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1. Definition of the Load Cell

As explained in the Introduction to Load Cell 1, load cells are sensors that convert force
(mass, torque) into electrical signals and output the electrical signals. Load cells are
also called load transducers.

In the dictionary, a load cell is described as a weight measurement device necessary for
electronic scales that display weights in digits.

Load cells can be classified according to the following operational principles:

1. Load cells that utilize liquid pressure or air pressure

2. Load cells that utilize elasticity
3. Load cells that utilize a magnetostriction effect or piezoelectricity effect

Among the many kinds of load cells, the strain gauge load cell is the most prevalent.
Therefore, when we say load cell, we are generally referring to strain gauge load cells.

While there are many measurement devices other than strain gauge load cells, such as
magnetostrictive sensors, capacitance sensors, and gyro sensors, this article will focus
on a description of strain gauge load cells.

Spring material
Strain gauge

Figure 1.1
2. Characteristics of the Strain Gauge Load Cell
The characteristics of the strain gauge load cell are as follows:

1. Highly precise measurements with little influence due to temperature changes

2. Long distance communication or command is possible as the output is an electrical
signal. Easy to do calculations and processing with a computer.
3. Small size given its capacity compared with other types of load cells.
4. The deflection due to the deformation of the spring material is small, and the spring
materials natural frequency is high. Thus, it is possible to shorten the
measurement time. Also, measurement of dynamic phenomena is possible.
5. Maintenance is easy and it has a long operating life because there are no moving
parts or any parts that generate friction.
6. Production is easy because of the sensors simple operation principle and small
number of components.
7. Excellent fatigue characteristics as long as the device is not overloaded, and its
performance can be maintained semipermanently.
8. The strain gauge load cell was once very difficult to manage because it had a
miniscule electrical output of V. However, this problem has been solved thanks to
advances in electronic technologies.

We act with.
one heartand mind


* Spring material and strain gauge

Figure 1.2
2. Measurement Principle of Load Cells
In order to convert force into electrical signals, we bond a sensor called a strain gauge
to the load cell. Lets examine a strain gauge in more detail.

1. Strain Gauge

1.1. History
The electrical resistance of a metallic object changes due to pressure or tension. This
phenomenon has been known for a long time. In 1878, Tomlinson quantitatively
measured increases in resistance for each unit of resistance (called the gauge factor).

1.2. Strain Gauge

The electrical resistance of many metals change when the metals are mechanically
elongated or contracted.

The same metallic string can differ in

electrical resistance depending on
whether it is elongated or contracted.
The longer the metallic string becomes,
the larger the resistance.

50 100 150

Figure 2.1
The strain gauge utilizes this principle and detects a strain by changes in resistance.


Metallic foil

Lead wire

Figure 2.2

A load cell is made by bonding strain gauges to a spring material. To efficiently detect
the strain, strain gauges are bonded to the position on the spring material where the
strain will be the largest.

Spring material
Strain gauge

Figure 2.3

There is a linear relationship between the strain of the strain gauge and the change in
its resistance. The following formula is valid:

= K
R: Initial resistance of the strain gauge ()

R : Resistance change caused by elongation or contraction ()

K: Proportional constant (called the gauge factor)

: Strain

The gauge factor K varies depending on the type of the metallic foil used. When a
copper-nickel alloy such as constantan is used (a common material used for strain
gauges) the value is approximately 2.

A load cell engineer says

When the stress caused by external force to an object is

below the proportional limit, the strain varies linearly with
the stress. In addition, when external force is applied to a
load cell and its spring material is deformed (strained), the
resistance value of the strain gauge varies linearly with the

Mr. S
2. Spring Material
The spring material generates a strain when external force is applied. When force is
exerted to a spring material, it causes a strain, and the resistance value of the strain
gauge bonded to the spring material will change. The spring material converts force
into an electrical output by utilizing the same principle. In order to enhance the
performance of a load cell, the characteristics of the spring material are very important.
The following characteristics are required for a spring material:

1. Creep should be small. Creep is defined as the phenomenon that occurs when the
deformation of an object caused by external force becomes larger with time.
2. The material should have a high proportional limit, which guarantees a wide range
of linearity.
3. The secular change of the material should be small and there should be no variation
of shape due to the remaining stress.
4. The resistance to impact should be high.
5. It should have good workability.

