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Title:
CIRCUIT PROTECTION ARRANGEMENTS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/1998/002946
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An overcurrent protection system which will give a rapid response to even relatively small overcurrents. A sensor element, e.g. a resistive element, and a circuit interruption element, e.g. a set of relay contacts, are placed in series with the load. The resistive element is functionally linked to the relay contacts element via a control element which includes a series combination of a PTC device and a relay coil, so that, when the current in the circuit exceeds a predetermined amount, the sensor element senses the overcurrent, e.g. increases in temperature, and communicates with the control element, e.g. the PTC device senses the increased temperature. The control element causes the circuit interruption element to change from a relatively conductive normal state to a relatively non-conductive fault state (including a completely open state).

Inventors:
MYONG INHO
BROWN MICHAEL
BURCICKI DOUGLAS A
DEGRENDEL GLEN A
Application Number:
PCT/US1997/011903
Publication Date:
January 22, 1998
Filing Date:
July 10, 1997
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
RAYCHEM CORP (US)
EWD L L C (US)
International Classes:
H02H3/087; H02H3/02; H02H3/08; H02H9/02; H01H71/68; H02H5/04; (IPC1-7): H02H3/08
Foreign References:
FR2294538A11976-07-09
US2376658A1945-05-22
Other References:
See also references of EP 1012940A1
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Bertram, Bruce A. (Intellectual Property Law Dept. 300 Constitution Drive, Mail Stop 120/660, Menlo Park CA, US)
Chao, Yuan (Intellectual Property Law Department 300 Constitution Drive, MS 120/660, Menlo Park CA, US)
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Claims:
CLAIMS
1. An electrical protection system which can be connected between an electrical power supply and an electrical load to form an operating circuit, the operating circuit having an on 5 state and an off state and comprising a current carrying line and a return line, and which when so connected protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has o i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, INORMAL, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault condition; 5 b. a sensor element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, when the current in the system exceeds the normal o current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element, which, when the system is so connected, is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, and has a variable resistance which i. is low when the sensor element is in the normal state, and 5 ii. increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount when the sensor element is converted into the fault state; the circuit interruption element changing from its closed state to its open state, thereby causing the system to change from its normal operating condition to its fault condition, when the resistance of the control element increases by the predetermined resistance amount in o response to the sensor element changing from its normal state to its fault state.
2. A system according to claim 1 wherein the sensor element comprises a resistive device.
3. A system according to claim 1 or claim 2 wherein the circuit interruption element comprises a set of relay contacts.
4. A system according to claim 3 wherein the control element comprises a series combination of a. a PTC device thermally coupled with the resistive device; and b. a relay coil coupled with the relay contacts; the series combination being connected across the power supply, between the current carrying line and the return line, with the PTC device connected to the current carrying line and the relay coil coupled to the return line..
5. A system according to any one of claims 1 to 4 comprising: a. means, when the operating circuit is in the off state, to change the circuit to the on state; and b. means, when the operating circuit is in the on state, to change the circuit to the off state.
6. A system according to any one of claims 1 to 5 wherein the circuit interruption element is connected between the sensor element and the load.
7. A system according to claim 6 wherein the means to change the circuit from the off state to the on state and the means to change the circuit from the on state to the off state comprises a switch connected in series with the PTC device.
8. A system according to claim 6 wherein the means to change the circuit from the off state to the on state and the means to change the circuit from the on state to the off state comprises a switch connected in the return line.
9. A system according to claim 6 wherein the control element comprises a diode connected in series between the PTC device and the relay coil.
10. A system according to claim 9 wherein: a. the means to change the circuit from the off state to the on state comprises a switch connected between i. the junction between the power source and the circuit interruption element, and 5 ii. the junction between the diode and the relay coil; and b. the means to change the circuit from the on state to the off state comprises a switch connected between the relay coil and the return line.
11. A system according to claim 3 wherein: o a. the sensor element is connected between the circuit interruption element and the load; and b. the control element comprises a series combination of i. a bimetal switch thermally coupled with the resistive device, ii. a diode, and s iii. a relay coil coupled with the relay contacts.
12. A system according to claim 1 1 wherein the control element is connected between the current carrying line and the return line, with the bimetal switch connected to the current carrying line, the relay coil coupled to the return line and the diode connected between the o bimetal switch and the relay coil.
13. A system according to claim 12 comprising: a. means, when the operating circuit is in the off state, to change the circuit to the on state; and 5 b. means, when the operating circuit is in the on state, to change the circuit to the off state.
14. A system according to claim 13 wherein: a. the means to change the circuit from the off state to the on state comprises a switch connected between i. the junction between the power source and the circuit interruption element, and ii. the junction between the diode and the relay coil; and b. the means to change the circuit from the on state to the off state comprises a switch connected between the relay coil and the return line.
15. An electrical protection system which can be connected between an electrical power 5 supply and an electrical load to form an operating circuit, the operating circuit having an on state and an off state and comprising a current carrying line and a return line, and which when so connected protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element, which, when the system is so connected, is o connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, INORMAL, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault s condition; b. a sensor element which has a variable resistance, and which when the system is so connected, is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, in which its resistance is low, when the current in the 0 system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, in which its resistance increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; 5 and c. a control element, which, when the system is so connected, is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, which causes the circuit interruption element to change from its closed state to its open state when the sensor element changes from its normal state to its fault state. 0.
16. A system according to claim 15 wherein: a. the circuit interruption element comprises a set of relay contacts; b. the sensor element comprises a bimetal switch connected between the circuit interruption element and the load; and c. the control element comprises a series combination of a diode and a relay coil, the relay coil coupled with the relay contacts, the diode connected to the 5 current carrying line at the junction between the bimetal switch and the load, and the relay coil coupled to the return line.
17. A system according to claim 15 or claim 16 comprising: a. means, when the operating circuit is in the off state, to change the circuit to the o on state; and b. means, when the operating circuit is in the on state, to change the circuit to the off state.
18. A system according to claim 17 wherein: s a. the means to change the circuit from the off state to the on state comprises a switch connected between i. the junction between the power source and the circuit interruption element, and ii. the junction between the diode and the relay coil; and 0 b. the means to change the circuit from the on state to the off state comprises a switch connected between the relay coil and the return line.
19. An electrical circuit, having an on state and an off state, the circuit comprising an electrical power supply, an electrical load, a current carrying line, a return line, and an 5 electrical protection system which protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element which is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, INORMAL, o when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault condition; b. a sensor element which is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and 5 ii. a fault state, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element which is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, and has a variable resistance which i. is low when the sensor element is in the normal state, and 0 ii. increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount when the sensor element is converted into the fault state; the circuit interruption element changing from its closed state to its open state, thereby causing the system to change from its normal operating condition to its fault condition, when the resistance of the control element increases by the predetermined resistance amount in s response to the sensor element changing from its normal state to its fault state.
20. An electrical circuit, having an on state and an off state, the circuit comprising an electrical power supply, an electrical load, a current carrying line, a return line, and an electrical protection system which protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a o normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element which is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, INORMAL, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and 5 ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault condition; b. a sensor element which has a variable resistance and is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has 0 i. a normal state, in which its resistance is low, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, in which its resistance increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; and a control element which is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, which causes the circuit interruption element to change from its closed state to its open state when the sensor element changes from its normal state to its fault state.
Description:
CIRCUIT PROTECTION ARRANGEMENTS

