RTD (Resistance-temperature-detector)

In the industrial world where broad temperature ranges and harsh working environment are predominant, the use of Thermocouples and RTDs are very common. All of them have their respective pros and cons, (there isn’t an absolute winner) the final application and working conditions are who decide which one is better in every specific case

An RTD is a thin filament, usually made of Platinum, whose resistance varies in a very way related to the temperature applied. One of the winning points of a RTDs is their high linearity across the entire working range (-200 to 850 C) and its stability over time. The most common type is the PT100, which shows a 100 Ohm resistance at 0 C

Resistance thermometers, also called resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), are sensors used to measure temperature. Many RTD elements consist of a length of fine wire wrapped around a ceramic or glass core but other constructions are also used. The RTD wire is a pure material, typically platinum, nickel, or copper. The material has an accurate resistance/temperature relationship which is used to provide an indication of temperature. As RTD elements are fragile, they are often housed in protective probes.

RTDs, which have higher accuracy and repeatability, are slowly replacing thermocouples in industrial applications below 600 °C

Element types


The three main categories of RTD sensors are thin-film, wire-wound, and coiled elements. While these types are the ones most widely used in industry, other more exotic shapes are used; for example, carbon resistors are used at ultra-low temperatures (−273 °C to −173 °C)

Carbon resistor elements

Cheap and widely used. They have very reproducible results at low temperatures. They are the most reliable form at extremely low temperatures. They generally do not suffer from significant hysteresis or strain gauge effects.


Strain-free elements

Use a wire coil minimally supported within a sealed housing filled with an inert gas. These sensors work up to 961.78 °C and are used in the SPRTs that define ITS-90. They consist of platinum wire loosely coiled over a support structure, so the element is free to expand and contract with temperature. They are very susceptible to shock and vibration, as the loops of platinum can sway back and forth, causing deformation.



Thin-film elements

Have a sensing element that is formed by depositing a very thin layer of resistive material, normally platinum, on a ceramic substrate (plating). This layer is usually just 10 to 100 angstroms (1 to 10 nanometers) thick This film is then coated with an epoxy or glass that helps protect the deposited film and also acts as a strain relief for the external lead wires. Disadvantages of this type are that they are not as stable as their wire-wound or coiled counterparts. They also can only be used over a limited temperature range due to the different expansion rates of the substrate and resistive deposited giving a “strain gauge” effect that can be seen in the resistive temperature coefficient. These elements work with temperatures to 300 °C (572 °F) without further packaging, but can operate up to 600 °C (1,112 °F) when suitably encapsulated in glass or ceramic. Special high-temperature RTD elements can be used up to 900 °C (1,652 °F) with the right encapsulation.


Wire-wound elements




Can have greater accuracy, especially for wide temperature ranges. The coil diameter provides a compromise between mechanical stability and allowing expansion of the wire to minimize strain and consequential drift. The sensing wire is wrapped around an insulating mandrel or core. The winding core can be round or flat, but must be an electrical insulator. The coefficient of thermal expansion of the winding core material is matched to the sensing wire to minimize any mechanical strain. This strain on the element wire will result in a thermal measurement error. The sensing wire is connected to a larger wire, usually referred to as the element lead or wire. This wire is selected to be compatible with the sensing wire, so that the combination does not generate an emf that would distort the thermal measurement. These elements work with temperatures to 660 °C.


Coiled elements

Have largely replaced wire-wound elements in industry. This design has a wire coil that can expand freely over temperature, held in place by some mechanical support, which lets the coil keep its shape. This “strain free” design allows the sensing wire to expand and contract free of influence from other materials; in this respect it is similar to the SPRT, the primary standard upon which ITS-90 is based, while providing the durability necessary for industrial use. The basis of the sensing element is a small coil of platinum sensing wire. This coil resembles a filament in an incandescent light bulb. The housing or mandrel is a hard fired ceramic oxide tube with equally spaced bores that run transverse to the axes. The coil is inserted in the bores of the mandrel and then packed with a very finely ground ceramic powder. This permits the sensing wire to move, while still remaining in good thermal contact with the process. These elements work with temperatures to 850 °C.

The current international standard that specifies tolerance and the temperature-to-electrical resistance relationship for platinum resistance thermometers (PRTs) is IEC 60751:2008; ASTM E1137 is also used in the United States. By far the most common devices used in industry have a nominal resistance of 100 ohms at 0 °C and are called Pt100 sensors (“Pt” is the symbol for platinum, “100” for the resistance in ohms at 0 °C). It is also possible to get Pt1000 sensors, where 1000 is for the resistance in ohms at 0 °C. The sensitivity of a standard 100 Ω sensor is a nominal 0.385 Ω/°C. RTDs with a sensitivity of 0.375 and 0.392 Ω/°C, as well as a variety of others, are also available.