Generally, nickel-chrome-molybdenum steel, stainless steel, and aluminum steel are

considered to be materials that meet the above requirements.

2.1. How the Strain Occurs

An object changes its shape when acted upon by an external force. If an object is
deformed by an external force, a molecular force works between each molecule that
constitutes the object, generating an internal force that tries to prevent the deformation
by the external force. When the external force that the object receives is balanced with
the internal force generated inside the object, the deformation of the object will cease. At
this moment, the internal force per unit area that is generated on the cross section of
the object is called the stress.
See Figure 2.4.

External force

Planar dimension


Figure 2.4

He has received a punch on the head

The fist represents an external force and the head is an object. Stress will be generated
in the head in response to the external force created when the fist punches the head.
When the external force of the fist is P(N) and the planar dimension of the head is A(m2),
the stress (sigma) is calculated as follows:

P( N ) P
= 2
= ( Pa) (Pascal)
A(m ) A
2.2. Strain

When an object changes its form after being acted upon by an external force, the
changed portion from the original dimensions expressed per unit length is called the
strain. In the dictionary, strain is defined as the proportion of change, such as
elongation, contraction, contortion, etc. that occurs when an external force is applied to
an object.

See Figure 2.5.

Figure 2.5

He is being pulled by the cheek.

If the original length of the cheek is L, and the increased length when pulled is L, the
strain (epsilon) will be expressed as follows:

Increased length
l Original length

Strain is defined as the ratio between the original length and the increased length.
Strain cannot be expressed as a unit.
2.3. Poisson Ratio
An object becomes thinner and longer when stretched. The strain in the same direction
as the external force is called the longitudinal strain (1), the strain at the right angle
is called the transverse strain (2), and the ratio between these two values, the
poisson ratio (Nu). Many materials have a poisson ratio of approximately 0.3.

= 0.3

The elongation, which is longitudinal to the external force, is negative (+), and the
contraction, which is transverse to the external force is positive (-).

2.4. Relationship between Stress and Strain

As the external force being applied to an object gets largerfirst the strain increases
linearly with the stress generated in the object. However, when the stress exceeds a
certain limit, the linear relationship will no longer be true. This limit is known as the
proportional limit, the elastic limit, or the yield point. As the stress-strain
relationship is linear while the stress is below the proportional limit, we can
immediately determine the amount of stress based on the strain.
Elastic stage Plastic stage


Figure 2.6
Hookes law can be used to explain the linear relationship between stress and strain
below the proportional limit. The range where Hookes law is valid is called the elastic
stage, whereas the range where it is not valid is called the plastic stage. At the
plastic stage, the object will not return to its original shape even after removing the
external force and the strain will remain. The remaining strain is called the permanent
strain, or the residual strain.

A load cell engineer says

1. What is creep?
Creep refers to the phenomenon that occurs when a plastic
deformation of an object increases with time under
constant stress. The deformation accelerates as the
temperature increases or as the stress gets larger. Creep is
a salient feature of polymeric materials such as plastics.
2. What is secular variation?
Mr. K
This is the change in an object that occurs as time lapses.
3. Adhesive
The adhesive used to bond strain gauges to a spring material has to accurately transmit
the strain of the spring material to the gauge. The following characteristics are required
for the adhesive:

1. The adhesive bond should have enough strength to withstand temperature and
humidity changes
2. The bonding should have sufficient insulation against temperature and humidity.
3. The degree of shrinkage should be small when curing.

