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Temperature measurement instruments can be divided into contact and noncontact types. Sensors used in contact-type instruments include thermocouples, resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), thermistors, and semiconductor temperature sensors. Since contact sensors measure their own temperature they require physical contact with the measured object to bring the sensor body to the object’s temperature.

In some applications this contact creates problems: The measured object or media may be located at a distance or in a hazardous environment with no easy access. Measurements of moving objects are also difficult. A small object’s temperature may be altered when a relatively large sensor touches it and acts as a heat sink.

Noncontact infrared (IR) thermometers, if used properly, offer convenient solutions for these and many other measurement applications. However, you should select the measuring instrument and measurement techniques to be compatible with the application.

Pyrometer is derived from the Greek root pyro, meaning fire. The term pyrometer was originally used to denote a device capable of measuring temperatures of objects above incandescence, objects bright to the human eye. The terms pyrometer and radiation thermometer are used interchangeably by many references.

Radiation Pyrometer

Principle of Operation

Heat is transferred from one body to another through conduction, convection, or radiation. Radiation is a process where heat energy in a form of electromagnetic waves is emitted by a hot object and absorbed by a colder object. Most of this radiation is in the infrared (IR) region of the electromagnetic spectrum, but some also spreads into the visible light band. The IR wavelength band stretches from 0.7 to 1000 microns, however practical IR measurement systems use only certain wavelength bands between 0.7 and 14 microns because the radiation is the strongest in this range.

If an object is exposed to IR energy radiated by a heat source, such as an electric heater, light bulb, sun, or other source, the energy reaching the object is called incident energy. Part of this energy is reflected off the object surface. Theoretically, the object’s coefficient of reflectivity can vary from 0 (no reflection) to 1.0 (100% reflection). Rough, matt surfaces have low reflectivity. Polished and glossy surfaces, especially metals, have high reflectivity.

Depending on the object material, thickness, and the radiation wavelength, part of the radiation can go through the object or be transmitted. The coefficient of transmission can vary from 0 (no energy transmitted through object) to 1.0 (100% energy transmitted through

object). High transmittance examples include glass, quartz, plastic film, and various gasses. Materials opaque in the IR spectrum have close to zero transmission coefficients.

The remaining energy is absorbed by the object and raises its temperature. A hypothetical body that has no reflection or transmission and absorbs all incident energy across the entire spectrum has a coefficient of absorption equal to 1.0 and is called a blackbody. Real-life objects, referred to as gray bodies, have coefficients of absorption that fall between 0 and 1.0. Incident energy, W I , is defined as:

W I = W R + W T + W A



I = incident energy received by the object, W


R = energy reflected off the object’s surface, W


T = energy transmitted by the object, W


A = energy absorbed by the object, W

object, W W A = energy absorbed by the object, W As the object absorbs energy

As the object absorbs energy and heats, it also emits energy. When an object is in a state of

thermal equilibrium, the amount of energy it absorbs (W A ) equals the amount of energy it emits (W E ): W A = W E . When an object absorbs more energy and its temperature increases, the amount of radiation it emits also increases.

IR thermometry is based on the fact that any body (solid, liquid, or gaseous) that has a

temperature above absolute zero (0 o K or -273 o C) emits radiant energy. This energy is proportional to the forth power of the body temperature, and the body’s ability to absorb and emit IR energy is called emissivity. Energy radiated by a body can be expressed as follows:

W = E σ T 4 A


W = energy, W

E = emissivity

T = absolute temperature, o K

A = emitting area, m 2

Emissivity can range from 0 to 1 for various bodies. A hypothetical blackbody emits and absorbs all energy and thus has an emissivity equal to 1. Real-life objects have an emissivity between 0 and 1.

When an IR thermometer measures an object’s temperature, consider the energy that actually enters the lens. That is, in addition to emitting energy related to its own temperature, the object may reflect energy coming from another source, or transmit energy passing through it from a source behind it. For accurate measurements, survey the surrounding area for possible sources of extraneous IR radiation and choose the thermometer position and aiming angle to minimize the effects of those sources.

Components of IR Thermometers

Infrared temperature measurement instrument design varies from simple hand-held thermometers that can be purchased for less than a hundred to complex special-purpose instruments that cost hundreds and even thousands. However, some building blocks are common for most designs.

A typical infrared thermometer consists of

1. Optical components,

2. IR detector,

3. Electronics, and

4. A display or interface output stage.

3. Electronics, and 4. A display or interface output stage. Optical parts focus radiation energy onto

Optical parts focus radiation energy onto the IR detector and filter out radiation outside the desired wavelength band. These components include collecting optics, lenses, fiber optics, and spectral optical filters.

Based on the principle of operation, IR detectors fall into one of two categories:

1. Thermal detectors and

2. Photo detectors (photodiodes).

Thermal IR detectors absorb the incident energy, raise the sensing element temperature, and change the detector’s electrical properties: thermopiles generate thermoelectric voltage, bolometers change resistance, and pyroelectric devices change their polarization. In general, they are slower than photo detectors.

