EducationHow do thermocouples work - Types of thermocouples

How do thermocouples work – Types of thermocouples

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Thermocouples are possibly the most commonly used detectors for measuring temperature. They’re employed in labs, industry, transport, measurement and management devices. They’re employed in several data acquisition systems, such as devices with a great number of channels, automatically entering information and controlling industrial processes. Thermocouple cards can also be utilized in scanners, thermal imaging systems and military gear.

Regardless of their widespread adoption, thermocouples seem to be the least known temperature detectors. There are several distinct kinds of thermocouples and also so as to acquire correct measurement outcomes using them particular care must correctly select metallic pairs, remove present restrictions and see to the measurement information appropriately.

How do thermocouples work

From the early 19th century, German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck found that contact between two metals generates a voltage that’s a function of temperature. A thermocouple is just a practical program of Seebeck’s phenomenon. It’s a temperature detector comprising two wires made from different metals joined together at the same end. These alloys are tagged”alloy 1″ along with”alloy 2″ in Figure 1 and also shape contacts J1 and J4.

How do thermocouples work

Historically, temperature measurements with thermocouples have depended on another thermocouple to measure a known temperature for a reference temperature. The simplest and most exact means to get the reference temperature was supposed to immerse the benchmark touch (J4) in an ice bath, that resulted in the title”cold touch”. The size of the voltage so generated today is dependent upon the temperature gap between connections J1 and J4 and about the kinds of metals used in alloy 1 and alloy 2. The outcome can be explained by the following equation:


Where α is the Seebeck coefficient. Various thermocouples have various coefficients, the worth of that are printed in the majority of thermocouple advice notes. With this setup, we all needed to do is read the voltagethen locate the corresponding temperature at the table to get metal 1/alloy two of the thermocouple comparative to 0°C.

Be aware that linking a thermocouple into a voltmeter produces added, possibly undesirable contacts J2 and J3. In consequence, these connections can also be thermocouples, however they also have a similar makeup and opposite polarity. When the temperatures of connections J2 and J3 are exactly the same (a state which may be reached relatively easily by appropriate hardware layout ), then all these connections won’t influence the measurement. We’ve just got a simple model which may be employed to create it into a fancy thermocouple scanning system.

Linearization in thermocouple measurements

Inside the Usable temperature array of any thermocouple, a proportional relationship between thermocouple voltage and temperature could be discerned. And there’s not any doubt that this relationship is linear. In actuality, the majority of thermocouples are really nonlinear within their working temperature range. To acquire temperature data, it’s essential to convert the nonlinear thermocouple voltage to temperature units. This practice is known as linearization.

Several Methods are generally utilized to linearize thermocouples. On the range of solutions on the very minimal price side, this type of system will be to restrict the functioning scope to where the thermocouple is almost linear. In the opposite end of the spectrum are all particular thermocouple interface components (integrated circuits or modules) to execute both linearization and reference touch settlement at the analog realm. Generally speaking, neither system is ideal to cheap multipoint data acquisition methods.

Additionally Into linearization of thermocouples from the analog realm, it’s also feasible to execute this kind of operation from the electronic domain. This can be achieved by linear approximations (using arrays), arithmetic approximations, or, in some instances, a mix of the two approaches. To illustrate how a normal linearization of a thermocouple at the electronic domain is carried out let us examine a very simple example. Suppose that the hot contact of some kind 1 thermocouple is placed in hot water in 100°C, along with the cold touch, situated close to the measuring tool, comes with a room temperature of 25°C. Needless to say, the system must finally report 100°C since the measurement outcome. The measures that lead to the effect are explained below.

The Following formula determines the measured output of the thermocouple:

Vmeasured = Vhot – Vcold

Where: Vmeasured is that the voltage measured from the data acquisition approach, Vhot is your hot contact voltage originated by the sweep table, also VCold is your cold touch voltage read by the vanity.

