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Dokumentenidentifikation EP0774653 26.06.1997
EP-Veröffentlichungsnummer 0774653
Titel Temperaturgesteuerte Wandler für kleine Drücke
Anmelder Morton International, Inc., Chicago, Ill., US
Erfinder Paxton, Donald J., Brigham City, Utah 84302, US;
Clark, Marcus T., Kaysville, Utah 84037, US;
Fulmer, Brian H., Farr West, Utah 84404, US
Vertreter derzeit kein Vertreter bestellt
Vertragsstaaten DE, FR, GB, IT
Sprache des Dokument En
EP-Anmeldetag 24.10.1996
EP-Aktenzeichen 963076997
EP-Offenlegungsdatum 21.05.1997
Veröffentlichungstag im Patentblatt 26.06.1997
IPC-Hauptklasse G01L 19/12
IPC-Nebenklasse G01L 19/04   G01L 9/00   G01M 3/32   

Beschreibung[en]

The present invention relates to a low pressure sensor for sensing a change in the mass of a gas within a pressure vessel, and more particularly, to a temperature compensating low gas pressure sensor for use in a hybrid inflator of a vehicle safety restraint assembly.

Numerous types of inflators have been disclosed in the prior art for expanding an inflatable air bag of a vehicle safety restraint system. One type of inflator utilizes a quantity of high pressure gas stored in a storage cylinder or body, which is selectively released to inflate the air bag. Another type of inflator derives the gas source from a combustible gas generating material, which, upon ignition, generates a quantity of hot gas for inflating the air bag. In still another type, the inflator includes both stored compressed gas and gas generating material for inflating the air bag. Such an inflator is referred to as a hybrid inflator, an example of which is disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 5,360,232, assigned to the assignee of the present invention.

In a vehicle safety restraint system which partly or solely utilizes stored compressed gas it is very important to monitor the pressurized bottle containing the stored gas to detect any leakage in the container. If the gas pressure of the bottle falls below a predetermined level due to an undetected gas leak, the airbag effectiveness would degrade and the system will not operate properly.

Typically hybrid inflators are filled with compressed argon gas to approximately 3000 psi at 21°C. However, this same volume of gas will diminish to a pressure of 2200 psi at -30°C and increase to a pressure of 4000 psi at 80°C. Given that normal operating temperatures span such a wide range, compensation for temperature of the gas is a necessary function of a low pressure gas sensor. If such temperature compensation is not included in the low pressure gas sensor, the sensor would signal "low gas pressure" at cold temperatures and would not sense an actual low gas pressure at high temperatures.

It is known to merely detect loss of pressure in a pressurized vessel, with such loss being attributed to a leak in the vessel or other damage to the vessel. See U.S. Patent Nos. 3,771,121, 4,049,935 and 5,296,659. U.S. Patent No. 5,225,643, assigned to the assignee of the present invention, discloses a differential pressure switch disposed within a pressurized vessel.

A major disadvantage of the above differential pressure switches is the ineffectiveness for differentiating between a drop in pressure attributed to a change in temperature of the gas or a drop in pressure due to a leak.

U.S. Patent Nos. 3,818,764 and 3,944,769 disclose pressure sensors which are temperature compensated by charging the sensor reference chambers with the same gas as the inflator. Thus, the switch must be pressurized and this pressurized gas may also leak. Moreover, continuous adjustment of the pressure is required.

U.S. Patent No. 5,356,176 discloses a complex leakage detecting assembly which generates a signal in response to a change in temperature of the vessel through the use of a plurality of strain gauges and a layered bimetallic disk.

It is an object of the present invention to overcome the deficiencies of the prior art by providing a low pressure sensor which both senses a change in a mass of a fluid, such as compressed gas, of a pressurized vessel due to a leak in the vessel and compensates for temperature changes of the compressed gas.

Another object of the invention is to provide a low gas pressure sensor which compensates for temperature changes of the compressed gas without utilizing a compressed reference gas chamber.

In accomplishing these and other objectives of the present invention, there is provided a low pressure sensing device for sensing a change in a mass of a fluid of a pressurized vessel including a housing disposed within the pressurized vessel. A pressure diaphragm is attached to the housing in communication with the fluid in the pressurized vessel. A retainer is in contact with the pressure diaphragm and is movably disposed within the housing. A temperature sensitive thermostat is also movably disposed within the housing. The thermostat moves in relation to a change in temperature of the fluid. Contact means provide contact between the diaphragm and the thermostat. Spring means disposed in the housing in communication with the retainer, counteract the movement of the thermostat due to a change in temperature of the fluid, wherein when the diaphragm is acted upon by a shift in pressure due to a temperature change of the fluid, the spring means moves the pressure diaphragm at the same rate as the thermostat to maintain contact between the thermostat and the contact means.

The pressure of the gas is measured by the movement of the pressure diaphragm, however, the bimetallic thermostat compensates for pressure changes due to temperature changes, thus the sensor can indicate a loss in the actual mass of the gas present in the inflator.

