 8omw.
A lumped model representation of the system was
draw based upon a 11 thermal resistances circuit
powered by the electrical Power needed to heat the
hot point as can be seen in Figure 3. The values of the
eleven resistors, shown in Table I were calculated Sensors
from the data of node and using some simetry
considerations. Temperature sensors were fabricated using a Silicon
bipolar technology, consisting on a base and emitter
Table I: Values of the resistors in Figure 3 for diffussion after initial oxidation and window
P=lOOmW and 5 litedminflow openings. The estructure was composed of four
emitter-base junctions in series in a merged collector.
Diffussed and NiCr resistors were included to
provide the necessary heater in close thermal contact
with the sensor. After several runs were fabricated
[2], the process and device layout were improved in
this work. A picture of the device is shown in Figure

1997 lnfernafional Conference on Solid-state Sensors and Actuators
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997
Packaging was realised after a mould design and
fabrication and using special processing and
mounting techniques. Figure 6 shows a picture of the
sensor encapsulated

Figure 4. Picture of the sensor including resistor, and Figure 6 Sensor encapsulated
merged collector array
As can be seen in Figure 6 the pins coming out of the
The side dimension of the sensor is 1.4mmxl.6mm assembly are joined by metal horizontal metal bars
including metal pads .The devices were tested on which have to be removed prior to system operation.
wafer to measure the temperature coefficient. An These bars are sacrificial and insure that the metal lead
example is shown in Figure 5. frame has a proper mechanical rigidity during chip
bonding and plastic encapsulation.
Signal processing circuit

A signal processing circuit was designed in order to

provide power to the heater, bias current to the
sensors and to be used to set a target temperature
difference between hot and cold points and measure
the power needed to keep this temperature difference.
The selected architecture is a delta-sigma converter
according to the schematics shown in Figure 7, were
the two diode arrays and heater are the sensors. The
IC included the two bias sources, comparator, Flip-
Flop and power transistor. The offset voltage Voff in
the circuit sets the equilibrium temperature difference
between hot and cold points. It also serves to select
the maximum sigma-delta output for maximum flow.
The circuit was fabricated using a CMOS lp digital
I I I technology. Bias current sources were cascode to
1 10 100 ensure hrgh output impedance ( tipically greater than
If 600MQ).
The Flip-Flop was D type master -slave . Power
Figure 5 Temperature coefficient of sensors transistor had tipically an ON resistance of 6.4

Our system was designed in such a way that typical

bias currents for sensors were 20pA

161 1997 International Conference on Solid-State Sensors and Actuators
Chicago, June 16-19, 1997

A distinct feature of our “electrothermal sigma-delta
converter” is the waveform at the input of the
comparator. An example of a measure is shown in
Figure 8
I- It is clear from this picture that the waveform do not
I show the tipical sawtooth shape with linear up and
I down segments. Instead we have found a two-
T+> +
Voff CMP
exponetial time -response: one short time constant
exponential due to the thermal coupling between the
heating resistor and the sensor inside the, and the
-Vee I
second long time constant exponential due to the
I 1 I metal- below-Silicon-to-water thermal circuit.This
feature is explained by the non ideal integration
performed by the thermal subcircuit of the sigma-delta
converter. The output of the system is related to this
waveform. Figure 9 shows a typical measure of flow
Figure 7 Signal processing circuit using a 0-511 counts range for the output counter.

The system was mounted on a water pipe of llmm
diameter in a circuit in which the water temperature 450
was regulated and kept aproximately at 25C. The
system was operated in closed loop with the feedback
ocurring in the thermal domain. The parameters of the
circuit, namely the required temperature difference 400
between hot and cold points, was set-up to 2.5C
tipically by adjusting the Voff value using an external
, resistor. When the difference in temperatur e is
smaller than 2,5C the FF generates a “1” at each clock 350
cicle, whereas while is higher, generates a “ 0 ” .
Setting up a window of a number of clock pulses, the
percentage of “1” ‘s generated is related to the flow.
In our measurement system a simple counter was 300
used at the sigma-delta output. 2 .S 5 7.5 10
m v (Irmin.)
0’084 3Figure 9 Tipical output

[I]A.J. van der Wiel ’ Flow measurement concepts applied

to silicon sensors’ phD disertation, University of Neuchatel,
Switzerland (1994)
[2] L. CastaAer V. Jimenez M.Dominguez F.Masana A
Rodriguez’ Microsystems application to home app1iances:flow
0.079 ~1 measurement IEEE Circuits and Devices pp.14-18 January
0 2 4 6 8 1 0 1 2
[3] V.Jimenez, F.Masana,M.Dominguez and L.CastaAer
‘Electrothermal simulation of hot-wire flow sensors’
Proceedings of the 2nd THERMlNlC Workshop, Budapest 25-
Figure 8. Waveform at the input of the comparator of 27 September 1996 pp 257-258
sigma-delta converter

1997 lnfernational Conference on Solid-Stafe Sensors and Actuators
Chicago, June 76-19, 1997