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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fluid Level Detector

The LM903 uses the thermal-resistive probe technique to measure the level of nonflammable fluids. A low fluid level is indicated by a warning lamp operating in continuous or flashing mode. All supervisory requirements to control the thermal - resistive probe, including short and open circuit probe detection, are incorporated within the device. The circuit has possible applications in the detection of hydraulic fluid, oil level, etc., and may be used with partially conducting fluids.

Circuit Operation

A measurement is initiated when the supply is applied, provided the control input pin 7 is low. Once a measurement is commenced, pin 7 is latched low and the ramp capacitor on pin 12 begins to charge. After 25 ms when switch-on transients have subsided, a constant current is applied to the thermo-resistive probe. The value of probe current, which is supplied by an external PNP transistor, is set by an external resistor across an internally generated 21V reference. The lamp current is applied at the start of probe current.

35 ms after switch-on, the voltage across the probe is sampled and held on external capacitor C1 (leakage current at pin 1 less than 1 nA). After a further 1.5 seconds the difference between the present probe voltage and the initial probe voltage is measured, multiplied by 3 and compared with a reference voltage of 850 mV (externally adjustable via pin 16). If the amplified voltage difference is less than the reference voltage the lamp is switched off, otherwise the lamp commences flashing at 1 Hz to 2 Hz. 10 ms later the measurement latch operates to store the result and after a further 8 ms the probe current is switched off.

A second measurement can only be initiated by interrupting the supply. An external CR can be arranged on pin 7 to prevent a second measurement attempt for 1 minute. The measurement condition stored in the latch will control the lamp.


The circuit effectively measures the thermal resistance of the probe. This varies depending on the surrounding medium (Figure 1). It is necessary to be able to heat the probe with the current applied and, for there to be sufficient change in resistance with the temperature change, to provide the voltage to be measured.

Probes require resistance wire with a high resistivity and temperature coefficient. Nickel cobalt alloy resistance wires are available with resistivity of 50 mXcm and temperature coefficient of 3300 ppm which can be made into suitable probes. Wires used in probes for use in liquids must be designed to drain freely to avoid clogging. A possible arrangement is shown in Figure 2.

The probe voltage has to be greater than 0.7V to prevent short circuit probe detection less than 5V to avoid open circuit detection. With a 200 mA probe current this gives a probe resistance range of 4X to 25X. This low value makes it possible to use the probe in partially conducting fluids.

Using resistance wire of 50 mXcm resistivity, 8 cm of 0.08 mm (40 AWG) give approximately 8X at 25ßC. Such a probe will give about 500 mV change between first and second measurements in air, and 100 mV change with oil, hydraulic fluid, etc., in the application circuit. With an alarm threshold of 280 mV (typ) lack of fluid can readily be detected. As the probe current, measurement reference and measurement period are all externally adjustable, there is freedom to use different probes and fluids.

Another possibility is the use of high temperature coefficient resistors made for special applications and positive temperature coefficient thermistors. The encapsulation must have a sufficiently low thermal resistance so as not to mask the change due to the different surrounding mediums, and the thermal time constant must be quick enough to enable the temperature change to take place between the two measurements. The ramp timing could be adjusted to assist this. Probes in liquids must be able to drain freely.

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