A load cell
is a transducer which converts force into a measurable electrical output. Although there are many varieties
of load cells, strain gage based load cells are the most commonly used type.
Except for certain laboratories where precision mechanical balances are still used, strain gage load cells dominate the weighing industry.
Pneumatic load cells are sometimes used where intrinsic safety and hygiene are desired, and hydraulic load cells are considered in remote
locations, as they do not require a power supply. Strain gage load cells offer accuracies from within 0.03% to 0.25% full scale and are
suitable for almost all industrial applications.
Read more about what is a load cell
Wheatstone Circuit with Compensation
Load Cell History
Before strain gage-based load cells became the method of choice for industrial weighing applications, mechanical lever scales were widely used.
Mechanical scales can weigh everything from pills to railroad cars and can do so accurately and reliably if they are properly calibrated and
maintained. The method of operation can involve either the use of a weight balancing mechanism or the detection of the force developed by mechanical
levers. The earliest, pre-strain gage force sensors included hydraulic and pneumatic designs. In 1843, English physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone
devised a bridge circuit that could measure electrical resistances. The Wheatstone bridge circuit is ideal for measuring the resistance changes
that occur in strain gages. Although the first bonded resistance wire strain gage was developed in the 1940s, it was not until modern electronics
caught up that the new technology became technically and economically feasible. Since that time, however, strain gages have proliferated both as
mechanical scale components and in stand-alone load cells.
Load Cell Operating Principles
Load cell designs can be distinguished according to the type of output signal generated (pneumatic, hydraulic, electric) or
according to the way they detect weight (bending, shear, compression, tension, etc.)
Hydraulic load cells
are force -balance devices, measuring weight as a change in pressure of the internal filling fluid. In a rolling
diaphragm type hydraulic load cell, a load or force acting on a loading head is transferred to a piston that in turn compresses a filling
fluid confined within an elastomeric diaphragm chamber. As force increases, the pressure of the hydraulic fluid rises. This pressure can be
locally indicated or transmitted for remote indication or control. Output is linear and relatively unaffected by the amount of the filling
fluid or by its temperature. If the load cells have been properly installed and calibrated, accuracy can be within 0.25% full scale or better,
acceptable for most process weighing applications. Because this sensor has no electric components, it is ideal for use in hazardous areas.
Typical hydraulic load cell applications include tank, bin, and hopper weighing. For maximum accuracy, the weight of the tank should be
obtained by locating one load cell at each point of support and summing their outputs.
Pneumatic load cells
also operate on the force-balance principle. These devices use multiple dampener chambers to provide higher accuracy
than a hydraulic device. In some designs, the first dampener chamber is used as a tare weight chamber. Pneumatic load cells are often
used to measure relatively small weights in industries where cleanliness and safety are of prime concern. The advantages of this type of load
cell include their being inherently explosion proof and insensitive to temperature variations. Additionally, they contain no fluids that might
contaminate the process if the diaphragm ruptures. Disadvantages include relatively slow speed of response and the need for clean, dry,
regulated air or nitrogen.
Strain-gage load cells
convert the load acting on them into electrical signals. The gauges themselves are bonded onto a beam or structural
member that deforms when weight is applied. In most cases, four strain gages are used to obtain maximum sensitivity and temperature compensation.
Two of the gauges are usually in tension, and two in compression, and are wired with compensation adjustments. When
weight is applied, the strain changes the electrical resistance of the gauges in proportion to the load. Other load cells are fading into
obscurity, as strain gage load cells continue to increase their accuracy and lower their unit costs.
Read more about load cell types