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Introduction to Thermocouples

Thermocouples and Thermocouple Assemblies

Introduction to Thermocouples
What is a thermocouple?
A thermocouple is a sensor for measuring temperature. It consists of two dissimilar metals, joined together at
one end, which produce a small unique voltage at a given temperature. This voltage is measured and
interpreted by a thermocouple thermometer.
What are the different thermocouple types?
Thermocouples are available in different combinations of metals or calibrations. The four most common
calibrations are J, K, T and E. Each calibration has a different temperature range and environment, although the
maximum temperature varies with the diameter of the wire used in the thermocouple.
How do I choose a thermocouple type?
Because thermocouples measure in wide temperature ranges and can be relatively rugged, they are very often
used in industry. The following criteria are used in selecting a thermocouple:
Temperature range
Chemical resistance of the thermocouple or sheath material
Abrasion and vibration resistance
Installation requirements (may need to be compatible with existing equipment; existing holes may determine
probe diameter).
How do I know which junction type to choose?




Sheathed thermocouple probes are available with one of three junction types: grounded, ungrounded or
exposed. At the tip of a grounded junction probe, the thermocouple wires are physically attached to the inside
of the probe wall. This results in good heat transfer from the outside, through the probe wall to the
thermocouple junction. In an ungrounded probe, the thermocouple junction is detached from the probe wall.
Response time is slowed down from the grounded style, but the ungrounded offers electrical isolation (see table

Room-Temperature Insulation Resistance

Ungrounded Thermocouple
Nominal Sheath

Applied dc Voltage

Insulation Resistance

< 0.88mm(0.03in.)



0.08 to 1.5mm(0.030 to



> 1.5mm(0.059in.)



The thermocouple in the exposed junction style protrudes out of the tip of the sheath and is exposed to the
surrounding environment. This type offers the best response time, but is limited in use to noncorrosive and
nonpressurized applications. See the illustrations at the right for a full discussion of junction types.

What is response time?

A time constant has been defined as the time required by a sensor to reach 63.2% of a step change in
temperature under a specified set of conditions. Five time constants are required for the sensor to stabilize at
100% of the step change value. Exposed junction thermocouples are the fastest responding. Also, the smaller
the probe sheath diameter, the faster the response, but the maximum temperature may be lower. Be aware,
however, that sometimes the probe sheath cannot withstand the full temperature range of the thermocouple



Application Atmosphere




304 SS

(1650 F)

Very Good


Very Good




Very Good


Very Good


Standard diameters: 0.010", 0.020", 0.032", 0.040", 1/16", 1/8", 3/16", and 1/4" with two wires.
Standard OMEGA thermocouples have 12 inch immersion lengths. Other lengths available.
304 stainless steel and Inconel are standard. Other sheath materials available; call for price and availability.
High purity Magnesium Oxide is standard. Minimum insulation resistance wire to wire or wire to sheath is 1
Gohm at 500 volts dc in all diameters above 1.5mm (1/16").
Iron-Constantan (J), Chromega-Alomega (K), Copper-Constantan (T), and Chromega-Constantan (E) are
standard calibrations.
Easily bent and formed. Bend radius should be not less than twice the diameter of the sheath.
Delivery: Off-the-Shelf, other sheaths available; call for price and delivery. Dual Elements: Thermocouples with
a sheath diameter of 0.040" (1.0 mm) thru 1/4" (6.3mm) are available in dual element.
The wires used in OMEGA thermocouples are selected and matched to meet ANSI Limits of Error. Special limits
of error thermocouples can be made from all 1/16" (1.5 mm) O.D. or larger OMEGACLAD Thermocouple wire.
In the thermocouple industry, standard practice is to color the negative lead red. Other standards that OMEGA
uses are: the negative lead of bare wire thermocouple is approximately 1/4" shorter than the positive lead, and
the large pin on a thermocouple connector is always the negative conductor.
Extension Wire:
Thermocouple alloy wire must always be used to connect a thermocouple sensor to the instrumentation to
assure accurate measurements.
Thermocouple Junctions:
The grounded junction is recommended for the measurement of static or flowing corrosive gas and liquid
temperatures and for high pressure applications. The junction of a grounded thermocouple is welded to the
protective sheath giving faster response than the ungrounded junction type.
An ungrounded junction is recommended for measurements in corrosive environments where it is desirable to
have the thermocouple electronically isolated from and shielded by the sheath. The welded wire thermocouple
is physically insulated from the thermocouple sheath by MgO powder (soft).

An exposed junction is recommended for the measurement of static or flowing non-corrosive gas temperatures
where fast response time is required. The junction extends beyond the protective metallic sheath to give
accurate fast response. The sheath insulation is sealed where the junction extends to prevent penetration of
moisture or gas which could cause errors.

