An LVDT measures displacement by associating a specific signal value for any given position of the core. This association of a signal value to a position occurs through electromagnetic coupling of an AC excitation signal on the primary winding to the core and back to the secondary windings. The position of the core determines how tightly the signal of the primary coil is coupled to each of the secondary coils. The two secondary coils are series-opposed, which means wound in series but in opposite directions. This results in the two signals on each secondary being 180 deg out of phase. Therefore phase of the output signal determines direction and its amplitude, distance.
Figure 3 depicts a cross-sectional view of an LVDT. The core causes the magnetic field generated by the primary winding to be coupled to the secondaries. When the core is centered perfectly between both secondaries and the primary, as shown, the voltage induced in each secondary is equal in amplitude and 180 deg out of phase. Thus the LVDT output (for the series-opposed connection shown in this case) is zero because the voltages cancel each other.
Figure 3. Cross-Sectional View of LVDT Core and Windings
Displacing the core to the left (Figure 4) causes the first secondary to be more strongly coupled to the primary than the second secondary. The resulting higher voltage of the first secondary in relation to the second secondary causes an output voltage that is in phase with the primary voltage.
Figure 4. Coupling to First Secondary Caused by Associated Core Displacement
Likewise, displacing the core to the right causes the second secondary to be more strongly coupled to the primary than the first secondary. The greater voltage of the second secondary causes an output voltage to be out of phase with the primary voltage.
Figure 5. Coupling to Second Secondary Caused by Associated Core Displacement
To summarize, “The LVDT closely models an ideal zeroth-order displacement sensor structure at low frequency, where the output is a direct and linear function of the input. It is a variable-reluctance device, where a primary center coil establishes a magnetic flux that is coupled through a center core (mobile armature) to a symmetrically wound secondary coil on either side of the primary. Thus, by measurement of the voltage amplitude and phase, one can determine the extent of the core motion and the direction, that is, the displacement.” Figure 6 shows the linearity of the device within a range of core displacement. Note that the output is not linear as the core travels near the boundaries of its range. This is because less magnetic flux is coupled to the core from the primary. However, because LVDTs have excellent repeatability, nonlinearity near the boundaries of the range of the device can be predicted by a table or polynomial curve-fitting function, thus extending the range of the device.
Figure 6. Proportionally Linear LVDT Response to Core Displacement