Other features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of the invention which refers to the accompanying drawings.

Fig. 1 is a cross-section of the low pressure sensor according to the present invention.

Fig. 2 is a cross-section of the housing of the low pressure sensor of the present invention.

Fig. 3 is a cross-section of the pressure diaphragm according to the present invention.

Fig. 4 is a cross-sectional view of the spring backup disc of the low pressure sensor.

Fig. 5 is a cross-sectional view of the thermostat holder of the present invention.

Fig. 6 is a cross-sectional view of the low pressure sensor illustrating a break in contact due to a low pressure condition in a pressurized vessel.

Referring to Fig. 1, in order to verify an undetected gas leak failure, a low pressure sensor (LPS) 10 is installed inside a pressure vessel 40, such as an inflator bottle of a hybrid gas inflator. The low pressure sensor 10 senses a change in the mass of the gas within the vessel 40.

The temperature sensitive low pressure switch of the present invention includes a housing 12, which can, for example, be positioned within the fill port of the bottle. As shown in Figs. 1 and 2, housing 12 includes an upper chamber 11 for receiving a diaphragm 16, a spring retainer 18, and a stack of spring washers 20, all of which will be described further herein. A lower chamber 13 of housing 12 receives a thermostat holder and spring support 28 and a bimetal thermostat 30, which will also be described further herein.

Referring to Figs. 1 and 3, diaphragm 16 is made of thin, circular, flexible metal and may include a spherical convolution 17 to maximize the deflection capability of the diaphragm. Diaphragm 16 is also hermetic to allow pressure to build up on one side 15. Pressure diaphragm 16 is attached to the housing 12 at a shoulder 14 by welding or some other hermetic attachment means, and is responsive to the pressure of the fluid in the vessel.

Floating backup retainer 18 is positioned between spring washers 20 and diaphragm 16. If the springs 20 and backup retainer 18 were not present, the high pressure would burst the thin pressure diaphragm. Backup retainer 18 floats within the upper portion of chamber 11. As shown in Fig. 4, the upper surface of retainer 18 matches the shape of the pressure diaphragm upon engagement of the retainer and diaphragm. As retainer 18 floats within chamber 11, a lip 21 of the retainer abuts against shoulder 14 of the housing to limit the upward movement of the retainer within the housing.

One of the criteria for choosing a pressure sensor is that it must compensate for temperature variations. The low pressure sensor of the present invention is a temperature sensitive device of a simple, low cost design.

The temperature is compensated for by providing bimetallic thermostat 30 which moves at the same rate as the pressure diaphragm 16, when acted upon by a shift in gas pressure due to a temperature change of the gas. Thermostatic bimetals react to temperature by distorting in relation to the temperature change. Bimetals are available in a variety of materials, thickness' and shapes. The bimetal is designed to allow movement at the same rate the spring compresses and expands with relation to temperature and pressure.

The thermostat 30 is in the shape of a disc which may be snap fit within the non-conductive thermostat holder 28. As shown in Fig. 5, holder 28 includes a slot 29 into which the edge of thermostat 30 is received. Holder 28 also includes a central opening 27 through which the contact arm extends.

The pressure of the gas acting upon the diaphragm 16 is counteracted by the stack of spring washers 20. It should be appreciated that a standard coil spring can also be used, however, it would have to be large enough to counteract the given pressures. As force pressure increases or decreases against the diaphragm 16, the spring washers 20 compress and expand respectively with the force.

A contact arm 24 is attached electrically, by welding or other known means, to retainer 18. Contact arm extends towards bimetal thermostat 30 such that electrical contact is made between contact arm 24 and bimetal thermostat 30 when there is adequate gas in the inflator.

As shown in Fig. 6, when pressure drops due to a gas leak in the vessel, pressure diaphragm 16 will move away, (to the right in Fig. 6), under its own bias, disengaging from retainer 18 which also moves rightwardly and away and from thermostat 30. Contact arm 24 attached to retainer 18, will move away, rightwardly as shown in Fig. 6, breaking contact with thermostat 30. Thus, the circuit opens when pressure is lost to gas leakage. Contact arm 24 is designed such that it's tip 25 will compress and spring back to shape when pushed against the thermostat. This is necessary because there is a requirement to proof test the gas bottle to its maximum expected operating pressure (MEOP). The MEOP occurs at high temperature conditions, usually around 6000 psi at 80°C, and the proof test is performed at ambient temperature (21°C). Therefore, the diaphragm and contact arm would move during proof testing, while the thermostat would not move. For this reason, the contact arm must be compressible.

Electric leadwires 32 depicted in Fig. 1, demonstrate how the continuity between the contact arm and thermostat could be verified. There are many other possible means of connecting the contact arm and the thermostat. If the pressure drops below a certain threshold, the sensor circuit is broken which triggers an audible alarm or light illumination 36 (Fig. 1), alerting the vehicle operator that the gas pressure has dropped below a proper operating level.

