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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Relay Design and Operation

Basics of Relay:


A relay is an electrically operated switch. Many relays use an electromagnet to operate a switching mechanism, but other operating principles are also used. Relays find applications where it is necessary to control a circuit by a low-power signal, or where several circuits must be controlled by one signal. The first relays were used in long distance telegraph circuits, repeating the signal coming in from one circuit and re-transmitting it to another. Relays found extensive use in telephone exchanges and early computers to perform logical operations. A type of relay that can handle the high power required to directly drive an electric motor is called a contactor. Solid-state relays control power circuits with no moving parts, instead using a semiconductor device to perform switching. Relays with calibrated operating characteristics and sometimes multiple operating coils are used to protect electrical circuits from overload or faults; in modern electric power systems these functions are performed by digital instruments still called "protection relays".

Design and Operation:
A simple electromagnetic relay, such as the one taken from a car in the first picture, is an adaptation of an electromagnet. It consists of a coil of wire surrounding a soft iron core, an iron yoke, which provides a low reluctance path for magnetic flux, a movable iron armature, and a set, or sets, of contacts; two in the relay pictured. The armature is hinged to the yoke and mechanically linked to a moving contact or contacts. It is held in place by a spring so that when the relay is de-energized there is an air gap in the magnetic circuit. In this condition, one of the two sets of contacts in the relay pictured is closed, and the other set is open. Other relays may have more or fewer sets of contacts depending on their function. The relay in the picture also has a wire connecting the armature to the yoke. This ensures continuity of the circuit between the moving contacts on the armature, and the circuit track on the printed circuit board (PCB) via the yoke, which is soldered to the PCB.
When an electric current is passed through the coil, the resulting magnetic field attracts the armature, and the consequent movement of the movable contact or contacts either makes or breaks a connection with a fixed contact. If the set of contacts was closed when the relay was De-energized, then the movement opens the contacts and breaks the connection, and vice versa if the contacts were open. When the current to the coil is switched off, the armature is returned by a force, approximately half as strong as the magnetic force, to its relaxed position. Usually this force is provided by a spring, but gravity is also used commonly in industrial motor starters. Most relays are manufactured to operate quickly. In a low voltage application, this is to reduce noise. In a high voltage or high current application, this is to reduce arcing.
If the coil is energized with DC, a diode is frequently installed across the coil, to dissipate the energy from the collapsing magnetic field at deactivation, which would otherwise generate a voltage spike dangerous to circuit components. Some automotive relays already include a diode inside the relay case. Alternatively a contact protection network, consisting of a capacitor and resistor in series, may absorb the surge. If the coil is designed to be energized with AC, a small copper ring can be crimped to the end of the solenoid. This "shading ring" creates a small out-of-phase current, which increases the minimum pull on the armature during the AC cycle
By analogy with the functions of the original electromagnetic device, a solid-state relay is made with a thyristor or other solid-state switching device. To achieve electrical isolation an optocoupler can be used which is a light-emitting diode (LED) coupled with a photo transistor.

Applications
Relays are used to and for:
• Control a high-voltage circuit with a low-voltage signal, as in some types of modems or audio amplifiers,
• Control a high-current circuit with a low-current signal, as in the starter solenoid of an automobile,
• Detect and isolate faults on transmission and distribution lines by opening and closing circuit breakers (protection relays)


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