Mass flow sensor

# Mass flow sensor

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A mass air flow sensor is used to find out the mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

flowrate of air entering a fuel-injected internal combustion engine
Internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high -pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine...

. The air mass information is necessary for the engine control unit
Engine control unit
An engine control unit is a type of electronic control unit that determines the amount of fuel, ignition timing and other parameters an internal combustion engine needs to keep running...

(ECU) to balance and deliver the correct fuel mass to the engine. Air changes its density as it expands and contracts with temperature and pressure. In automotive applications, air density
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

varies with the ambient temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

, altitude
Altitude
Altitude or height is defined based on the context in which it is used . As a general definition, altitude is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference datum and a point or object. The reference datum also often varies according to the context...

and the use of forced induction
Forced induction
Forced induction is the process of compressing air on the intake of an internal combustion engine . A forced induction engine uses a gas compressor to increase the pressure, temperature and density of the air...

, which means that mass flow sensors are more appropriate than volumetric flow sensors for determining the quantity of intake air in each piston stroke. (See stoichiometry
Stoichiometry
Stoichiometry is a branch of chemistry that deals with the relative quantities of reactants and products in chemical reactions. In a balanced chemical reaction, the relations among quantities of reactants and products typically form a ratio of whole numbers...

and ideal gas law
Ideal gas law
The ideal gas law is the equation of state of a hypothetical ideal gas. It is a good approximation to the behavior of many gases under many conditions, although it has several limitations. It was first stated by Émile Clapeyron in 1834 as a combination of Boyle's law and Charles's law...

.)

There are two common types of mass airflow sensors in use on automotive engines. These are the vane meter and the hot wire. Neither design employs technology that measures air mass directly. However, with additional sensors and inputs, an engine's electronic control unit
Electronic control unit
In automotive electronics, electronic control unit is a generic term for any embedded system that controls one or more of the electrical systems or subsystems in a motor vehicle....

can determine the mass flowrate of intake air.

Both approaches are used almost exclusively on electronic fuel injection (EFI) engines. Both sensor designs output a 0.0–5.0 volt or a pulse-width modulation
Pulse-width modulation
Pulse-width modulation , or pulse-duration modulation , is a commonly used technique for controlling power to inertial electrical devices, made practical by modern electronic power switches....

(PWM) signal that is proportional to the air mass flow rate, and both sensors have an intake air temperature (IAT) sensor incorporated into their housings.

When a MAF is used in conjunction with an oxygen sensor
Oxygen sensor
An oxygen sensor, or lambda sensor, is an electronic device that measures the proportion of oxygen in the gas or liquid being analyzed. It was developed by the Robert Bosch GmbH company during the late 1960s under the supervision of Dr. Günter Bauman...

, the engine's air/fuel ratio can be controlled very accurately. The MAF sensor provides the open-loop controller
Open-loop controller
An open-loop controller, also called a non-feedback controller, is a type of controller that computes its input into a system using only the current state and its model of the system....

predicted air flow information (the measured air flow) to the ECU, and the oxygen sensor provides closed-loop feedback in order to make minor corrections to the predicted air mass. Also see MAP sensor
MAP sensor
The manifold absolute pressure sensor is one of the sensors used in an internal combustion engine's electronic control system. Engines that use a MAP sensor are typically fuel injected. The manifold absolute pressure sensor provides instantaneous manifold pressure information to the engine's...

.

### Vane meter sensor (VAF sensor)

The VAF sensor measures the air flow into the engine with a spring
Spring (device)
A spring is an elastic object used to store mechanical energy. Springs are usually made out of spring steel. Small springs can be wound from pre-hardened stock, while larger ones are made from annealed steel and hardened after fabrication...

-loaded air flap/door attached to a variable resistor (potentiometer
Potentiometer
A potentiometer , informally, a pot, is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used , it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat. Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as volume controls on...

). The vane moves in proportion to the airflow, and a voltage is generated in proportion to the distance the vane moves, or the movement of the vane directly regulates the amount of fuel injected
Fuel injection
Fuel injection is a system for admitting fuel into an internal combustion engine. It has become the primary fuel delivery system used in automotive petrol engines, having almost completely replaced carburetors in the late 1980s....

, as in the K-Jetronic system.

Many VAF sensors have an air-fuel adjustment screw, which opens or closes a small air passage on the side of the VAF sensor. This screw controls the air-fuel mixture by letting a metered amount of air flow past the air flap, thereby, leaning or richening the mixture. By turning the screw clockwise the mixture is enriched and counterclockwise the mixture is leaned.

The vane moves because of the drag force
Drag (physics)
In fluid dynamics, drag refers to forces which act on a solid object in the direction of the relative fluid flow velocity...

of the air flow against it, it does not measure volume or mass directly. The drag force depends on air density (air density in turn depends on air temperature), air velocity and the shape of the vane, see drag equation
Drag equation
In fluid dynamics, the drag equation is a practical formula used to calculate the force of drag experienced by an object due to movement through a fully enclosing fluid....

