Windmill Data Acquisition Software Logo
August 1998

Windmill Software Ltd
Data Acquisition Intelligence
Call now: +44 (0)161 833 2782

Issue 1: Interfacing Transducers


New transducer monitoring card | Things to consider when monitoring transducers | Excitation | Resistance | Strain | Engineering search engines and directories


The Windmill software suite is now available bundled with the new Microlink 552 transducer monitoring card, from Biodata. This card plugs into the PC and lets you monitor current, load, pH, pressure, resistance, strain, temperature and voltage. For more details of the Microlink 552 package contact Biodata at [email protected].


Windmill is a suite of software which can handle over 100 input and output channels. It integrates Ethernet, GPIB (IEEE-488), ISA-bus, USB, Modbus, RS232 and RS485 devices, from many different manufacturers. Windmill modules include logging, charting, alarm monitoring, NetDDE, PID, virtual instrument generation and sequence control. For more details see


In this section we highlight things to think about when specifying the measurement hardware to interface your transducers.


Many transducers need a power supply. For most the power supply will be a low voltage dc (direct current), but for transducers based on capacitance measurement an ac (alternating current) supply may be required.

Check that your measurement hardware can be equipped with power supplies suitable for providing the excitation voltage(s) you need. Because the choice of power supply will depend on the number and type of transducers, it's best to draw up a list of transducers and their excitation requirements. The information needed includes voltage range and current requirements, and for ac excitation voltages, the frequency used.


Resistance Measurement

For some transducers you need to measure resistance. To do this you use a current source and a voltage input. The current flows through the unknown resistance and you measure the voltage drop across the resistance. For example, a 1 mA current source will provide a voltage of 100 mV across the 100 ohm of a Pt100 temperature measuring device at 0 oC.

When the resistance to be measured is small, the resistance in the leads to the device to be measured can be a significant source of error. To deal with this problem connection arrangements are available which allow the lead resistance to be measured and compensated for (2-wire, 3-wire, 4-wire and 4-wire compensated). More connections are required for these arrangements; so for the same number of connections, half the number of measurement channels are available compared to straightforward voltage measuring channels. If you think, therefore, that lead resistance may be a problem in your measurements, make sure you ask your hardware supplier about their lead arrangement options.

Resistance considerations apply to, amongst others, temperature measurement using RTDs, displacement measurement using resistive linear position and light level measurement using photo-resistors.


Strain Measurement

Strain measurement is a special case of resistance measurement. A Wheatstone bridge arrangement is used to measure the resistance of a gauge, which varies as the gauge is distorted by the strain applied. You should take into account that the gauges may be not at their nominal resistance value, either because of variability in the gauges or strains arising out of their attachment. Consequently strain measurement is usually the measurement of deviations from initial values, not an absolute measurement. You therefore need to know the initial strain values. These may be very much larger than the subsequent changes caused by strain, so you need to make sure either that your analogue-to-digital converter has a high enough resolution to give the dynamic signal range required, or that you can zero out the initial, unstrained, bridge output. Check with your hardware supplier. (See future issues for a discussion of analogue-to-digital converters.)

The measurement of strain is affected by changes in the excitation voltage applied to the Wheatstone bridge. For long-term measurement, where component values may drift with time and temperature, the excitation voltage should be measured and any variations compensated for in software.

More details of strain measurement are given in Issue 17 of Monitor.

Further Reading
Sensors for Measurement and Control by Peter Elgar; 176 pages; 1999.

A comprehensive and practical introduction to the increasingly important topic of sensor technology. It also serves as an extensive reference to sensors and their applications. Order from UK; Order from US


There are many, many, internet search engines and directories. Here are some that are either dedicated to engineering resources, or include an engineering category.

Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library
Reviews of 3,400 quality engineering Web sites. Search or browse this comprehensive resource.

NewHoo Directory
A new directory with a data acquisition and control category.

The most popular internet directory.

Newswise maintains a comprehensive database of news releases from top institutions engaged in scientific research. You can search for any article or abstract.

Not engineering specific but extremely quick and accurate.

Another very quick and accurate search engine

Do you have a comment or suggestion for this newsletter? Why not email the editor - Jill - at [email protected]

* Copyright Windmill Software Ltd
* Reprinting permitted with this notice included
* For more articles see

We are happy for you to copy and distribute this newsletter, and use extracts from it on your own web site or publication, providing the above notice is included and a link back to our website is in place.


To subscribe to Monitor please fill in your email address below. We will not pass your address to any third parties.

You will receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your subscription. On doing so you will be sent details of how to download the free software. If you don't receive this e-mail please contact [email protected].

You can read an archive of previous issues on our Data Acquisition Intelligence site.

Cancel Subscription

You can cancel your free subscription at any time - just return to this page or follow the instructions in the newsletter.