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Introduction to Piezoelectric Accelerometers

Determining phase and amplitude relationships of


vibration at various points on a structure permits
modal modeling. The resulting modal model
provides valuable information regarding system
integrity and operating mode shapes.
Seismic vibration - Sensors are used for
measuring ground, building, or bridge vibration on
very large structures to detect structural changes
caused by earthquakes, construction, mining
activity, and large transportation vehicles.

Index for Tech Support

General Piezoelectric Theory


Introduction to Piezoelectric Pressure Sensors
Introduction to Piezoelectric Force Sensors
Introduction to Piezoelectric Accelerometers
Introduction to Piezoelectric Industrial Accelerometers
Introduction to Signal conditioning for ICP & Charge Piezoelectric
Sensors

Driving Long Cables

Package testing - Measuring the shock experienced by a packaged product compared to the level of actual shock
exposure allows determination of the effectiveness of a packaging material. Package testing can also be used to
monitor vibration and shock that a product may experience during transport.
Shock - Accelerometers may be used to determine maximum impact acceleration levels experienced by vehicles
and crash dummies. Shock accelerometers also measure shock exposure experienced by space vehicles and
cargo during stage separation.
A wide variety of piezoelectric accelerometer configurations are available. Each method has its own particular
advantages and disadvantages for different applications. Since selecting a sensor is not trivial, applications
assistance from PCB field representatives or factory application engineers is available to assist with the selection
process.

Function of Piezoelectric Accelerometers


Piezoelectric accelerometers rely on the piezoelectric effect of quartz or ceramic crystals to generate an electrical
output that is proportional to applied acceleration. The piezoelectric effect produces an opposed accumulation of
charged particles on the crystal. This charge is proportional to applied force or stress. A force applied to a quartz
crystal lattice structure alters alignment of positive and negative ions, which results in an accumulation of these
charged ions on opposed surfaces. These charged ions accumulate on an electrode that is ultimately conditioned
by transistor microelectronics.

In an accelerometer, the stress on the crystals occurs as a result of the seismic mass imposing a force on the
crystal. Over its specified frequency range, this structure approximately obeys Newton's law of motion, F=ma.
Therefore, the total amount of accumulated charge is proportional to the applied force, and the applied force is
proportional to acceleration. Electrodes collect and wires transmit the charge to a signal conditioner that may be
remote or built into the accelerometer. Sensors containing built-in signal conditioners are classified as Integrated
Electronics Piezoelectric (IEPE) or voltage mode; charge mode sensors require external or remote signal
conditioning. Once the charge is conditioned by the signal conditioning electronics, the signal is available for
display, recording, analysis, or control. PCB sensors containing integral electronics are known by their
trademarked term, Integrated Circuit - Piezoelectric, or ICP.

Structure of Piezoelectric Accelerometers


A variety of mechanical configurations are available to perform the transduction principles of a piezoelectric
accelerometer. These configurations are defined by the nature in which the inertial force of an accelerated mass
acts upon the piezoelectric material. At PCB, there are two primary configurations in use today: Shear and Flexural
Beam. A third configuration, Compression, is used less now than previously at PCB, but is included herein as an
alternative configuration.
Shear Mode
Shear mode designs bond, or "sandwich," the sensing crystals between a center post and seismic mass. A
compression ring or stud applies a preload force required to create a rigid linear structure. Under acceleration, the
mass causes a shear stress to be applied to the sensing crystals. By isolating the sensing crystals from the base
and housing, shear accelerometers excel in rejecting thermal transient and base bending effects. Also, the shear
geometry lends itself to small size, which minimizes mass loading effects on the test structure. With this
combination of ideal characteristics, shear mode accelerometers offer optimum performance.

Shear Mode
Flexural Mode
Flexural mode designs utilize beam-shaped sensing crystals, which are supported to create strain on the crystal
when accelerated. The crystal may be bonded to a carrier beam that increases the amount of strain when
accelerated. This design offers a low profile, light weight, excellent thermal stability, and an economical price.
Insensitivity to transverse motion is also an inherent feature of this design. Generally, flexural beam designs are
well suited for low-frequency, low-g-level applications like those which may be encountered during structural
testing.

Flexural Mode
Compression Mode
Compression mode accelerometers offer simple structure, high rigidity, and historical availability. There are

basically three types of compression designs: upright, inverted, and isolated.