Resistance Temperature Detectors /

What is a Resistance Temperature Detector? Resistance Temperature Detectors (RTD),
as the name implies, are sensors used to measure temperature by correlating the
resistance of the RTD element with temperature. Most RTD elements consist of a length
of fine coiled wire wrapped around a ceramic or glass core. The element is usually quite
fragile, so it is often placed inside a sheathed probe to protect it. The RTD element is
made from a pure material whose resistance at various temperatures has been
documented. The material has a predictable change in resistance as the temperature
changes; it is this predictable change that is used to determine temperature.

Common Resistance Materials for RTDs:

Platinum (most popular and accurate)

Balco (rare)
Tungsten (rare)

Benefits of Using an RTD

The RTD is one of the most accurate Accuracy for Standard OMEGA RTDs
temperature sensors. Not only does it
provide good accuracy, it also provides
excellent stability and repeatability.
Most OMEGA standard RTDs comply
with DIN-IEC Class B. The accuracy
of an OMEGA standard RTDs is
shown in the table on the right.
RTDs are also relatively immune to
electrical noise and therefore well
suited for temperature measurement in
industrial environments, especially
around motors, generators and other
high voltage equipment.













Styles of RTDs
RTD Elements
The RTD element is the simplest form
of RTD. It consists of a piece of wire
wrapped around a ceramic or glass
core. Because of their compact size,
RTD elements are commonly used
when space is very limited.

RTD Surface Elements

A surface element is a special type of
RTD element. It is designed to be as
thin as possible thus providing good
contact for temperature measurement
of flat surfaces.
RTD Probes
The RTD probe is the most rugged
form of RTD. A probe consists of an
RTD element mounted inside a metal
tube, also known as a sheath. The
sheath protects the element from the
environment. OMEGA offers a wide
variety of probes in various
RTD Terms
RTD (Resistance Temperature Detector)
An acronym for resistance temperature detector or device. A resistance
temperature detector operates on the principle of the change in electrical
resistance in wire as a function of temperature.
RTD Element
Sensing portion of the RTD which can be made most commonly of platinum,
nickel, or copper. OMEGA features two styles of elements: wire wound and thin
RTD Probe
An assembly composed of an element, a sheath, a lead wire, and a termination or
connection. The standard OMEGA RTD probe is made with a 100 ohm
platinum European curve element (alpha = 0.00385).
Platinum RTD
Also known as Pt RTD, Platinum RTD's are typically the most linear, stable,

repeatable, and accurate of all RTD's. Platinum wire was chosen by OMEGA
because it best meets the needs of precision thermometry.
Thin Film RTD
Thinfilm RTD's are made up of of a thin layer of a base metal embedded into a
ceramic substrate and trimmed to produce the desired resistance value. OMEGA
RTD's are made by depositing platinum as a film on a substrate and then
encapsulating both. This method allows for the production of small, fast
response, accurate sensors. Thin film elements conform to the European
curve/DIN 43760 standards and the 0.1% DIN standard tolerance.
Class A RTD
Highest RTD Element tolerance and accuracy, Class A (IEC-751), Alpha =
Class B RTD
Most Common RTD Element tolerance and accuracy, Class B (IEC-751), Alpha
= 0.00385
Aplha .00385 Curve
European Curve meets 0.1% DIN standard tolerance and conforms to the DIN
43760 standard
Wire Wound
The standard RTD elements used in OMEGAs probe assemblies are made of
99.99% pure platinum wire wound about a ceramic or glass core and
hermetically sealed within a ceramic or glass capsule.

Introduction to Thermistors
What is a thermistor? A thermistor is a temperature-sensing element composed of
sintered semiconductor material which exhibits a large change in resistance proportional
to a small change in temperature. Thermistors usually have negative temperature
coefficients which means the resistance of the thermistor decreases as the temperature
Benefits of Using a Thermistor
Thermistors are one of the most accurate types of temperature sensors. OMEGA
thermistors have an accuracy of 0.1C or 0.2C depending on the particular
thermistor model. However thermistors are fairly limited in their temperature range,
working only over a nominal range of 0C to 100C .
Finished thermistors are chemically stable and not significantly affected by aging.
Types of Thermistor
Thermistor Elements
The thermistor element is the simplest form of thermistor. Because of their compact size, thermistor elements
are commonly used when space is very limited. OMEGA offers a wide variety of thermistor elements which
vary not only in form factor but also in their resistance versus temperature characteristics. Since thermistors
are non-linear, the instrument used to read the temperature must linearize the reading.
Thermistor Probes
The standalone thermistor element is relatively fragile and can not be placed in a rugged environment.
OMEGA offers thermistor probes which are thermistor elements embedded in metal tubes. Thermistor
probes are much more suitable for industrial environments than thermistor elements.

