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Load Cell - Introduction & Types

Load Cell History

Tension and compression load cell Before strain gauge 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 gauges 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 gauges. Although the first bonded resistance wire strain gauge 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 gauges 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 gauge 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 gauge load cells offer accuracies from within 0.03% to 0.25% full scale and are suitable for almost all industrial applications.

In applications not requiring great accuracy, such as in bulk material handling and truck weighing mechanical platform scales are still widely used. However, even in these applications, the forces transmitted by mechanical levers often are detected by load cells because of their inherent compatibility with digital, computer-based instrumentation.

The features and capabilities of the various load cell designs are summarised in the table below.

Load Cell Performance Comparison

Type Weight Range Accurracy (FS) Apps Strength Weakness
 Mechanical Load Cells
Hydraulic Load Cells Up to 5000 tonnes 0.25% Tanks, bins and hoppers, hazardous areas Takes high impacts, insensitive to temperature Expensive, complex
Pneumatic Load Cells Wide High Food industry, hazardous areas Intrinsically safe, contains no fluids Slow response, requires clean, dry air
Bending Beam Load Cells 5 to 2500 Kg 0.03% Tanks, platform scales Low cost, simple construction Strain gauges are exposed, require protection
 Strain Gauge Load Cells
Bending Beam Load Cells 5 to 2500 Kg 0.03% Tanks, platform scales Low cost, simple construction Strain gauges are exposed, require protection
Shear Beam Load Cells 5 to 2500 Kg 0.03% Tanks, platform scales, off centre loads High side load rejection, better sealing and protection  
Canister Load Cells to 250 tonnes 0.05% Truck, tank, track, and hopper scales Handles load movements No horizontal load protection
Ring and Pancake Load Cells to 250 tonnes   Tanks, bins, scales All stainless steel No load movement allowed
Button and washer Load Cells 0 to 25 tonnes / 0 to 100 Kg typical 1% Small scales Small, inexpensive Loads must be centred, no load movement permitted
 Other Load Cells
Helical 0 to 20 tonnes 0.2% Platform, forklift, wheel load, automotive seat weight Handles off-axis loads, overloads, shocks  
Fibre Optic   0.1% Electrical transmission cables, stud or bolt mounts Immune to RFI/EMI and high temps, intrinsically safe  
Piezo-resistive   0.03%   Extremely sensitive, high signal output level High cost, nonlinear output

Load Cell 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 cell

waterproof load cell  
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.

One drawback is that the elastomeric diaphragm limits the maximum force that can be exerted on the piston to about 1,000 psig. All-metal load cells also are available and can accommodate much higher pressures. Special metal diaphragm load cells have been constructed to detect weights up to 5000 tonnes.

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. As three points define a plane, the ideal number of support points is three. The outputs of the cells can be sent to a hydraulic totaliser that sums the load cell signals and generates an output representing their sum. Electronic totalisers can also be used.

Pneumatic load cell

Pneumatic load cells also operate on the force-balance principle. These devices use multiple dampener chambers to provide higher accuracy than can 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 Gauge load cells

Strain Gauge 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 gauges 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 below, left). When weight is applied, the strain changes the electrical resistance of the gauges in proportion to the load.

Weighing Applications

Load cells represented the first major design change in weighing technology. In today's processing plants, electronic load cells are preferred in most applications, although mechanical lever scales are still used if the operation is manual and the operating and maintenance personnel prefer their simplicity.

In this page you find a weighing system design with load cells.

 Types of Load Cells
LCGD Compression Load Cell

Compression Load Cell

Compression load cells often have an integral button design. They are ideal for mounting where space is restricted. They offer excellent long term stability.

LCFD Compression/Tension Load Cell

Compression/Tension Load Cell

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.
LC101 S-Beam Load Cell

S-Beam Load Cell

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.
LC501 Bending Beam Load Cell

Bending Beam Load Cell

Used in multiple load cell applications, tank weighing and industrial process control. They feature low profile construction for integration into restricted areas.
LCHD Platform and Single Point Load Cell

Platform and Single Point Load Cell

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.
LC1001 Canister and Single Point Load Cell

Canister Load Cell

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.
LC402 Low Profile Load Cell

Low Profile Load Cell

Compression and tension/compression load cells. Mounting holes and female threads provide easy installation. Used frequently in weighing research and in-line force monitoring.

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