Schurter's PTC products are made from a conductive plastic formed into thin sheets with electrodes attached to either side. The conductive plastic is manufactured from a nonconductive crystalline polymer and a highly conductive carbon black. The electrodes ensure even distribution of power through the device and provide a surface for leads to be attached or for custom mounting. The phenomenon that allows conductive plastic materials to be used for resettable overcurrent protection devices is that they exhibit a very large non-linear positive temperature coefficient (PTC) effect when heated. PTC is a characteristic that many materials exhibit whereby resistance increases with temperature. What makes the Schurter PTC conductive plastic material unique is the magnitude of its resistance increase. At a specific transition temperature, the increase in resistance is so great that it is typically expressed on a log scale.
The conductive carbon black filler material in the PTC fuse device is dispersed in a polymer that has a crystalline structure. The crystalline structure densely packs the carbon particles into its crystalline boundary so they are close enough together to allow current to flow through the polymer insulator via these carbon "chains." When the conductive plastic material is at normal room temperature, there are numerous carbon chains forming conductive paths through the material.
Under fault conditions, excessive current flows through the PTC fuse device. I2R heating causes the conductive plastic material's temperature to rise. As this self-heating continues, the material's temperature continues to rise until it exceeds its phase transformation temperature. As the material passes through this phase transformation temperature, the densely packed crystalline polymer matrix changes to an amorphous structure. This phase change is accompanied by a small expansion. As the conductive particles move apart from each other, most of them no longer conduct current and the resistance of the device increases sharply.
The material will stay "hot," remaining in this high resistance state as long as the power is applied. The device will remain latched, providing continuous protection, until the fault is cleared and the power is removed. Reversing the phase transformation allows the carbon chains to re-form as the polymer re-crystallizes. The resistance quickly returns to its original value.