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Shunt Resistor for Current Measuring

Writer:Microhm Page View:Date:2019-11-06
A device to measure electric current is called an ammeter. Most modern ammeters measure the voltage drop over a precision resistor with a known resistance. The current flow is calculated by using Ohm’s law:
Ohm's Law I=V/R
Most ammeters have an inbuilt resistor to measure the current. However, when the current is too high for the ammeter, a different setup is required. The solution is to place the ammeter in parallel with an accurate shunt resistor.  Another term that is sometimes used for this type of resistor is ammeter shunt. Microhm Electronics' shunt resistor FL-2 series are popular in the ammeter market.
Usually this is a high precision manganin resistor with a low resistance value. The current is divided over the shunt and the ammeter, such that only a small (known) percentage flows through the ammeter.  In this way, large currents can still be measured. By correctly scaling the ammeter, the actual amperage can be directly measured. Using this configuration, in theory the maximum amperage that can be measured is endless. However, the voltage rating of the measurement device must not be exceeded. This means that the maximum current multiplied by the resistance value, cannot be higher than the voltage rating. Also, the resistance value should be as low as possible to limit the interference with the circuit. On the contrary, the resolution gets smaller the smaller the resistance and thus the voltage drop is.
As an example a shunt resistor is used with a resistance of 1 mOhm. The resistor is placed in a circuit, and a voltage drop of 30 millivolts is measured across the resistor. This means that the current is equal to the voltage divided over the resistance, or: I = V / R = 0.030 / 0.001 = 30 A. The same calculation could be made, but now with the resistance value unknown and the voltage and current known. This is used to calibrate shunt resistance.

Position of shunt resistor in the circuit for current measurement A. Often the shunt is placed in the grounded side to eliminate the common mode voltage. However, other disadvantages exist.
B. In this configuration, the common mode voltage could be too high for the ammeter.
It is important to carefully choose the position of the shunt in the circuit. When the circuit shares a common ground with the measurement device, often is chosen to place the shunt as close to the ground as possible. The reason is to protect the ammeter from the common mode voltage that might be too high and damage the device or give erroneous results. A disadvantage from this set up is that leakages that bypass the shunt might not be detected. In case the shunt is placed in the ungrounded leg, it must be isolated from the ground or include a voltage divider or an isolation amplifier to protect the instrument. Other ways are possible to not connect the measurement instrument directly with the high voltage circuit, such as using the Hall Effect. However, current shunts are commonly more affordable and cheaper. Besides FL-2 series, Microhm Electronics also offer common shunt resistors with sizes of  3920, 5930, 8420 and more.

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