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A COMPARATIVE EXAMINATION OF

AUTOMATIC SE()_UENTIAL DIRECT


Sl'STEMS FOR STRAIN-GAGE DATA
READINGS BASED ON A LOW-COST
SWITCH-CONTROL UNIT
by P. Cappa
The recent trend toward the personal computer results in
a considerable increase in the utilization of computers in
controlled data-acquisition systems.
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Multichannel, sequential, automatic, data-acquisition systems
are widely utilized in gathering the output signals of electrical
resistance strain gages in static and quasi-static tests; in fact
by using a computer it is possible to minimize the error
effects, to facilitate the reducing of the rosette signals, etc.
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The intermediate circuitry plays an important role in the
accuracy of strain-gage signa! scanning, because of the very
low leve! of the outputs. Its two primary functions are to
provide excitation and ensure that the measurements are
taken as errar free as possible far the period that the trans-
ducer is on-line.
Some of the proposed automatic strain systems
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utilize
highly sophisticated switching circuits and units of manipula-
tion that are capable of minimizing the errors caused by the
random variations either of the voltage drops produced by
switch and wire resistance, and the thermocoupled voltages
generated at the switches by heat effects. Other multi-
channel sequential measuring systems
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determine the
strain values by simply measuring directly the output
tension of Wheatstone bridges aut of balance or the electrical
resistance variations of the strain gage.
In a previous paper
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the preliminary results were reported.
These results were obtained by testing two systems based on
a low-cost generai purpose switch contro! unit with small
changes of test area temperature (=5 C) in the neighbor-
hood of 24 o C. The system that utilizes an ohmmeter con-
nected by a four-wire circuit confirmed the values obtained
by means of a specialized scanner uni t.
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On the contrary,
the results obtained by using a system based an a single
current potentiometric technique reveal remarkable apparent
strain values.
The main objective of this paper is the evaluation of the
temperature effects when automatic data-acquisition systems,
based on a genera] purpose switch contro! unit, are utilized
P. Cappa (SEM Member) is Assistant Professar, University of Rome
"La Sapienza," Department of Mechanics and Aeronautics, Rome, ltaly.
in tield test situations. The systems examined measure
directly the resistance variations of the strain gages, or the
output signals of Wheatstone bridges aut of balance driven
both with a constant voltage and a constant current.
This experimental analysis is a necessary preliminary
study far a correct selection of the system that will be
utilized in an ongoing research project that will have the
evaluation of the strain-gages performances in long-term
measurements as the main object.
EXPERIMENTAL APPARATUS
A specialized calibration unit was utilized far a metrological
evaluation of the examined systems. This unit assures an
accuracy of (0.025 percent of setting + 1 J.lmlm). The
connections between the calibration unit were carried aut
by utilizing leads with a length equa! to 10 m; the lead
diameter was 0.4 mm. The lead wires were twisted so that
they each saw the same temperature environment. The
switches of the scanner uni t ha ve low thermal offset ( < 3 J.l V
at the end of their !ife) but this source of errar is not
compensated. The digitai voltmeters were calibrated before
carrying out these tests by an Italian Calibration Service.
The accuracy was equa! to (0.002 percent + 3 counts) far
the voltmeter (0.01 percent + 3 counts) far the ohm-
meter and, finally, (0.11 percent + 40 counts) far the
ammeter. The stability of the power unit supply is equa! to
(0.01 percent + l m V) and (0.1 percent + 0.5 mA). The
devices are interfaced by means of the IEEE-488 bus. The
switch card temperatures were measured with an uncertainty
of l percent.
The voltage or current values were chosen hypothesizing
excellent sensibility and good heat sink of the specimen and,
finally, a grid area of the gage equa! to 10 mm
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With the aimof simulating a field test situation, the systems,
with the exception of the computer and the calibration unit,
were introduced in an oven that was thermoregulated by the
same system. In fact, by means of a channel of the switch
contro! unit that activates a mechanical relay, the computer
turned an and off the oven heater independent of the
switch card temperature and the temperature variations in
function of time chosen.
E:.:perimental Technlques 13
TEST PROCEDURE ANO RESULTS
The tests were organized so that ten measurements were
taken for each channel every hour, through five or seven