Thermal IR detectors

A thermopile is made by connecting several thermocouples in series and placing their hot

junctions in contact with a black body that absorbs the incident IR energy and heats the hot junctions. The cold junctions are placed in the area of the detector with adequate heat sinking. These detectors have fast response, broad band, large dynamic range, and are frequently used

in general-purpose, automotive, air conditioning, and human-body thermometers.

Bolometers use a slab of material that changes its resistance in response to a change of temperature. The circuit converts resistance change to a voltage change, which is further processed by the instrument. Bolometers are frequently used for measuring low-level IR energy, often as an attachment to a telescope.

Pyroelectric devices become electrically charged when their body temperature changes. To produce a usable signal, the incident IR energy has to “pulse”. The output peak-to-peak AC signal is proportional to the pulse energy. Since energy emitted by measured objects is usually steady, thermometers that use pyroelectric detectors have a mechanical or optical chopper in front of the sensor. These sensors are used in many home security systems.

Photo detectors

Photo detectors are built on a silicon substrate with an IR sensitive area that releases free electrons when impacted by the photons. The flow of electrons produces electrical signals proportional to the incident energy. These detectors are often used as arrays in thermal imaging systems.

Electronics & Accessories

A detector needs protection from the environment, and the selected window material must

allow the correct wavelength band to pass through with minimum attenuation. A zinc sulfide or

germanium window is best for the long-wavelength detectors, glass is suitable for short- wavelength detectors, and quartz for the mid-wavelength spectrum. Some instruments use a fiber-optic light guide to direct the radiation to the detector.

Since all types of IR detectors produce signals in the microvolt range, a high-gain amplifier should follow the detector. Detector output vs. temperature curves are not linear and fluctuate greatly with a change in ambient temperature. To remedy this, a signal-conditioning circuit stabilizes the temperature and linearizes the signal. Many applications require an analog- to-digital converter (ADC) to convert the temperature reading to a digital format.

Hand-held and many other instrument types have a built-in display, while other devices connect to a computer, data acquisition system, or temperature control system via an RS232 or RS-485 cable. Some instruments simulate a thermocouple output, others have a 0 – 20 mA or 4 – 20 mA current loop, or voltage output.

Two-Color Radiation Thermometers

Also called as ratio radiation thermometer, these devices measure the radiated energy of an object between two narrow wavelength bands, and calculate the ratio of the two energies, which is a function of the temperature of the object.

Originally, these were called two color pyrometers, because the two wavelengths corresponded to different colors in the visible spectrum (for example, red and green). Many people still use the term two-color pyrometers today, broadening the term to include wavelengths in the infrared.

broadening the term to include wavelengths in the infrared. The temperature measurement is dependent only on

The temperature measurement is dependent only on the ratio of the two energies measured, and not their absolute values. Any parameter, such as target size, which affects the amount of energy in each band by an equal percentage, has no effect on the temperature indication. This makes a ratio thermometer inherently more accurate. (However, some accuracy is lost when you're measuring small differences in large signals).

The ratio technique may eliminate, or reduce, errors in temperature measurement caused by changes in emissivity, surface finish, and energy absorbing materials, such as water vapor, between the thermometer and the target. These dynamic changes must be seen identically by the detector at the two wavelengths being used.

Some ratio thermometers use more than two wavelengths. Two color or multi-wavelength thermometers should be seriously considered for applications where accuracy, and not just repeatability, is critical, or if the target object is undergoing a physical or chemical change.

Ratio thermometers cover wide temperature ranges. Typical commercially available ranges are 1652 to 5432* F (900 to 3000°C) and 120 to 6692°F (50 to 3700°C). Typical accuracy is 0.5% of reading on narrow spans, to 2% of full scale.

2-colour pyrometers are used for difficult measuring tasks.

• High temperatures

• Blocked views or interference in the atmosphere (for example, smoke, suspended matter)

• The object is smaller than the spot size (down to 10% of the spot size)

Changing, low, or unknown emissivity (for example, molten metal).

Merits of Radiation Pyrometers

• No contact or interference with process

• No upper temperature limit as thermometer does not touch hot body

• Accurate and stable over a long period if correctly maintained

• Quick response (1 ms to 1 s, according to type)

• Long life

• High sensitivity.

Selection of IR pyrometers

The critical considerations for any infrared pyrometer include

field of view (target size and distance),

type of surface being measured (emissivity considerations),

spectral response (for atmospheric effects or transmission through surfaces),

temperature range and

Mounting (handheld portable or fixed mount).

Other considerations include response time, environment, mounting limitations, viewing port or window applications, and desired signal processing.

Field of View

The field of view is the angle of vision at which the instrument operates, and is determined by the optics of the unit. To obtain an accurate temperature reading, the target being measured should completely fill the field of view of the instrument. Since the infrared device determines the average temperature of all surfaces within the field of view, if the background temperature is different from the object temperature, a measurement error can occur.