According to the J-type thermocouple sweep tables, which always assume a reference to 0°C:

Vhot (100°C) = 5,278mV

Vcold (25°C) = 1,019mV

Thus, the voltage read by the data acquisition instrument will be:

Vmeasured = 5,268 – 1,019 = 4,249mV

Actually, once the hot junction temperature (100°C) isn’t known, the inverse procedure is done. The information acquisition device takes two voltage measurements: 1 in the thermocouple (4.249mV) and a single in the cold mention junction Vnew (notice that Vnew differs from Vcold). The program is going to perform the calculations. It’ll convert Vnew into the current cold junction temperature, Tcold (25°C), depending on the attributes of this cold junction detector. Together with Tcold, the program will compute its equal voltage (1.019mV) based on this Outlook sweep tables. It is going to subsequently add this voltage into the compression (1.019 + 4.249 = 5.268mV) to get the consequent hot junction voltage. The last step is to convert the hot contact voltage (5.268mV) into the current temperature (100°C) with exactly the identical J-search table.

Thermocouple alloys, extensions, terminals and other connections

When thermocouples are connected to the terminals of information acquisition boards or alternative reading devices, connections are created out of added contacts which could generate undesirable thermoelectric voltages. A copper output inserted into a copper socket won’t create a voltage. But a Constantan tip or socket wrapped round a copper wire will produce a J-type thermocouple touch which may generate a thermoelectric voltage. An extension cable and connector made from thermocouple metals can make a metal-like link. You simply have to pay attention to every cable and tip across the whole thermocouple circuit to be certain no unwanted contacts have been shaped in the circuit.

Also mention that the purity of these alloys directly impacts the accuracy of the temperatures calculated by the contact voltage. The cable used to generate the detectors has a greater precision compared to”extender tier” used to cable the thermocouples used for remote measurements. It’s necessary to bear this in mind when constructing thermocouple circuits

The Match of a thermocouple for any particular program, as well as the option of wire alloy, may also be impacted by the housing. A functioning thermocouple could be assembled of the exposed ends of a set of wires twisted together. On the other hand, the most reliable and logical approach to create a thermocouple would be to weld the cables together. Real-world applications frequently need that thermocouples be encapsulated and protected against the environment or supplied with a holder, probes, and also other elements best suited to the particular application. The sheath is quite important since it protects the thermocouple from contamination and physical damage brought on by corrosive materials, fluids, and other environmental effects. Common sheath materials include steel, iron and stainless steel, ceramic and porcelain.

  • Thermocouple Component – 2 wires made of unique alloys that make a voltage when subjected to a temperature gradient,
  • Sheath – a tube of metal or other substance, generally closed at one end, which protects the thermocouple part from environmental effects,
  • Lead Block – a pair of connectors (optional) to facilitate connection of the thermocouple into a measuring device or expansion wires. The physical layout of these leads must be so it protects against reverse relationship,
  • Thermocouple Extensions – extension cable, made of precisely exactly the exact identical metallic alloy because the thermocouple element.

Temperature Range also has to be taken into account when choosing the sheath material. Some are much better suited to elevated temperatures or offer longer life in competitive environments. In the same way, the insulating material, positioned in the thermocouple and extension cable, has to be assessed for its capacity to withstand the temperatures and physical harm that happens in a specific application. Another important thing which absolutely must be contemplated is that the electrical and mechanical interface between the thermocouple part and also the external world:

Exposed contact – that the thermocouple cables are unprotected. In Cases like This, the detectors have small thermal mass and therefore are subjected directly to the external world, providing the quickest reaction to temperature fluctuations,

Grounded Contact – that the thermocouple cables are fully covered by the sheath and connected to it. A grounded contact provides a moderate response time along with an electric connection to this sheath, Ungrounded touch – that the thermocouple cables are entirely covered by the sheath however are isolated from it. The ungrounded touch provides the slowest reaction to temperature fluctuations.

