Contact Bounce of a Relay

Contact Bounce of a Relay
By: Walter Banzhaf
P.E. Professor of Engineering Technology
University of Hartford
Ward College of Technology
Electromechanical relays use an electromagnet to close or open electrical contacts. A
common example of a relay is the starter relay an automobile engine. When the driver turns
the key fully clockwise in the ignition/starter switch on the steering column, a small current (5
to 10 amps) is sent to a hefty starter relay. Sometimes this relay is an integral part of the
starter motor, other times it is mounted elsewhere. You can always tell where the starter relay
is, as there is a large diameter wire going from the battery + terminal to the starter relay.
When the small current flows through the relay's coil, a magnetic field is created which attracts
a movable iron plate called an armature. The relay armature begins moving, and in a fraction
of a second the electrical contact at the end of the armature touches a fixed contact,
completing the electrical circuit between the battery and the starter motor. A rather large
amount of current, typically 200 to 400 amps, flows into the starting motor and the engine
begins to spin. In this way the starter relay remotely turns on the starter motor, reducing both
the size of the wire running to the steering column and the cost and size of the steering
column-mounted ignition/starter switch.
Agilent 54600 (Replacement model: 6000 Series Oscilloscopes)
Agilent E3631A Power Supply
Circuit Explanation:
The relay coil is designed to operate on 12 VDC. Voltage is applied to the relay coil by closing
the SPST switch connected to the supply voltage. The oscilloscope is triggered by the rise of
voltage on Channel 1. Channel 2 shows the condition of the normally-open relay contacts:
when Channel 2 is 0 V, the contacts are open, when it is +5 V, the contacts are closed. The
quench diode across the coil prevents generation of a rather large voltage (due to Lenz's law)
and arcing of the SPST switch contacts when the switch is opened.
Figure 1
Measuring the time required for the relay contacts to open once the SPST switch is opened
requires only that the triggering on Channel 1 be changed to negative slope.
Procedure A - Observing And Measuring Contact Closure Delay Time:
1) Refer to the information in Figure 2 for oscilloscope control settings, and adjust your
oscilloscope accordingly.
2) Set the supply voltage to 12 V, and open the SPST switch. Press the RUN hardkey. Now
close the switch. The sweep of the oscilloscope should be triggered once, and a new trace
recorded (see Figure 2 for a typical display). You will have to press the Run hardkey after
each trigger to "arm" the sweep again.
3) Press the Stop hardkey, then press the Display hardkey followed by the Vectors On
softkey. Vectors On essentially "connects the dots", giving a better display of the trace for
Channel 2. Notable are the delay time between the application of the coil voltage and
contact closure, and the many bounces of the contacts (lasting about 1ms) prior to their
closing for good. In Figure 2, the contact closure delay is about 7.64 ms. Record the
contact closure delay time in the table below.
4) Change the supply voltage to 15 V, and then to 9 V, and repeat the measurement of delay
time. Record results in the table. See Figures 3 and 4 for typical displays.
Procedure B - Observing And Measuring Contact Opening Delay Time:
1) Keep the circuit and the probe locations as they were in procedure A. Return the supply
voltage to 12 V. Change the oscilloscope settings as indicated in Figure 5.
2) See Figure 5. Measure the time between opening of the SPST switch and the opening of
the relay contacts, and record results in the table below. Notice the coil voltage dropping
rather cleanly from 12 V to 0 V.
3) Now, remove the quench diode, change the oscilloscope settings as indicated in Figure 6
(note the Ch. 1 V/Div!), and record the coil voltage and the load resistor voltage. A whole lot
of shakin' is goin' on right after the switch opens! In Figure 6, the voltage on Ch. 1 is over
300 Vpp. Also notable is the contact bouncing, which did not occur when the quench diode
was present.
CAUTION for Lab Manager: maximum voltage on scope is 400 V before damage. Be
sure of values.
4) In Figure 7, the time immediately after the switch opens is recorded. For about 200 ms,
arcing occurs across the SPST switch contacts, resulting in high frequency oscillations with
nearly 300 Vpp amplitude.
5) Based on the above observations and data, can you explain why most electronic circuits
involving relays with DC coils do use quench diodes?
6) Why does the quench diode increase the contact opening delay time? What happens to the
relay coil current at and after the time the SPST switch opens, with the diode present? with
the diode absent?
Figure 2- 12 VDC Relay Contact Closure Delay Time, Supply Voltage = 12 VDC
Figure 3 – 12 VDC Relay Contact Closure Delay Time, Supply Voltage = 15 VDC
Figure 4 – 12 VDC Relay Contact Closure Delay Time, Supply Voltage = 9 VDC
Figure 5 – 12 VDC Relay Contact Opening Delay Time, Quench Diode Present
Across Relay Coil
Figure 6 – 12 VDC Relay Contact Opening Delay Time, Quench Diode Absent
Across Relay Coil
Figure 7 – Coil Voltage of 12 VDC Relay Being Turned Off, Quench Diode Absent Across
Relay Coil
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the experiments solely at your own risk. Agilent is providing these experiments solely as an informational facility and without review.