Upright compression designs sandwich the piezoelectric crystal between a seismic mass and rigid mounting base.
An elastic stud or screw secures the sensing element to the mounting base. When the sensor is accelerated, the
seismic mass increases or decreases the amount of force acting upon the crystal, and a proportional electrical
output results. The larger the seismic mass is, the greater the stress and, hence, the output are.
Due to their inherently stiff structure, the upright compression design offers high resonant frequencies, resulting
in a broad, accurate frequency response range. This design is generally very rugged and can withstand high-g
shock levels. However, due to the intimate contact of the sensing crystals with the external mounting base, upright
compression designs tend to be more sensitive to base bending (strain) and thermal transient effects. These
effects can contribute to erroneous output signals when used on thin, sheet-metal structures or at low frequencies
in thermally unstable environments, such as outdoors or near fans and blowers.

Upright Compression
Inverted compression designs isolate the sensing crystals from the mounting base, reducing base bending
effects and minimizing the effects of a thermally unstable test structure. Many reference standard calibration
accelerometers use this design.

Inverted Compression
Isolated compression designs reduce erroneous outputs due to base strain and thermal transients. These
benefits are achieved by mechanically isolating the sensing crystals from the mounting base and utilizing a
hollowed-out seismic mass that acts as a thermal insulation barrier. These mechanical enhancements allow stable
performance at low frequencies, where thermal transient effects can create signal "drift" with other compression
designs.

Isolated Compression
Piezoelectric Material
There are two types of piezoelectric material that are used for PCB accelerometers: quartz and polycrystalline
ceramics. Quartz is a natural crystal, while ceramics are man-made. Each material offers certain benefits, and

material choice depends on the particular performance features desired of the accelerometer.
Quartz is widely known for its ability to perform accurate measurement tasks and contributes heavily in everyday
applications for time and frequency measurements. Examples include everything from wrist watches and radios to
computers and home appliances. Accelerometers benefit from several unique properties of quartz. Since quartz is
naturally piezoelectric, it has no tendency to relax to an alternative state and is considered the most stable of all
piezoelectric materials. This important feature provides quartz accelerometers with long-term stability and
repeatability. Also, quartz has virtually no pyroelectric effect (output due to temperature change), which provides
stability in thermally active environments. Because quartz has a low capacitance value, the voltage sensitivity is
relatively high compared to most ceramic materials, making it ideal for use in voltage-amplified systems.
Conversely, the charge sensitivity of quartz is low, limiting its usefulness in charge-amplified systems, where low
noise is an inherent feature. The useful temperature range of quartz is limited to approximately 600 F (315 C).
A variety of ceramic materials are used for accelerometers, depending on the requirements of the particular
application. All ceramic materials are man-made and are forced to become piezoelectric by a polarization process.
This process, known as "poling," exposes the material to a high-intensity electric field. This process aligns the
electric dipoles, causing the material to become piezoelectric. Unfortunately, this process tends to reverse itself
over time until it exponentially reaches a steady state. If ceramic is exposed to temperatures exceeding its range or
electric fields approaching the poling voltage, the piezoelectric properties may be drastically altered or destroyed.
Accumulation of high levels of static charge also can have this effect on the piezoelectric output. PCB uses three
classifications of ceramics. First, there are high-voltage-sensitivity ceramics that are used for accelerometers with
built-in, voltage-amplified circuits. There are high-charge-sensitivity ceramics that are used for charge mode
sensors with temperature ranges to 400 F (205 C). This same type of crystal is used in accelerometers that use
built-in charge-amplified circuits to achieve high output signals and high resolution. Finally, there are hightemperature ceramics that are used for charge mode accelerometers with temperature ranges to 600 F (316 C)
for monitoring of engine manifolds and superheated turbines.

Accelerometer Sensing Systems


Piezoelectric accelerometers can be broken down into two categories that define their mode of operation. Internally
amplified ICP accelerometers contain built-in microelectronic signal conditioning. Charge mode accelerometers
contain only the sensing element with no electronics.
ICP Accelerometers
ICP, as described earlier, is PCB's registered trademark that stands for "Integrated Circuit - Piezoelectric" and
identifies PCB sensors that incorporate built-in, signal-conditioning electronics. The built-in electronics convert the
high-impedance charge signal that is generated by the piezoelectric sensing element into a usable low-impedance
voltage signal that can be readily transmitted, over ordinary two-wire or coaxial cables, to any voltage readout or
recording device. The low-impedance signal can be transmitted over long cable distances and used in dirty field or
factory environments with little degradation. In addition to providing crucial impedance conversion, ICP sensor
circuitry can also include other signal conditioning features, such as gain, filtering, and self-test features. The
simplicity of use, high accuracy, broad frequency range, and low cost of ICP accelerometers make them the
recommended type for use in most vibration or shock applications. However, an exception to this assertion must