The Overall reaction time of this thermocouple is dependent not simply on the plan of this suggestion, but additionally on the width of the case and the kind of material used to create it and also the surrounding environment. Response times may differ from tenths of a second to several minutes.

Types of thermocouples

Types of Thermocouples can be divided into three groups depending on the measurement range:

Temperature rangeThermocouple wire materials
Group I-200 .. +1200°Cno precious metals
Group II0 .. +1800°Cplatinum-rhodium
Group III0 .. +2200°Ctungsten-rhenium

Standard thermocouples (without precious metals) – group I

The most widely used types of thermocouple are E, J, L, K, N and T, which utilize generally available metals like nickel, copper and iron (no precious metals). The measuring range of conventional thermocouple detectors, based on the type of thermocouple, is at the array of -200. . .1200°C.

  • Thermocouple type J (Fe-CuNi) is made of iron (Fe) combined with Constantan (CuNi). Application range of J-type thermocouple is -40…+750°C and sensitivity is – 55µV/°C. Thermocouples type J (Fe-CuNi) are designed for temperature measurement in neutral, reducing, oxidizing atmosphere as well as in vacuum.
  • Thermocouple type K (NiCr-Ni) is made of NiCr-Ni alloy, the application range of thermocouple type K is typically -200…+1200°C and their sensitivity is 41µV/°C. Thermocouples type K have higher resistance to oxidation than E, J and T type thermocouples but it is not recommended to use K type thermocouples in reducing atmosphere and vacuum.
  • The L-type thermocouple (Fe-CuNi) is made of iron (Fe) combined with Constantan (CuNi). Application range of J-type thermocouple is -40…+750°C and sensitivity is – 55µV/°C. Thermocouples type J (Fe-CuNi) are designed for temperature measurement in neutral, reducing, oxidizing atmosphere as well as in vacuum.
  • Thermocouple type N (NiCrSi-NiSi) is made of NiCrSi-NiSi alloy, the temperature measurement range of thermocouple type N is typically -200… +1200°C and the sensitivity is 39µV/°C. Type N thermocouples are resistant to oxidation even at high temperatures.
  • T-type thermocouple (Cu-CuNi) consists of Cu-CuNi, T-type thermocouples are designed for temperature measurement in the range -200…+350°C. The sensitivity of T-type thermocouple is 30µV/°C. They are suitable for temperature measurements in oxidizing, reducing, neutral and vacuum atmospheres.

Group I: at the temperature range between -200°C into +1200°C, there are not any valuable metals in those thermocouples. This group comprises thermocouples:

Type “K”
It is used in the temperature range from -200 to +1200°C. The temperature dependence of SEM for this thermocouple is nearly linear, and its sensitivity is 41µV/°C.
Type “J” and “L”
It is less relevant in industry due to the limited range of temperatures measured (-40°C to +750°C). Their sensitivity is 55µV/°C.
Type “E”
Due to its high sensitivity (68µV/°C), this type of thermocouple is primarily used in the low cryogenic temperature range of -200 to +900°C. It is a non-magnetic material, which can be a valuable advantage in some special applications. 
Type “N”
This thermocouple has very good thermal stability, comparable to platinum thermocouples. It also shows excellent resistance to oxidation up to high temperatures. It is ideal for accurate temperature measurements in air up to +1200°C. The sensitivity is 39µV/°C. 
Type “T”
This is the most rarely used type of thermocouple. Its measuring range is from -200°C to +350°C and sensitivity is 30µV/oC.

High temperature thermocouples, platinum thermocouples – group II

The type of thermocouples are high temperature thermocouples (so-called platinum thermocouples). Platinum thermocouples are made from noble metals, mainly platinum and nickel doped with rhodium. These thermocouples are kind B (PtRh30-PtRh6), R (PtRh13-Pt) and S (PtRh10-Pt)they vary from rhodium content. Platinum thermocouples are primarily intended for high temperature measurement around +1600°C (thermocouples type R, S) as well as +1800°C (thermocouples type B).