. Some VAF sensors include an additional intake air temperature sensor (IAT sensor) to allow the engines ECU to calculate the airs density, and the fuel delivery accordingly.

The vane meter approach has some drawbacks:
• it restricts airflow which limits engine output
• its moving electrical or mechanical contacts can wear
• finding a suitable mounting location within a confined engine compartment is problematic
• the vane has to be oriented with respect to gravity.

### Hot wire sensor (MAF)

A hot wire mass airflow sensor determines the mass of air flowing into the engine’s air intake system. The theory of operation
Theory of operation
A theory of operation is a description of how a device or system should work. It is often included in documentation, especially maintenance/service documentation, or a user manual. It aids troubleshooting by providing the troubleshooter with a mental model of how the system is supposed to work...

of the hot wire mass airflow sensor is similar to that of the hot wire anemometer (which determines air velocity). The General Motors division (GM) was the first car company to use the hot wire sensor. This is achieved by heating a wire with an electric current that is suspended in the engine’s air stream, like a toaster wire. The wire's electrical resistance
Electrical resistance
The electrical resistance of an electrical element is the opposition to the passage of an electric current through that element; the inverse quantity is electrical conductance, the ease at which an electric current passes. Electrical resistance shares some conceptual parallels with the mechanical...

increases as the wire’s temperature increases, which limits electrical current flowing through the circuit. When air flows past the wire, the wire cools, decreasing its resistance, which in turn allows more current to flow through the circuit. As more current flows, the wire’s temperature increases until the resistance reaches equilibrium again. The amount of current required to maintain the wire’s temperature is directly proportional to the mass of air flowing past the wire. The integrated electronic circuit converts the measurement of current into a voltage signal which is sent to the ECU.

If air density increases due to pressure increase or temperature drop, but the air volume remains constant, the denser air will remove more heat from the wire indicating a higher mass airflow. Unlike the vane meter's paddle sensing element, the hot wire responds directly to air density. This sensor's capabilities are well suited to support the gasoline combustion process which fundamentally responds to air mass, not air volume. (See stoichiometry
Stoichiometry
Stoichiometry is a branch of chemistry that deals with the relative quantities of reactants and products in chemical reactions. In a balanced chemical reaction, the relations among quantities of reactants and products typically form a ratio of whole numbers...

.)

This sensor sometimes employs a mixture screw, but this screw is fully electronic and uses a variable resistor (potentiometer) instead of an air bypass screw. The screw needs more turns to achieve the desired results. A hot wire burn-off cleaning circuit is employed on some of these sensors. A burn-off relay applies a high current through the platinum hot wire after the vehicle is turned off for a second or so, thereby burning or vaporizing any contaminants that have stuck to the platinum hot wire element.

The hot film MAF sensor works somewhat similar to the hot wire MAF sensor, but instead it usually outputs a frequency signal. This sensor uses a hot film-grid instead of a hot wire. It is commonly found in late 80’s early 90’s fuel-injected vehicles. The output frequency is directly proportional to the amount of air entering the engine. So as air flow increases so does frequency. These sensors tend to cause intermittent problems due to internal electrical failures. The use of an oscilloscope is strongly recommended to check the output frequency of these sensors. Frequency distortion is also common when the sensor starts to fail. Many technicians in the field use a tap test with very conclusive results. Not all HFM systems output a frequency. In some cases, this sensor works by outputting a regular varying voltage signal.

Some of the benefits of a hot-wire MAF compared to the older style vane meter are:
• responds very quickly to changes in air flow
• low airflow restriction
• smaller overall package
• less sensitive to mounting location and orientation
• no moving parts improve its durability
• less expensive
• separate temperature and pressure sensors are not required (to determine air mass)

There are some drawbacks:
• dirt and oil can contaminate the hot-wire deteriorating its accuracy
• installation requires a laminar flow
Laminar flow
Laminar flow, sometimes known as streamline flow, occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between the layers. At low velocities the fluid tends to flow without lateral mixing, and adjacent layers slide past one another like playing cards. There are no cross currents...

across the hot-wire

### "Coldwire" sensor

The GM LS engine
GM LS engine
The GM LS engine family is an engine design intended as the only V-8 engine used in General Motors' line of rear-wheel-drive cars and trucks. The LS series was a "clean sheet" design with little in common with the classic Chevrolet small block V8...

series (as well as others) use a "coldwire" MAF system (produced by AC Delco) where the inductance of a tiny sensor changes with the air mass flow over that sensor. The sensor is part of an oscillator circuit whose oscillation frequency changes with sensor inductance; hence the frequency is related to the amount of air (cubic feet per minute) passing over the unit. This oscillating electrical signal is then fed to the car's ECU. These MAF units (such as the one pictured) have 3 pins, denoted +, - and F. F carries the square-wave frequency between - and F. They are powered by +5 VDC from the ECU's regulated power supply.

