What is a force transducer, what are the different types of force transducers and how do they work?
Get to know the functionalities and capabilities of various force sensors, also known as load cells, in this comprehensive guide.
Force Transducer manufactured in US by FUTEK Advanced Sensor Technology (FUTEK), a leading manufacturer producing a huge selection of sensors, utilizing one of the most advanced technologies in the Sensor Industry: Metal foil strain gauge technology. A Force Transducer is defined as a sensor that converts an input mechanical load, weight, tension, compression or pressure into an electrical output signal (load cell definition). Force Measuring sensors are also commonly known as Load Sensors. There are several types of load cells based on size, geometry and capacity.
What is a Force Transducer?
By definition, force sensor is a type of transducer, specifically a force transducer. It converts an input mechanical force such as load, weight, tension, compression or pressure (i.e. pressure measurement) into another physical variable, in this case, into an electrical output signal that can be measured, converted and standardized. As the force applied to the weight sensor increases, the electrical signal changes proportionally.
Transducers became an essential element in many industries from Automotive (car sensors or automotive sensors), High precision manufacturing, Aerospace & Defense, Industrial Automation, Medical & Pharmaceuticals and Robotics where reliable and high precision force measurement is paramount (i,e. medical load cell). Most recently, with the advancements in Collaborative Robots (Cobots) and Surgical Robotics, many novel force measurement applications are emerging.
LCM100 Miniature In Line Load Cell:
LTH300 Donut Thru Hole Load Cell - Force Washer
How does a Force Transducer work for Measuring Force?
Firstly, we need to understand the underlying physics and material science behind the force sensor working principle, which is the strain gauge (sometimes referred to as Strain gage). Metal foil strain gage is a sensor whose electrical resistance varies with applied force. In other words, it converts (or transduces) force, pressure, tension, compression, torque, weight, etc… into a change in electrical resistance, which can then be measured.
Strain gauges are electrical conductors tightly attached to a film in a zigzag shape. When this film is pulled, it — and the conductors — stretches and elongates. When it is pushed, it is contracted and gets shorter. This change in shape causes the resistance in the electrical conductors to also change. The strain applied in the load cell can be determined based on this principle, as strain gauge resistance increases with applied strain and diminishes with contraction.
Structurally, a load cell sensor is made of a metal body (also called flexure) to which foil strain gauges are bonded. The sensor body is usually made of aluminum or stainless steel, which gives the sensor two important characteristics: (1) provides the sturdiness to withstand high loads and (2) has the elasticity to minimally deform and return to its original shape when the force is removed.
When force (tension or compression) is applied, the metal body acts as a “spring” and is slightly deformed, and unless it is overloaded, it returns to its original shape. As the flexure deforms, the strain gage also changes its shape and consequently its electrical resistance, which creates a differential voltage variation through a Wheatstone Bridge circuit. Thus, the change in voltage is proportional to the physical force applied to the flexure, which can be calculated via the load cell circuit voltage output.
These strain gauges are arranged in what is called a Wheatstone Bridge Circuit (see animated diagram). This means that four strain gages are interconnected as a loop circuit (load cell circuit) and the measuring grid of the force being measured is aligned accordingly.
That being said, force sensor signal conditioners' functionalities include excitation voltage, noise filtering or attenuation, signal amplification, and output signal conversion.
Furthermore, the change in the amplifier voltage output is calibrated to be linearly proportional to the Newtonian force applied to the flexure, which can be calculated via the load cell circuit voltage equation.
An important concept regarding strain gauge load cells is load cell sensitivity and accuracy. Sensor accuracy can be defined as the smallest amount of force that can be applied to the sensor body required to cause a linear and repeatable variation in the voltage output. The higher the load cell accuracy, the better, as it can consistently capture very sensible force variations. In applications like high precision factory automation, surgical robotics, aerospace, load cell linearity is paramount in order to accurately feed the PLC or DAQ control system with the accurate measurement. Some of our Universal Pancake Load Cells presents Nonlinearity of ±0.1% (of Rated Output) and Nonrepeatability of ±0.05% RO, which make them an adequate model for rocket engine thrust test stand applications.
What are the advantages of strain gage-based force transducers?
Metal foil strain gaugeforce transducers are the most common technology, given its high accuracy, long term reliability, variety of shapes and sensor geometry and cost-effectiveness when compared to other measurement technologies. Also, strain gage sensors are less affected by temperature variations.