be made for circumstances in which the temperature, at the installation point, exceeds the capability of the built-in
circuitry. The routine temperature range of ICP accelerometers is 250 F (121 C); specialty units are available that
operate to 350 F (177 C).
The electronics within ICP accelerometers require excitation power from a constant-current regulated, DC voltage
source. This power source is sometimes built into vibration meters, FFT analyzers, and vibration data collectors. A
separate signal conditioner is required when none is built into the readout. In addition to providing the required
excitation, power supplies may also incorporate additional signal conditioning, such as gain, filtering, buffering, and
overload indication. The typical system set-ups for ICP accelerometers are shown below.

Two Typical ICP System Set-ups


Charge Mode Accelerometers
Charge mode sensors output a high-impedance, electrical charge signal that is generated by the piezoelectric
sensing element. This signal is extremely sensitive to corruption from environmental influences. To conduct
accurate measurements, it is necessary to condition this signal to a low-impedance voltage before it can be input
to a readout or recording device. A charge amplifier or in-line charge converter is generally used for this purpose.
These devices utilize high-input-impedance, low-output-impedance inverting amplifiers with capacitive feedback.
Adjusting the value of the feedback capacitor alters the transfer function or gain of the charge amplifier.
Typically, charge mode accelerometers are used when high temperature survivability is required. If the
measurement signal must be transmitted over long distances, PCB recommends the use of an in-line charge
converter, placed near the accelerometer. This minimizes the chance of noise. In-line charge converters can be
operated from the same constant-current excitation power source as ICP accelerometers for a reduced system
cost.

Typical In-Line Charge Converter System


Sophisticated laboratory-style charge amplifiers usually include adjustments for normalizing the input signal and
altering the feedback capacitor to provide the desired system sensitivity and full-scale amplitude range. Filtering
also conditions the high and low frequency response. Some charge amplifiers provide dual-mode operation, which
provides power for ICP accelerometers and conditions charge mode sensors.

Laboratory Charge Amplifier


Because of the high-impedance nature of the output signal generated by charge mode accelerometers, several
important precautionary measures must be followed. Always use special low-noise coaxial cable between the
accelerometer and the charge amplifier. This cable is specially treated to reduce triboelectric (motion induced)
noise effects. Also, always maintain high insulation resistance of the accelerometer, cabling, and connectors. To
insure high insulation resistance, all components must be kept dry and clean.

Accelerometer Mounting Considerations


Frequency Response
One of the most important considerations in dealing with accelerometer mounting is the effect the mounting
technique has on the accuracy of the usable frequency response. The accelerometer's operating frequency range
is determined, in most cases, by securely stud mounting the test sensor directly to the reference standard
accelerometer. The direct coupling, stud mounted to a very smooth surface, generally yields the highest

mechanical resonant frequency and, therefore, the broadest usable frequency range. The addition of any mass to
the accelerometer, such as an adhesive or magnetic mounting base, lowers the resonant frequency of the sensing
system and may affect the accuracy and limits of the accelerometer's usable frequency range. Also, compliant
materials, such as a rubber interface pad, can create a mechanical filtering effect by isolating and damping highfrequency transmissibility.
Surface Preparation
For best measurement results, especially at high frequencies, it is important to prepare a smooth and flat
machined surface where the accelerometer is to be attached. Inspect the area to ensure that no metal burrs or
other foreign particles interfere with the contacting surfaces. The application of a thin layer of silicone grease
between the accelerometer base and the mounting surface also assists in achieving a high degree of intimate
surface contact required for best high-frequency transmissibility.
Stud Mounting
For permanent installations, where a very secure attachment of the accelerometer to the test structure is preferred,
stud mounting is recommended. First, grind or machine on the test object a smooth, flat area at least the size of
the sensor base, according to the manufacturer's specifications. Then, prepare a tapped hole in accordance with
the supplied installation drawing, ensuring that the hole is perpendicular to the mounting surface. Install
accelerometers with the mounting stud and make certain that the stud does not bottom in either the mounting
surface or accelerometer base. Most PCB mounting studs have depth-limiting shoulders that ensure that the stud
cannot bottom-out into the accelerometer's base. Each base incorporates a counterbore so that the accelerometer
does not rest on the shoulder. Acceleration is transmitted from the structure's surface into the accelerometer's
base. Any stud bottoming or interfering between the accelerometer base and the structure inhibits acceleration
transmission and affects measurement accuracy. When tightening, apply only the recommended torque to the
accelerometer. A thread-locking compound may be applied to the threads of the mounting stud to guard against
loosening.

