Pressure Sensor Basics


  • Define "pressure sensor"
  • Summarize common pressure gauge technologies
  • Differentiate between 3 common pressure sensing technologies
    • Variable Capacitance Sensors
    • Strain Gauges
    • Piezoelectric Sensors
  • Recall common pressure units and vocabulary

What Is a Pressure Gauge?

Even though this is a lesson about pressure sensors, let's talk about pressure gauges for just a moment. Pressure gauges are devices that react to pressure in a measurable way. Unlike sensors, which generally convert their results to a signal, gauges are usually read manually. Don't expect a gauge to interface with your PLC or ECM, but they can still be reliable, extremely useful, and cost-effective.


The manometer is a gauge that uses a liquid column to measure pressure. The first recorded manometer was developed in 1643.

Don't let those dates fool you; manometers have not been banished to museums. These simple pressure sensors are still in use today in classrooms, laboratories, and even on high efficiency furnaces. Their appeal is in their simplicity. Basic manometers have no moving mechanical parts, never need calibration, and don't require power to provide a reading. And because manometers rely on physical properties (density of the measurement liquid, and Earth's gravity), U-tube manometers are considered to be a NIST standard of accuracy.

What's NIST?

NIST stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology. It has the distinction of being one of the oldest physical science laboratories in the United States, and is an authority on measurement accuracy.

Try It!

The U-tube style manometer uses the displacement of a liquid to measure the pressure of a trapped fluid relative to the atmosphere, or another reference pressure. Try out this virtual manometer to see how it operates.

The earliest manometers used mercury as an indicator fluid, because of its high density and surface tension. Today, manometers are available in a range of fluids.

Low Density Indicator Fluids

  • Low density indicator fluids, like water, can provide very accurate meter resolution.

  • Con
  • Low-density indicator fluids cannot measure a high pressure differential.

High Density Indicator Fluids

  • When the indicator fluid has a higher density, like mercury, the manometer is capable of measuring greater pressure differentials.

  • Con
  • Indicator fluid with high density provides a lower meter resolution.

Pick me!

Manometers can be great for simple applications. As mentioned, basic manometers

  • do not require calibration.
  • have no mechanical moving parts.
  • do not require power.
The bad news? Manometers are only suited to a narrow range of controlled environments.
  • Manometers must be level (relative to their initial calibration).
  • The glass tube is fragile.
  • Indicating fluids do not function well outside of ideal temperature ranges.

Sorry, mobile machinery. This one's not for you.

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We hope you enjoyed Pressure Sensor Basics

Vacuum Pressure
Atmospheric Pressure
Low Pressure
Medium Pressure
High Pressure
Lowest Voltage
Medium Voltage
Highest Voltage
Magnetic Field
Check Your Console

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