# Ammeter

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An ammeter (abbreviation of Ampere meter) is an instrument used to measure the current in a circuit. Electric currents are measured in amperes (A), hence the name. For direct measurement, the ammeter is connected in series with the circuit in which the current is to be measured. An ammeter usually has low resistance so that it does not cause a significant voltage drop in the circuit being measured.

## Contents

Instruments used to measure smaller currents, in the milliampere or microampere range, are designated as milliammeters or microammeters. Early ammeters were laboratory instruments that relied on the Earth's magnetic field for operation. By the late 19th century, improved instruments were designed which could be mounted in any position and allowed accurate measurements in electric power systems. It is generally represented by letter 'A' in a circuit.

## History

The relation between electric current, magnetic fields and physical forces was first noted by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1820, who observed a compass needle was deflected from pointing North when a current flowed in an adjacent wire. The tangent galvanometer was used to measure currents using this effect, where the restoring force returning the pointer to the zero position was provided by the Earth's magnetic field. This made these instruments usable only when aligned with the Earth's field. Sensitivity of the instrument was increased by using additional turns of wire to multiply the effect – the instruments were called "multipliers". [1]

The word rheoscope as a detector of electrical currents was coined by Sir Charles Wheatstone about 1840 but is no longer used to describe electrical instruments. The word makeup is similar to that of rheostat (also coined by Wheatstone) which was a device used to adjust the current in a circuit. Rheostat is a historical term for a variable resistance, though unlike rheoscope may still be encountered. [2] [3]

## Types

Some instruments are panel meters, meant to be mounted on some sort of control panel. Of these, the flat, horizontal or vertical type is often called an edgewise meter.

### Moving-coil

The D'Arsonval galvanometer is a moving coil ammeter. It uses magnetic deflection, where current passing through a coil placed in the magnetic field of a permanent magnet causes the coil to move. The modern form of this instrument was developed by Edward Weston, and uses two spiral springs to provide the restoring force. The uniform air gap between the iron core and the permanent magnet poles make the deflection of the meter linearly proportional to current. These meters have linear scales. Basic meter movements can have full-scale deflection for currents from about 25 microamperes to 10 milliamperes. [4]

Because the magnetic field is polarised, the meter needle acts in opposite directions for each direction of current. A DC ammeter is thus sensitive to which polarity it is connected in; most are marked with a positive terminal, but some have centre-zero mechanisms [note 1] and can display currents in either direction. A moving coil meter indicates the average (mean) of a varying current through it, [note 2] which is zero for AC. For this reason, moving-coil meters are only usable directly for DC, not AC.

This type of meter movement is extremely common for both ammeters and other meters derived from them, such as voltmeters and ohmmeters.

### Moving magnet

Moving magnet ammeters operate on essentially the same principle as moving coil, except that the coil is mounted in the meter case, and a permanent magnet moves the needle. Moving magnet Ammeters are able to carry larger currents than moving coil instruments, often several tens of Amperes, because the coil can be made of thicker wire and the current does not have to be carried by the hairsprings. Indeed, some Ammeters of this type do not have hairsprings at all, instead using a fixed permanent magnet to provide the restoring force.

### Electrodynamic

An electrodynamic ammeter uses an electromagnet instead of the permanent magnet of the d'Arsonval movement. This instrument can respond to both alternating and direct current [4] and also indicates true RMS for AC. See Wattmeter for an alternative use for this instrument.

### Moving-iron

Moving iron ammeters use a piece of iron which moves when acted upon by the electromagnetic force of a fixed coil of wire. The moving-iron meter was invented by Austrian engineer Friedrich Drexler in 1884. [5] This type of meter responds to both direct and alternating currents (as opposed to the moving-coil ammeter, which works on direct current only). The iron element consists of a moving vane attached to a pointer, and a fixed vane, surrounded by a coil. As alternating or direct current flows through the coil and induces a magnetic field in both vanes, the vanes repel each other and the moving vane deflects against the restoring force provided by fine helical springs. [4] The deflection of a moving iron meter is proportional to the square of the current. Consequently, such meters would normally have a nonlinear scale, but the iron parts are usually modified in shape to make the scale fairly linear over most of its range. Moving iron instruments indicate the RMS value of any AC waveform applied. Moving iron ammeters are commonly used to measure current in industrial frequency AC circuits.

### Hot-wire

In a hot-wire ammeter, a current passes through a wire which expands as it heats. Although these instruments have slow response time and low accuracy, they were sometimes used in measuring radio-frequency current. [4] These also measure true RMS for an applied AC.

### Digital

In much the same way as the analogue ammeter formed the basis for a wide variety of derived meters, including voltmeters, the basic mechanism for a digital meter is a digital voltmeter mechanism, and other types of meter are built around this.

