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FORCE TRANSDUCERS

Introduction
Elastic members may be used as force transducers, and, in this application, are commonly
referred to as load cells. The output of such a transducer is an electrical voltage that is
proportional to the force that is transmitted through the elastic element. The advantage of using
an elastic member as a transducer is that we know that, as long as the yield stress is nowhere
exceeded in the member, the behavior of the member in response to an applied force or
displacement will be completely linear.
Most frequently, the response of the elastic member is measured by measuring the strain
at a point on the member. Again, as long as we do not exceed the yield stress (and are operating
at a sufficiently low temperature so that creep effects do not become important), then the strain at
a point is a linear function of either the applied displacement or the applied load.
There are a number of ways of measuring strain at a point. Recently, rather sophisticated
devices using lasers and optical interferometry have been employed to make strain
measurements. These have the advantage of being noncontacting and highly accurate. On the
other hand, they are expensive and require a good deal of training to use. Much more often, a
device called a strain gage is used to make strain measurements. Strain gages are cheap and
relatively easy to use, but have important limitations, usually related to environmental conditions
(high temperature, corrosive environments, etc.). Strain gages are normally bonded (glued or
welded) to the location at which we wish to measure strain, and hence experience essentially the
same strain as the component to which they are bonded. As a rule, they function by changing
their electrical characteristics (resistance, capacitance) as a (hopefully linear) function of the
applied strain. By measuring the change in electrical characteristic, whatever it is, we obtain a
measure of the applied strain in the form of an electrical signal, which we can process.
Most strain gages experience a change in electrical resistance as they are strained, and by
measuring this change in resistance, we may measure the applied strain. More specifically, the
change in resistance experienced by the gage is related to the strain by the gage factor F, defined
by
=
1
F
R
R

where R is the change in gage resistance, and R is the original resistance. Typically, the gage
factor F is specified by the manufacturer. Note that the larger the value of F, the
larger the value of R for a given strain level . Because larger values of R can
be measured with greater precision, larger values of F are preferred.
By far the most common type of resistance-type strain gage is the foil gage. This consists
of a thin, continuous, encapsulated strip of foil laid out in rows along the long axis of the gage.
As the foil strip is stretched along the gage axis, its resistance changes linearly with strain. The
advantages of the foil gage are that it is quite inexpensive and easy to apply. Moreover, it is
sufficiently flexible to be applied to highly curved surfaces.
Another type of resistance-type strain gage is the semiconductor gage. The
semiconductor gage is similar in principle to the foil gage, using a thin strip of silicon as the
strain-sensing element. Semiconductor gages have gage factors on the order of F 100, making
them attractive for applications in which accuracy is the primary objective, e.g., load cells. Their
disadvantages are higher cost as compared to foil gage, and their brittle nature, which makes it
difficult to apply them to a curved surface.
Because thermal strains due to changes in temperature may lead to a spurious
contribution to the measured strain value, strain gages attached to loaded members are often used
in conjunction with dummy gages attached to an unloaded piece of the same material. Both
loaded and unloaded members experience the same thermal strain, and their signals may be
electrically subtracted to yield the strain due to the mechanical load.
A Simple Force Transducer
The elastic ring shown at right may serve as
either a simple force transducer. The ring is
equipped with four strain gages. When the ring is
extended as indicated, the gages on the outside of the
ring will be in compression, while those on the inside
will be in compression. Again, as long as we do not
exceed the yield stress in the ring, the force required
to elongate the ring will be a linear function of the
measured strain values.
The four strain gages are wired as the four resistors of a Wheatstone bridge which is
connected to a signal conditioning device. The excitation, or input voltage, is provided by the 6
volt d.c. battery. The output voltage, which is proportional to the strain at the four gages on the
ring and the input voltage, will be fed into an A/D board (National Instruments AT-MIO16L),
located inside a computer. In the present exercise, we will calibrate the transducer under static
conditions, and then make a series of measurements of the friction force required to pull a weight
across a flat surface.
Calibration
The calibration procedure will be essentially identical to the calibration of the LVDT.
Run the LabVIEW program and open file daq_str.vi. Starting with just the weight pan by itself,
successively add weights to the weight pan until you have acquired five weight/voltage points.
Then, as before, use the computer to carry out a least-squares fit to the data, and compute the
constant k
s
in the equation V = k
s
F+ b, where V is the output voltage in millivolts and F is the
applied force in pounds. Record the value of k
s
and the intercept b on the lab sheet.
P
Strain
gages
The Experiment
We will use the calibrated force transducer to make some simple measurements of the
friction force required to pull a weight across a flat surface. To pull the weight, we will make
use of a small-scale universal testing machine manufactured by the Instron Corp. The particular
type of machine that we will be using applies load through the motion of a crosshead driven by
two screwjacks. As the screwjacks rotate, the crosshead moves up or down. For this particular
application, we will simply attach the force transducer to the crosshead, with a cable running
down from the force transducer through a pulley, and then horizontally to a weight. As the
crosshead moves up, the weight will be pulled across the surface.
Open the file friction.vi. In the appropriate locations on the LabVIEW display panel,
enter the calibration constants that you obtained from the first part of the experiment. Then
position the weight on the wooden tabletop behind the Instron machine so that the cable is
reasonably taut. Push the Up button on the Instron, and, at the same time, click on the icon on
LabVIEW to initiate data acquisition. You will see a running plot of force vs. time begin to
appear on the display panel. As the cable tightens, the force will increase with time. When the
force becomes sufficient to overcome the friction force between the weight and the tabletop, the
weight will begin to move forward. Once the weight begins to move, you will observe a slip
and stick behavior, in which the cable slackens as the weight moves forward, reducing the
applied force. Then the weight will come to a temporary halt. As the cable becomes taut once
again, motion will recommence. This cycle will repeat itself as you drag the weight across the
table. The resulting force vs. time trace will look something like that shown below:
After the cycle has become reasonably stable, stop the experiment by pressing the Stop
button on the Instron machine and the Stop icon on the LabVIEW control panel. From the force
vs. time trace, obtain a value for F
msc
, and enter this value on the lab sheet. Then use the formula
=
F
W
max
where W is the weight in pounds of the weight you are using. Record the measured value of on
the lab sheet. Repeat the experiment once again. Then attach a different weight and redo the
Time
Force
F
max
experiment a twice time. Do the four values of show reasonable agreement? Compute the
mean value of the four values.
Finally, place a sheet of Teflon between the tabletop and the weight, and redo the
experiment with a single weight one last time. You should note a fairly substantial reduction the
measured value of .