This invention relates to electrical circuit overcurrent protection. Positive temperature coefficient (PTC) circuit protection devices are well known. The device is placed in series with a load, and under normal operating conditions is in a low temperature, low resistance state. However, if the current through the PTC device increases excessively, and/or the ambient temperature around the PTC device increases excessively, and/or the normal operating current is maintained for more than the normal operating time, then the PTC device will be "tripped," i.e. converted to a high temperature, high resistance state such that the current is reduced substantially. Generally, the PTC device will remain in the tripped state, even if the current and/or temperature return to their normal levels, until the PTC device has been disconnected from the power source and allowed to cool. Particularly useful PTC devices contain a PTC element which is composed of a PTC conductive polymer, i.e. a composition which comprises (1) an organic polymer, and (2) dispersed, or otherwise distributed, in the polymer, a paniculate conductive filler, preferably carbon black. PTC conductive polymers and devices containing them are described, for example in U.S. Patent Nos. 4,237,441, 4,238,812, 4,315,237, 4,317,027, 4,426,633, 4,545,926, 4,689,475, 4,724,417, 4,774,024, 4,780,598, 4,800,253, 4,845,838, 4,857,880, 4,859,836, 4,907,340, 4,924,074, 4,935,156, 4,967,176, 5,049,850, 5,089,801 and 5,378,407.

In a batch of PTC devices made by the same manufacturing process, uncontrollable variations in the process can cause substantial variation in the conditions which will trip any individual device. The largest steady state current which will not cause any of the devices in the batch to trip is referred to herein as the "pass current" (IPASS) or "hold current", and the smallest steady state current which will cause all of the devices to trip is referred to as the "trip current" (ITRIP)* general, the difference between IPASS an ITRIP decreases slowly as the ambient temperature increases. Depending on the particular type of device, IJRIP may for example be 1.5 to 2.5 times IPASS at 20°C. For any individual device, the pass current and the trip current are the same. However, in this specification, reference is made to a PTC device having an IPASS and a different ITRIP, because as a practical matter, the manufacturer of an electrical switch must make use of PTC devices taken from a batch of such devices. Generally, the higher the ambient temperature, the

lower the pass current and the trip current. This phenomenon is referred to as "thermal derating", and the term "derating curve" is used to denote a graph of temperature against pass current.

A limitation on the known uses of PTC protection devices is that when a PTC device is placed in series with the load and sized to conduct the normal circuit current, the PTC device can take a relatively long time to convert to its tripped state on an overcurrent which is, e.g., up to a few times the normal circuit current.

The invention provides a new overcurrent protection system which will give a rapid response to even relatively small overcurrents. In the new system, a sensor element and circuit interruption element are placed in series with the load. The sensor element is functionally linked to the circuit interruption element via a control element, so that, when the current in the circuit exceeds a predetermined amount, the sensor element senses the overcurrent and communicates with the control element. The control element causes the circuit interruption element to change from a relatively conductive normal state to a relatively non-conductive fault state (including a completely open state). The invention also provides a new relay assembly which is useful in circuit protection arrangements including circuit protection arrangements of the invention. The new relay assembly, comprises a wiper and an electrical contact. When the wiper is in contact with the relay contact, thereby making a connection, the wiper will open the connection when a current through the connection exceeds a predetermined current amount.