The following are various adhesive agents used to conduct strain measurements:

1. Solvent-vaporization adhesives
Solvent-vaporization adhesives such as K-4 harden at room temperature, and paper
gauges, porous base gauges, etc. can easily be attached.
2. Contact-curing adhesives
Alpha-cyanoacrylate adhesives such as CY-10 and Eastman 910. Gauges can be
bonded in a few minutes.
3. Epoxy adhesives
Each epoxy adhesive differs in adhesive pressure and curing time.
4. Phenol adhesives
Phenol Bakelite adhesive is one type of thermoset that requires relatively high
adhesive pressure and a long curing time. Phenol adhesives remain stable for a long
period in a loaded state.
A load cell engineer says

After thoroughly polishing the bonding surface of the load

cell (use an organic solvent such as acetone), dry and scribe
the surface, then thinly coat the surface with an adhesive.
Attach the gauges in a longitudinal direction in the same
position on both sides. Then solder the lead wire. It is
important to perform these operations accurately since Mr. S
they will affect the accuracy of the load cell. At each phase,
special tools and jigs are used.
4. The Shapes of Spring Materials and How Strains Occur
Spring materials have various shapes and each shape has different characteristics. The
five most commonly used spring materials are the column, Roberval, shear, ring, and
diaphragm types. Lets examine the distinctive characteristics of these five types of
spring materials and the ways in which strains occur when a force is applied.

4.1. Column Type

Figure 2.7 shows a conventional column load cell.
When the column is compressed by a force (F),
strain gauge 1 contracts while strain gauge
2 stretches. Now, when the strain of strain gauge 1 is 1
and that of strain gauge 2 is 2, the relationship
between the two gauges is expressed as 2 = 1
(: Poisson ratio).

1 = ( : Stress, E : Young's modulus)
Figure 2.7 Column load cell
= = 2 ( A : Planar dimension, R : Radius)
therefore the strain that occurs in the strain gauge 1 is:

R 2 E
2 = 2

The column structure is simple and this makes it possible to downsize the load cell even
when the capacity is large. On the other hand, this structure is not suitable for a small
capacity. Generally, the measurement range for the structure is between 2t and 300t. It
can be used for both tension and compression measurements.
4.2. Roberval Type (Double-beam Type, Parallel-beam Type)
Figure 2.8 shows a conventional Roberval-type load cell.

Figure 2.8. Roberval-type load cell

When a force (F) is applied to the Roberval-type load cell, strain gauge 1 contracts while
the strain gauge 2 stretches.

1 =


M is the moment in the bonding area of the strain gauge

Z is the unifacial factor in the bonding area of the strain

As a result:
b t2 (b : Thickness of the spring material)
The formula above is valid and therefore the strain that occurs in the strain gauge 1 will

3 F L
1 =
2bt2 E
2 = 1

This structure is suitable for high-precision load cells. The most remarkable feature of
this structure is that it can make a scale with no four-corner errors without using the
scale mechanism. Roberval-type load cells are used for such scales as value-weighing
scales and platform scales. The measurement range is generally between 1kg and 1ton,
and not suitable for large capacities.

4.3. Shear Type

Figure 2.9. Shear type load cell

Figure 2.9 Shows a typical shear-type load cell.

Strain gauges are bonded at a 45 angle on the neutral axis of the load cell.

1 = 2
The above formula is valid and judging only from the results, the strain that occurs can
be expressed as follows:
Sx 2
1 = 2 =
2GIb 0
h 2 2 2
th b h h
02 ydA = 8 + 2 ( 4 4 )
1 1

A particular characteristic of shear-type load cells is that they can be made smaller than
Roberval-type load cells with the same capacity. In addition, shear-type load cells are
strongly resistant to transverse loading and it is easy to make them highly precise. The
measurement range is generally between 100kg and 20t.
4.4. Ring Type (Annular Type)
The shape of the spring material is shown in Figure 2.10 on the right.
The ring load cell is a high precision load cell and primarily has an
intermediate capacity, ranging from 500kg to 20ton.

Figure 2.10 Ring load cell

4.5. Diaphragm Type

The diaphragm-type load cell has a round shape. A cross section of the diaphragm-type
is shown in Figure 2.11 below. The primary advantage of using a diaphragm-type load
cell is that its height can be lowered and it is resistant to transverse loading. However,
the precision is approximately 1/100 at best.

