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Sensors and Actuators A 106 (2003) 814

Advances in uxgate sensors


Pavel Ripka
Department of Measurement, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Czech Technical University, Technicka 2, 166 27 Praha 6, Czech Republic

Abstract This paper reviews recent achievements in the technology and design of uxgate sensors and magnetometers. The major recent trends were decreasing of the sensor size, power consumption and price, and, on the other hand, increasing of the precision in the large range of the measured elds. The potential frequency range was increased up to units of kHz. Present uxgate sensors have a resolution comparable with high-temperature superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), while their precision is the best of vectorial eld sensors. 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Fluxgate sensor; Fluxgate magnetometer

1. Introduction Fluxgate sensors measure dc or low-frequency ac magnetic elds. They are vector devices, i.e. sensitive to the eld direction in the range of up to 1 mT with achievable resolution down to 10 pT. Although rst uxgate sensors appeared in early 1930s, these sensors are still being used in many applications. Recent development of magnetoresistors, especially anisotropic magnetoresistance sensors (AMR), limit the market for classical uxgate to applications requiring high precision and resolution. This paper reviews recent advances and development in the uxgate technology since the last review [1]. Some recent trends were already commented in [2]. Broader overview of applications of uxgates and other magnetic eld sensors and magnetometers is made in [3]. Recent comparative study of uncooled magnetometers and superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) with proposed hybrid systems can be found in [4]. Fluxgate principle was rst used in magnetic modulators. The excitation current Iexc through the excitation coil produces eld that periodically saturates (in both directions) the soft magnetic material of the sensor core (Fig. 1). In saturation the core permeability drops down and the dc ux associated with the measured dc magnetic eld B0 is decreased. The name of the device comes from this gating of the ux that occurs when the core is saturated. When the measured eld is present, the voltage Vi is induced into the sensing (pick-up) coil at the second (and also higher even) harmonics of the excitation frequency. This voltage, proportional to the
Tel.: +420-2-2435-3945; fax: +420-2-3333-9929. E-mail address: ripka@feld.cvut.cz (P. Ripka).

measured eld, is usually the sensor output, but some uxgates also work in the short-circuited mode (current-output). Although the uxgate effect is known for decades, it still attracts interest of theoretical work. Kaplan and Suissa had shown a duality between electric antenna and gapped uxgate [5,6]. They also newly derived the sensor response to non-uniform elds. Although their results are not directly applicable for commonly used short uxgates, they help to understand uxgate effect. Trujillo et al. analyze uxgate using simple spice model [7]. This tool allows to evaluate the inuence of the core BH loop shape and excitation waveform on the open-loop performance of the sensor. Fluxgate magnetometers are used in geophysics and for space applications. Space applications of uxgate sensors were recently reviewed by Acuna [8]. Fluxgate compasses are exploited for aircraft and vehicle navigation. The uxgate principle is also employed in current sensors and precise current comparators and for remote measurement of dc currents. For reading magnetic marks and labels and for detection of ferromagnetic objects, compact uxgate magnetometers are used. Fluxgate sensors are reliable solid-state devices, working in a wide temperature range. Resolution of 100 pT and 10 nT absolute precision is standard in commercially produced devices, but they can reach 10 pT resolution and 1 nT long-term stability. Many dc uxgate magnetometers have a cut-off frequency of several Hertz, but when necessary, they can work up to kilohertz frequencies [9]. The temperature stability is the following: the offset drift may be well below 0.1 nT/ C, and the sensitivity tempco is usually around 5030 ppm/ C, but some uxgates are compensated up to

0924-4247/$ see front matter 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0924-4247(03)00094-3

P. Ripka / Sensors and Actuators A 106 (2003) 814

Fig. 1. Fluxgate principle.