In an example of a preferred embodiment of circuit arrangements of the invention, the sensor element comprises a resistive device connected in series with the load, and the control element comprises a PTC device which is thermally linked to the resistive device and is electrically connected to the circuit interruption element. When an overcurrent passes through such a system, the resistive device increases in temperature causing the PTC device to heat up and trip to its high resistance state. The PTC device is linked to the circuit interruption element so that the increased resistance of the PTC device causes the circuit interruption element to switch into its fault state. The PTC device is not placed in series with the load and therefore may operate at current levels much less than the normal circuit current which passes through the load.

1

The thermal linking of a resistive device with a PTC device is known in the art. A current to be measured and/or controlled passes through the resistive device. I R heating of the resistive device causes the PTC device to heat up and its resistance increases accordingly. Such resistive devices may comprise resistors, heaters, high resistance wire (e.g. NiChrome), PTC devices and the like. It is known that in order to obtain the desired current/temperature performance of such combinations, certain characteristics of the resistive device must be controlled, particularly in the zone adjacent to the PTC device. Some of the characteristics to be controlled include the resistivity, shape and cross sectional area of the material. The resistive device should be chosen to minimize system impedance while achieving sufficient temperature rise under overcurrent conditions to cause the PTC device to heat up and trip to its high impedance state.

In a second example of a preferred embodiment of the invention, the sensor element comprises a resistive device connected in series with the load, and the control element comprises a bimetal switch which is thermally linked to the resistive device and is electrically connected to the circuit interruption element. When an overcurrent passes through such a system, the resistive device increases in temperature causing the bimetal switch to heat up and trip to its open state. The bimetal switch is linked to the circuit interruption element so that the open condition of the bimetal switch causes the circuit interruption element to switch to its fault state. The bimetal switch is not placed in series with the load and therefore may operate at current levels much less than the normal circuit current which passes through the load.

In a third example of a preferred embodiment of the invention, the function of the sensor element is provided by a bimetal switch which is placed in series with the parallel combination of the load and the control element. When an overcurrent passes through such a system, the bimetal switch increases in temperature and trips to its open state. The control element senses the state change of the sensor element and causes the circuit interruption element to switch to its fault state.

In an example of a second preferred embodiment of the invention, the functions of the sensor element and circuit interruption element are combined in a sensor-interrupt element

and are provided by a relay having a new bimetal wiper which, itself, is an aspect of the invention. When the relay is energized, the bimetal wiper of the relay is placed in series with the parallel combination of the load and the control element. When an overcurrent passes through such a system, the bimetal wiper disengages from the relay contact thereby breaking the circuit to the load and the control element. The control element causes the sensor- interrupt element to latch open in the fault state.

In a first aspect, this invention provides an electrical protection system which can be connected between an electrical power supply and an electrical load to form an operating circuit, the operating circuit having an on state and an off state and comprising a current carrying line and a return line, and which when so connected protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has

(1) a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, I NORMA L, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and

(2) an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than I NOR M AL , when the system is in the fault condition; b. a sensor element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has

(1) a normal state, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, I NORMAL , by a predetermined current amount, and (2) a fault state, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, I NORMAL , by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element, which, when the system is so connected, is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, and has a variable resistance which (1 ) is low when the sensor element is in the normal state, and

(2) increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount when the sensor element is in the fault state;

the circuit interruption element changing from its closed state to its open state, thereby causing the system to change from its normal operating condition to its fault condition, when the resistance of the control element has increased by the predetermined resistance amount in response to the sensor element changing from its normal state to its fault state.

In a second aspect, the invention provides an electrical protection system which can be connected between an electrical power supply and an electrical load to form an operating circuit, the operating circuit having an on state and an off state and comprising a current carrying line and a return line, and which when so connected protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, INORMAL, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault condition; b. a sensor element, which has a variable resistance, and which when the system is so connected, is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, in which its resistance is low, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, in which its resistance increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element, which, when the system is so connected, is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, which causes the circuit interruption element to change from its closed state to its open state when the sensor element changes from its normal state to its fault state.

In a third aspect, the invention provides an electrical protection system which can be connected between an electrical power supply and an electrical load to form an operating circuit, the operating circuit having an on state and an off state and comprising a current carrying line and a return line, and which when so connected protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a sensor-interrupt element, which, when the system is so connected, is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has: i. a variable resistance, which: (1) is low, when the current in the system does not exceed a normal current, IN OR M AL , by a predetermined current amount, and (2) increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, IN OR M AL , by the predetermined amount; ii. a closed state which permits the flow of the normal current, I NORMAL , when the system is in the normal operating condition, and iii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than I NORMAL , when the system is in the fault condition; b. a control element, which, when the system is so connected, is coupled with the sensor-interrupt element, which causes the sensor-interrupt element to change from its closed state to its open state when the variable resistance of the sensor-interrupt element increases by the predetermined resistance amount.

In a fourth aspect, the invention provides an electrical circuit, having an on state and an off state, the circuit comprising an electrical power supply, an electrical load, a current carrying line, a return line, and an electrical protection system which protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element which is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has to

i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, I NO RM A L, when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than I NORMAL , when the system is in the fault condition; b. a sensor element which is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, I NO R MAL , by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, IN O RM AL , by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element which is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, and has a variable resistance which i. is low when the sensor element is in the normal state, and ii. increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount when the sensor element is converted into the fault state; the circuit interruption element changing from its closed state to its open state, thereby causing the system to change from its normal operating condition to its fault condition, when the resistance of the control element increases by the predetermined resistance amount in response to the sensor element changing from its normal state to its fault state.