  • Thermocouple type S (PtRh10-Pt) consists of platinum and rhodium alloy PtRh10-Pt. Thermocouples type S are designed for temperature measurement in range up to +1600°C. The sensitivity of S-type thermocouple is 10µV/°C. They are suitable for temperature measurements in oxidizing atmosphere, neutral atmosphere and in vacuum (not recommended in reducing atmosphere).
  • Thermocouple type R (PtRh13-Pt) consists of platinum and rhodium alloy PtRh13-Pt. Thermocouples type R are designed for temperature measurement in range up to +1600°C. The sensitivity of R-type thermocouple is 14µV/°C. They are suitable for temperature measurements in oxidizing atmosphere, neutral atmosphere and in vacuum (not recommended in reducing atmosphere).
  • Thermocouple type B (PtRh30-PtRh6) consists of platinum and rhodium alloy PtRh30-PtRh6. Thermocouples type B are designed for temperature measurement in range up to +1800°C. The sensitivity of thermocouple B is 12µV/°C. They are suitable for temperature measurements in oxidizing atmosphere, neutral atmosphere and in vacuum (not recommended in reducing atmosphere).

Platinum thermocouples are Considerably more expensive than standard J, E, H, L, N and T type thermocouples and may be damaged since they’re put in ceramic sheaths.

Group II: thermocouples at the Range from 0°C into +1800°C (platinum-rhodium). This group includes thermocouples:

Type “S”
They are typically used in highly oxidizing atmospheres in the high temperature range up to +1600°C. Sensitivity is approximately 10µV/°C.
Type “R”
Similar to thermocouple “S” used in highly oxidizing atmospheres but have higher sensitivity – about 14µV/°C.
Type “B”
Allows temperature measurement up to +1800°C. Very stable thermocouple, but not very sensitive especially in the lower temperature range.

Very high temperature thermocouples (tungsten-rhenium) – group III

For measuring very high Temperatures, tungsten-rhenium thermocouples are employed, these are types C (W5%Re-W26%Re) or D (W3%Re-W25%Re) thermocouples. All these types of thermocouples can measure temperatures in the range around 2300°C.

Jacketed thermoelectric sensors (jacketed thermocouples).

Sheathed thermocouples (so-called sheathed detectors ) are a distinct set of thermoelectric sensors because of their construction and operating characteristics.

Particular technical requirements Have caused the evolution of jacketed thermocouples (so-called sheathed thermocouples). Sheathed thermocouples are characterized by small size, higher insulation resistance, higher resistance to aggressive environment and the chance of completely totally free forming of sheath.

Sheathed thermocouples are Constructed together: Construction of a sheathed thermocouple

Sheathed thermocouples
  • Two thermocouple wires welded together (thermoelectrodes).
  • An insulation layer made of highly compressed magnesium oxide (MgO) ensuring high insulation resistance.
  • The outer metal sheath provides mechanical and chemical protection for the measuring junction and thermocouple wires.

Sheathed sensors have thermocouple wires welded at one end to form a measuring junction. The junction can be isolated from the sheath, welded to the sheath or not exposed at all. The other end of the sheathed thermocouple is terminated with a suitable electrical connection, which can be:

  • an aluminium head with a ceramic block equipped with electric terminals,
  • compensated thermocouple connector (plug or socket),
  • compensation, extension or thermocouple wire,
  • free thermocouple wires without insulation.

Jacketed thermocouples have many advantages and are characterized by:

  • small outer diameter and high flexibility,
  • high mechanical resistance,
  • thermocouple wires are shielded and protected from oxidation, corrosion and chemical contamination,
  • short response time, which allows to measure rapidly changing processes and temperatures.