Emissivity Emissivity is defined as the ratio of the energy radiated by an object at


Emissivity is defined as the ratio of the energy radiated by an object at a given temperature to the energy emitted by a perfect radiator, or blackbody, at the same temperature. The emissivity of a blackbody is 1.0. All values of emissivity fall between 0.0 and 1.0.

The total energy, the sum of emissivity, transmissivity and reflectivity is equal to 1:

E + T + R = 1.0

The ideal surface for infrared measurements is a perfect radiator, or a blackbody with an emissivity of 1.0. Most objects, however, are not perfect radiators, but will reflect and/or transmit a portion of the energy. Most instruments have the ability to compensate for different emissivity values, for different materials. In general, the higher the emissivity of an object, the easier it is to obtain an accurate temperature measurement using infrared. Objects with very low emissivities (below 0.2) can be difficult applications. Some polished, shiny metallic surfaces, such as aluminum, are so reflective in the infrared that accurate temperature measurements are not always possible.

Spectral Response

The spectral response of the unit is the width of the infrared spectrum covered. Most general purpose units (for temperatures below 1000°F) use a wideband filter in the 8 to 14 micron range. This range is preferred for most measurements, as it will allow measurements to be taken without the atmospheric interference (where the atmospheric temperature affects the readings of the instrument).

Some units use wider filters such as 8 to 20 microns, which can be used for close measurements, but are ‘‘distance-sensitive’’ against longer distances. For special purposes, very narrow bands may be chosen.


The pyrometer can be of two types, either fixed-mount or portable. Fixed mount units are generally installed in one location to continuously monitor a given process. They usually operate on line power, and are aimed at a single point. The output from this type of instrument can be a local or remote display, along with an analog output that can be used for another display or control loop.

Battery powered, portable infrared ‘‘guns’’ are also available; these units have all the features of the fixed mount devices, usually without the analog output for control purposes. Generally these units are utilized in maintenance, diagnostics, quality control, and spot measurements of critical processes.

Response Time

First, the instrument must respond quickly enough to process changes for accurate temperature recording or control. Typical response times for infrared thermometers are in the 0.1 to 1 second range. Next, the unit must be able to function within the environment, at the ambient temperature.

Optical pyrometer

Basic Principle of optical pyrometer:

The principle of temperature measurement by brightness comparision is used in optical pyrometer. A colour variation with the growth in temperature is taken as an index of temperature.

This optical pyrometer compares the brightness of image produced by temperature source with that of reference temperature lamp. The current in the lamp is adjusted until the brightness of the lamp is equal to the brightness of the image produced by the temperature source. Since the intensity of light of any wave length depends on the temperature of the radiating object, the current passing through the lamp becomes a measure of the temperature of the temperature source when calibrated.

Construction of optical pyrometer:

The main parts of an optical pyrometer are as follows:

1. An eye piece at one end


A power source (battery),

4. Rheostat

5. Millivoltmeter (to measure current) connected to a reference temperature bulb.

6. An absorption screen is placed in between the objective lens and reference temperature lamp. The absorption screen is used to increase the range of the temperature which can be measured by the instrument.

7. The red filter between the eye piece and the lamp allows only a narrow band of wavelength of around 0.65mui

allows only a narrow band of wavelength of around 0.65mui Operation of optical pyrometer: When a

Operation of optical pyrometer:

When a temperature source is to be measured, the radiation from the source is focused onto the filament of the reference temperature lamp using the objective lens. Now the eye piece is adjusted so that the filament of the reference temperature lamp is in sharp focus and the filament is seen super imposed on the image of the temperature source. Now the observer starts controlling the lamp current and

The filament will appear dark if the filament is cooler than the temperature source,

The filament will appear bright if the filament is hotter than the temperature source,

The filament will not be seen if the filament and temperature source are in the same temperature.

Hence the observer should control the lamp current until the filament and the temperature source have the same brightness which will be noticed when the filament disappears in the superimposed image of the temperature source [that is the brightness of the lamp and the temperature source are same]. At the instance, the current flowing through the lamp which is indicated by the millivoltmeter connected to the lamp becomes a measure of the temperature of the temperature source when calibrated.

Applications of optical pyrometer: ∑ Optical pyrometers are used to measure temperature of molten metals
Applications of optical pyrometer: ∑ Optical pyrometers are used to measure temperature of molten metals

Applications of optical pyrometer:

Optical pyrometers are used to measure temperature of molten metals or heated materials.

Optical pyrometers are used to measure temperature of furnace and hot bodies.

Advantages of optical pyrometer:

Physical contact of the instrument is not required to measure temperature of the temperature source.

Accuracy is high + or – 5’C. Provided a proper sized image of the temperature source is obtained in the instrument, the distance between the instrument and the temperature source doesn’t matter.

The instrument is easy to operate.

Limitations of the Optical pyrometer:

Temperature of more than 700’C can only be measured since illumination of the temperature source is a must for measurement.

Since it is manually operated, it cannot be used for the continuous monitoring

and controlling purpose.