In a fifth aspect, the invention provides an electrical circuit, having an on state and an off state, the circuit comprising an electrical power supply, an electrical load, a current carrying line, a return line, and an electrical protection system which protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a circuit interruption element which is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has i. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, IN O R MAL , when the system is in the normal operating condition, and ii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than IN O R MA L, when the system is in the fault condition;

b. a sensor element which has a variable resistance and is connected in series with the circuit interruption element and the load, and has i. a normal state, in which its resistance is low, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, I NORMAL , by a predetermined current amount, and ii. a fault state, in which its resistance increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system exceeds the normal current, I NO RM AL , by the predetermined amount; and c. a control element which is coupled with the sensor element and with the circuit interruption element, which causes the circuit interruption element to change from its closed state to its open state when the sensor element changes from its normal state to its fault state.

In a sixth aspect, the invention provides an electrical circuit, having an on state and an off state, the circuit comprising an electrical power supply, an electrical load, a current carrying line, a return line, and an electrical protection system which protects the circuit from overcurrents, the system having a normal operating condition and a fault condition, and comprising: a. a sensor-interrupt element which is connected in series between the power supply and the load, and has: i. a variable resistance, which:

(1 ) is low, when the current in the system does not exceed the normal current, INORMAL, by a predetermined current amount, and

(2) increases by at least a predetermined resistance amount, when the current in the system increases from the normal current, INORMAL, by the predetermined amount; ii. a closed state which permits the flow of a normal current, I NORMAL , when the system is in the normal operating condition, and iii. an open state which permits the flow of at most a reduced current, substantially less than INORMAL, when the system is in the fault condition;

b. a control element which is coupled with the sensor-interrupt element, and causes the sensor-interrupt element to change from its closed state to its open state when the variable resistance of the sensor-interrupt element increases by the predetermined resistance amount.

In a seventh aspect, the invention provides a relay assembly which will open a connection when a current through the connection exceeds a predetermined current amount. The relay assembly comprises a wiper and a relay contact, the wiper being (i) in a first position in which it is in contact with the relay contact, thereby making the connection, or (ii) in a second position in which it is separate from the relay contact, and the wiper moving from the first position to the second position, thereby breaking the connection, when a current through the wiper exceeds the predetermined current amount.

It will be apparent that polymeric PTC devices, ceramic PTC devices, other PTC devices such as bimetal devices, metallic PTC devices, arrangements of solid state devices with PTC characteristics, and devices displaying similar characteristics may be used in the circuit arrangements of this invention to provide reliable overcurrent protection. It will likewise be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art that mechanical switches used in the circuit arrangements of this invention may include switches, relays, circuit breakers, isolators, bimetal devices and other devices. In addition, a solid state device or combination of solid state devices which provide disconnecting characteristics similar to those provided by mechanical switches may be used in place of the mechanical switches. Bimetal devices have also been referred to as bimetallic devices, electrothermal relays, thermally activated switches and/or electrothermal mechanisms with bimetal elements.

It will be apparent that in the preferred embodiments, this invention permits the use of PTC devices and bimetal switches to be arranged with mechanical switches and other electrical devices to provide reliable protection which protection was not previously available in the art. These and other features, objects and advantages will be understood or apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art from the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments of the invention as illustrated in the various drawing figures.

Overcurrent protection circuits arranged in accordance with the principles of this invention generally perform the functions of sensing the current, issuing a control signal to interrupt the circuit, interrupting the circuit and partially or completely isolating the load from the power source. The overcurrent protection circuits may be viewed as comprising operational elements which work cooperatively to perform the overcurrent protection functions. FIG. 1 is a block diagram showing an arrangement of such operational elements.

Five operational elements depicted in FIG. 1 are the source 102, sensor element 104, control element 106, circuit interruption element 108 and load 112. The source 102 provides the electrical power to the circuit, and the load 112 performs the intended purpose of the circuit. The sensor element 104 senses the current and determines whether the current delivered to the load 112 is within a normal acceptable range. When the sensor element 104 determines that the current delivered to the load 112 is excessive, the sensor element 104 informs the control element 106 via a first link 114 between the sensor 104 and control 106 elements. Based on information received from the sensor element 104, the control element 106 controls the state of the circuit interruption element 108 via a second link 116 between the control 106 and interrupt 108 elements. The circuit interruption element 108 interrupts current in the circuit upon receipt of a control signal from the control element 106 when the sensor element 104 senses an overcurrent in the circuit.

FIG. 2 shows an example of an overcurrent protection arrangement of the invention 100. The arrangement 100 in FIG. 2 comprises an electrical power source 2, a load 4, a PTC device 8, a relay coil 12 with associated relay contacts 30 32 34 36 including a center contact 30, a normally closed contact 32, a normally open contact 34 and a wiper 36, and an ON/OFF switch 16. With the ON/OFF switch 16 initially open, the PTC device 8 in its low resistance state, and the wiper 36 against the normally closed contact 32, the circuit 100 is in an open state and there is no current through the load 4. When the ON/OFF switch 16 is closed, a small amount of current is drawn through the relay coil 12, thereby energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the wiper 36 to move from the normally closed contact 32 to the normally open contact 34, thereby placing the load 4 in the circuit. The PTC device 8 is placed in series with the parallel combination of the relay coil 12 and the load 4. However, the relay coil 12 draws very little current to keep it energized. In case of an overcurrent, the resistance of the PTC device 8 increases, thereby reducing the current to the load 4 and the relay coil 12.

