Fixed Capacitor


A fixed capacitor is constructed in such manner that it possesses a fixed value of capacitance which cannot be adjusted. A fixed capacitor is classified according to the type of material used as its dielectric, such as paper, oil, mica, or electrolyte.



 is made of flat thin strips of metal foil conductors that are separated by waxed paper (the dielectric material). Paper capacitors usually range in value from about 300 picofarads to about 4 microfarads. The working voltage of a paper capacitor rarely exceeds 600 volts. Paper capacitors are sealed with wax to prevent the harmful effects of moisture and to prevent corrosion and leakage.

Many different kinds of outer covering are used on paper capacitors, the simplest being a tubular cardboard covering. Some types of paper capacitors are encased in very hard plastic. These types are very rugged and can be used over a much wider temperature range than can the tubular cardboard type. Figure 3-15(A) shows the construction of a tubular paper capacitor; part 3-15(B) shows a completed cardboard-encased capacitor.


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Figure (15). - Paper capacitor.



is made of metal foil plates that are separated by sheets of mica (the dielectric). The whole assembly is encased in molded plastic. Figure (16-A) shows a cut-away view of a mica capacitor. Because the capacitor parts are molded into a plastic case, corrosion and damage to the plates and dielectric are prevented. In addition, the molded plastic case makes the capacitor mechanically stronger. Various types of terminals are used on mica capacitors to connect them into circuits. These terminals are also molded into the plastic case.

Mica is an excellent dielectric and can withstand a higher voltage than can a paper dielectric of the same thickness. Common values of mica capacitors range from approximately 50 picofarads to 0.02 microfarad. Some different shapes of mica capacitors are shown in figure (16-B).


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Figure (16). - Typical mica capacitors.


 is so named because it contains a ceramic dielectric. One type of ceramic capacitor uses a hollow ceramic cylinder as both the form on which to construct the capacitor and as the dielectric material. The plates consist of thin films of metal deposited on the ceramic cylinder.

A second type of ceramic capacitor is manufactured in the shape of a disk. After leads are attached to each side of the capacitor, the capacitor is completely covered with an insulating moisture-proof coating. Ceramic capacitors usually range in value from 1 picofarad to 0.01 microfarad and may be used with voltages as high as 30,000 volts. Some different shapes of ceramic capacitors are shown in figure (17).

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Figure (17). - Ceramic capacitors.



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Examples of ceramic capacitors.


is used where a large amount of capacitance is required. As the name implies, an electrolytic capacitor contains an electrolyte. This electrolyte can be in the form of a liquid (wet electrolytic capacitor). The wet electrolytic capacitor is no longer in popular use due to the care needed to prevent spilling of the electrolyte.


A dry electrolytic capacitor consists essentially of two metal plates separated by the electrolyte. In most cases the capacitor is housed in a cylindrical aluminum container which acts as the negative terminal of the capacitor (see fig. 18). The positive terminal (or terminals if the capacitor is of the multisection type) is a lug (or lugs) on the bottom end of the container. The capacitance value(s) and the voltage rating of the capacitor are generally printed on the side of the aluminum case.


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Figure (18). - Construction of an electrolytic capacitor.


An example of a multisection electrolytic capacitor is illustrated in figure (18-B). The four lugs at the end of the cylindrical aluminum container indicates that four electrolytic capacitors are enclosed in the can. Each section of the capacitor is electrically independent of the other sections. It is possible for one section to be defective while the other sections are still good.


The can is the common negative connection to the four capacitors. Separate terminals are provided for the positive plates of the capacitors. Each capacitor is identified by an embossed mark adjacent to the lugs, as shown in figure (18-B). Note the identifying marks used on the electrolytic capacitor are the half moon, the triangle, the square, and no embossed mark. By looking at the bottom of the container and the identifying sheet pasted to the side of the container, you can easily identify the value of each section.


Internally, the electrolytic capacitor is constructed similarly to the paper capacitor. The positive plate consists of aluminum foil covered with an extremely thin film of oxide. This thin oxide film (which is formed by an electrochemical process) acts as the dielectric of the capacitor. Next to and in contact with the oxide is a strip of paper or gauze which has been impregnated with a paste-like electrolyte. The electrolyte acts as the negative plate of the capacitor. A second strip of aluminum foil is then placed against the electrolyte to provide electrical contact to the negative electrode (the electrolyte). When the three layers are in place they are rolled up into a cylinder as shown in figure (18-A).


An electrolytic capacitor has two primary disadvantages compared to a paper capacitor in that the electrolytic type is POLARIZED and has a LOW LEAKAGE RESISTANCE. This means that should the positive plate be accidentally connected to the negative terminal of the source, the thin oxide film dielectric will dissolve and the capacitor will become a conductor (i.e., it will short). The polarity of the terminals is normally marked on the case of the capacitor. Since an electrolytic capacitor is polarity sensitive, its use is ordinarily restricted to a dc circuit or to a circuit where a small ac voltage is superimposed on a dc voltage. Special electrolytic capacitors are available for certain ac applications, such as a motor starting capacitor. Dry electrolytic capacitors vary in size from about 4 microfarads to several thousand microfarads and have a working voltage of approximately 500 volts.