Due to an proper structure and robust compression of insulating material, sheathed thermocouples are extremely flexible and may be shaped by the user using the minimal bending radius. The advocated bending radius of a sheathed thermocouple will be minute. 3 outer diameters of this sheath. Little outer diameter of thermocouple sheath allows temperature measurement in regions with difficult access and anyplace in which it’s imperative to utilize temperature detectors of high resistance to shocks and vibrations and concurrently of short reaction time to temperature shift.

In order to choose a proper thermocouple design the following parameters have to be specified:

  • type of thermocouple,
  • Sheath material,
  • Sheath diameter,
  • type of measuring junction,
  • type of electrical connection (head, cable, plug, etc.).

Diameter of thermoelectric sensors Along with sheathed thermocouples:The width of the sheath and sheath determines the life span of the thermocouple, its immunity to the warmth and states of the medium has been measured, and its reaction time. When Choosing a diameter, then a compromise has to be made between:

  • Response time,
  • flexibility.
  • Small dimensions,
  • temperature resistance,
  • mechanical resistance,
  • corrosion resistance.

Group III: thermocouples in the range from 0°C to +2200°C (tungsten-rhenium).

Type “C” Tungsten-Rhenium / 5% TungstenThese thermocouples are used to measure very high temperatures up to +2300°C, in a reducing, inert atmosphere or in a vacuum.
Type “D” Tungsten-Rhenium / 25% TungstenThese thermocouples are used to measure very high temperatures up to +2300°C, in a reducing, inert atmosphere or in a vacuum.

Based upon the materials utilized, thermocouples can generate different thermoelectric voltages. The connections between the voltage generated by the thermocouple and the temperatures are normalized.

thermocouples characteristics

RTD thermocouples

A accuracy RTD thermocouples is constructed from thin platinum cable and contains a normal resistance of hundreds of ohms, e.g. PT-100 is a 100-ohm detector. It’s used for temperature measurements in the range of -200°C into 850°C. The resistance of the RTD thermocouples varies roughly 0.386 ohms per degree, and also at 0°C is about the order of 100 ohms for its PT-100.

A accuracy RTD thermocouples is constructed from thin platinum cable and contains a normal resistance of hundreds of ohms, e.g. PT-100 is a 100-ohm detector. It's used for temperature measurements in the range of -200°C into 850°C. The resistance of the RTD thermocouples varies roughly 0.386 ohms per degree, and also at 0°C is about the order of 100 ohms for its PT-100.

Therefore, The truth of resistive temperature detectors depends mostly upon the resistance of the cables. Even the RTD thermocouple is stimulated by a constant current, along with a 3-wire or 4-wire technique is utilized to measure the voltage. If the RTD is not anywhere near the measurement method, the 3-wire way is preferred due to the reduce wiring price.

If high Measurement precision is needed, the 4-wire setup is favored. The input impedance of the measurement route has to be quite large to get rid of the effect of input and thermoelectric voltages generated at the detector and measurement machine connections. The LTC2983 Supports all accessible RTD detectors from PT-10 into PT-1000 in addition to NI-120 and Has built-in correction factors such as EN, US and JP criteria. The high precision Of this A/D converter ensures great precision, as for PT-100 along with 100 µA excitation 1°C corresponds to your 4 µV change in measurement voltage.

rtd thermocouples 2

The LTC2983 utilizes the dimension circuit of Figure 2, where the circuits which excite the detector from a current source are separated in the measurement circuits. Additionally, this provides for input voltage filtering and ESD protection of their input terminals – this can be allowed by four extra resistors with values of approximately 10 kΩ.

They Are big enough to guarantee decent filtration, however in precisely exactly the identical time the measuring circuits attached to this network should possess reduced offset, noise and drift, since unfortunately the used deltasigma converter is more vulnerable to interference and high resistances can lead to unstable measurement result. In other words, on the one hand, big resistances from the measuring circuit are all needed due to interference, and on the flip side, undesirable due to errors because of non-idealities from the measuring circuits.