Standard Stud Mount


Screw Mounting
When installing accelerometers onto thin-walled structures, a cap screw passing through a hole of sufficient
diameter is an acceptable means for securing the accelerometer to the structure. The screw engagement length
should always be checked to ensure that the screw does not bottom into the accelerometer base. A thin layer of
silicone grease at the mounting interface ensures high-frequency transmissibility.

Typical Screw Mount


Adhesive Mounting
Occasionally, mounting by stud or screw is impractical. For such cases, adhesive mounting offers an alternative
mounting method. The use of separate adhesive mounting bases is recommended to prevent the adhesive from
damaging the accelerometer base or clogging the mounting threads. (Miniature accelerometers are provided with
the integral stud removed to form a flat base.) Most adhesive mounting bases available from PCB also provide
electrical isolation, which eliminates potential noise pick-up and ground loop problems. The type of adhesive
recommended depends on the particular application. Petro Wax (available from PCB) offers a very convenient,
easily removable approach for room temperature use. Two-part epoxies offer stiffness, which maintains highfrequency response and a permanent mount. Other adhesives, such as dental cement, hot glues, instant glues,
and duct putty are also viable options with a history of success. A variety of other commonly used adhesives are
shown below.

Typical Adhesive Mount


The following table contains a list of adhesive types, brand names, and suggestions for adhesive mounting
accelerometers under different conditions. There is no one "best" adhesive for all applications because of the
many different structural and environmental considerations, such as temporary or permanent mount, temperature,
type of surface finish, and so forth.

A variety of adhesives are available from many manufacturers, who usually provide specification charts and
application bulletins for their adhesives. A Consumer Report's article, entitled "Which Glue for Which Job" (Jan.
1988), provides rating information on adhesives. A Popular Science magazine article, "Secrets of the Superglues"
(Feb. 1989), provides informative data on the use of superglues. Loctite provides an adhesive "Selector Guide" for
its products.
For most accelerometer adhesive mounting applications, PCB Series 080 Adhesive Mounting Bases are
suggested. These mounting pads keep the accelerometer base clean and free of epoxy that may be very difficult to
remove. Also, Series 080 Mounting Bases allow the accelerometer to be easily removed from the test structure
without damage to either the sensor or the test object.
Surface flatness, adhesive stiffness, and adhesion strength affect the usable frequency range of an accelerometer.
Almost any mounting method at low acceleration levels provides the full frequency range of use if the mounting
surface is very flat and the sensor is pressed hard against the surface to wring out all extra adhesive. Generally, as

surface irregularities or the thickness of the adhesive increase, the usable frequency range decreases.
The less-stiff, temporary adhesives reduce an accelerometer's usable frequency range much more than the more
rigid, harder adhesives. Generally, temporary adhesives are recommended more for low-frequency (<500 Hz)
structural testing at room temperature. Petro Wax is generally supplied with most of the accelerometers for a quick,
temporary mounting method used during system set-up and check-out. When quick installation and removal is
required over a wide frequency range up to 10 kHz, use a Series 080A Adhesive Mounting Base with one of the
stiffer, more permanent adhesives. Also, consider a magnetic mount, using the Series 080A27 Super Magnet with
Model 080A20 Steel Adhesive Mounting Pad for such measurements. For both, the mounting surface must be very
flat to achieve accurate high-frequency information.
Care should be exercised in selecting and testing an adhesive when concern exists regarding the possible
discoloration or damage to the test structure's surface finish. Test the adhesive first on a hidden location or a
sample of the structure's finish. Temporary adhesives like Petro Wax or beeswax offer a good solution for quick
installation in room-temperature applications. When higher temperatures are involved, apply a piece of aluminized
mylar tape to the test structure and mount the accelerometer with adhesive base using one of the other types of
adhesives. After the test, the tape can be easily removed with no damage to the surface finish of the structure.
Magnetic Mounting
Magnetic mounting bases offer a very convenient, temporary attachment to magnetic surfaces. Magnets offering
high pull strengths provide best high-frequency response. Wedged dual-rail magnetic bases are generally used for
installations on curved surfaces, such as motor and compressor housings and pipes. However, dual-rail magnets
usually significantly decrease the operational frequency range of an accelerometer. For best results, the magnetic
base should be attached to a smooth, flat surface. A thin layer of silicone grease should be applied between the
sensor and magnetic base, as well as between the magnetic base and the structure. When surfaces are uneven or
non-magnetic, steel pads can be welded or epoxied in place to accept the magnetic base. Use of such a pad
ensures that periodic measurements are taken from the exact same location. This is an important consideration
when trending measurement data.