If the PTC device 8 is chosen properly, its resistance would increase sufficiently to reduce the current through the relay coil 12 enough to deenergize the relay coil 12 thereby causing the wiper 36 to move to the normally closed contact 32 and disconnect the load 4. If the current through the PTC device 8 and relay coil is 12 sufficient to keep the PTC device 8 tripped in

5 the high impedance state and the relay coil 12 deenergized, the circuit 100 remains in a fault state until the ON/OFF switch 16 is opened and the PTC device 8 allowed to cool. If the current through the PTC device 8 in the high impedance state is not sufficient to keep the

PTC device 8 tripped, then the PTC device 8 would cool and reset to its low impedance state.

This would allow the current through the relay coil 12 to increase and energize the relay coil o 12, thereby moving the wiper 36 to the normally open contact 34. If the cause of the fault is still present, then the cycle would continue until the cause of the fault were removed or power were removed, e.g. by opening the ON/OFF switch 16.

However, since the normal circuit current may be many hundred times the current s drawn by the relay coil 12, there is a potential for the PTC device 8 to increase in its resistance and reduce the current to the load 4, but not reduce the current sufficiently to cause the relay coil 12 to deenergize. This could leave the circuit in a closed state with a fault condition. For example, a PTC device rated to carry 9 amps would typically carry a current of approximately .25 amps in the tripped state. Since a typical automotive relay coil current is 0 .180 amps, even if the PTC device were tripped, there would still be sufficient current to keep the relay energized. Thus, circuit protection arrangements like that depicted in FIG. 2 would likely require the use of PTC devices with potentially quite precise tolerances.

Therefore, it would be preferred to have a circuit protection arrangement in which the 5 PTC device is not placed in the circuit in a position in which the current to both the circuit load and the device controlling the circuit interruption device passes through the PTC device.

The circuit in FIG. 3 is an example of an overcurrent protection system in accordance with the first embodiment of the invention and the block diagram depicted in FIG. 1. FIG. 3 o shows an overcurrent protection circuit 200 employing a certain arrangement of a PTC device

8 with a resistive device 14, a relay coil 12, a set of contacts 30 32 34 36 and an ON/OFF switch 16. In the circuit 200, the resistive device 14 is placed in series with the load 4 and the

PTC device 8 is placed in series with the relay coil 12, with the latter series combination

connected across the power source 2. With the ON/OFF switch 16 initially open, the PTC device 8 in its low resistance state, and the wiper 36 against the normally closed contact 32, the circuit 200 is in an open state and there is no current through the load 4. When the ON/OFF switch 16 is closed, a small amount of current is drawn through the PTC device 8 and the relay coil 12, thereby energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the wiper 36 to move from the normally closed contact 32 to the normally open contact 34, thereby placing the load 4 in the circuit. The resistive device 14 and the PTC device 8 are thermally linked, so that in case of an overcurrent in the circuit, the temperature of the resistive device 14 increases and causes the PTC device 8 to heat up to its trip temperature and change to its high impedance state. With the PTC device 8 in its high impedance state, the current through the relay coil 12 reduces, the relay coil 12 deenergizes and causes the wiper 36 to move back to the normally closed contact 32. The resistive device 14 and PTC device 8 have a combined mass such that the trickle of current through the PTC device 8 and relay coil 12 is not sufficient to keep the temperature of the PTC device 8 high enough to keep the PTC device 8 in the tripped state. Thus, the resistive device 14 and PTC device 8 both cool. When the PTC device 8 cools sufficiently, it resets to its low impedance state and allows sufficient current to again flow through the relay coil 12 to energize the relay coil 12 and move the wiper 36 to the normally open contact 34. If the cause of the overcurrent remains, the resistance device 14 will heat and the PTC device 8 will again trip to its high impedance state. This cycle continues until either the cause of the overcurrent is removed or power is removed, for example by opening the ON/OFF switch 16.

In some applications, it is preferred that the overcurrent protection circuit not attempt to reset itself, but rather latch open in a fault state. The circuit 300 in FIG. 4 is a second example of a circuit protection arrangement in accordance with the first embodiment of the invention, and is an overcurrent protection circuit which will latch open in the fault state. The circuit 300 employs an arrangement of a PTC device 8 with a resistive device 14, a relay coil 12 and a set of relay contacts 30 32 34 36. In the circuit 300, the relay contacts 30 32 34 are "turned around" relative to their connection in the circuit 200 shown in FIG. 3, with the relay coil 12 connected to the normally closed contact 32, the load 4 connected to the center contact

30, and the normally open contact 34 is connected to the resistive element 14. The circuit 300 is initially energized by closing the ON/OFF switch 16. Current flows through the PTC device 8 and the relay coil 12. The relay coil 12 energizes, causing the wiper 36 to move to

11

the normally open contact 34. This places the resistive element 14 in the current path with the load 4. In the event of an overcurrent, the resistive element 14 heats up causing the PTC device 8 to heat up and trip. The relay coil 12 then deenergizes, causing the wiper 36 to return to the normally closed contact 32. The load 4 remains in the circuit, however, with the PTC device 8 in its tripped state, the "trickle current" through the PTC device 8 and the parallel combination of the relay coil 12 and the load 4 is very little, but is sufficient to keep the PTC device 8 from returning to its low impedance state. The ON/OFF switch 16 would have to be opened to permit the PTC device 8 to cool and reset the circuit 300.

