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Load Cell Basics Technical Q&A Part One

Interface recently hosted a webinar, Load Cell Basics, where our experts answered a series of questions from event attendees.  In the interest of sharing what we know and addressing some frequently asked inquiries, we are offering a new series in our Interface IQ blog entitled Interface Technical Q&A.  At the conclusion of our presentation, we had several questions related to the basics of load cells.  We will be answering them in two posts.  Here is the first list.

Why Does Interface Use Proprietary Strain Gages?

Strain gages are a key component to any load cell. Making our own strain gages gives Interface full control over our design and production, ensuring we can meet our specifications with certainty in quality, accuracy, and dependability. Interface strain gages are precision matched to the load cell material to counteract the temperature effect on output. We have different load cell materials and that means we use different strain gages for each type.

Our strain gages are simple in design, and we don’t use compensation resistors making them a more reliable circuit.  They don’t have to go through resistors; thus, the accuracy and precision measurement is more reliable and capable of faster thermal and higher outputs.

What Type of Temperature Testing Do You Do on Interface Load Cells?

Interface performs both hot and cold thermal compensation from 15˚ – 115˚F, including adjust and verify cycle. Most other manufacturers of load cells provide only the hot side (60˚ – 160˚F) testing. The slope of the curve is much flatter near room temperature and identical at both ends of the slope.  The result is minimal variation across the entire thermal range.  We also offer custom calibrated ranges by request. Read more about temperature compensation here.

Is Temperature Compensation Achieved Using Dummy Gages?

The simple answer is no. Interface does temperature compensation of output by matching the strain gage to the material temperature compensation of zero. This is achieved by using a wire in the circuit that opposite resistance changes to the circuit.

Do You Have Software to Read TEDS Available to Use with Interface Load Cells?

Interface does offer instruments that can use the TEDS data and instruments that can write the TEDS data to the chip. Interface has software that hooks up or attaches to the TEDS chip reader writer so that when we program a chip during manufacturing of load cells in our factory, we have software we use to complete this function.  We also do offer this software for commercial use.

Is it Acceptable to Regularly Use a Load Cell Above Its Specified Capacity?

The short answer is no.  You want to reserve the “above capacity” for accidents. We are aware that people will do this in practice and the load cell will typically work reasonably well above capacity.  The problem is you want to handle that the answer is no you’re consuming your safety factor and you don’t have any extra head room for something that goes wrong.  Also, using the load cell above capacity doesn’t exactly follow the same calibration curve.  As an example, if you are using a 10k load cell with a 10k calibration and you are running tests at 12k, you may have higher errors.  You can ask us to calibrate the load cell to the 12,000 lbs.; however, you must note this can reduce the safety factor and that is why we do not recommend it.

Does Variable Altitudes Impact Performance?

Interface does have the ability to handle different pressure scenarios. Interface sends our products out ventured, if necessary, to be able to tolerate pressure change without causing any zero shift. If you do have applications where you will have either high pressure requirements or pressure change throughout the test, we certainly have solutions that can accommodate that requirement.  Work with your application engineer to ensure you have the exact testing requirements detailed when you are ready to buy your next load cell.

Can Cables Influence Temperature Errors?

If you’re adding cable to the load cell and for example, you have a 10-foot cable you want to add 100 feet more of cable, that adds resistance. The lower gauged cable, the better. A 22-gauged cable is better than a 28-gauged cable, so use a thicker cable and it will have less resistance impact on the measurement.

Is Creep Due to Material or Strain Gages?

Essentially all the elements in the sensor and everything mechanical will respond to creep.  The goal is to match the creep behavior of the bridge to the creep behavior of the load cell material or the flexure. Yes, creep affects both, but you want the result to trend in the same direction so that you get minimal error or change in the signal because of creep.

Are All Load Cells Intrinsically Safe?

They are intrinsically safe devices; however, anytime there is a hazardous environment or intrinsic safety requirements, please contact an application engineer to review the sensor use case and to factor in all aspects of your testing and use environment.  The load cells are typically working off 5-volt 10-volt and you need to look at all aspects of the location. For more information about our specialized line visit load cells for harsh environments.

This is the first in a new series of Interface Technical Q&A.  Do you have a question for our technical experts?  Send an email to digmktg@interfaceforce.com and we will add it to a future post.  If you have an immediate question, be sure to contact us today and let us know how we can support you.  You can also reference our technical support resources online for help.

Contributors:  Keith Skidmore and Brian Peters

Additional Resources

Load Cell Basics Webinar Recap

Interface Load Cell Field Guide

Understanding Load Cell Temperature Compensation

The performance and accuracy of a load cell is affected by many different factors. When considering what load cell will work best for your force measurement requirements, it is important to understand how the impact of the environment, in particular the temperature impact on output.

