Careful selection and installation of temperature sensors can ensure accurate sensor performance, which in turn improves product quality and production efficiency.
TIP 1: Select the Correct Sensor Assembly for the ApplicationThis may seem self-evident, but it is surprising how often process efficiency is hampered by using the wrong thermocouple type. Factors such as time at temperature, degree of accuracy, thermal cycling rate and environment may impact the selection of the best thermocouple type to produce accurate, reliable, long-term performance.
For most applications with operating temperatures of 1,400oF (760oC) or less, any of the base metal calibrations (J, E, T and K) will function, but all are not created equal.
Type J offers the widest range of environments, including vacuum, oxidizing, reducing and inert atmospheres over the temperature range of 32 to 1,400oF (0 to 760oC). Above 1,000oF (538oC), however, the iron leg is susceptible to rapid oxidation, and below 32oF, the iron experiences rusting and embrittlement.
Type T is preferred for lower temperatures, including subzero (-330oF [-200oC]), and is resistant to corrosion in moist atmospheres. In air or oxidizing atmospheres, however, oxidation of the copper thermoelement occurs at temperatures above 700oF (370oC).
Type K is a good choice for oxidizing and inert atmospheres up to 2,300oF (1,260oC). With better oxidation resistance than Type E, J and T, Type K thermocouples often are used at temperatures above 1,000oF, although they are subject to green rot corrosion at temperatures above 1,500oF (815oC). Type K thermocouples are not recommended for use in reducing atmospheres or atmospheres that alternate between oxidizing and reducing, in sulfurous atmospheres or under vacuum conditions.
Type E exhibits the highest sensitivity of the base metal thermocouples and often is selected for this feature. These thermocouples function well in a broad temperature range from -330 to 2,300oF (-201 to 1,260oC) in oxidizing or inert atmospheres. They also successfully resist corrosion in high moisture environments. Type E thermocouples are not recommended for reducing or vacuum atmospheres.
The noble metal thermocouples (S, R and B) and Type C are the best choice for very high temperatures though they tend to be more expensive.
Selection of the thermal element is not the only consideration. Careful selection of insulation materials and sheath materials, being certain of how these materials may interact with each other, also is critical. Consult with your sensor manufacturer, providing all the details about your application environment, to ensure that you select the best assembly for your needs.
TIP 2: Ensure Adequate Immersion LengthOne of the most common errors made in configuring a temperature sensor is not providing adequate immersion length. In a process pipe application, the sensor should extend into the process a minimum length equal to one-third the inside diameter of the pipe, with the optimum location at the center of the pipe diameter. When calculating this distance, be sure to add enough length to account for pipe and mounting flange thicknesses.
Another consideration is stem conduction. This refers to unwanted heat transfer up the metallic sheath of the thermocouple. To compensate for this, use a minimum immersion length of seven to 10 times the diameter of the probe. Keep in mind that use of a thermowell will magnify the stem conduction effect.
TIP 3: Maximize Sensor Response Time by Reducing MassSensor material mass equates to sensor speed of response. Lower mass yields faster sensor response. Most oven and furnace applications do not require meaty-sized sensor elements as the environments generally are benign and sensor sheathing is not needed. Use of thermowells and pipewells offer physical strength but increase mass, slowing sensor reaction time. In addition, bare junction thermoelements respond faster than closed-sheath elements of equal size. This is particularly important to consider during thermal ramp and cool time, as excessive material mass will hamper the sensor's ability to keep track of the rapidly changing temperature.
TIP 4: Lower-Than-Expected Readouts May Indicate Poor ConstructionAnother common problem in sensor performance is seeing a lower-than-expected output from the sensor. At low temperatures (less than 250oF [121oC]), this may indicate thermal shunting due to degradation of the cold-end seal. To check for this, measure the insulation resistance of the ungrounded thermocouple between the leadwires and the metallic sheath. The insulation resistance should be greater than 1 x 109ohms at 500 VDC. Thermal shunting at lower temperatures also may be caused by moisture penetration of the cold-end seal.
Poor termination practices are another source of low readings. Stripping the leadwire too far or improperly applying insulation can permit moisture and contaminants to shunt the thermoelements, creating low insulation resistance. This can be corrected easily by cleaning the terminal blocks and ensuring that the insulation material covers all exposed wires except the portion immediately under the terminal screw heads.
TIP 5: Use the Proper LeadwireExtension-grade wire offers a more restricted temperature range than thermocouple-grade wire. The extension wire generally follows the same EMF/temperature curve as the thermocouple wire to a certain temperature, then veers significantly. If you use extension-grade wire beyond its limitations, you may introduce a significantly large error into your readings.
For reliable readings, the thermocouple wire in the terminal head must be connected to the same thermocouple type wire all the way to the instrumentation that performs the cold junction compensation (readout, PLC, transmitter, etc.). For Types C, R, S and B, running thermocouple-grade wires would be prohibitively expensive, so proprietary alloy wires have been developed for use with these materials.
A common cost-saving scenario is to use copper wire rather than extension wire, but copper does not follow the EMF/temperature curve of thermocouples at all and therefore introduces a significant degree of error. The exception to this is Type B thermocouples, which may use copper/copper wire up to 212oF (100oC).