The Resistance Thermometer

Resistance thermometer RTD sensors

Information and specifications on resistance thermometers (RTD sensors)



The Resistance Thermometer (shorten called RTD  –  Resistance Temperature Detectors) is a temperature sensor (see also the Thermocouple) that determines the temperature to which it is subjected by exploiting the principle that the resistance of a given metal varies with the temperature.


How the resistance thermometer works

The resistance thermometer works on a basic relationship between metals and temperature. As the temperature changes, they have a corresponding variation of resistance derived from the sensing element made by certain metals (usually Platinum, Nickel)

By supplying the resistance thermometer with a constant current and measuring the voltage drop of the resistor it is possible to calculate the electrical resistance of a metal and determine the temperature.

Similarly, as the temperature of the resistance element (sensing element) increases, the electrical resistance, measured in ohms (Ω), increases. RTD elements are generally identified based on their resistance in ohms at zero degrees Celsius (0 C).


Types of resistance thermometers

The types of resistance thermometers are classified with the abbreviation of the material used for their construction followed by the nominal resistance value, expressed in Ohm, with reference to the temperature of 0 ° C (ice melting point), according to the IEC reference standard. 751 (EN 60751).

Normally resistance thermometers are identified with the code of the material used for their construction (Platinum = Pt, Nickel = Ni) followed by their nominal resistance at a temperature of 0 ° C (example Pt100).

The range of use of industrial resistance thermometers is between -200 and + 850 ° C as reported in the EN 60751 standard. In the case of platinum, the relationship between resistance and temperature is described by the Callendar-Van Dusen equation (EN 60751).


The Pt100 resistance thermometer is the most common: at 0 ° C the sensing element assumes a nominal resistance of 100 Ω.


The Pt500 resistance thermometer at 0 ° C the sensing element assumes a nominal resistance of 500 Ω.


The Pt1000 resistance thermometer at 0 ° C the sensing element assumes a nominal resistance of 1000 Ω.


Sensing element materials (resistance)

The most common materials used for the construction of the sensitive element are:

  • Platinum (abbreviation Pt), more popular and accurate
  • Nickel (abbreviation Ni)

Platinum resistance thermometer

It is the most used in industrial applications as platinum has excellent corrosion resistance, excellent long-term stability and a wide range of temperatures (-200 … +850 ° C).

The EN 60751 standard stipulates that resistance thermometers must have a nominal value at 0 ° C.  As mentioned, the most used values ​​are 100 ohm (Pt100), 500 ohm (Pt500), 1000 ohm (Pt1000).


Nickel resistance thermometer

They are harmonized by DIN 43760 regulation, are less expensive in terms of construction than the platinum element and less dependent on corrosion. However, nickel is more subject to wear and tear over time and loses accuracy at elevated temperatures. Furthermore, the temperature range is more limited (-80… +260 ° C).

To date, their scarce use in the industrial sector makes them more expensive than common Platinum elements.


Construction of the sensing element (resistance)

The resistance element is usually built in three ways: wire wound, spiral or film.

  • Wire-wound: the resistance wire is wrapped around a non-conductive core, usually made of ceramic material
  • Spiral: the resistance wire is rolled into small coils, inserted in ceramic material and filled with non-conductive powder
  • Thin film: it has a thin layer of resistive material deposited on a ceramic material. The resistive material is protected with a thin layer of glass. They are smaller and usually mass produced.

2-wire, 3-wire and 4-wire RTD configuration

A resistance thermometer can be configured with 2, 3, 4 connection wires.

The choice of configuration must consider several factors for an appropriate temperature measurement process.

The 2-wire connection is the least accurate as it is not possible to calculate the lead wire resistance from the sensor measurement. They are mainly used in processes with short connecting wires and where accurate accuracy is not required.

The 3-wire construction is widely used in industrial applications.The third wire helps compensate for the average lead wire resistance from the sensor measurement. The 3-wire resistance thermometer is a valid alternative to a 4-wire configuration when there are long distances between the sensor and the measuring / control instrument.

The 4-wire resistance thermometer is used in processes where high accuracy is required in temperature measurement, such as in laboratories. The 4-wire circuit works with the volt-amperometric method, where one pair of wires is dedicated to measuring the voltage and the second pair is dedicated to generating the known current. With this method the resistance is obtained, and the circuit allows to compensate any differences in the cable resistances.

All thermometers with a tolerance class higher than class B must have a 3 or 4-wire configuration, to avoid the error introduced by the resistance of the conductor to which the sensitive element is connected. Resistance thermometers can be made with one or two sensitive elements and with internal configurations of the connection wire according to the following table (EN 60751):

2-wire, 3-wire and 4-wire RTD configuration

The tolerance classes

The tolerance values ​​of the thermometric resistance thermometers are classified in the following table according to the EN 60751 standard. These tolerances apply to thermometers with any R0 value.

Resistance Thermometers accuracy table

Special tolerance classes (e.g. 1/3 DIN, 1/5 DIN …) are made as multiples or fractions of the values ​​of tolerance class B.
A special tolerance class must be accompanied by the operating temperature range in which it can works.
Example for the definition of the tolerance class 1/3 DIN and 1/10 DIN
1⁄3 DIN = ± 1⁄3 * (0.3 + 0.005 * t) ° C or 100.00 Ω ± 0.10 Ω at 0 ° C
1⁄10 DIN = ± 1⁄10 * (0.3 + 0.005 * t) ° C or 100.00 Ω ± 0.03 Ω at 0 ° C


Advantages of RTD sensors

Good stability
High accuracy
Good linearity
Limited drift
Good interchangeability
Long-term stability
Connectable with common copper wires


Disadvantages of RTD sensors

Power needed
Absolute low resistance
Auto heating
Sensitive to vibrations