days. From the measured values, the mean values that are
deemed to be representative of the physical variables, were
calculated. The mean value obtained with the first ten
readings relative to the strain channel was taken for
reference; then the apparent strain, fapp was calculated.
First the fapp associated to a system that utilizes an ohm
meter connected by a four-wire circuit, were evaluated. The
observed values, obtained by testing with a temperature
both constant (50 C) and variable (245024 C) are sum
marized in Figs. 1 and 2. The time increment necessary to
complete each thermal cycle was approximately equa! to
four hours. The results relative to a constant temperature
confirmed those observed in a previous experimental
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-120.Q
----350.Q
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Tirre [hour]
Fig. 1-Four-wire direct resistance method, test area temperature
constant. Variations of fapp vs. time
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-120.Q
----350 ,Q
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Tirre [hour]
Fig. 2-Four-wire direct resistance method, test area temperature
variab/e. Variations of fapp vs. time
14 September 1989
analysis.
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The range of variations increased when the sys
tem was subjected to a temperature cycle (Fig. 2) especially
for a nominai resistance value of 120 O.
Next, the fapp associated to an unbalanced Wheatstone
bridge driven with a constant voltage were evaluated. The
fapp obtained by testing the system with a constant test area
temperature equa! to 50 C is shown inFig. 3. The good
stability of this system appears from the examination of this
figure. This observation was not confirmed by applying a
temperature cycle of 245024 o C (six cycles each day). In fact
the test carried aut, limited to a nominai resistance value of
350 O, showed significant fapp values, see Fig. 4. These
significant increases appear to be caused by the relay thermal
emfs and the leadwire resistance variation.
Finally the fapp introduced by a system, based on a Wheat-
stone bridge driven by a constant current method, were
examined. The results relative to a constant test area
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-----350.Q
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o IO 20 :JJ 40 50 00 70 !Kl lll 100 110 120
Tirre [hour]
Fig. 3-Unbalanced Wheatstone bridge driven by a constant
vo/tage, test area temperature constant. Variations of fapp vs. time
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O IO 20 :JJ 40 50 00 70 00 lll 100 110 120 I:JJ 1<40
Tirre [hour]
Fig. 4-Unba/anced Wheatstone bridge driven by a constant
voltage, test area temperature variable. Variations of fapp vs. time
temperature are summarized in Fig. 5. From a comparative
examination of the graphs relative to a resistance nominai
value of lZO O and 350 O a significant difference in behavior
emerges. This difference was mainly caused by the in-
constancy of the current values supplied by the power unit.
The Eapp relative to a nominai resistance of 350 O, obtained
by subjecting the system to test area temperature varia-
tions (six cycles each day), are indicated in Fig. 6. The in-
constancy of the current supplied was confirmed.
From a comparative examination of the results obtained,
the possibility to obtain zero drift values always in the
ranges of 40 J.'mlm and 10 J.'mlm fora nominal resistance
of lZO and 350 O, respectively, emerges. However, it is
necessary to observe that the previous values were obtained
by a system that utilizes an ohmmeter characterized by high
precision and stability. Moreover, by examining the zero
drift values relative to the system based on unbalanced
Wheatstone bridges driven both with a constant voltage and
constant current, that utilize devices significantly Iess stable
than the ohmmeter, it is possible that a limited zero drift
range of variations can be reached when the devices were
subjected to an irrelevant thermal cycle.
CONULUSIONS
Small zero drift values can be reached with a low-cost
switch contro) unit when the devices are utilized in field test
situations. The evaluation of the zero drift values allow
proper utilization of the systems examined for long-term
strain measurements.
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-120.Q
----- 350.Q
IO 20 ll 40 50 60 70 60 gJ 100 110 120 lll 140
Tirne [hourJ
Fig. 5-Unba/anced Wheatstone bridge driven by a constant
current, test area temperature constant. Variations of fPP vs. time
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(J)

50
----- 350.Q
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O IO 20 ll 40 50 60 70 8J 00 100 110 120 lll 140
Tirne [hourJ
Fig. 6-Unba/anced Wheatstone bridge driven by a constant
current, test area temperature variable. Variations of fapp vs. time
14. How/and, H.J., "An lntegrated Software/Hardware Approach to
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1
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1
26-28 (Sept. 1983).
Experlmental Technlques 111