Figure 2.11. Diaphragm type load cell

5. Basic Circuit of Load Cells
When a force is applied to a load cell the electrical resistance of the strain gauges
attached to the spring material will vary. This change in the resistance value is
measured in volts. As the resistance change of the gauges is very small, a Wheatstone
Bridge is generally used, as illustrated in 2.12



Figure 2.12. Wheatstone Bridge

5.1. Wheatstone Bridge

The Wheatstone Bridge is an electrical circuit that is ideal for detecting minor changes
in resistance. It is also used to measure changes in the resistance of a strain gauge. The
Wheatstone Bridge is the combination of four resistors as shown in Figure 2.12. Gauges
R1, R2, R3, R4 are bonded to the positions shown in Figure 2.12 above and they serve as
bridges. The output voltage before loading can be obtained as follows:

R1R3 R2 R4
e= ein (ein : Input voltage)
( R1 + R2 )( R3 + R4 )

When the gauges connected to the four sides of the bridge are strained, each side R1, R2,
R3, R4 is changed slightly, and the strains +R1, R2, +R3, R4 are generated. The
output voltage at this moment can be expressed using the following equation:
R1R2 R1 R2 R3 R4 R3 R4
e = + +
e + ein
( R1 + R2 ) 2 R1 R2 ( R3 + R4 ) 2 R3 R4

Here, R1 = R2 = R3 = R4 holds true, and in the case of the Roberval structure,

|R1| = |R2| = |R3| = |R4| is also true. Therefore,

e = ein

R = K R

E = K ein

and the output voltage ( e ) is proportional to the strain ( ).

6. Various Correction Circuits
A conceptual diagram of load cell circuit was shown in Figure 2.12. However, a diagram
of an actual load cell would be more similar to the load cell circuit shown in Figure 2.13

R4 R3

R1 R2

R5 R5

R10 R9 R10
R11 R12 R12 R11

R6 R6

Figure 2.13. Load cell circuit

Various resistors are attached in order to adjust the output sensitivity, the temperature,
etc. in order for the load cell to satisfy its specifications. Lets examine the purpose and
type of each resistor.

R1 ~ R4 are strain gauges and R5 and R11 are resistors that compensate for temperature
changes that influence the output voltage. The factors that have the most significant
effect on the output voltage relating to temperature are temperature changes in the
elastic coefficient of the spring material (approx. -0.003%/C for irons, approx. -0.07%/C
for aluminum alloys) and temperature changes of the gauge factor of the spring gauge.
In order to compensate for errors caused by temperature in the output voltage of the
load cell, an element whose resistance value varies with changes in temperature is
connected to R5. The amount of currentwhich corresponds to changes in output caused
by the special temperature characteristics of the gauge factor of the strain gauges and
the Young modulus of the spring materialis adjusted.

Materials that have a large, positive temperature resistance coefficient, such as pure
nickel or copper, are normally used for resistance temperature detectors. R11 is a fixed
resistor and used to adjust the linearity of R5, etc.

Hes hot!
Need to adjust the current!


correction resistor

R10 and R12 are resistors for correcting the non-linearity of the output voltage. Column
load cells are often used for weighing systems with a large capacity. However, since the
cross-sectional area of the spring material changes when a force is applied, a linearity
error will occur. Thus, in addition to strain gauges, other elements that can detect the
stress of the spring material are also attached. As such, the linearity of the output
voltage of the load cell can be corrected by automatically adjusting the current that runs
through the bridge circuit. For R10, semiconductor gauges are often used. R12 is a fixed
resistor and used to adjust the linearization of R10, etc.

R8 is a resistor that is used to adjust the zero balance. When R1 = R2 = R3 = R4, the
output voltage should theoretically be zero, but in actuality there is a variation of
approximately 0.5 between R1 = R2 = R3 = R4. Therefore the zero-point output is
uneven. Thus, the zero balance will be kept at a fixed value by placing some form of
fixed resistance in the bridge.

R9 is a resistor used to adjust a zero-point change due to temperature. The zero-point

change of load cells can be attributed to the heat expansion or compression of the spring
material. To prevent this error, self-temperature compensation gauges are used. These
gauges reduce errors even though the ambient temperature changes. A resistor with a
large temperature coefficient is used for this correcting resistor.

R6 are fixed resistors for adjusting the output sensitivity, and R7 for adjusting the input

A load cell engineer says

A&D is capable of performing various types of corrections

using software to reduce costs while simultaneously
improving accuracy (such as creep correction). This is
possible only because A&D is an integrated manufacturer
of display circuits, strain gauges, and load cells.

Mr. K