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What’s The Difference Between Piezoelectric And

Piezoresistive Components?
Piezo comes from the Greek word “piezein,” which means “squeeze” or “apply
some pressure.” Whether they take form as a transducer or sensor, piezo
components all operate as the result of some degree of physical pressure placed
upon them. Most piezo devices are piezoelectric or piezoresistive, and each has its
appropriate applications.

1. Piezoelectric Effect
2. Piezoresistive Effect

3. Transducers

4. Sensors

5. Summary

6. References

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Piezoelectric Effect

Under pressure, vibration, or other forms of stress, piezoelectricity forms in


certain materials, particularly crystals. Essentially, the piezoelectric effect is
merely the result of stressing a piezo element—crystal, ceramic, or biological
matter—to generate a charge or voltage.

The piezoelectric effect is linear. The amount of charge generation is proportional


to the amount of stress placed upon the piezo material. Interestingly, this effect is
reversible(Fig. 1). Applying a charge to the piezo material generates a mechanical
response or a pulse. As a result, piezoelectric components find employment in
sound production and detection apps, voltage and frequency generation, and a
plethora of measurement systems.

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1. The piezo tweeter, a.k.a., horn, on the left provides a cost alternative for standard
magnetic-coil speakers on the right. On its own, the piezo horn responds only to high
frequencies, eliminating the need for a frequency-compensating crossover network.

One example of this reverse deployment is the highly cost-effective and efficient
piezo tweeter or horn found in inexpensive consumer-audio speaker systems in
place of the somewhat more expensive magnetic-coil high-frequency driver with a
paper cone. A piezo tweeter uses a piezoelectric crystal, which generates a small
voltage when subjected to vibration or pressure.

When functioning as a high-frequency reproduction device (tweeter), however,


the crystal is subjected to a voltage—the high-voltage audio signal coming from
the receiver or amplifier. The crystal deforms in variation with its input signal
and audibly reproduces the input.

The inexpensive piezo crystal responds only to high frequencies, around 4 kHz
and above, making this arrangement cost-effective (Fig. 2). Therefore, it requires
no crossover with numerous passive components to operate as a tweeter in a two-
or three-way speaker system. Sometimes, depending on the design, placing an
inexpensive electrolytic capacitor in series with the piezo horn provides
protection by blocking low frequencies that might blow the horn.

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2. On the left, the piezoelectric material generates a voltage under pressure or vibration.
On the right, the piezoelectric effect is reversible by applying voltage to the piezoceramic
for a variety of sound- or pulse-generation purposes.

On a historical note, Pierre and Jacques Curie are credited with the discovery and
demonstration of the piezoelectric effect in 1880. Notably, the brothers did not
realize the converse piezoelectric effect, which Gabriel Lippmann demonstrated
in mathematical form around 1881.

Piezoresistive Effect

The piezoresistive effect also involves pressure or stress. However, changes in


resistance across the piezo material are the product, not a charge or voltage. It is a
change in electrical resistance of a semiconductor material due to mechanical
stress.

Probably the most basic piezoresistive devices are, obviously, piezo resistors (Fig.
3). Form factors include integrated resistor networks, potentiometers, and
accelerometers. Made from semiconductor materials, piezoresistive devices most
commonly are used in pressure measurement.

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3. When pressure is applied to a piezo resistor, depending on the material, its resistance
increases.

In 1856, Lord Kelvin noted the change of resistance in mechanically loaded metal
devices. Almost 100 years later, C.S. Smith described the piezoresistive effect in
silicon and germanium in 1954.

The most common components that rely on the piezoelectric and piezoresistive
effects include, but are not restricted to, transducers and sensors. And as you
might have guessed, most applications are in detection and measurement.

Transducers

Transducers convert energy from one form to another. Stated earlier,


piezoelectric transducers work both ways. They can convert mechanical energy
such as pressure and vibration to electrical energy like voltage or current. They
also can operate in reverse, converting electrical energy into mechanical energy
such as sound or vibration.

Piezoresistive transducers convert mechanical energy into proportionate levels of


resistance. They do not convert any form of stimulus to a voltage or current, nor
are they reverse active like their piezoelectric cousins, meaning they cannot
convert resistance levels to some other form of energy. Both piezoelectric and
piezoresistive transducers come in a wide variety of shapes and packages.