The highest accuracy which may conform to many standards from Surgical Robotics to Aerospace;
Robust Construction made of either high strength Stainless steel or Aluminum;
Maintain high performance at the longest possible work life even at the most rigorous conditions. Some load cell designs can go up to billions of fully reversed cycles (lifespan).
A plethora of geometries and customized shapes, as well as mounting options for ANY scale ANY-where.
A full gamut of selections with capacities ranging from 10 grams to 100,000 pounds.
What are the types of strain gage-based force transducers?
Column Load Cell – FUTEK provides a wide range of Canister Load Cells (also known as Column Load Cell) designed for high capacity compression applications such as CNC Machine Vise Clamping Force Test. These models offer robust construction with a capacity ranging from 2,000 to 30,000 lbs. FUTEK has also developed a miniature Load Cell Canister series for applications where size is a critical factor.
Thru-Hole Load Cell – Also known as donut load cell or washer load cell, thru-hole load cell traditionally have a smooth non-threaded inner diameter used to measure compressive loads that require a rod to pass through its center. One of the primary uses of this sensor type is to measure bolt clamping force.
Rod-End Load Cell – Also known as Actuator Load Cell, this load transducer type offers one male thread and one female thread for mounting. The male and female thread combination is well suited in applications where you need to adapt a sensor into an existing fixture.
Bending Beam Load Cell - The LBB200 Bending Beam Load Cell offers a slim design making it ideal for OEM applications. Utilized in Compression, the Bending Beam Load Cells can be used to measure force, surface pressure and displacement for OEM Applications. While FUTEK's average load cells and force sensors price range is about ~$600, LBB200 is a third of the price. LBB200 low cost load cell is an ideal fit for cost-sensitive applications that benefit from simple, accurate, and reliable strain-gauge-based force measurement sensors.
Single Point Load Cell - Side mounted load cell with a single point design that are specifically made for OEM applications that require high precision or high volume production. These strain gauged based force sensors measure tension and compression and are also known as compact parallelogram sensors, or single point load cell. Side mount load cells such as the LSM Series are are a recommended OEM weight measurement solution and are sensors used in bottle filling plants. LRF400 is an enclosed low capacity design suitable for applications such as high precision milligram scale for medication.
Pedal Load Cell: LAU Series Pedal Force Sensor offers an ideal solution for Automotive Applications. Load Cell Pedals are designed to measure load applied to the brake, accelerator, and clutch pedals during acceleration, deceleration, and transmission shift events. Brake Pedal Force Sensors are designed to measure load applied to the brake, accelerator, and clutch pedals during acceleration, deceleration, and transmission shift events.
How to choose a force transducer for your application?
We understand that choosing the right load transducer is a daunting task, as there is no real industry standard on how you go about selecting load cells for sale. There are also some challenges you may encounter, including finding the compatible load cell amplifier module or signal conditioner or requiring a custom product that would increase the product’s delivery time.
Step 1:Understand your application and what you are measuring. A Load sensor is different from pressure sensor, torque sensor or force torque sensor and they are designed to measure tension and compression loads.
Step 2: Define the sensor mounting characteristics and its assembly. Do you have static load or is it a dynamic type? Define the mounting type. How will you be mounting this Sensor?
Step 3: Define your minimum and maximum capacity requirements. Be sure to select the capacity over the maximum operating load and determine all extraneous load (side loads or off-center loads) and moments prior to selecting the capacity.
Step 4:Define your size and geometry requirements (width, weight, height, length, etc) and mechanical performance requirements (output, nonlinearity, hysteresis, creep, bridge resistance, resolution, frequency response etc.) Other characteristics to consider include waterproof force sensor (aka submersible load cell), cryogenic, high temperature, multiple or redundant bridges, and TEDS IEEE1451.4.
Step 5:Define the type of output your application requires. Transducer circuits outputs voltage in mV/V. So, if your PLC or DAQ requires analog output (i.e. 4-20ma load cell analog output), digital load cell output or serial communication, you will certainly need a load cell amplifier. Some applications require a handheld display or a load cell indicator for local load cell readout. Make sure to select the right amplifier as well as calibrate the entire measurement system (load transducer + signal conditioner). This turnkey solution translates into more compatibility and accuracy of the entire load measurement system.