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Capacitive Comparison Bridge

An electrical bridge is a circuit that has a connection between two parallel circuits within the same system. Basically, a typical bridge is two voltage dividers where the output of the circuit is taken as the differential potential of the two voltage dividers. This circuit can be used to determine a mystery component properties and value. Below is the typical circuit for a bridge circuit i.e. Wheatstone Bridge Circuit.

Figure 1 - Typical Bridge Circuit in Direct Current Mode

From figure 1, the term bridge comes from the connection between point C and B in this circuit. At this point the difference in voltages between the 2 points can be used to calculate the value of the component in the X or 4th position. This is the main use of a comparison bridge circuit. After some research, there are a number of electrical bridges based on the Wheatstone bridge design. They work in direct current (DC) and alternate current (AC) range. DC bridges are used to test the resistance within the circuits in the Rx position. AC bridges are used to test the impedance within the Rx position.

Principle of Operation
From here we will consider a capacitive comparison circuit that would look like the following:

Figure 2 - Capacitive Comparison Circuit (Balanced)

This bridge is a modification of the Wheatstone bridge circuit, where capacitance is the interested value to be determined. As a DC supply would basically make the capacitors be at an infinite resistance, an AC supply would simplify the circuits as all the components of the circuits will act as impedances, or in laymans term, like resistance. In order to actually calculate the unknown capacitance, there is two ways that we can approach this; first via load balancing, and second via mathematical comparison. Load Balancing Load balancing can be done through using an adjustable capacitor that will be tuned to that the differential between the two voltage dividers would be zero. As we are making the resistances that are put on the circuit to be identical in both side, at the null differential point, the tuned value of the adjustable capacitor will be the same as the unknown capacitor that we are investigating. Mathematical Comparison Mathematical comparison is probably the simples method to discover the value of the unknown capacitor as this method does not include any adjusting, although the precise amount for the other three known values would have to be as precise as the requirements for the precision of the unknown capacitor. What we find to be a simpler version for calculation in these circuits is the use of impedance (Z), rather than using the standard representation as Z reacts as resistance thus decaying the complex calculation to find the unknown capacitance to be just a voltage divisor. This exponentially

simplifies the calculation. (Complex calculations are really hard to do to a simpler approach is more than welcomed) The calculation would follow the next steps (Using Figure 2 as the basis for calculations): 1. Convert all component values into impedance. 2. Based on Wheatstone Bridge calculations, use:

Figure 3 - Wheatstone Bridge Circuit

First, Kirchhoff's first rule is used to find the currents in junctions B and D:

Then, Kirchhoff's second rule is used for finding the voltage in the loops ABD and BCD:

The bridge is balanced and

, so the second set of equations can be rewritten as:

Then, the equations are divided and rearranged, giving:

From the first rule,


. The desired value of

is now known to be given as:

If all four resistor values and the supply voltage ( ) are known, and the resistance of the galvanometer is high enough that is negligible, the voltage across the bridge ( ) can be found by working out the voltage from each potential divider and subtracting one from the other. The equation for this is:


is the voltage of node B relative to node D. (Wikipedia Volunteers Author)

3. Convert Zcx back into capacitance 4. And there you have it, the unknown capacitance is now known.

Industrial Applications
As capacitive sensors are more in used now, some of the more commonly used are the touchscreen sensor of smartphones and tablets. These sensors are more Basic capacitive sensors are when a dielectric substance is sandwiched between 2 or more electrodes. These sensors technology are typically used to measure level of non-flammable or reactive liquid. This method reduces the probability of a mechanical failure of the sensor as there are no moving components at all (Compared to other sensors such as a float valve). There are 2 way approaches where this technique is implemented: 1. Submerge Probe 2. Embedded Switch Submerged Probe

Figure 4 - Submerged Probe Diagram (Courtasy of Lessons of Industrial Instrumentation)

This method is more suitable to be used with the bridge as the capacitance of the container changes with the level of the liquid. With proper tuning, the scale of this measurement can be adjusted to meet the requirements of the vessel used. Some care must be used in attempting this as an improper calibration will result in damaging the vessel, and potentially lives.

Embedded Switch

Figure 5 - Capacitive Switch (Courtesy of Lessons of Industrial Instrumentation)

While this sensor is still capacitive, its not suitable to be use with the bridge as the capacitance is not measured in this system just the presence of a capacitive substance in the tank.


Bridge is basically a Wheatstone bridge Circuit customized to measure capacitive impedance at a specified frequency. The measurement of unknown capacitor is compared with standard capacitor to satisfy a certain value that is needed in the circuit. Advantage: Simple to use as the calculation for Capacitive Comparison Bridge Circuit is exactly same with Wheatstone Bridge Circuit, although an extra part in converting to and from impedance mode could be quite tricky. Simple to calibrate as the circuit can use an adjustable capacitor to produce a desired output scale (a set of standard capacitors can also mimic this).

Disadvantage: Charge leakage happen when inappropriate current go through the capacitor during the operation of the circuit. These leakages can affect the impedance value of the reference capacitor which will then change the ratio of the calculation. This could be a major problem if the bridge circuits are used in critical systems. Mismatch capacitance is dangerous because this will change the scale thus the accuracy of the measurement. This error in measurement could result in damages and more. Adjustable capacitor is currently quite expensive to be acquired off the shelf. This would be a hindrance if the standard capacitor needs to be an adjustable capacitor.