Sunday, September 30, 2018

Industrial Thermowells: Sometimes Taken for Granted, but Critically Important

Ashcroft Thermowells
Thermowells come in a wide variety
of shapes, materials, and sizes.
(Courtesy of Ashcroft)
One of the most important accessories for any temperature-sensing element is a pressure-tight sheath known as a thermowell. This may be thought of as a thermally conductive protrusion into a process vessel or pipe allowing a temperature-sensitive instrument to detect process temperature without opening a hole in the vessel or pipe.

Thermowells are critically important for installations where the temperature element (RTD, thermocouple, etc.) must be replaceable without de-pressurizing the process.

Thermowells may be made out of any material that is thermally conductive, pressure-tight, and not chemically reactive with the process. Most thermowells are formed out of either metal (stainless steel or other alloy) or ceramic materials.


A simple diagram showing a thermowell in use with a temperature sensor (RTD) is shown here:
thermowell installation
Typical RTD thermowell installation.
As useful as thermowells are, they are not without their caveats. All thermowells, no matter how well they may be installed, increase the first-order time lag of the temperature sensor by virtue of their mass and specific heat value. It should be intuitively obvious that a few pounds of metal will not heat up and cool down as fast as a few ounces’ worth of RTD or thermocouple, and therefore the addition of a thermowell to the sensing element will decrease the responsiveness of any temperature- sensing element. What is not so obvious is that such time lags, if severe enough, may compromise the stability of feedback control. A control system receiving a “delayed” temperature measurement will not see the live temperature of the process in real time due to this lag.

For more information on thermowells, contact Mead O'Brien by visiting https://meadobrien.com or by calling (800) 892-2769.