Product Guide

IEC60601-1-8 Medical Piezo Transducers (Product Application Guide)

cUL On-line Listing of Models Approved to IEC60601-1-8:

UL On-line Listing of Models Approved to IEC60601-1-8:

Piezoelectric Electronic Alarm Construction

The above cross section picture shows the basic elements used in a piezoelectric audible alarm.  The area in front of the transducer element including the front hole opening forms an acoustic cavity that lets the sound radiate out with the most efficiency (i.e. loudest sound level).  If the alarm is an indicator that contains a circuit board, the circuit board is attached to the piezoelectric sounder element via soldered wires.

The above picture can be interpreted to represent a board mount package with pc pin terminations, but the same concept is used when building audible alarms in other mounting configurations such as SMT, Flange Mount, and Panel Mount alarms.

If the back of the alarm is sealed with epoxy or other material, the “guts” of the alarm (including the circuit board and components) are protected against fluid intrusion.  However, fluid sitting inside the front cavity can obstruct the operation of the device causing the sound level to decrease significantly.  If you need to wash the alarms after a soldering operation, it is strongly recommended to use an alarm that comes with a wash label that keeps the washing fluid from getting inside of the front cavity.

Operation of Piezoelectric Audible Alarms

Piezoelectric electronic audible alarms work by converting the user input voltage to an appropriate oscillating signal that is applied to a sounder element that is mounted in a housing.  The piezoelectric sounder element consists of a metal disc that has a special ceramic material bonded to it that physically bends when voltage is applied to it.

The above picture shows a bare piezoelectric sounder element.  By applying a sinusoidal wave-form at an appropriate frequency, the transducer will physically deflect in one direction and then in the opposite direction following the shape of the input wave-form.  If this oscillation occurs in the audible frequency range (1 Hz to 20 kHz), then air pressure waves are produced that the human ear interprets as an audible sound.

The larger the voltage of the applied wave-form, the larger the amplitude of the air pressure waves resulting in a louder sound level.  However, the ceramic portion of the transducer can only bend so far before there is a risk of a catastrophic failure.  This maximum voltage is somewhere around 40 to 50 volts.  However, it is rare to apply this much voltage to a transducer as you reach a point of diminishing returns for voltages much greater than 32 volts.

By itself, the sound level produced by a transducer element is insignificant.  To increase the size of the air pressure waves (and thus the sound level), the transducer element must be mounted inside an acoustic chamber that is optimized for the transducer size and resonant frequency.  Every transducer has one frequency where it flexes more efficiently producing the louder sound levels.  This frequency where the transducer performs the best is called the resonant frequency.

Self-Drive type devices provide a 3rd terminal that connects to an isolated portion of the piezoelectric transducer.  This third terminal provides a feed-back signal that is 180 degrees out of phase with the drive signal.  This signal can be fed back into the circuit to allow the sounder element to self-tune itself to the transducer’s resonant frequency.

Decibel Sound Level Scale

The decibel sound level scale is an arbitrary scale that ranges from 0 dB (threshold of hearing) to 130 dB (threshold of pain).  The chart below shows where some common sounds fall on this dB scale.  Audible alarms are available that have sound levels as soft as 55 dB at 2 feet and as loud as 110 dB at 2 feet.

Fundamental Frequency & Harmonics

Below is a frequency scan of a piezoelectric audible alarm that has a resonant frequency of 2,800 Hz.  As you can see, there is a strong frequency peak at 2.8 kHz and several smaller frequency peaks that follow called harmonic frequencies.  The table below the chart shows that the size of the harmonic frequencies are significantly smaller than the fundamental frequency for this particular alarm unit.  Because this alarm has a large fundamental frequency and much smaller harmonic frequencies, the sound quality of this part will be very good.  When this alarm is activated, the listener will hear one clear frequency (also called sound pitch) from the alarm.  Other electronic alarm technologies such as electro-magnetic or electro-mechanical type alarms often have much larger harmonic frequency components resulting in less clear tone.

External Drive Transducer Circuits

External Drive Transducers require a sine or square wave type signal at the appropriate frequency for the transducer.  A sine-wave type signal will produce more sound level than a square-wave type signal.  The higher the voltage level (up to the maximum allowed) the higher the sound level will be.  Below are two circuits that can be used with external drive transducer devices:

It should be noted that the component values given are starting points only.  For example, the inductor shown is optional and the value of the inductor will definitely have to be adjusted depending on the transducer used.  Also, the oscillator portion of the transistor circuit will have to be adjusted to match the resonant frequency of the transducer.

Typical Failure Modes of Piezoelectric Audible Alarms

Component/SubsystemFailure ModeEnd ResultOccurrence
Circuit Components (Resistors, Capacitors, Diodes, IC’s, etc.)Over-voltage by customer’s applicationUnit ceases working.Vast Majority of Returns
Transducer/Wire Solder OperationNot enough wire strands in solder jointWire breaks after period of time & unit ceases soundingRare
Physical AssemblyTransducer wire pinched, adhesive/epoxy run down onto transducer, or RTV adhesive seal failureIntermittent operationRare
Soldering OperationIncorrect Solder Temperature or Time Causing Cold Solder JointIntermittent operation or unit ceases working after period of timeVery Rare
Circuit ComponentsRandom Component Failure; Wrong Component Used; Missing ComponentUnit ceases working under normal operating conditionsVery Rare
Transducer WireDefect in Wire; Wire Strands Damaged in ProductionWire breaks after period of time & unit ceases soundingVery Rare
Piezo TransducerIncorrect Polarization by Manufacturer; Glue Bonding FailureSound volume level decreases over time.Exceedingly Rare

Notes:

  1. Customer returns of Mallory audible alarms for failure to operate are very rare. Of the few parts returned each year, the vast majority of the root cause of failure is an over-voltage or voltage spike condition caused by the customer’s application.
  2. All Mallory alarms are, at a minimum, function tested 100% during production, and a final audit is performed. Mallory SC/SBM/SBT/SBS/SNP/LSC/VSB/MSR/MSO/ZA series of alarms are audited 100% at final test by checking that sound level, frequency, and current are within specification limits from 2 to 4 different voltage levels.

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