Resistor Materials

Monday, March 12th, 2018 - Passive Components

Material Of Resistors

Resistors are formed from a variety of materials.

Carbon Composite Resistors

Particles of carbon are mixed with a binder. The density of the carbon determines the end-to-end resistance, which typically ranges from 5Ω to 10M. The disadvantages of this system are low precision (a 10% tolerance is common), relatively high voltage coefficient of resistance, and introduction of noise in sensitive circuits. However, carbon-composite resistors have low inductance and are relatively tolerant of overload conditions.

Carbon Film Resistors

A cheap and popular type, made by coating a ceramic substrate with a film of carbon compound. They are available in both throughhole and surface-mount formats. The range of resistor values is comparable with carboncomposite types, but the precision is increased, typically to 5%, by cutting a spiral groove in the carbon-compound coating during the manufacturing process. The carbon film suffers the same disadvantages of carbon composite resistors, but to a lesser extent. Carbon film resistors generally should not be substituted for metal film resistors in applications where accuracy is important.

Metal Film Resistors

A metallic film is deposited on a ceramic substrate, and has generally superior characteristics to carbon-film resistors. During manufacture, a groove may be cut in the metal film to adjust the end-to-end resistance. This may cause the resistor to have higher inductance than carbon-composite types, though it has lower noise. Tolerances of 5%, 2%, and 1% are available. This type of resistor was originally more expensive than carbon-film equivalents, but the difference is now fractional. They are available in both through-hole and surface-mount formats. They are available in lower-wattage variants (1/8 watt is common).

Thick-film resistors are spray-coated, whereas thin-film resistors are sputtered nichrome. Thinfilms enjoy a flatter temperature coefficient and are typically used in environments that have a huge operational temperature range, such as satellites.

Bulk Metal Foil Resistors

The type of foil used in metal film resistors is applied to a ceramic wafer and etched to achieve the desired overall resistance. Typically these resistors have axial leads. They can be extremely accurate and stable, but have a limited maximum resistance.

Precision Wire-wound Resistors

Formerly used in applications requiring great accuracy, but now largely replaced by precision metal foil.

Power Wire-wound Resistors

Generally used when 1 or 2 watts or more power dissipation is required. Resistive wire is wrapped around a core that is often ceramic. This can cause the resistor to be referred to, inaccurately, as “ceramic.” The core may alternatively be fiberglass or some other electrically insulating compound that actively sinks heat. The component is either dipped (typically in vitreous enamel or cement) or is mounted in an aluminum shell that can be clamped to a heat sink. It almost always has the ohm value printed on it in plain numerals (not codes).

Two typical wire-wound resistors are shown in the following figure. The upper resistor is rated at 12W and 180Ω while the lower resistor is rated at 13W and 15K.

Two wire-wound resistorsTwo wire-wound resistors of greatly differing resistance but similar power dissipation capability.

A larger wire-wound resistor is shown in the following figure, rated for 25W and 10Ω.

A large wirewound resistor rated to dissipate 25WA large wirewound resistor rated to dissipate 25W.

In the following figure, two resistors encapsulated in cement coatings are shown with the coatings removed to expose the elements. At left is a 1.5Ω 5W resistor, which uses a wire-wound element. At right is a very low-value 0.03Ω 10W resistor.

low-value resistors with their cement coatingsTwo low-value resistors with their cement coatings removed to show the resistive elements.

In the following figure, the resistor at right has an exposed 30Ω element while the resistor at left is rated 10W and 6.5Ω, enclosed in an anodized aluminum shell to promote heat dissipation.

power resistorsA 30Ω resistor (right) and 6.5Ω resistor (left).

In power resistors, heat dissipation becomes an important consideration. If other factors (such as voltage) remain the same, a lower-value resistor will tend to pass more current than a highervalue resistor, and heat dissipation is proportional to the square of the current. Therefore power wire-wound resistors are more likely to be needed where low resistance values are required. Their coiled-wire format creates significant inductance, making them unsuitable to pass high frequencies or pulses.

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