What is a Load Cell?
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.
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. Today, 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.
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 as shown in Figure 7-2. 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.
Styles of Load Cells
Compression Load Cells
Compression load cells often have an integral button design. They are ideal for mounting where space is restricted. They offer excellent long term stability.
Compression/Tension Load Cells
Compression/tension load cells can be used for applications where the load may go from tension to compression and vice versa. They are ideal for space restricted environments. Threaded ends facilitate easy installation.
S-Beam Load Cells
S-Beam load cells get their name from their S shape. S-Beam load cells can provide an output if under tension or compression. Applications include tank level, hoppers and truck scales. They provide superior side load rejection.
Bending Beam Load Cells
Used in multiple load cell applications, tank weighing and industrial process control. They feature low profile construction for integration into restricted areas.
Platform and Single Point Load Cells
Platform and single point load cells are used to commercial and industrial weighing systems. They provide accurate readings regardless of the position of the load on the platform.
Canister Load Cells
Canister load cells are used for single and multi-weighing applications. Many feature an all stainless steel design and are hermetically sealed for washdown and wet areas.
Low Profile Load Cells
Compression and tension/compression load cells. Mounting holes and female threads provide easy installation. Used frequently in weighing research and in-line force monitoring.