As we’ve previously touched on, many different types and configurations of thermocouples are very widely used in an enormous array of everyday domestic and professional applications, including household appliances, industrial machinery, automotive mechanisms, laboratory settings and more.
Examples might include, to name just a few:
Thermocouples for thermostats
Thermostats in a plethora of settings very often include thermocouples as key components in their proper and efficient functioning. There is often some confusion about the exact differences between one and the other, due to their frequent proximity, closely related (but distinct) functions, and similar names.
Key to avoiding this mix-up is to remember that a thermocouple is a temperature sensor, and exists to provide a reading. A thermostat, on the other hand, is the part of the device that actually switches things on and off automatically based on that reading. As such, a thermocouple is often the component used in a thermostat whose reading triggers the thermostat to perform an on/off action.
Thermocouples for medical thermometers
Hospital grade thermometers and other forms of medical detection, diagnosis and treatment equipment often use a thermocouple. These are frequently configured in specialist or miniaturised versions, intended to help with faster and more accurate temperature readings of both patients and heat-critical machinery and processes.
Applications might include anything from skin sensors and hypodermic insertion to tumour detection and DNA research, temperature-related flow sensing and catheter probes. Many types of medical thermometers rely on thermocouple technologies for extremely precise measurement using very fine-gauge wires.
Thermocouples for vehicle diagnostics
Thermocouples are widely used in automotive and aerospace applications to help monitor and manage a wide range of important temperatures, covering everything from diagnostics to improved engine performance to vehicle safety.
Data read by engine thermocouples and other vehicular sensors can be used to monitor and adjust factors such as exhaust gas readings, cylinder head and spark plug function, disc brake performance, battery health and changes to external environments.
Thermocouples for boilers, heating sensors and ovens
Thermocouples for boilers, hot water systems, heating sensors and ovens work in much the same way as they would for a thermostat, as outlined above. Gas varieties of these appliances in particular often incorporate thermocouples as safety features, preventing gas valves from opening if the heat from a lit pilot light isn’t generating the required voltage across a thermocouple circuit.
When found in boilers and hot water systems, thermocouples are often referred to interchangeably with thermistors, although this isn’t strictly accurate. While both are used to measure temperature, a thermistor is a slightly different component that works on the basic principle that electrical resistance within materials change as the temperature rises and falls. Unlike a thermocouple, a boiler thermistor doesn’t actually generate a voltage.
Thermocouples for food thermometers, industrial probes and sensors
Food thermometers very often incorporate thermocouple technology to provide a very swift and accurate temperature reading, both at the manufacture and preparation stages of food ingredients and whole meals. Unlike a traditional catering thermometer, thermocouples aren’t intended to be left in the food during cooking.
The rapid response time of a thermocouple in, say, a digital food thermometer means it can be used to quickly and accurately relay precise temperatures at multiple locations on larger items, such as meat and poultry, without having to wait for the thermometer itself to register the correct heat reading in each spot.
Additionally, the fact that the technology can be downscaled to very small and accurate wire connections also makes it possible to get precise readings on thinner or more delicate items that wouldn’t stand up to a thicker-gauge standard food thermometer.
The same principles apply to a whole range of industrial-grade sensors and probes used in many different kinds of manufacturing and other temperature-critical production processes. Many of these thermocouples intended for a factory, mechanical or laboratory applications will also include features such as magnetic probes and more robust thermosensors in order to perform well in far more demanding environments than are typically required for most domestic uses.