Probably the most common piezoelectric component is the disk-shaped


variety (Fig. 4). The ultra-thin metal disk comes in a range of diameters.
Construction is the same for all sizes. Piezo crystals occupy the center portion of
the disk. The outer metal circle and body back is the ground for the component.

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4. The thin metal disk is the most common package for piezoelectric transducers. The
piezo crystal or material is housed in the center portion, and the rest of the metal package
is the ground.

Hookup is a breeze, requiring just two wires: a hot and a ground. This format also
is popular since the thin disk fits into the tightest of quarters. It can be
sandwiched between two flat surfaces or simply attached to any flat surface.

Piezoresistive transducers tend to be somewhat larger due to their use of


semiconductor materials (Fig. 5). However, depending on the application, many
housings, sizes, and shapes are available to accommodate compact or larger
designs. Since these resistive components only work one way, converting
mechanical stimuli into resistance, they find regular employment in pressure-
measurement applications.

5. Using silicon semiconductor material for the piezoresistive effect, piezoresistive


transducers tend to be slighter larger than their piezoelectric counterparts.
Sensors

Sensors detect or measure (or sometimes detect and measure) physical quantities
such as distance, pressure, motion, and temperature. They perform their job via
conversion. For example, a thermocouple converts a temperature into a readable
voltage.

Piezoelectric sensors rely on the piezoelectric effect to measure a plethora of


parameters such as pressure, strain, or force by, once again, converting them to

8 Page 5 of
voltages. Technically, one can justifiably say that piezoelectric sensors and
transducers are one and the same. But piezoelectric sensors, more often than not,
operate purely as sensors and not in the aforementioned reverse mode, i.e.,
applying voltage to generate an effect.

Additionally, piezoelectric sensors are electromechanical components exhibiting


near zero deflection. As a result, they respond across a fairly high-frequency
bandwidth and exhibit consistent linearity over a wide amplitude range. They are
also available in a wide selection of sizes and lengths (Fig. 6).

6. Maintaining a fairly low profile and available in numerous sizes and lengths,
piezoelectric sensors exhibit near zero deflection, making them both rugged and
responsive to high frequencies.

Piezoresistive sensors are a bit more sophisticated in their design and the piezo
they employ. For instance, they can employ thin metal-film resistors, single-
crystal silicon, and other variations. It stands to reason that both the application
and the budget will most likely determine which material to choose.

The piezoresistive sensor is a mainstay in pressure-measurement applications.


According to Maxim Integrated Products, mono-crystalline silicon pressure
sensors have come into wide use lately. Built on semiconductor technology, the
resistance change (piezoelectric effect) is notably higher than exhibited in
standard strain gauges. Therefore, the sensitivity of mono-crystalline sensors is
higher than the sensitivity of most other types.

Available in a wider array of packaging options, piezoresistive sensors offer


sensitivities beyond 10 mV/V and stable linearity at constant temperature. They
also reliably track pressure changes without hysteresis (Fig. 7). Disadvantages
include significant nonlinear dependence of the full-scale signal on temperature
up to 1%/Kelvin, initial offsets up to 100% of full scale or more, and offset drift
with temperature.

8 Page 6 of
7. Piezoresistive sensors are available in a wider array of packaging options and specify
sensitivities greater than 10 mV/V.
Summary

Piezo components are highly functional devices operating in measurement,


safety, and test apps, to name a few, in markets as diverse as medical, musical
(pickups in acoustic guitars and fingerboard sensitizers in electric guitars),
military, and automotive.

Piezoelectric components convert mechanical energy to electrical energy and vice


versa, while piezoresistive devices convert mechanical energy to resistance values
and that’s it. They do not work in reverse like their piezoelectric counterparts.

The resistive components are a bit more sophisticated in design and therefore
tend to be a bit more expensive. Both components have one important thing in
common, though. With a bit of imagination, their efficient and creative
applications are virtually endless.

References

1. “What Is a Piezoelectric Transducer?”


2. “Piezoresistive Sensors”

3. “Piezoresistive and Piezoelectric MEMS Strain Sensors for Vibration Detection,”


Stanley Kon, Ken Oldham, and Roberto Horowitz

4. “Piezoelectric and Piezoresistive Sensors”

5. “What is the difference between Piezoelectric and Piezoresistive Accelerometer?”

6. “Performance of Piezoresistive and Piezoelectric Sensors in Pulsed Reactor


Experiments,” Keith E. Holbert, et al

7. “Demystifying Piezoresistive Pressure Sensors”

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