The total movement of the diaphragm with respect to pressure change is governed by the spring washer size, shape, number, material and stacking configuration.

The total flexing of the bimetal thermostat is governed by size, thickness, geometry and material. Given the wide range of possible design parameters, several designs utilizing the present invention are possible. An example of the calculations required to determine an operational diaphragm/spring washer and bimetal thermostat combination is as follows:

In order for the low pressure sensor of the present invention to function properly the thermostat movement (M) must be equal to the spring movement (Y) and can be expressed as: M = Y

The thermostat movement is defined as: M = (Kbimetal x ΔT x Dthermostat )/ tbimetal where constant Kbimetal = 2.13x10-6 in./°F (for ASTM T2 bimetal), ΔT = temperature change, Dthermostat = diameter of the thermostat, and tbimetal = thickness of the bimetal thermostat.

The spring movement is defined as: Y = Kspring x ΔF x nsprings    where constant Kspring = 5.9 x 10-6 in/lb. (for a spring washer having an outer diameter = 0.75 in., an inner diameter = 0.38 in., a thickness of 0.035 in. and a 0.057 in. taper), nsprings = number of springs in washer stack, and ΔF = change in force.

The change in force is defined as: ΔF = ΔP x Adiaphragm    where ΔP = change in pressure and Adiaphragm = area of the pressure diaphragm.

Example

With a pressure diaphragm having a diameter of 0.6 in., a thermostatic disc having a diameter of 0.75 in., P-30°C = 2200 psi, P+80°C = 4000 psi, and using 5 springs, the spring and bimetal parameters can be calculated as follows: ΔF = ΔP x Adiaphragm ΔF = (4000-2200)lb./ in2 x 0.283 in2 = 510 lb. Y = Kspring x ΔF x nsprings Y = 5.9x 10-6 in/lb. x 510 lb. x 5 springs Y = 0.015 in. M = 0.015 in. tbimetal = Kbimetal x ΔT x Dthermostat / M = (2.13x10-6 in/°F x 198°C x 0.75 in.) / (0.015 in.) tbimetal = 0.021 in.

Therefore, given the above, the bimetal thermostat disc should have a thickness of 0.021 in. in order to move at the same rate as the 5 springs.


Anspruch[en]
  1. A temperature compensating low pressure sensing device (10) for sensing a change in a mass of a fluid of a pressurised vessel (40) due to a leak in the vessel, comprising:
    • a housing (12) disposed within the pressurised vessel;
    • a pressure diaphragm (16) attached to said housing in communication with the fluid in the pressurised vessel;
    • a retainer (18) in contact with said pressure diaphragm and movably disposed within said housing;
    • a temperature sensitive thermostat (30) movably disposed within said housing, said thermostat moving in relation to a change in temperature of the fluid;
    • contact means (24) for providing contact between said diaphragm and said thermostat; and
    • spring means (20) disposed in said housing in communication with said retainer for counteracting the movement of said thermostat due to a change in temperature of the fluid, wherein when said diaphragm is acted upon by a shift in pressure due to a temperature change of the fluid, said spring means moves said pressure diaphragm at the same rate as said thermostat to maintain contact between said thermostat and said contact means.
  2. A low pressure sensing device according to claim 1 wherein said contact means (24) comprises a contact arm attached to said retainer (18) and in contact with said thermostat (30).
  3. A low pressure sensing device according to claim 2, further comprising indicating means (32, 36) for remotely indicating a break in contact between said contact arm (24) and said thermostat (30) due to a loss in pressure which is not due to a change in temperature of the fluid.
  4. A low pressure sensing device according to any preceding claim, wherein said housing includes a first and a second chamber (11, 13).
  5. A low pressure sensing device according to claim 4, wherein said retainer (18) and spring means (20) are disposed in said first chamber (11), and said thermostat (30) is disposed in said second chamber (13).
  6. A low pressure sensing device according to claim 4 or claim 5, wherein said contact means (24) comprises a contact arm extending through both said first and second chambers (11, 13).
  7. A low pressure sensing device according to any one of claims 4 to 6, further comprising a thermostat holder (28) disposed in said second chamber (13) for retaining said thermostat (30) therein.
  8. A low pressure sensing device according to any preceding claim, wherein said temperature sensitive thermostat (30) comprises a bimetallic disc.
  9. A low pressure sensing device according to any preceding claim, wherein said spring means (20) comprises a plurality of stacked spring washers and wherein movement of said diaphragm (16) with respect to a change in the pressure depends on the size of each spring washer and the number of spring washers.
  10. A temperature compensating low pressure sensing device (10) according to any preceding claim wherein said pressurised vessel (40) is an inflator of a vehicle safety restraint assembly.






IPC
A Täglicher Lebensbedarf
B Arbeitsverfahren; Transportieren
C Chemie; Hüttenwesen
D Textilien; Papier
E Bauwesen; Erdbohren; Bergbau
F Maschinenbau; Beleuchtung; Heizung; Waffen; Sprengen
G Physik
H Elektrotechnik

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