A MEMS hot wire anemometer consisting of thermoresistive elements arranged in a differential bridge configuration is
presented. The arrangement of the elements allows for dedicated heating elements to be omitted from the device without
compromising operation or accuracy.
Overall power consumption gives velocity and the temperature differential of each element pair is used for direction and
has demonstrated a sensing resolution better than 1% and a repeatable accuracy better than 2%.
Field trials have demonstrated a robust design with exposure to rain, dust and debris for a period in excess of 12 months
with continuing operation.
The operation of a thin film hot wire directional anemometer is demonstrated using three modes of operation; constant voltage, constant current, constant resistance, and the heating response and characteristics for the different excitation modes observed. Evaluation is primarily by experimental approach. The anemometer fabricated is a four element 2mm x 2mm thermoresistive sensor array mounted on a 1.5 μm silicon nitride membrane formed by bulk reverse etching. Reverse etching is used for thermal isolation of the sensor elements and allows element temperatures in excess of 500°C to be reached with an input power of 250mW and accurate lower temperature operation with element temperatures and heating powers of 65°C and 25mW respectively. Current sources are commonly used for excitation of such devices and resistance feedback often not required due to low resistance variations during operation, however high power modes of operation can lead to instability and self-destruction of positive temperature coefficient of resistance (PTCR) devices. Voltage or resistance feedback provides stable operation due its self-limiting nature in a PTCR device. Resistance monitoring provides a means to achieve stable temperatures of the heating elements and provides reduced sensitivity to fluctuations in ambient air temperatures and a more acceptable response to the incident airflow velocity.
A thin film airflow transducer based on the hot wire anemometer principle was designed using current MEMS modelling & simulation software. Flow sensors are commonly implemented with thermal isolation of the sensor from the bulk substrate mass using methods such as reverse side etching or sacrificial layers, however this paper will present a sensor relying on thermal insulation only. This insulation may be provided by layers of material exhibiting relatively poor thermal conduction characteristics such as silicon dioxide or polyimide, giving rise to a number of advantages such as removing the process of reverse side etching. Limiting fabrication to use of simple processes such as photolithography and sputtering/evaporative deposition also simplifies this design and assists in greatly increasing the compatibility with standard CMOS fabrication processes and materials. A combination of both theoretical computer modelling and physical fabrication and testing has been the approach to this research. Preliminary testing of this design has demonstrated small yet measurable temperature gradients across the device surface during steady state operation. The novel approach to this device is the investigation of pulsed operation, effectively a transient analysis that allows the thermal conduction effects of the bulk mass to be significantly reduced, leading to a significant increase of both efficiency and response time. Electro-thermo-mechanical and computational fluid dynamic analysis of the structure successfully model the thermal conduction, radiation and forced convection effects of the device during and after ohmic heating of the sensor's heating element.