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I need a technique for measuring surface temperatures of metal parts that is quick, econo...

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I need a technique for measuring surface temperatures of metal parts that is quick, economical, portable (hand held) and has an uncertainty of between 0.1 and 0.2 °C What measurement technique should I use? (FAQ - Thermal)

Surface temperature is notoriously difficult to measure, as by its nature there is a discontinuity between a hot or cold object and its environment, with resulting heat flows which can be substantial. A sensor or probe attached to the surface will register its own temperature, and the problem is to get it into proper contact with the object without changing the temperature to be measured. In principle this is impossible! However, the requirement exists and surface probes are made for the purpose. What is best depends on the circumstances. A fine thermocouple wire laid along the surface for some distance should make reasonable contact, but this is not always practicable. A pointed probe like a skewer is more practical but unlikely to read correctly. Probes with some suitable contact pad may be effective, provided they do not mask the surface unduly and so change the heat flow and temperature. You should make enquiries to some of the many sensor supply companies and discuss what may be most appropriate for your purpose. All this presupposes that the surface temperature is significantly different from ambient, i.e. a significant discontinuity exists and heat flow is occurring. In these circumstances it is not reasonable to expect uncertainties as small as 0.1 or 0.2 °C. However, if the temperature is not too high or low, things get much easier - the smaller the temperature difference, the smaller are the heat flows and the measurement interference. In general the best that can be done is to attach sensors in intimate contact with the object where the temperature can conveniently be measured, covering only a small area, and using a heat-sinking compound if appropriate. The objective is to maximise contact while minimising interference. The supplier will advise about how to do this, and about the intrinsic uncertainty of his sensors - but the accuracy achieved in the measurement situation will depend on the circumstances. A few °C might be all that can be achieved. Beyond that, one supplier - Isothermal Technology - offers a 'true surface' temperature probe, which includes feed-back heating to compensate for heat losses along the probe, which then more closely approaches the 'true' surface temperature. This should improve the results where a 'rough and ready' method is not acceptable. Another alternative is to use a non-contact technique - radiation thermometry. This is non-invasive and so avoids over the problem of interference, but it brings its own difficulties: what is the emissivity (a radiative property) of the surface, is there any contribution from background radiation reflected from the surface, etc (see other questions in this series). Radiation thermometers can operate down to ambient or even lower temperatures, though ambient radiation then becomes problematical. Print this page 2/17/2011