How do weighing scales work?

Have you ever wondered, ‘how do weighing scales work?’

In this blog post, we explain what loadcells are and why they are vital part of any weighing scale, whether you’re weighing patients, pets or produce.



How do weighing scales work?

Old balance scales used to use a series of weights to try and make the two sides of the scale level. For example, you would add objects that you knew the weight of until you achieved balance and could work out the weight of your item. Older physician scales, or ‘beam balance scales,’ also required a little manual work by sliding the counterweight along until the balance beam is completely horizontal. However, we are now able to measure weight automatically.

How do weighing scales work?

The majority of scales now work by using devices known as load cells to measure how much an object weighs, whether you are using it for medical, industrial or retail purposes.

A load cell is a force gauge that is made up of a transducer that is used to create an electrical signal whose magnitude is in direct proportion with the force being measured.

Essentially, when any weight is placed on to a scale, the load cell bends slightly, which causes the electrical signal that runs through the load cell to change. This signal change is due to the amount of electrical resistance the bending causes to the strain gauge inside the load cell.

The signal is then read by an electronic device, often a digital weight indicator, and transformed into a digital weight value. The value is then displayed for reading.

Regardless of the complexity of the scale and weight indicator, all scales work in this similar way whether you’re using scales at home to keep an eye on your weight, using retail scales to weigh fresh produce or using incredibly accurate medical scales.

The four types of load cells

Some differences between types of scales and how they work is due to the different types of load cells. These include pneumatic, hydraulic, strain gauge (as mentioned in the above example) and capacitance.

Pneumatic load cells deal with air pressure and consist of an elastic diaphragm attached to a platform surface where you place the object to be weighed. There’s also an air regulator that limits the flow of air pressure and a pressure gauge. The scale works by using pressurised air to balance out the weight of the object, and the amount of air required is therefore used to determine how heavy the object is. The pressure gauge then converts the reading into an electrical signal.

The hydraulic load cell works by using a fluid such as water or oil. Scales with hydraulic load cells work like pneumatic load cells except they use a piston and pressurized liquid rather than air. When an object is placed on the platform, the piston applies increased pressure to the contained liquid which is proportional to the applied weight. After calibrating the pressure, you are able to take an accurate measure of the weight and use the pressure reading as an analogue gauge or convert it to an electric signal.

The strain gauge is the most popular load cell used in working scales. The electrical resistance when under strain is proportional to the strain placed on the cell when weighing an object which makes it straightforward to calibrate into an accurate measurement. This accuracy is also due to the four strain gauges inside the strain gauge load cell being in a ‘Wheatstone Bridge’ configuration. This is an electrical circuit that measures unknown electrical resistance and provides very accurate measurements when bent under the weight of an object.

Capacitive load cells work on the ability of the system to store charge. This load cell consists of two parallel flat plates that have a current applied to them. When the charge is stable, it is then stored between the plates. The amount stored or the capacitance depends on the size of the gap between the plates. So, when an item is placed on the plate, the gap will decrease and create a change in the capacitance, which can then be calculated into weight.

Marsden industrial weighing scales

Since 1926, we’ve led the way in providing UK industries, and others across the globe, with accurate industrial weighing scales.

Marsden industrial scales can be used for weighing a wide variety of products and materials from fresh food ingredients to machinery parts, pallets and roll cages. The industrial scales we offer can be used in a range of work environments and include precision balances weighing to 1mg, to 20-tonne crane weighers and professional axle weighers. All of our scales work to the highest level of accuracy increasing productivity and quality control in the workplace.

Whether you require a stainless steel scale for weighing produce, precision bench scales, counting scales or pallet track scales for fast despatch, we have a variety of sizes and prices to suit your industrial needs.

We also offer a range of advanced checkweighers, capable of documenting weights automatically and recording the data to a spreadsheet.

Take a look at our wide range of Industrial Scales today to find out more about our products’ unique features and specifications. If you have any questions regarding our industrial scales, how they work or if you’d like a quote for a bespoke scale, feel free to call the Marsden Scales team on +44 (0)1709 364296.

Further Reading

While you're probably aware of scales being used in cooking and in industrial scenarios, we've compiled a list of weighing scale uses that may surprise you.

You may be wondering how accurate your weighing scales need to be. Read this blog post to find out.

Have you ever had your scale serviced? Find out why it's important here.

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