A temperature sensor is a device that detects, measures, and analyses the temperature of its surroundings. We can categorise these instruments into two types: contact and non-contact.

As you might guess, contact sensors come into direct content with the object to be measured, while non-contact sensors use IR radiation.

There are several different types of temperature sensors within these categories, each with unique features and functions. And you can buy them at any reputable supplier e.g. RS Components. Let’s dive into a few of these types now.

  1. Resistance temperature detectors (RTDs)

Resistance temperature detectors determine a material’s temperature by measuring changes in electrical resistance. These devices are typically made from platinum, nickel, or copper, making them a great choice for working under extreme temperatures.

You’ll most commonly find RTDs in oil and gas, petrochemical, and power generation industries. For the most accurate linear output under extreme temperatures, platinum RTDs are the best choice—they can withstand temperatures from -200°C to 600°C. However, they’re more expensive than their nickel and copper counterparts.

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  1. Temperature probes

Temperature probes, such as cable and surface probes, are contact-type sensors designed to determine an object’s temperature quickly and precisely. They can measure liquids, solids, and gases and have applications across various industries.

Probe thermometers are especially popular in the food industry for meeting health and safety regulations. To use a temperature probe, insert it into the thickest part of the food and wait for the reading to stabilise.

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Temperature probes are also used for:

  • Detecting fever and other abnormalities in the medical industry.
  • Measuring the temperature of a system or its components in science research labs.
  • Quality control in manufacturing plants.
  1. Thermocouples

A thermocouple is an electrical sensor that converts temperature into an analogue or digital signal. These devices can measure the temperature of gases, liquids, and solids, as well as air quality and other environmental factors.

The ‘couple’ part of the name comes from the thermocouple’s design—it features two wires that join at one end. The wires are made from different metals and generate varying voltages that reflect temperature changes.

To use a thermocouple for temperature control, you’ll need a conversion or lookup table thanks to their nonlinear nature. While these devices have low accuracy compared to other temperature sensors, they offer the broadest temperature range, withstanding conditions from -200°C to 1,750°C.

  1. Semiconductor-based temperature sensors

Semiconductor-based temperature sensors usually function as part of an integrated circuit or IC. These detectors use two identical diodes to monitor temperature changes, each with temperature-sensitive current and voltage characteristics.

The semiconductor is normally material such as silicon, germanium, or silicon-germanium. This option offers the lowest accuracy, slowest response rate, and a limited temperature range out of all temperature sensor types. However, they are inexpensive, highly linear, and durable, so it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons before making your choice.

The importance of temperature sensing

Temperature plays a critical role in safety and wellbeing across industries, including automotive, aerospace, defence, consumer electronics, food, medicine, and many more. As such, investing in high-quality, accurate temperature sensing tools is vital for businesses across these industries.

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