1 ppm/ C. If they work in the feedback mode, the resulting magnetometer linearity error may be as low as 105 [10]. If resolution in the nanotesla range is required, uxgates are the best selection. Compared to high-temperature superconducting quantum interference device they may have similar noise level, but the measurement range of uxgate is much larger. If pT or even smaller elds are measured, a low-temperature SQUID should be used. Magnetoresistors, mainly anisotropic magnetoresistance sensors, are the main competitors of uxgate sensors. Commercially available AMR magnetoresistors such as Philips KMZ have a resolution worse than 10 nT, but they are smaller and cheaper and may consume less energy. Linearity of the best present compensated AMR sensors is 0.05% [11,12]. The mostly used modern low-noise uxgate sensor is the parallel type with ring-core. Parallel type means that the excitation and the measured eld have the same direction. Orthogonal type is rarely used, mostly in thin-lm devices. The second harmonic in the induced voltage is extracted by a phase-sensitive detector, and the pick-up coil often serves also for the feedback. Current-output is also used in some designs. Other designs are used for special purposes, such as rod-type sensors for non-destructive testing or position sensing [13].

Fig. 2. Race-track uxgate.

2.1. Ring-core sensors While the pick-up coil is a straight solenoid with the ring-core in its center, the excitation coil is toroidally wound around it. Ring-core sensors can be regarded as a form of balanced double sensor. The closed magnetic circuit is consisting of two half-cores. The core is usually made of several turns of thin tape of soft magnetic material. The ring-core geometry is advantageous for the low-noise sensors, even though that the ring-core sensors have low sensitivity, due to the large demagnetization. Ring-core sensors also allow ne balancing of the core symmetry by rotating the core with respect to the sensing coil. 2.2. Race-track sensors Their sensitivity is higher and the race-track sensor is less sensitive to perpendicular elds, due to the lower demagnetization factor (Fig. 2). Race-tracks, on the other side, still have the advantages of the closed-type sensors, mainly low-noise6 pT/ Hz@1 Hz was reported for sensor having 65 mm long race-track amorphous core [19]. Sensitivity and noise for smaller sensors is studied in [20]. Modied race-track sensor design allows nal adjustment of the sensor balance by sliding the pick-up coil along the core [21].

2. Core shapes of uxgates The main problem of using the basic single-core design is the large signal on the excitation frequency at the sensor output, because the sensor acts as a transformer. Thus, the single-core design is used mainly for simple devices and special applications. Pulse-position type sensors also have single-core [14]. Some simple magnetometers such as [15] are based on autooscillation circuits. These devices are small, low-power and cheap; however, they have strong competitors in AMR magnetoresistors. Orthogonal single-core uxgate sensor for defectoscopy was developed by Sasada [16]. For precise uxgates, double cores (either double-rod or ring-core) are normally used. Moldovanu et al. developed a number of double-rod (VacquierFoerster type) core sensors. They report 120 pT pp noise and 0.42 nT/K offset in the temperature range of 20 to +70 C for tensile-stress annealed amorphous core [17,18].

3. The effect of demagnetization If the constant pick-up coil area in the general induction sensor equation is assumed, we get: Vi = NA0 dH(t) NA0 H d(t) d = + dt dt dt

where is relative permeability. The basic induction effect (rst term) is still present in uxgate sensors, and causes interference. But the most important component is the second term caused by uxgate effect. The core permeability is periodically changing with the excitation eld. The given formula can be used for long rod-type sensors, but for the more often used ring-cores, the demagnetization effect should be considered. Demagnetization means that H in the core material is lower than

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the measured eld H0 in the open air. Thus, the ux density within the core must be written: B= 0 H0 = 0 a H0 [1 + D( 1)]

where D is the effective demagnetization factor and a is the apparent permeability, a = /[1 + D( 1)], for very high , a 1/D. If demagnetization is considered, the equation for uxgate output voltages becomes more complex: Vi = NA dB 1D d(t) = NA0 H0 dt {1 + D(t) 1}2 dt

Demagnetisation of ring-cores was studied by Clarke [22], study of the ring-core internal eld was also performed by Primdahl et al. [23]. From this equation, and also from practical experience, general practical rules for achieving high sensitivity can be deduced: 1. Voltage sensitivity increases with number of turns N (if N is very high, other factors, such as coil parasitic capacitance, limits the sensitivity). 2. Sensitivity decreases with demagnetization factor D. 3. The sensitivity is high for materials having rectangular shape of the hysteresis loop, as they have a steep change of permeability d/dt, when the core is coming into saturation. But these materials cannot be used because of their high noise level. 4. Until eddy currents (which change the shape of the hysteresis loop) become important, voltage sensitivity increases with excitation frequency (because (dHexc /dt) f ). The voltage output is often tuned. Tuning may be intentional by parallel capacitance to utilize parametric amplication or unintentional (by parasitic coil capacitance).

