Thermocouples Operation & Maintenance Instructions (1117 Thermocouple)

Thermocouples are the most widely used temperature sensors. They are low cost, interchangeable, robust and can measure a wide range of temperatures.

Thermocouples basically consist of two dissimilar metals/alloys  that when junctioned, that will generate a small EMF signal if there is a temperature difference between the hot junction, (measuring junction) and the cold junction or the (reference junction).
The EMF signal will be dependent only on the temperature difference and as such a thermocouple cannot be tested properly while both junctions are at the same temperature unless you use a thermocouple indicator.

Although almost any two types of metal can be used to make a thermocouple, a number of standard types are used because they possess predictable output voltages and large temperature gradients.
It is essential for the wiring from the thermocouple (cold junction) to the measuring instrument be in compensating or extension grade material of the same calibration as the thermocouple.  Using copper wires or other materials will cause loss of EMF and errors.

The law of intermediate metals states that a third metal, inserted between the two dissimilar metals of a thermocouple junction will have no effect provided that the two junctions are at the same temperature. This law is also important in the construction of thermocouple junctions. It is acceptable to make a thermocouple junction by soldering the two metals together as the solder will not affect the reading. In practice, thermocouple junctions are made by welding the two metals together; this ensures that the performance is not limited by the melting point of solder.

Thermocouples are available either as bare wire 'bead' thermocouples which offer low cost and fast response times, built into probes or mineral insulated metal sheath (MIMS) sensors.
A wide variety of probes are available, suitable for different measuring applications (industrial, scientific, food temperature, medical research etc).

When choosing a thermocouple consideration should be given to both the thermocouple type, insulation and probe construction. All of these will have an effect on the measurable temperature range, accuracy and reliability of the readings.

Type K (Chromel / Alumel)

Type K is the 'general purpose' thermocouple. It is low cost and, owing to its popularity, it is available in a wide variety of probes. Thermocouples are available in the -200°C to +1200°C range. Sensitivity is approx 41uV/°C. Use type K unless you have a good reason not to.

Type “K” EMF in mV Ansi MC96.1 1975 IEC 584-3
(Reference Junction 0C)

Material + Chromel / - Alumel
Colour + Yellow / - Red

°C 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
0 0.000 0.397 0.798 1.203 1.611 2.022 2.436 2.850 3.266 3.681 4.095
100 4.095 4.508 4.919 5.327 5.733 6.137 6.539 9.639 7.338 7.737 8.137
200 8.137 8.537 8.938 9.341 9.745 10.151 10.560 10.969 11.381 11.793 12.207
300 12.207 12.623 13.039 13.456 13.874 14.292 14.712 15.132 15.552 15.974 16.395
400 16.395 16.818 17.241 17.664 18.088 18.513 18.938 19.300 19.788 20.214 20.640
500 20.640 21.066 21.493 21.919 22.346 22.772 23.198 23.624 24.050 24.476 24.902
600 24.902 25.327 25.751 26.176 26.599 27.022 27.445 27.867 28.288 28.709 29.128
700 29.128 29.547 29.965 30.383 30.799 31.214 31.629 32.042 32.455 32.866 33.277
800 33.277 33.686 34.095 34.502 34.909 35.314 35.718 36.121 36.524 36.925 37.325
900 37.325 37.724 38.122 38.519 38.915 39.310 39.703 40.096 40.488 40.879 41.269
1000 41.269 41.657 42.045 42.432 42.817 43.202 43.585 43.968 44.349 44.729 45.108
1100 45.108 45.486 45.863 46.238 46.612 46.985 47.356 47.726 48.095 48.462 48.828

Type J (Iron / Constantan)

Limited range (-40 to +750°C) makes type J less popular than type K. The main application is with old equipment that cannot accept 'modern' thermocouples. J types should not be used above 760°C as an abrupt magnetic transformation will cause permanent decalibration.

Type “J” EMF in mV MC96.1 1975 IEC 584-3 (Reference Junction 0°C)
Material + Iron / - Constantan
Colour White / Red

°C 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
0 0.000 0.507 1.019 1.536 2.058 2.585 3.115 3.649 4.186 4.725 5.268
100 5.268 5.812 6.359 6.907 7.457 8.008 8.560 9.113 9.667 10.222 10.777
200 10.777 11.332 11.887 12.442 12.998 13.553 14.108 14.663 15.217 15.771 16.325
300 16.325 16.879 17.432 17.984 18.537 19.089 19.640 20.192 20.743 21.295 21.846
400 21.846 22.397 22.949 23.501 24.054 24.607 25.161 25.716 26.272 26.829 27.388
500 27.388 27.949 28.511 29.075 29.642 30.210 30.782 31.356 31.933 32.513 33.096
600 33.096 33.683 34.273 34.867 35.464 36.066 36.671 37.280 37.893 38.510 39.130
700 39.130 39.754 40.382 41.013 41.647 42.283 42.922 43.563 44.207 44.852 45.498
800 45.498 46.144 46.790 47.434 48.076 48.716 49.354 49.989 50.620 51.249 51.875

Type N (Nicrosil / Nisil)

High stability and resistance to high temperature oxidation makes type N suitable for high temperature measurements without the cost of platinum (B,R,S) types. Designed to be an 'improved' type K, it is becoming more popular.