The maker has coped with the issue of measurement precision in this case using two concurrent working A/D converters, among which measures and the other acts as a reference. This makes it feasible to ascertain the detector resistance and RSENSE worth and supply dimensions in 2-wire, 3-wire along with 4-wire topologies. This manner, sensor existence control is accomplished.

Calibrate thermocouples

Calibration usually means it is necessary to set up the measurement deviation amount on the entire temperature sensor or measurement chain (detector and transmitter). During calibration no modification is made to the substance under evaluation. In measuring apparatus, the gap between the temperature indicated by the measuring apparatus and the benchmark value is generated throughout the measurement. No adjustments are produced in the measuring apparatus , e.g. modification of the stage regarded because the zero point. The calibration of thermocouples occurs in two manners: calibration at predetermined measuring factors and calibration based on the comparison system.

Calibration at fixed measurement points

Calibration at predetermined measuring factors is mainly employed for ordinary resistance thermometers of Pt type conforming to ITS 90 (International Temperature Scale of 1990).

The adjusted measuring factors would be the stage points of the implements chemicals (crystallization stage, melting point and triple stage ).The temperature measurement in predetermined measuring points is performed in a liquid or in a vertical multi-zone valve. Temperature at predetermined measuring points may be measured utilizing a open or closed glass container comprising the right substance (steel or water ) in its purest kind >99.9999percent .Calibration at predetermined measuring points can be performed at temperatures ranging from 0.01°C (triple point of water) a 921°C having the precision of 0.5mK into 5mK. Calibration at fixed measurement points entails a huge investment in equipment and time, so this sort of calibration is done at state benchmark points and many DKD calibration labs.

Calibration by comparison method

Most temperature detectors utilized in business are calibrated with the contrast technique. In comparison to calibration at predetermined measuring points, calibration in line with the comparison procedure is a lot easier to execute. During calibration, evaluation substances are set in a liquid or in a test furnace combined with a couple of common thermometers.

Comparative measurements in a test furnace could be composed to a temperature of 1600°C. The evaluation materials and reference thermometers are set in a zone of constant temperature. The evaluation materials shall be set in the control setup in such a way as to remove any chance of malfunction caused by heat dissipation. Prior to calibration, the evaluation substances are tested for both performance and insulating material in accordance with DIN EN 60751. The mention measuring apparatus would be resistance thermometers of their Pt form or calibrated thermocouples in the state management point or in the DKD lab. After insertion of the liquid or examine furnace, then the test substances are quantified with contrast to the benchmark thermometers. The calibration results are supported by a corresponding calibration certification.

Thermistors vs thermocouples

1.A thermocouple is a temperature measuring device, and a thermistor is a type of thermal resistor.

2. thermocouples are made of metal or metal alloys. While thermistor is made by semiconductor or oxides of magnesium, nickel or cobalt.

3.Thermocouple has high accuracy as compared to thermistor. A thermistor has a wire whose resistance reduces its accuracy.

4. The temperature measurement ranges of a thermistor are -50 ° C to 250 ° C, while the ranges of a thermocouple are -200 ° C to 1250 ° C.

5. The thermistor provides a fast response compared to thermocouples. The response time of both sensors depends on their size.

6. In thermocouples, the change in temperature is determined by the voltage induced at their junction. The resistance of a thermistor changes when its ambient temperature changes.

7. The characteristic of a thermocouple between voltage and current is linear. The curve shows that the thermocouple voltage increases as a function of temperature. In a thermistor, the characteristic between resistance and temperature is nonlinear when the thermistor has a negative temperature coefficient. The nonlinear curve of a thermistor shows that their resistance decreases as the temperature increases.

8.Thermocouple is cheaper as compared to thermistor because thermistor requires external power source.

9.Thermistor and thermocouple are used to control and measure temperature.

10. Thermocouples are used in large industries while thermistors are used in home appliances.

Michal Pukala
Electronics and Telecommunications engineer with Electro-energetics Master degree graduation. Lightning designer experienced engineer. Currently working in IT industry.