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Temperature Calibration

Temperature calibration provides a means of quantifying uncertainties in temperature measurement in order to optimise sensor and/or system accuracies. Uncertainties result from various factors including:

a) Sensor tolerances which are usually specified according to published standards and manufacturers specifications.
b) Instrumentation (measurement) inaccuracies, again specified in manufacturers specifications.
c) Drift in the characteristics of the sensor due to temperature cycling and ageing.
d) Possible thermal effects resulting from the installation, for example thermal voltages created at interconnection junctions.

A combination of such factors will constitute overall system uncertainty. Calibration procedures can be applied to sensors and instruments separately or in combination. Calibration can be performed to approved recognised standards (National and International) or may simply constitute checking procedures on an “in-house” basis. Temperature calibration has many facets, it can be carried out thermally in the case of probes or electrically (simulated) in the case of instruments and it can be performed directly with certified equipment or indirectly with traceable standards. Thermal (temperature) calibration is achieved by elevating (or depressing) the temperature sensor to a known, controlled temperature and measuring the corresponding change in its associated electrical parameter (voltage or resistance). The accurately measured parameter is compared with that of a certified reference probe; the absolute difference represents a calibration error. This is a comparison process.

If the sensor is connected to a measuring instrument, the sensor and instrument combination can be effectively calibrated by this technique. Absolute temperatures are provided by fixed point apparatus and comparison measurements are not used in that case. Electrical Calibration is used for measuring and control instruments which are scaled for temperature or other parameters. An electrical signal, precisely generated to match that produced by the appropriate sensor at various temperatures is applied to the instrument which is then calibrated accordingly. The sensor is effectively simulated by this means which offers a vary convenient method of checking or calibration. A wide range of calibration “simulators” is available for this purpose; in many cases, the operator simply sets the desired temperature and the equivalent electrical signal is generated automatically without the need for computation. However this approach is not applicable to sensor calibration for which various thermal techniques are used.

The International Temperature Scale of 1990

The International Temperature Scale of 1990 was adopted by the International Committee of Weights and Measures at its meeting in 1989, in accordance with the request embodied in Resolution 7 of the 18th General Conference of Weights and Measures of 1987. This scale supersedes the International Practical Temperature Scale of 1968 (amended edition of 1975) and the 1976 Provisional 0.5 K to 30 K Temperature Scale.

1. Units of Temperature

The unit of the fundamental physical quantity known as thermodynamic temperature, symbol T, is the kelvin, symbol K, defined as the fraction 1/273.16 of the thermodynamic temperature of the triple point of water1.

Because of the way earlier temperature scales were defined, it remains common practice to express a temperature in terms of its difference from 273.15 K, the ice point. A thermodynamic temperature, T, expressed in this way is known as a Celsius temperature, symbol t, defined by:

t / °C = T/K - 273.15 . (1)

The unit of Celsius temperature is the degree Celsius, symbol °C, which is by definition equal in magnitude to the kelvin. A difference of temperature may be expressed in kelvins or degrees Celsius.

The International Temperature Scale of 1990 (ITS-90) defines both International Kelvin Temperatures, symbol T90, and International Celsius Temperatures, symbol t90. The relation between T90 and t90, is the same as that between T and t, i.e.:

t90 / °C = T90/K - 273.15 . (2)

The unit of the physical quantity T90 is the kelvin, symbol K, and the unit of the physical quantity t90, is the degree Celsius, symbol °C, as is the case for the thermodynamic temperature T and the Celsius temperature t.

ITS 90 Fixed points include:

Boiling point of Nitrogen -195.798°C
Mercury triple point -38.8344°C
Triple point of water 0.01°C
Melting point of Gallium 29.7646°C
Freezing point of Indium 156.5985°C
Freezing point of Tin 231.928°C
Freezing point of Lead 327.462°C
Freezing point of Zinc 419.527°C
Freezing point of Antimony 630.63°C
Freezing point of Aluminium 660.323°C
Freezing point of Silver 961.78°C