Type “N” EMF in mV Ansi MC96.1 1975 IEC 584-3 (Reference Junction 0°C)
Material + Nicrosil/-Nisil
Colour + Orange / - Red
°C 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
0 0.000 0.261 0.525 0.793 1.064 1.340 1.619 1.902 2.188 2.479 2.774
100 2.774 3.072 3.374 3.679 3.988 4.301 4.617 4.936 5.258 5.584 5.912
200 5.912 6.243 6.577 6.914 7.254 7.596 7.940 8.287 8.636 8.987 9.340
300 9.340 9.695 10.053   10.773 11.135 11.499 11.865 12.233 12.602 12.972
400 12.972 13.344 13.717 14.092 14.467 14.844 15.222 15.601 15.981 16.362 16.744
500 16.744 17.127 17.511 17.869 18.282 18.668 19.055 19.443 19.8.1 20.220 20.609
600 20.609 20.999 21.390 21.781 22.172 22.564 22.956 23.348 23.740 24.133 24.526
700 24.526 24.919 25.312 25.705 26.098 26.491 26.885 27.278 27.671 28.063 28.456
800 28.456 28.849 29.241 29.633 30.025 30.417 30.808 31.199 31.590 31.980 32.370
900 32.370 32.760 33.149 33.538 33.927 34.315 34.702 35.089 35.476 35.862 36.248
1000 36.248 36.633 37.018 37.403 37.786 38.169 38.552 38.934 39.316 39.696 40.076
1100 40.076 40.456 40.835 41.213 41.590 41.966 42.342 42.717 43.091 43.464 43.836
1200 43.836 44.207 44.578 44.947 45.315 45.682 46.048 46.413 46.777 47.140 47.502
1200 47.502                    

Thermocouple types B, R and S are all 'noble' metal thermocouples and exhibit similar characteristics. They are the most stable of all thermocouples, but due to their low sensitivity (approx 10uV/0C) they are usually only used for high temperature measurement (>600°C). These Noble metal thermocouples all require high purity ceramic protection sheaths for use in industrial applications.

Type B (Platinum / Rhodium)

Suited for high temperature measurements up to 1800°C.

Type R (Platinum / Rhodium)

Suited for high temperature measurements up to 1600°C. Low sensitivity (10uV/°C) and high cost.

Type S (Platinum / Rhodium)

Suited for high temperature measurements up to 1600°C. Due to its high stability type S is used as the standard of calibration for the melting point of gold (1064.43°C).

Precautions and Considerations for Using Thermocouples

Most measurement problems and errors with thermocouples are due to a lack of understanding of how thermocouples work. Thermocouples can suffer from ageing and accuracy may vary consequently especially after prolonged exposure to temperatures at the extremities of their useful operating range. Listed below are some of the more common problems to be aware of.

Connection problems

Many measurement errors are caused by unintentional thermocouple junctions. Any junction of two different metals will cause a junction. If you need to increase the length of the leads from your thermocouple, you must use the correct type of thermocouple extension wire (eg type K for type K thermocouples). Using any other type of wire will introduce a thermocouple junction. Any connectors used must be made of the correct thermocouple material and correct polarity must be observed. Any shorting of the thermocouple leads in the terminal head or connector will create another junction and the instrument will read this temperature not the hot junction temperature.

Lead Resistance

To improve response times, thermocouples are made of thin wire (in the case of platinum types cost is also a consideration). This can cause the thermocouple to have a high resistance which can make it sensitive to noise and can also cause errors due to the input impedance of the measuring instrument. A typical exposed junction thermocouple with 32AWG wire (0.25mm diameter) will have a resistance of about 15 ohms / meter. If thermocouples with thin leads or long cables are needed, it is worth keeping the thermocouple leads short and then using thermocouple extension wire (which is much thicker, so has a lower resistance) to run between the thermocouple and measuring instrument.

Noise

The output from a thermocouple is a small signal, so it is prone to electrical noise pick up. If operating in an extremely noisy environment, (such as near a large electric motor) it is recommended using a screened extension cable. If noise pickup is suspected first switch off all suspect equipment and see if the reading changes.
There are no maintenance functions possible on a thermocouple, however scheduled calibration checks are recommended.

Thermocouples do drift in calibration, but rate of drift is dependent upon time and temperature.
In a known temperature source check the thermocouple output against the Thermocouple Degrees C vs. EMF Tables.

Thermocouples or their wiring can go short circuit or open circuit causing error signals.  Another fault condition for Data loggers or Transmitters is poor insulation resistance between the conductors and earth resulting in a grounding of the thermocouple loop.

If the thermocouple shows either of the 3 fault conditions it should be replaced.

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