Fig. 3. Noise of Billingsley Magnetics uxgate sensor. The sensor core is 17 mm diameter amorphous ring (from [32]).

able for uxgate applications. Annealing may further decrease the noise level of a tape for uxgate core. Using amorphous 17 mm ring-core, Nielsen et al. reached noise level of 4.2 pT/vHz@1 Hz, which corresponds to 11.1 nT rms in the frequency range of 60 mHz10 Hz [24]. It was recently shown that also the tape surface treatment such as chemical etching may improve the core properties [25]. Fig. 3 shows the typical noise spectrum and time plot measured on uxgate sensor manufactured by Billingsley Magnetics. Single-domain uxgates proposed by Koch are theoretically free of magnetic noise [26]. Noise level achieved so far was 1.4 pT/vHz@1Hz for 25 mm ring-core and 3.5 pT/vHz@1Hz for 13 cm long rod-core, but predicted values are even lower.

5. Principles of uxgate magnetometers 4. Core materials High permeability and low coercivity, but non-rectangular shape of the magnetization curve is preferred for the core material. The material should have low number of structural imperfections, low internal stresses, uniform cross-section, smooth surface and high homogeneity of the parameters. Low saturation magnetization (for low-power) and high electrical resistivity (for low eddy current losses) are advantageous. The minimum noise is achieved for alloys possessing very low magnetostriction. Materials suitable for uxgate cores are permalloys (with 7881% of nickel) and amorphous alloys. Ferrites are used only exceptionally, as they give low sensor sensitivity. Amorphous magnetic materials, whose use for uxgate cores started from the early 1980s, are magnetic metallic glasses produced by rapid quenching. Cobalt-based amorphous alloys with low magnetostriction are particularly suitThe most frequently used principle of uxgate magnetometers is second-harmonic detection of the output voltage. The other principles also appeared, but until now they were not fully proved to bring substantial advantages except simplication of the circuitry. We give only three recent examples of these devices. Robertson presented a 1 mm long single-core sensor. Using differential peak detection, a similar sensor excited at 40 MHz had 250 pT/ Hz@10 Hz noise [27,28]. The relaxating-type magnetometer uses a single-core saturated by unipolar pulses and measures the length of the relaxation pulse after the excitation eld is switched-off. The instrument has +/200 mT range, 5% linearity error and about 0.5 nT pp noise [29]. Dimitropoulos suggests a new sensor principle combining uxgate with Mateucci effect [30]. The amorphous 6 cm long wire is excited by at coil pair. Although the precision of the rst prototype is reported to be 60 nT, the device can be scaled down to 5 mm and further optimised.

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Fig. 4. Analog uxgate magnetometer.

Fluxgate may also work in the short-circuited mode (with current-output) [24]. The main difference from voltage output is that the sensitivity is higher for lower number of turns, which may be advantage for miniature devices. 5.1. Second-harmonic analog magnetometer The common feedback-type uxgate magnetometer is shown in Fig. 4. The measured eld causes second-harmonic voltage at the sensor output, which is demodulated by phase-sensitive detector back to dc or near-zero frequency. Integrator gives large feedback gain. The feedback current is sensed on resistor by the differential amplier and serves as the magnetometer output. The usual excitation frequency is between 400 Hz and 100 kHz, for permalloy cores typically about 5 kHz. Increasing the frequency of the excitation current increases the sensitivity and improves the dynamic performance, but leads to a situation where the eddy currents in the core material become important. The excitation current should have large amplitude and a low second-harmonic distortion, as such distortion causes (through sensor unbalance) a false output signal. Tuned circuit in the excitation can help to reduce the power consumption [31]. The sensor voltage sensitivity increases with a number of turns of the pick-up coil (to the limitation caused by parasitic self-capacitances that create a resonant circuit), and with tuning of the voltage output [32]. Short-circuited (current-output) uxgate was introduced by Primdahl [24]. Current-output uxgate may also be tuned at the output by serial capacitor to suppress unwanted odd harmonics and increase the sensitivity [33]. The pick-up coil often serves for the feedback, but with some compromises. Pick-up coil should be close to the sensor core to keep the air ux low. Because of homogeneity, larger feedback coil is better. Therefore, two separated coils are used in precise magnetometers. The beginnings of digital magnetometers were described in [2]. Astrid-2 magnetometer was based on DAC, DSP and ADC in the feedback [34]. Kawahito employed deltasigma modulator and analog demodulator in his magnetometer [35]. Newly redesigned device based on switched detector,