An important consideration when selecting a load cell is to understand the potential temperature effect on output. This is defined as the change in output due to a change in ambient temperature. Output is defined as the algebraic difference between the load cell signal at applied load and the load cell signal at no load. You can find more detailed information in our Technical Library.

Temperature affects both zero balance and signal output. Errors can be either positive or negative. To compensate for this, we use certain materials that are better suited for hot or cold environments. For instance, aluminum is a very popular load cell material for higher temperatures because it has the highest thermal conductivity.

In addition to selecting the right material, Interface also develops its own proprietary strain gages, which allows us to cancel out signal output errors created by high or low temperatures.

In strain gage-based load cells, the effect is primarily due to the temperature coefficient of modules of elasticity of the force bearing metal. It is common in the industry to compensate for this effect by adding temperature sensitive resistors external to the strain gage bridge which drop the excitation voltage reaching the bridge. This has the disadvantages of adding thermal time constants to the transducer characteristic and of decreasing the output by 10%.

Our load cells are temperature compensated for zero balance. By compensating for zero balance, we can flatten the curve in the relationship between temperature and zero balance. An uncompensated load cell has a much more severe curve, which ultimately affects accuracy and performance.

Interface offers thousands of load cell designs, standard use and for hazardous environments. For instance, rocket engine tests subject our load cells to extremely high temperatures. For use in various maritime industry projects, they can be used in very cold coastlines and even submerged in cold water. No matter where you are, environment influences the load cells performance.

If you are concerned about temperature, Interface provides specifications for every load cell we manufacture. The Interface specification datasheet, as see referenced here, is available for download by product. It always includes all the necessary data required to understand the load cell’s ability to perform at the highest-level including compensation range, operating range, effect on zero balance and effect on span.

One thing that is also unique about our products is that while most competitors only compensate for hot temperatures (60 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit), Interface covers both hot and cold thermal compensation from 15 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, including adjust and verify cycles.

Be sure to tune into Load Cell Basics, where Keith Skidmore discusses temperature compensation.  He notes during this informative presentation that if the temperature is changing during a test that can affect the zero and the output of the load cell. How much effect depends how much temperature is changing and how well the load cell is compensated against the errors, which can be either positive or negative. Good news is they are repeatable from test to test so if you have large temperature swings you can characterize the system and then subtract out the shift if you know the temperature effect on zero.

Interface Application Engineers are available to answer questions regarding the effect of temperature on force measurement data, or the different ways we can help design a solution to compensate for your environment.

Addressing Off-Axis Loads and Temperature Sensitive Applications

As technology progresses, one of the main differences we see over years and years of iteration on a wide range of consumer and commercial technology is miniaturization. There are hundreds of thousands of examples of advancing technology that went from the room-size of a mainframe decades ago, to a handheld device today. As technology grows more compact and convenient, the equipment used to design, test and manufacture these devices has to follow suit.

This is one of the driving factors for Interface to increase the product types and capabilities in our Load Button Load Cells and Interface Mini Load Cell products. Interface’s Load Button Load Cells are designed for customers who require the measurement of forces in a very confined space. They provide the most accuracy in as little space as possible. Diameters range from 1 inch to 3 inches, with heights from 0.39 inch to 1.5 inches.

For many years, load button load cells have been sensitive to off-axis, eccentric or misaligned loads. This means that if the load is not exactly perpendicular to the surface it’s resting on, the data could become skewed or inaccurate. All on-axis load generates some level, no matter how small, of off-axis extraneous components. This can cause a variety of challenges including slight inaccuracies and reduction of the load cells overload capacity.

With Interface’s family of load button load cells, we bring premium accuracy and repeatability, even under eccentric angular loading. The shaped load button has a spherical radius to help confine misaligned loads to the primary axis of the cell. Our design engineers and force measurement experts have purposefully tested applications under a wide variety of load conditions to ensure that the our load button series can continue to deliver premium performance. We have been extremely pleased with the results and continue to advance our offerings, including the soon to be released precision focused ConvexBT load button load cells.

The load button load cells’ size has in the past precluded the use of internal temperature compensation. We have redesigned our ultra precision product line of load buttons to ensure that this is no longer something the user has to account for when testing a product in certain environmental conditions.

Interface engineers have eliminated this issue by taking the technology out of the load button load cells cable and designing it back into the product. This ensures that temperature-sensitive applications do not suffer from errors caused by the load cell being exposed to different environmental conditions than the cable.

These new features open new possibilities to test compression force on a broader range of products and environments. To learn more about our ultra precision Load Cell Load Buttons and how it can make a difference in your design and testing process when dealing with tight and confined spaces, contact our Application Engineer experts here.

To see the complete line of Load Button Load Cells, visit here.  Watch for the release announcement of our new ultra precision ConvexBT product coming out this month.

Contributors:  James Richardson, Interface Mechanical Engineering Manager and Ted Larson, VP Product Management and Marketing

Source:  Interface Load Cell Field Guide