The mesh on the MAF is used to smooth out airflow to ensure the sensors have the best chance of a steady reading. It is not used for measuring the air flow per se. In situations where owners use oiled-gauze air filters, it is possible for excess oil to coat the MAF sensor and skew its readings. Indeed, General Motors has issued a Technical Service Bulletin, indicating problems from rough idle all the way to possible transmission damage resulting from the contaminated sensors. To clean the delicate MAF sensor components, a specific MAF or Electronics Cleaner should be used, not carburetor or brake cleaner. These are alcohol or CFC-based solvents, rather than the harsh petroleum distillates used in the other cleaners... The sensors should be gently sprayed from a careful distance to avoid physically damaging them. Manufacturers claim that a simple but extremely reliable test to ensure correct functionality is to tap the unit with the back of a screwdriver while the car is running, and if this causes any changes in the output frequency then the unit should be discarded and an OEM replacement installed.

### Kármán vortex sensor

A Kármán vortex sensor works by setting up a laminar air stream. The air stream is disrupted by a vertical bow in the sensor. This causes a wake
Wake
A wake is the region of recirculating flow immediately behind a moving or stationary solid body, caused by the flow of surrounding fluid around the body.-Fluid dynamics:...

in the air stream and subsequently the wake will collapse repeatedly and cause Kármán vortexes. The frequency of the resulting air pressure oscillation is proportional to the air velocity.

These vortexes can either be read directly as a pressure pulse against a sensor, or they can be made to collide with a mirror which will then interrupt or transmit a reflected light beam to generate the pulses in response to the vortexes. The first type can only be used in pull thru air (prior to a turbo- or supercharger
Supercharger
A supercharger is an air compressor used for forced induction of an internal combustion engine.The greater mass flow-rate provides more oxygen to support combustion than would be available in a naturally aspirated engine, which allows more fuel to be burned and more work to be done per cycle,...

), while the second type could theoretically be used push or pull thru air (before or after a forced induction application like the previously mentioned super- or turbocharger
Turbocharger
A turbocharger, or turbo , from the Greek "τύρβη" is a centrifugal compressor powered by a turbine that is driven by an engine's exhaust gases. Its benefit lies with the compressor increasing the mass of air entering the engine , thereby resulting in greater performance...

). Instead of outputting a constant voltage modified by a resistance factor, this type of MAF outputs a frequency which must then be interpreted by the ECU. This type of MAF can be found on all DSM
Diamond-Star Motors
Diamond-Star Motors was an automobile-manufacturing joint venture between the Chrysler Corporation and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation . The name came from the parent companies' respective logos: three diamonds and a pentastar...

s (Mitsubishi Eclipse, Eagle Talon, Plymouth Laser), many Mitsubishis, some Toyotas and Lexus, and some BMWs, among others.

### Membrane sensor

An emerging technology utilizes a very thin electronic membrane placed in the air stream. The membrane has a thin film
Thin film
A thin film is a layer of material ranging from fractions of a nanometer to several micrometers in thickness. Electronic semiconductor devices and optical coatings are the main applications benefiting from thin film construction....

temperature sensor printed on the upstream side, and one on the downstream side. A heater is integrated in the center of the membrane which maintains a constant temperature similar to the hot-wire approach. Without any airflow, the temperature profile across the membrane is uniform. When air flows across the membrane, the upstream side cools differently from the downstream side. The difference between the upstream and downstream temperature indicates the mass airflow. The thermal membrane sensor is also capable of measuring flow in both directions, which sometimes occur in pulsating situations. Technological progress allows this kind of sensor to be manufactured on the microscopic
Microscopic
The microscopic scale is the scale of size or length used to describe objects smaller than those that can easily be seen by the naked eye and which require a lens or microscope to see them clearly.-History:...

scale as microsensors using Microelectromechanical systems
Microelectromechanical systems
Microelectromechanical systems is the technology of very small mechanical devices driven by electricity; it merges at the nano-scale into nanoelectromechanical systems and nanotechnology...

technology. Such a microsensor reaches a significantly higher speed and sensitivity compared with macroscopic
Macroscopic
The macroscopic scale is the length scale on which objects or processes are of a size which is measurable and observable by the naked eye.When applied to phenomena and abstract objects, the macroscopic scale describes existence in the world as we perceive it, often in contrast to experiences or...

MEMS sensor generations
MEMS sensor generations represent the progress made in micro sensor technology and can be categorized as follows:1st Generation :MEMS sensor element mostly based on a silicon structure, sometimes combined with analog amplification on a micro chip.....

.

### Laminar flow elements

Laminar flow elements measure the mass flow of gases directly. They operate on the principle that, given laminar flow, the pressure difference across a pipe is linear to the flow rate. Laminar flow
Laminar flow
Laminar flow, sometimes known as streamline flow, occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between the layers. At low velocities the fluid tends to flow without lateral mixing, and adjacent layers slide past one another like playing cards. There are no cross currents...

conditions are present in a gas when the Reynolds number of the gas is below the critical figure. The viscosity of the fluid must be compensated for in the result. Laminar flow elements are usually constructed from a large number of parallel pipes to achieve the required flow rating.