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A characteristic time that governs the approach of an exponential function to a steady-state value. When a physical quantity is varying as a decreasing exponential function of time as in Eq. (1), or as an increasing exponential function as in Eq. (2), the approach to the steady-state value achieved after a long time is governed by a characteristic time T as given in Eq. (3). This time T is called the time constant. (1)
The initial rate of change of both the increasing and decreasing functions is equal to the maximum amplitude of the function divided by the time constant.
The concept of time constant is useful when evaluating the presence of transient phenomena.
time constantSymbol: τ. A measure of the speed with which an electronic system can respond to a sudden change at its input.
a generalized parameter that describes the dynamic properties (time lag) of a given entity and that has the dimension of time. Any complex physical process can be represented as a set of simpler processes, each of which can be mathematically described by a first- or second-order linear differential equation. These simple processes are called basic components in the theory of automatic control. For example, a first-order aperiodic basic component is described by the equation
where x is the input coordinate, y the output coordinate, k a proportionality factor, and T the time constant.
Time constants are widely used to calculate the dynamics of various entities or processes under study. Thus, the heating of a substance within a closed container at constant ambient temperature is described by the equation
where m is the mass and c the heat capacity of the substance, a is the coefficient of heat transfer into the medium surrounding the container, F is the reduced cooling surface, Θ is the ambient temperature, Θ0 is the initial temperature of the substance, and p is the heat energy suddenly imparted to the substance from a heater at the initial moment of time t = 0. The change in the temperature of the substance is determined by the equation
where T = mc/ α F is the time constant. The greater the time constant, the less rapidly the heating proceeds.
The time constant of transient phenomena in electric circuits characterizes the rate at which current or voltage varies in the circuit. For example, when a capacitor with capacitance C is charged from a DC source with electromotive force E. through a resistance r that is much greater than the internal resistance of the current source, the voltage across the capacitor plates varies according to the law
uc = E(1 - e-1/T)
where T = rC is the time constant that determines the rate at which the charging process occurs. The time constant of an electric circuit with inductance L is L/r.
A. V. KOCHEROV