Magnet Mounted to Steel


Probe tips
Handheld vibration probes or probe tips on accelerometers are useful when other mounting techniques are
impractical and for evaluating the relative vibration characteristics of a structure to determine the best location for
installing the accelerometer. Probes are not recommended for general measurement applications due to a variety
of inconsistencies associated with their use. Orientation and amount of hand pressure applied create variables,
which affect the measurement accuracy. This method is generally used only for frequencies less than 1000 Hz.
Mass Loading
The vibrational characteristics of a structure can be altered by adding mass to that structure. Since most
measurements are conducted to quantify the structural vibration, any alteration of the vibration leads to an
inaccurate evaluation of the vibration. An accelerometer that is too heavy, with respect to the test structure, may
produce data that does not correctly represent the vibration of interest. Use care when selecting an accelerometer
and mounting hardware to avoid the effects of mass loading.

Ground Isolation, Ground Noise, and Ground Loops


When installing accelerometers onto electrically conductive surfaces, a potential exists for ground noise pick-up.
Noise from other electrical equipment and machines that are grounded to the structure, such as motors, pumps,
and generators, can enter the ground path of the measurement signal through the base of a standard
accelerometer. When the sensor is grounded at a different electrical potential than the signal conditioning and
readout equipment, ground loops can occur. This phenomenon usually results in current flow at the line power
frequency (and harmonics thereof), potential erroneous data, and signal drift. Under such conditions, it is advisable
to electrically isolate or "float" the accelerometer from the test structure. This can be accomplished in several ways.
Most accelerometers can be provided with an integral ground isolation base. Some standard models may already
include this feature, while others offer it as an option. Optional ground-isolated models are identified by the prefix
"J"; for example, Model J353B33. The use of insulating adhesive mounting bases, isolation mounting studs,
isolation bases, and other insulating materials, such as paper beneath a magnetic base, are effective ground
isolation techniques. Be aware that the additional ground-isolating hardware can reduce the upper frequency limits
of the accelerometer.

Various Methods for Electrically Isolating Accelerometer


Cables and Connections
Cables should be securely fastened to the mounting structure with a clamp, tape, or other adhesive to minimize
cable whip and connector strain. Cable whip can introduce noise, especially in high-impedance signal paths. This
phenomenon is known as the triboelectric effect. Also, cable strain near either electrical connector can lead to
intermittent or broken connections and loss of data.
To protect against potential moisture and dirt contamination, use RTV sealant or heat-shrinkable tubing on cable
connections. O-rings with heat shrink tubing have proven to be an effective seal for protecting electrical
connections for short-term underwater use. The use of only RTV sealant is generally only used to protect the
electrical connection against chemical splash or mist.

"Waterproof" Sealed Connection


Under high shock conditions or when cables must undergo large amounts of motion, as with package drop testing
applications, the use of a solder connector adaptor and lightweight ribbon cables are generally recommended.
These solder connector adaptors provide a more durable connection and can be installed onto the accelerometer
with a thread locking compound to prevent loosening. Use of lightweight cables helps to minimize induced strain at
the connector, which can create an erroneous output signal. Electrical connection fatigue is also minimized,
reducing the possibility of intermittent or open connections and loss of data. Solder connector adaptors are
installed onto the cable with solder. This easy connection makes this type of connector user- or field-repairable in
times of crisis. Normally, a flexible plastic plug is placed over the electrical connections for protection, as well as to
provide cable strain relief.

Cable Secured for High Shock


The solder connector adaptor provides an affordable and simplistic method for making cables in the field. Only
solder and a soldering iron are required. No special tools or equipment are necessary for installation on a cable
end. Because of the reliability and strength of this connection, these connectors are recommended for use in
shock applications.