analog integrator and second-order deltasigma modulator in the sensor feedback is reported in [36]. Present trend is to employ fully digital concept and pulse-width modulator. Despite the continuous effort, digital magnetometers still have drawbacks over analog instruments: increased noise level, limited linearity and higher power consumption.

6. Miniature uxgates It is complicated to miniaturize the uxgate, because the magnetic noise rapidly increases with decreasing sensor length. Small-size uxgates are needed and used in many applications, such as magnetic ink reading or sensor arrays. Small-size uxgate sensors are made of cores from amorphous materials or Permalloy and have simple electronics [37]. Integrated uxgate sensors do not have wound coils and therefore they can be very small and cheap. Their core is made by sputtering or electrodeposition [3840]. For low-noise integrated sensors, the cores of amorphous tape are used, as they have better magnetic properties [41]. The compensation sensor manufactured by Siemens-VAC Hanau (Germany) which has a permalloy wire core may also work as a single-core uxgate sensor [42]. A number of simple multivibrator-type uxgate magnetometers was reported from Japan. A 15 mm long hairpin sensor was made up of a strip with helical anisotropy [43]. This classical sensor has 5 nT/vHz noise (averaged in the 64 mHz10 Hz band) and 4 nT/ C temperature drift in the 2550 C interval. The simple PCB construction of the 15 mm long uxgates is described in [44]. The annealed core made of amorphous foil is sandwiched inside multilayer printed circuit board. Outer metal layers of PCB connected by vias form the winding. Resistance of the winding can be decreased by Cu-electroplating after patterning of the winding [45]. Planar uxgate sensor with at coils was described in [46]. The sensor core is in the form of two serially congured 1.4 mm long strips of sputtered permalloy 2 m lm. The at excitation coil saturates the strips in opposite directions, the differential ux is sensed by two anti-serially connected at pick-up coils. The maximum sensitivity of 73 V/T was

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Fig. 5. Microuxgate with at coils and symmetrical core (from [38]).

reached for a 1 MHz/150 mA pp excitation current. Similar structure which has two permalloy strips on both sides of the at coils is shown in Fig. 5 [38]. A similar sensor having three at excitation coils was described in [47]. The sensor response covers elds up to 250 mT. In the 60 mT range the linearity and hysteresis error is below 1.2%. The error of angular response to a 50 T eld is 1.6%. Further improvement was achieved with similar sensor having two layers of ferromagnetic core [38,39]. The orthogonal uxgate with at excitation and pick-up coil was described in [41]. The sensor 10 mm diameter ring-core is also etched from Vitrovac 6025 amorphous ribbon. The sensor resolution is 40 nT and the linearity error in the 400 mT range is 0.5%. A parallel-mode two-axis integrated uxgate magnetometer by the same authors was developed for a low-power watch compass [48,49]. Solenoid coils have much better efciency than at coils, as they are ideally coupled with the core. However, micromachining of solenoids in difcult. Early devices were developed by Kawahito [50] and Gottfried [51]. The technology was further developed by Liakopoulos and Ahn [52,53]. UV-LIGA based thick photoresist process was used to create electroplated permalloy core and copper coils. Maximum sensitivity for 5 mm long, 0.7 mm wide and 20 m thick sensor core was 900 V/T for excitation frequency of 5 kHz. Kuchenbrand et al. fabricated 7.3 mm long race-track sensors with solenoid coils by rf sputtering and argon ion etching [54]. The microuxgate technology is improving, but at present AMR sensors are winners: they have better parameter than uxgates smaller than 5 mm.

