Highly sensitive vertical hall sensors in CMOS technology

Vertical Hall sensors are capable of measuring surface-parallel components of the magnetic field. They allow therefore relatively easy conception of single-chip multi-axial magnetic sensors compared to solutions using horizontal Hall plates. The modern trend in the field of Hall sensors is to integrate them into electronic circuitry for signal processing. Before this thesis, highly sensitive vertical Hall sensors completely compatible to a technology adequate for co-integration of electronic circuitry were not available. This is the reason why we present in this thesis the developed knowledge that is necessary for the design and manufacture of highly sensitive vertical Hall sensors in CMOS technology. We first present the principles of the technology choice. A wide selection of CMOS processes is presently available, but in order to obtain optimal sensitivity we have to choose "the right" one. The performances can vary easily by 50% from one technology to another. The best choice are CMOS high-voltage technologies since they deliver n-diffusion layers with relatively low doping level and deep junction depth. We present a novel layout of vertical Hall sensors that has six contacts in the active sensor zone and is a development of the known layout that uses only four contacts. The additional contacts improve the sensitivity and reduce the systematic offset considerably. If we re-use layouts that were optimal for not-CMOS compatible technologies, we will see that the results are not satisfying. We have to develop our specific design parameters that are optimal for the chosen technology. The key for high sensitivities is the strong miniaturization of the devices down to technological limits given by the design rules, but sometimes even beyond that. Some of the design rules can be broken with benefit for the obtained sensor devices. In general, minimum contact sizes and contact distances are preferable as well as a minimum sensor thickness. The difficulty is however to find the absolute minimum before device degradation or even failure will occur. Our optimized sensors achieved voltage related sensitivities of about 0.04 V/(VT) and current related-sensitivities up to 400 V/(AT) that are comparable to existing CMOS compatible horizontal Hall plates. Such sensitivities were never reported for a standard CMOS process, without any additional pre- or post-processing steps. The miniaturization of the Hall devices has however also negative aspects e.g. an increase in sensor offset, noise and output non-linearity. Although Hall sensors have many advantages in comparison to other magnetic sensors (simple structure, low fabrication costs, very good linearity, robustness) they have the drawback of a big Abstract offset voltage that is often too big for many applications. This is why an enormous effort was made by researchers in the past to develop offset reduction methods for horizontal Hall plates. We state in this thesis that, in principle, the same techniques are applicable on vertical Hall sensors but for an optimal efficiency certain principles/parameters have to be respected. We reveal the relations of important parameters as the type of layout (number of sensor contacts), the use of single or coupled sensors, the type of spinning-current, bias level etc. In the optimal case we can obtain residual offset values lower than 200 μT for bias voltages up to 2 V. The spinning current method was originally developed for offset compensation, but it has other beneficial influences on the sensor output signal as well. It is capable to remove a large amount of flicker noise if the spinning is executes at adequately high clock frequencies. We show that the efficiency of flicker noise removal is dependent on the bias current through the sensor. We discovered another positive side effect of the spinning-current method: the elimination of the planar Hall effect. While the planar Hall sensitivity for our sensors is initially about 1% of the normal one at B = 2 T, we obtain with the compensation technique values of only 0.02%. After the presentation of general characteristics of the separate sensors, we present two microsystems based on the developed vertical Hall sensors. At first, we present a 2D magnetic microsystem which is well adapted for the construction of contactless angular encoders with a measurement range of 360°. We profit here especially from the very low offset (< 400 μT) obtained with the spinning current method, since offset is in general the main source of angular errors in such systems. Existing angular measurement systems need in general a special (offset) calibration of the sensor unit in order to achieve an accuracy of 2.5‰ full scale. We obtain such a precision directly with our system for a wide temperature range from -30 to 100 °C. With one specific sensor calibration for the compensation of residual offset, sensitivity mismatch and phase mismatch of the two axes, we attain a precision of about 0.5‰ FS over the same temperature range, a performance never before reported with a magnetic sensor system. The microsystem is therefore an excellent candidate for the majority of low-cost angular measurement applications. As a second example we presented the first fully CMOS integrated three-dimensional Hall probe, consisting of a combination of one Hall plate and four vertical Hall devices. The microsystem allows an application as a universal magnetic field probe in the wide field range from 0.1 mT to 20 T. The probe can be easily used for small volumes because of its small size and the fact that the signal processing circuitry already is directly integrated onto the chip. The precision as a 3D magnetometer is limited by the sensitivity mismatch of about 5% FS. The probe is an ideal candidate for low-cost teslameter applications with limited precision.

    Thèse École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL, n° 3134 (2004)
    Section de microtechnique
    Faculté des sciences et techniques de l'ingénieur
    Institut de microélectronique et microsystèmes
    Jury: Max-Olivier Hongler, Oliver Paul, Philippe Renaud, Christian Schott

    Public defense: 2004-12-17


    Record created on 2005-03-16, modified on 2016-08-08


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