The type of dielectric used and its thickness govern the amount of voltage that can safely be applied to the electrolytic capacitor. If the voltage applied to the capacitor is high enough to cause the atoms of the dielectric material to become ionized, arcing between the plates will occur. In most other types of capacitors, arcing will destroy the capacitor. However, an electrolytic capacitor has the ability to be self-healing. If the arcing is small, the electrolytic will regenerate itself. If the arcing is too large, the capacitor will not self-heal and will become defective.


OIL CAPACITORS are often used in high-power electronic equipment. An oil-filled capacitor is nothing more than a paper capacitor that is immersed in oil. Since oil impregnated paper has a high dielectric constant, it can be used in the production of capacitors having a high capacitance value. Many capacitors will use oil with another dielectric material to prevent arcing between the plates. If arcing should occur between the plates of an oil-filled capacitor, the oil will tend to reseal the hole caused by the arcing. Such a capacitor is referred to as a SELF-HEALING capacitor.


A variable capacitor is constructed in such manner that its value of capacitance can be varied. A typical variable capacitor (adjustable capacitor) is the rotor-stator type. It consists of two sets of metal plates arranged so that the rotor plates move between the stator plates. Air is the dielectric. As the position of the rotor is changed, the capacitance value is likewise changed. This type of capacitor is used for tuning most radio receivers. Its physical appearance and its symbol are shown in figure (19).


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Figure (19). - Rotor-stator type variable capacitor.


Another type of variable capacitor (trimmer capacitor) and its symbol are shown in figure 3-20. This capacitor consists of two plates separated by a sheet of mica. A screw adjustment is used to vary the distance between the plates, thereby changing the capacitance.

Figure (20). - Trimmer capacitor.

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Although the capacitance value may be printed on the body of a capacitor, it may also be indicated by a color code. The color code used to represent capacitance values is similar to that used to represent resistance values. The color codes currently in use are the Joint Army-Navy (JAN) code and the Radio Manufacturers' Association (RMA) code.


For each of these codes, colored dots or bands are used to indicate the value of the capacitor. A mica capacitor, it should be noted, may be marked with either three dots or six dots. Both the three- and the six-dot codes are similar, but the six-dot code contains more information about electrical ratings of the capacitor, such as working voltage and temperature coefficient.

The capacitor shown in figure (21) represents either a mica capacitor or a molded paper capacitor. To determine the type and value of the capacitor, hold the capacitor so that the three arrows point left to right (>).

The first dot at the base of the arrow sequence (the left-most dot) represents the capacitor TYPE. This dot is either black, white, silver, or the same color as the capacitor body. Mica is represented by a black or white dot and paper by a silver dot or dot having the same color as the body of the capacitor. The two dots to the immediate right of the type dot indicate the first and second digits of the capacitance value.

 The dot at the bottom right represents the multiplier to be used. The multiplier represents picofarads. The dot in the bottom center indicates the tolerance value of the capacitor.


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Figure (21). - 6-dot color code for mica and molded paper capacitors.


Example of mica capacitors.

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Example of mica capacitors.

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To read the capacitor color code on the above capacitor:

Hold the capacitor so the arrows point left to right.

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Read the first dot.

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Read the first digit dot.

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Read the second digit dot and apply it to the first digit.

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Read the multiplier dot and multiply the first two digits by multiplier (Remember that the multiplier is in picofarads).

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Lastly, read the tolerance dot.

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According to the above coding, the capacitor is a mica capacitor whose capacitance is 1200 pF with a tolerance of 6%.

The capacitor shown in figure 3-22 is a tubular capacitor. Because this type of capacitor always has a paper dielectric, the type code is omitted. To read the code, hold the capacitor so the band closest to the end is on the left side; then read left to right. The last two bands (the fifth and sixth bands from the left) represent the voltage rating of the capacitor. This means that if a capacitor is coded red, red, red, yellow, yellow, yellow, it has the following digit values:



red=X 100 pF





Figure (22). - 6-band color code for tubular paper dielectric capacitors.


The six digits indicate a capacitance of 2200 pF with a 40 percent tolerance and a working voltage of 44 volts.

The ceramic capacitor is color coded as shown in figure (23) and the mica capacitor as shown in figure (24).

Notice that this type of mica capacitor differs from the one shown in figure (21) in that the arrow is solid instead of broken. This type of mica capacitor is read in the same manner as the one shown in figure (21), with one exception: the first dot indicates the first digit. (Note: Because this type of capacitor is always mica, there is no need for a type dot.)

Figure (23). - Ceramic capacitor color code.

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Figure 3-24. - Mica capacitor color code.

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