The circuit 400 in FIG. 5 is a third example of a circuit protection arrangement in accordance with the first embodiment of the invention. The circuit 400 will also latch open in the fault state. The circuit 400 employs an arrangement of a PTC device 8 with a resistive device 14, a relay coil 12 and a set of relay contacts 30 32 34 36, and is similar to the circuit 300 shown in FIG. 4. The ON/OFF switch 16 has been moved to lie between ground 6 and the junction between the relay coil 12 and the load 4. The operation of the circuit 400 shown in FIG. 5 is the same as for the circuit 300 shown in FIG. 4. However, in certain applications, e.g. in the automotive industry, it may be preferred to employ "ground switching" techniques as shown in FIG. 5.

The overcurrent protection circuits shown in FIGs. 4 and 5 are both capable of latching, i.e. not attempting to reset, when they are in a fault state. Both arrangements require a "trickle current" to keep them latched. In some applications it is preferred to have the overcurrent protection circuit latch open, but not require a trickle current to stay latched. For example, in automobile and other battery-powered applications, a trickle current could run down the battery if allowed to continue for an extended period of time. FIG. 6 shows a fourth example of a first embodiment of an overcurrent protection circuit 500 which will latch open in the fault state. However, unlike the circuits 300 400 shown in FIGs. 4 and 5, respectively, the circuit 500 shown in FIG. 6 does not require a "trickle current" to latch the circuit open in case of an overcurrent. The circuit 500 employs an arrangement of a PTC device 8 with a resistive device 14, a relay coil 12 and a set of relay contacts 30 32 34 36. It also includes a diode 22, a momentary ON switch 18 and a momentary OFF switch 20. The relay contacts 30

32 34 36 are positioned between the power source 2 and the resistive element 14, with the center contact 30 connected to the power source 2 and the normally open contact 32

connected to the resistive element 14. With the circuit 500 in an OFF state, and the PTC device 8 in its low impedance state, the circuit 500 is turned on by momentarily pressing the ON switch 18. Current flows through the relay coil 12, energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the wiper 36 to move to the normally open contact 34. The diode 22 prevents current from flowing up through the PTC device 8 to the resistive element 14 and the load 4. With the ON switch 18 released, current flows through the resistive element 14 to the load 4, and also through the series combination of the PTC device 8, the diode 22 and the relay coil 12, thereby keeping the relay coil 12 energized. In case of an overcurrent, the resistive element 14 heats up causing the PTC device 8 to heat up and trip to its high impedance state. The reduced current causes the relay coil 12 to deenergize and the wiper 36 to move to the normally closed contact 32. Current ceases to flow in the circuit 500, and the PTC device 8 cools and returns to its low resistance state. The momentary OFF switch 20 is used to turn the circuit OFF under normal operating conditions.

In each of the circuits shown in FIGs. 3, 4, 5 and 6, the PTC device 8 is shown connected so that it provides overcurrent protection to the respective circuit, but does not have to carry the load current. Thus in circuits protection arrangements according to the invention, a PTC device can be used to control a load current which is higher than the current rating of the PTC device.

The circuit 600 shown in FIG. 7 is an alternate embodiment of the circuit shown in FIG. 6 in which the PTC device 8 is replaced by a bimetal switch 42. With the circuit 600 in an OFF state, and the bimetal switch 42 in its closed state, the circuit 600 is turned on by momentarily pressing the ON switch 18. Current flows through the relay coil 12, energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the wiper 36 to move to the normally open contact 34. The diode 22 prevents current from flowing up through the bimetal switch 42 to the resistive element 14 and the load 4. With the ON switch 18 released, current flows through the resistive element 14 to the load 4, and also through the series combination of the bimetal switch 42, the diode 22 and the relay coil 12, thereby keeping the relay coil 12 energized. In case of an overcurrent, the resistive element 14 heats up causing the bimetal switch 42 to heat up and trip to its open state. The relay coil 12 deenergizes and the wiper 36 moves to the normally closed contact 32. Current ceases to flow in the circuit 600, and the bimetal switch

42 cools and returns to its closed state. With the wiper 36 against the normally closed contact

1

32 and the relay coil 12 deenergized, the circuit 600 remains, i.e. latches, in the fault state and draws no "trickle current." The momentary OFF switch 20 is used to turn the circuit OFF under normal operating conditions.

FIG. 8 is a second example of an embodiment of an overcurrent protection circuit 700 employing a bimetal switch 42. However, in the circuit 700 in FIG. 8, the bimetal switch 42 provides the functionality of the sensor element 104 (FIG. 1), and the relay coil 12 and diode 22 provide the functionality of the control element 106 (FIG. 1). The circuit 700 employs an arrangement of a bimetal switch 42 with a relay coil 12 and a set of relay contacts 30 32 34 36. It also includes a diode 22, a momentary ON switch 18 and a momentary OFF switch 20.