short-time angular accuracy may be 5 min of arc, long-term precision 0.1 . The main disadvantage is that such compass should be gimbaled. Modern compasses therefore use three-axial uxgate magnetometer together with inclinometer and proper azimuth is calculated from ve readings: pitch, roll and three components of magnetic eld. Fluxgate compasses are still superior, as they can easily achieve 0.1 accuracy in the wide temperature range, while AMR devices require complicated error compensation to reach accuracy of 0.5 . 7.1. Three-axial compensation system For three-axial magnetometers, three single axis sensors are usually used. To compensate measured elds three orthogonal circular or rectangular Helmholtz coils or more complex coil systems are used. The spherically shaped three-axial coil system consisting of three coils of identical center points has been constructed for rocket and satellite applications by Primdahl and Jensen [55]. Each coil consisted of nine sections approximating the ideal spherical coil, which generates a uniform eld. For either long-term stability or low-noise operation it is very important to keep the sensors in a very low eld. Placing all three orthogonal sensors in the center of three-dimensional feedback coil provides that. Therefore, the system is free of errors caused by cross-eld effect (non-linear sensitivity to magnetic eld perpendicular to the sensing axis [56,57]. The measuring axes are dened only by the feedback coil system (the exact position of the individual sensors is not critical) and thus may be easily determined and kept very stable. The CSC system was successfully used for the Oersted satellite magnetometer [58]. The Oersted uxgate magnetometer linearity error was below 1 ppm in the earths eld, the temperature coefcient of the deviation angles was 0.07 arcsec/ C. Temperature coefcient of sensitivity was reduced to 10 ppm/K. The in-ight offset stability was typically 0.3 nT for 50 days.

7. Multiaxis magnetometers Two-axial uxgate magnetometers are used in compasses. Popular dual-axis sensor has ring-core with double cross-shaped pick-up coil. If used as a compass, the

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7.2. Individually compensated sensors Although these systems have many problems arising from the cross-eld effect, they are very popular because of their simplicity and low price. Individual sensors should be mounted symmetrically and at a maximum distance to avoid crosstalk. If possible, their excitation windings are connected serially and they are excited from the same generator. An example of advanced magnetometer of this type is device developed for the Swedish satellite Astrid-2, which has three closely mounted uxgates with 17-mm ring-cores made of amorphous alloy [34].

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8. Fluxgate gradiometers Gradiometric sensors are used in many applications, such as biomagnetic measurement or magnetic testing, where measured eld source is in a very short distance. Although single-core uxgate gradiometric sensor was developed [59], it turned out that for measuring the eld gradient using of two separate sensors and subtracting their reading gives better stability of the device. When two top-quality sensors are used, dynamic range of 130 dB (i.e. 0.4 ppm resolution) for measurements in the earths eld can be reached. The 50 000 nT calibration residuals were 2 nT pp [60,61].

9. Calibration of uxgate magnetometers Three methods are used for calibration of precise vectorial magnetometers: 1. thin-shell with random positioning; 2. calibrated positioning by non-magnetic theodolite; 3. coil systems. The rst two methods use the earths eld as reference. The unknown parameters are sensor offsets, gains and angles between the individual sensors in multi-axis systems. Angular deviation from the reference coordinate system should also be known. Theodolite method is traditionally used at magnetic observatories [62]. Coil systems are expensive and they should be periodically recalibrated, but they allow to perform fully automatic tests [63]. Thin-shell method with random positioning can be performed at any magnetically quiet location and it requires only absolute instrument such as proton magnetometer; surprisingly, experience shows that this method gives most reliable results for estimate of gains and angles between the sensors [64]. Calibration problems are further discussed in [65]. Calibration in strongly inhomogeneous eld is important for application in non-destructive testing [66].

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