Control Systems
Fluide & Liquid Heating
Heater Selection
Thermal System Basics
Heat Transfer Fundamentals
  System Components

  Control Systems Selection Guidelines :

Process controls, over temperature controls, level controls, sensors, power controls, and panels. Now that you have selected the heater(s) for your process, it is time to choose control components, panels, and sensors, to provide the desired results.

System Components

These parameters will help you determine the system components you need:
  • Sensor: This can be a bulb and capillary, thermocouple, RTD or non-contact IR sensors.
  • Temperature Controller: This can be a mechanical bulb & capillary controller or an electronic controller to accurately control the process.
  • Over temperature Controller (Limits): For protection of the process and/or the heater sheath, an over temperature controller should always be used to ensure safe operation in the event of process control failure and/ or interruption of flow in dynamic systems.
  • Power Controller: In order to switch the heater load, either mechanical contactors or SCR’s are needed.


The sensor is the device measuring the temperature or other variable of a system. It is usually in direct contact with the heated medium and must be specified to handle the temperature and conditions of the process. Electronic controllers convert the signal from RTD’s and thermocouples to a temperature reading.


Rugged and versatile, with many selections for various temperature ranges, thermocouples consist of two different material wires welded together. These devices produce a very small DC voltage, depending on temperature and thermocouple type. The controller or over temperature controller, interprets this voltage, and compares it with internal standards, displaying and/or controlling a temperature.


Lots of choices, rugged, inexpensive.


Output is not linear with temperature when new thermocouples are within 2 to 3°F accuracy. Thermocouple alloys age, which affects accuracy further. Microprocessor controls are best at interpreting TC voltage curves. Thermocouple wire of the same type as the thermocouple (i.e. type J for J),must be used to connect the thermocouple to the controller.


The red lead is always the negative lead in USA thermocouple color-coding.


RTD’s or Resistance Temperature Detectors, provide a resistance change linearly related to a temperature change. The most common is the 100-ohm platinum. The controller measures the change of resistance, and relates it to temperature. Advantages: RTD’s are much more accurate and more linear than thermocouples. Standard copper wire can be used to connect the sensor to the control. Since the signal is larger than a thermocouple signal, it is immune to electrical noise. Three wire RTD's can also be run longer distances than thermocouples.


RTD’s are more costly than thermocouples, and less rugged. In addition, they should not be exposed to a temperature higher than their rated operating temperature. Don’t weld or braze them.


A transmitter is an electronic circuit that converts the low level signal of a thermocouple, RTD, or other device or parameter (like humidity) to a current loop, typically a 4 to 20mA signal. This produces better immunity to noise than the low-level signal by itself. Advantage: Longer control signal runs are possible without interference.


Increased cost of installation.

Infrared Sensor

IR (non-contact) sensors provide a control signal related to the temperature of an object, without touching the object. The IR sensor “looks” at the process, and adds or reduces heat as required. They are often used in continuous processes where material is passing through a convection oven or under radiant heaters. Advantages: Provides good closed loop control for flowing processes or surface drying applications.


More expensive than contact sensors. Does not work well for shiny objects. A temperature control is still required to interpret the output of an IR sensor, compare it to the set point, and operate a power controller.

Sensor Placement

Placement is very important for a good control result. The temperature control, no matter how smart its PID loop is, can only process the Information supplied to it. Where possible, in a block type system (like a platen) the heater, sensor and load (die) should be as close together as possible. This minimizes thermal lag, and provides good response to changes. (See Figure 1) In a stable system, where the heater is separated from the load, the sensor can be placed near the heater to provide for close heater control. The load will be cooler than the sensed temperature by the drop through the heat transfer path from the heater to the load. This is not good for changing condition systems. (See Figure 2) A compromise may be provided for by placing the sensor between the heater and the load. This is good for fairly stable systems where the heat demand may be alternately constant or variable.(See Figure 3) For changing systems, the sensor can be placed closer to the load to respond to changing load requirements. The sensor farther from the heater increases the thermal load. This will cause overshoots and undershoots. A PID controller is required to minimize the temperature cycling. (See Figure 4) In conclusion, it is important that the heater, sensor and load be as close as possible. The sensor should always be between the heater and the load.


Depending upon the maximum Temperatures, the Thermocouple has to survive. The thermocouple gauge has to be selected. For other types of thermocouples, consult factory.
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