The relay contacts 30 32 34 36 are positioned between the power source 2 and the bimetal switch 42, with the center contact 30 connected to the power source 2 and the normally open contact 34 connected to the bimetal switch 42. The circuit 700 is similar to the circuit 100 shown in FIG. 2, in that the bimetal switch 42 (PTC device 8 in FIG. 2) is in series with the parallel combination of the load 4 and relay coil 12. With the circuit 700 in an OFF state, and the bimetal switch 42 in its closed state, the circuit 700 is turned on by momentarily pressing the ON switch 18. Current flows through the relay coil 12, energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the wiper 36 to move to the normally open contact 34. The diode 22 prevents current from flowing back through the bimetal switch 42 or to the load 4. With the ON switch 18 released, current flows through the bimetal switch 42 to the load 4, and also through the series combination of the diode 22 and the relay coil 12, thereby keeping the relay coil 12 energized. In case of an overcurrent, the bimetal switch 42 heats up and trips to its open state. The relay coil 12 deenergizes and the wiper 36 moves to the normally closed contact 32. Current ceases to flow in the circuit 700, and the bimetal switch 42 cools and returns to its closed state. The circuit 700 latches in the fault state with no current flowing in the circuit 700. This circuit 700 has the advantage over the circuit 100 shown in FIG. 2 in that since the bimetal switch 42 opens when it heats up, rather than just increase in impedance, the bimetal switch 42 may be placed in series with both the relay coil 12 and the load 4 with confidence that the relay coil 12 will deenergize when the bimetal switch 42 opens. The momentary OFF switch 20 is used to turn the circuit OFF under normal operating conditions.

iS

FIG. 9 is a block diagram similar to that shown in FIG. 1, however the functions of the sensor element 104 and circuit interruption element 118 have been combined into a sensor-interrupt element 118. As will be seen below in relation to the circuit shown in FIG. 10, components within the sensor-interrupt element 118 can provide the functions of both the sensor element 102 and circuit interruption element 108 (FIG. 1). When the sensor-interrupt element 118 informs the control element 106 via the first link 114 that the current is excessive, the control-element 106 controls the state of the sensor-interrupt element via the second link 116.

FIG. 10 is an example of an embodiment of an overcurrent protection circuit 800 employing a bimetal device, however, the relay contacts (30 32 34 36 in FIG. 8) and bimetal switch 42 have been combined to form a set of relay contacts comprising a bimetal wiper 56. The structure and operation of the relay comprising a bimetal wiper will be described in relation to FIG. 11. The bimetal wiper 56 provides the functionality of the sensor element 104 (FIG. 1), the relay coil 12 and diode 22 provide the functionality of the control element 106 (FIG. 1), and the relay contacts 30 32 34 56, including the bimetal wiper 56, provide the functionality of the circuit interruption element 108 (FIG. 1). Thus, the relay contacts 30 32 34 56 provide the combined functionality of the sensor-interrupt element 118 shown in FIG. 9. With the circuit 800 in an OFF state, the bimetal wiper 56 in its normal state and is against the normally closed contact 32. The circuit 800 is turned on by momentarily pressing the ON switch 18. Current flows through the relay coil 12, energizing the relay coil 12 and causing the bimetal wiper 56 to move to the normally open contact 34. The diode 22 prevents current from flowing back through the relay contacts 34 56 30 or to the load 4. With the ON switch 18 released, current flows through the bimetal wiper 56 to the load 4, and also through the series combination of the diode 22 and the relay coil 12, thereby keeping the relay coil 12 energized. In case of an overcurrent, the bimetal wiper 56 heats up and trips to its fault state thereby moving off the normally open contact 34. The relay coil 12 deenergizes and the bimetal wiper 56 moves to the normally closed contact 32. Current ceases to flow in the circuit 800, and the bimetal wiper 56 cools and returns to its normal state. The tension from the relay spring (67 FIG. 11) keeps the bimetal wiper against the normally closed contact 32. The circuit 800 latches in the fault state with no current flowing. The momentary OFF switch 20 is used to turn the circuit OFF under normal operating conditions.

In FIGs. 6, 7, 8 and 10, both the momentary ON switch 18 and OFF switch 20 are shown as mechanical switches or buttons. However, either or both can be implemented, for example, with solid state devices or by supplying an electrical pulse from an external control unit.

The relays shown in the circuit diagrams in the various FIGs. may also comprise a fusing member within their respective structures to minimize the chance of catastrophic failure due to welding of the relay contacts.

The relay assembly shown in FIG. 11 represents a relay having a bimetal wiper. The configuration shown is a common relay configuration and is shown merely by way of example and is not intended to be limiting. Since relays are well known in the art, the structure and operation of the relay assembly depicted in FIG. 11 will be described only to the extent necessary to explain the use of a bimetal wiper. The assembly includes a relay coil 60 and a magnetic core 61 mounted on a first leg of an L-shaped support member 62. A ferromagnetic arm 63 is hinged 66 to a distal end of a second leg of the support member 62. The ferromagnetic arm 63 has a first face which is directed toward an end of the magnetic core 61. An insulating layer 64 is sandwiched between a second face of the ferromagnetic arm 63 and a first face of a wiper support arm 65. A bimetal wiper 68 is affixed, e.g. welded, to a second face of the wiper support arm 65. The bimetal wiper 68 is comprised of two dissimilar metal layers 69 70. The shape of the bimetal wiper 68 will depend on the configuration of the particular relay. As an example, however, the shape of the bimetal wiper 68 depicted in FIG. 11 may be generally described in terms of four sections. The first wiper section 68A is a substantially straight section, a first end of which is affixed, e.g. welded, to the wiper support arm 65. The first wiper section 68A is mounted substantially perpendicular to the wiper support arm 65. The second wiper section 68B is arcuate, and traces an arc slightly greater than one quarter circle. The third wiper section 68C is substantially straight. The fourth wiper section 68D is substantially straight, and makes an angle with the third wiper section 68C, which angle is substantially 270 degrees minus the angle traced by the second wiper section 68B. Thus, when the bimetal wiper 68 is cool, the fourth wiper section