Introduction to Infrared Thermometer

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The most basic design consists of a lens to focus the infrared (IR) energy on
to a detector, which converts the energy to an electrical signal that can be
displayed in units of temperature after being compensated for ambient
temperature variation. This configuration facilitates temperature
measurement from a distance without contact with the object to be
measured. As such, the infrared thermometer is useful for measuring
temperature under circumstances where thermocouples or other probe type
sensors cannot be used or do not produce accurate data for a variety of
reasons. Some typical circumstances are where the object to be measured is
moving; where the object is surrounded by an EM field, as in induction
heating; where the object is contained in a vacuum or other controlled
atmosphere; or in applications where a fast response is required.
Common Questions When Using an Infrared Thermometer:
Why should I use an infrared thermometer to measure temperature
in my application?
Infrared pyrometers allow users to measure temperature in applications
where conventional sensors cannot be employed. Specifically, in cases
dealing with moving objects ( i.e., rollers,
moving machinery, or a conveyor belt), or
where non-contact measurements are required
because of contamination or hazardous
reasons (such as high voltage), where
distances are too great, or where the
temperatures to be measured are too high for
thermocouples or other contact sensors.
What should I consider about my
When selecting noncontact
application when selecting an infrared
temperature measurement
instruments, it is necessary
The critical considerations for any infrared
to take into account not
pyrometer include field of view (target size
only the target and its
and distance), type of surface being measured
emissivity, but also the
(emissivity considerations), spectral response
surroundings and the
(for atmospheric effects or transmission
invtervening atmosphere.
through surfaces), temperature range and
mounting (handheld portable or fixed mount).
Other considerations include response time, environment, mounting
limitations, viewing port or window applications, and desired signal
What is meant by Field of View, and why is it important?
The field of view is the angle of vision at which the instrument operates, and

is determined by the optics of the unit. To obtain an accurate temperature

reading, the target being measured should completely fill the field of view of
the instrument. Since the infrared device determines the average
temperature of all surfaces within the field of view, if the background
temperature is different from the object temperature, a measurement error
can occur. OMEGA offers a unique solution to this problem. Many OMEGA
infrared pyrometers feature patented laser switchable from circle to dot. In
the circle mode a built-in laser sighting creates a 12-point circle which
clearly indicates the target area being measured. In the dot mode a single
laser dot marks the center of the measurement area.

What is emissivity, and how is it related to infrared temperature

Emissivity is defined as the ratio of the energy radiated by an object at a
given temperature to the energy emitted by a perfect radiator, or
blackbody, at the same temperature. The emissivity of a blackbody is 1.0.
All values of emissivity fall between 0.0 and 1.0. Most infrared
thermometers have the ability to compensate for different emissivity values,
for different materials. In general, the higher the emissivity of an object, the
easier it is to obtain an accurate temperature measurement using infrared.
Objects with very low emissivities (below 0.2) can be difficult applications.
Some polished, shiny metallic surfaces, such as aluminum, are so reflective
in the infrared that accurate temperature measurements are not always
Five Ways to Determine Emissivity
There are five ways to determine the emissivity of the material, to ensure
accurate temperature measurements:
1. Heat a sample of the material to a known temperature, using a
precise sensor, and measure the temperature using the IR
instrument. Then adjust the emissivity value to force the indicator to
display the correct temperature.
2. For relatively low temperatures (up to 500F), a piece of masking
tape, with an emissivity of 0.95, can be measured. Then adjust the
emissivity value to force the indicator to display the correct
temperature of the material.

3. For high temperature measurements, a hole (depth of which is at

least 6 times the diameter) can be drilled into the object. This hole
acts as a blackbody with emissivity of 1.0. Measure the temperature
in the hole, then adjust the emissivity to force the indicator to display
the correct temperature of the material.
4. If the material, or a portion of it, can be coated, a dull black paint will
have an emissivity of approx. 1.0. Measure the temperature of the
paint, then adjust the emissivity to force the indicator to display the
correct temperature.
5. Standardized emissivity values for most materials are available (see
pages 114-115). These can be entered into the instrument to
estimate the material's emissivity value.
How can I mount the infrared pyrometer?
The pyrometer can be of two types, either fixed-mount or portable. Fixed
mount units are generally installed in one location to continuously monitor a
given process. They usually operate on line power, and are aimed at a single
point. The output from this type of instrument can be a local or remote
display, along with an analog output that can be used for another display or
control loop. Battery powered, portable infrared ''guns'' are also available;
these units have all the features of the fixed mount devices, usually without
the analog output for control purposes. Generally these units are utilized in
maintenance, diagnostics, quality control, and spot measurements of critical