68D lies in a plane which is substantially parallel with the plane of the wiper support arm 65 thereby accommodating a normally open contact 71 and normally closed contact 72 which are mounted so that they also lie in planes which are substantially parallel with the plane of the

wiper support arm 65. In other relay configurations, the shape of the bimetal wiper 68 may vary from that described above in order to accommodate the specific requirements of each configuration.

s First and second contact pads 73 74 are affixed to either face of a distal end of the bimetal wiper 68. The first contact pad 73 is positioned opposite a normally closed contact 71 so that the two are held together in compression when the relay assembly is in a deenergized state (illustrated in FIG. 11), and the second contact pad 74 is positioned opposite a normally open contact 72 so that the two are held together in compression when the relay lo assembly is in an energized state (not illustrated). The normally closed 71 contact and normally open contact 72 are mounted so that they lie in planes substantially parallel with the wiper support arm 65 (as described above). A first spring 67, having a first end attached to a first end of the ferromagnetic arm 63 and a second end attached to the support structure 62, maintains tension on the first end of the ferromagnetic arm 63 thereby causing the i5 ferromagnetic arm 63 to rotate about the hinge area 66, thereby causing the distal end of the ferromagnetic arm 63 to tend to rotate away from the magnetic core 61, thereby causing the assembly of the ferromagnetic arm 63, wiper support arm 65 and bimetal wiper 68 to tend to rotate toward the normally closed contact 71 thereby bringing the first contact pad 73 in compression contact with the normally closed contact 71.

20

First and second electrical leads 78 79 connect the relay coil 60 to an external power source (not illustrated). When power is applied to the relay coil 60, the magnetic core 61 becomes magnetized attracting the ferromagnetic arm 63. The ferromagnetic arm 63 rotates about the hinge 66 with the distal end of the ferromagnetic arm 63 rotating toward the

25 magnetic core 61. The motion of the ferromagnetic arm 63 causes the wiper support arm 65 and bimetallic wiper 68 to move in a like manner, thereby breaking the contact between the first contact pad 73 and the normally closed contact 71. The assembly of the ferromagnetic arm 63, wiper support arm 65 and bimetal wiper 68 continue to rotate until the ferromagnetic arm 63 rests against the magnetic core 61, and the second contact pad 74 is held in

3 o compression contact against the normally open contact 72.

The bimetal wiper 68 will retain its shape as long as the current through it is below a predetermined current level and/or the temperature of the bimetal wiper 68 is below a

predetermined temperature. However, if the current through the bimetal wiper 68 should exceed the predetermined current level, thereby causing the temperature of the bimetal wiper 68 to exceed the predetermined temperature, then the bimetal wiper 68 will change its shape, tending to straighten out, thereby causing the distal end of the bimetal wiper 68 to move away from the normally open contact 72, thereby causing the second contact pad 74 to break contact with the normally open contact 72.

In some circumstances, heat generated during normal operation of the relay may tend to cause the bimetal wiper 68 to heat up and change its shape slightly. If the bimetal wiper 68 is in the normally closed position, the tension provided by the first spring 67 will keep the first contact pad 73 held in compression against the normally closed contact 71. A second spring 83 is used to insure that the second contact pad 74 is held in compression against the normally open contact 72 with the relay in the energized position. A first end of the second spring 83 is fixed to the normally open contact 72. A second end of the second spring 83 is attached to an insulated mount (not illustrated) within the relay assembly. The second spring 83 urges (tension or compression depending on how the second spring is mounted) the normally open contact 72 toward the wiper assembly, thereby assuring a good compression contact between the second contact pad 74 and the normally open contact 72 when the relay is energized. Although the second spring 83 is depicted as a coil spring, other suitable springs, e.g. leaf, may be used. Moreover, rather than attach a contact to a separate spring, the contact itself can be a spring, e.g. leaf, coil, etc., and thereby keep in compression contact with the wiper assembly.

FIG. 11 and the above description depict a relay assembly having a bimetal wiper configured to break contact with a normally open contact upon an overcurrent through the bimetal wiper. This is intended solely to be by way of example, and should not be interpreted as so limiting. Relay assemblies employing the bimetal wiper of the invention may be configured to have a wiper break contact with a normally closed contact, a normally open contact, or with whichever relay contact the wiper is making contact upon an overcurrent through the bimetal wiper.

The circuit depicted in FIG. 10 employs the relay assembly depicted in FIG. 11 to advantage by placing the relay coil 12 in the current path which includes the wiper 56. Thus,

when the bimetal wiper 56 breaks contact with the normally open contact 34, the relay coil 12 immediately deenergizes, causing the bimetal wiper 56 to move back to the normally closed contact 34, and to remain there until the relay coil 12 is again energized. The relay assembly shown in FIG. 12 is the relay assembly shown in FIG. 11 with a diode 75 included in the assembly. The second electrical lead 78 is connected to the diode 75 (anode side illustrated) and the relay coil 60, and a contact lead 81 connects the diode 75 (cathode side illustrated) with the normally open contact 72. Thus, the key components of the circuit protection arrangement of FIG. 10, including the relay coil 12, contacts 30 32 34, bimetal wiper 56, and diode 22 can be conveniently combined in a single relay package.

zo