Digital ammeter designs use a shunt resistor to produce a calibrated voltage proportional to the current flowing. This voltage is then measured by a digital voltmeter, through use of an analog-to-digital converter (ADC); the digital display is calibrated to display the current through the shunt. Such instruments are often calibrated to indicate the RMS value for a sine wave only, but many designs will indicate true RMS within limitations of the wave crest factor.

### Integrating

There is also a range of devices referred to as integrating ammeters. [6] [7] In these ammeters the current is summed over time, giving as a result the product of current and time; which is proportional to the electrical charge transferred with that current. These can be used for metering energy (the charge needs to be multiplied by the voltage to give energy) or for estimating the charge of a battery or capacitor.

## Picoammeter

A picoammeter, or pico ammeter, measures very low electric current, usually from the picoampere range at the lower end to the milliampere range at the upper end. Picoammeters are used where the current being measured is below the limits of sensitivity of other devices, such as multimeters.

Most picoammeters use a "virtual short" technique and have several different measurement ranges that must be switched between to cover multiple decades of measurement. Other modern picoammeters use log compression and a "current sink" method that eliminates range switching and associated voltage spikes. [8] Special design and usage considerations must be observed in order to reduce leakage current which may swamp measurements such as special insulators and driven shields. Triaxial cable is often used for probe connections.

## Application

Ammeters must be connected in series with the circuit to be measured. For relatively small currents (up to a few amperes), an ammeter may pass the whole of the circuit current. For larger direct currents, a shunt resistor carries most of the circuit current and a small, accurately-known fraction of the current passes through the meter movement. For alternating current circuits, a current transformer may be used to provide a convenient small current to drive an instrument, such as 1 or 5 amperes, while the primary current to be measured is much larger (up to thousands of amperes). The use of a shunt or current transformer also allows convenient location of the indicating meter without the need to run heavy circuit conductors up to the point of observation. In the case of alternating current, the use of a current transformer also isolates the meter from the high voltage of the primary circuit. A shunt provides no such isolation for a direct-current ammeter, but where high voltages are used it may be possible to place the ammeter in the "return" side of the circuit which may be at low potential with respect to earth.

Ammeters must not be connected directly across a voltage source since their internal resistance is very low and excess current would flow. Ammeters are designed for a low voltage drop across their terminals, much less than one volt; the extra circuit losses produced by the ammeter are called its "burden" on the measured circuit(I).

Ordinary Weston-type meter movements can measure only milliamperes at most, because the springs and practical coils can carry only limited currents. To measure larger currents, a resistor called a shunt is placed in parallel with the meter. The resistances of shunts is in the integer to fractional milliohm range. Nearly all of the current flows through the shunt, and only a small fraction flows through the meter. This allows the meter to measure large currents. Traditionally, the meter used with a shunt has a full-scale deflection (FSD) of 50 mV, so shunts are typically designed to produce a voltage drop of 50 mV when carrying their full rated current.

To make a multi-range ammeter, a selector switch can be used to connect one of a number of shunts across the meter. It must be a make-before-break switch to avoid damaging current surges through the meter movement when switching ranges.

A better arrangement is the Ayrton shunt or universal shunt, invented by William E. Ayrton, which does not require a make-before-break switch. It also avoids any inaccuracy because of contact resistance. In the figure, assuming for example, a movement with a full-scale voltage of 50 mV and desired current ranges of 10 mA, 100 mA, and 1 A, the resistance values would be: R1=4.5 ohms, R2=0.45 ohm, R3=0.05 ohm. And if the movement resistance is 1000 ohms, for example, R1 must be adjusted to 4.525 ohms.

Switched shunts are rarely used for currents above 10 amperes.

Zero-center ammeters are used for applications requiring current to be measured with both polarities, common in scientific and industrial equipment. Zero-center ammeters are also commonly placed in series with a battery. In this application, the charging of the battery deflects the needle to one side of the scale (commonly, the right side) and the discharging of the battery deflects the needle to the other side. A special type of zero-center ammeter for testing high currents in cars and trucks has a pivoted bar magnet that moves the pointer, and a fixed bar magnet to keep the pointer centered with no current. The magnetic field around the wire carrying current to be measured deflects the moving magnet.

Since the ammeter shunt has a very low resistance, mistakenly wiring the ammeter in parallel with a voltage source will cause a short circuit, at best blowing a fuse, possibly damaging the instrument and wiring, and exposing an observer to injury.

In AC circuits, a current transformer converts the magnetic field around a conductor into a small AC current, typically either 1 A or 5 A at full rated current, that can be easily read by a meter. In a similar way, accurate AC/DC non-contact ammeters have been constructed using Hall effect magnetic field sensors. A portable hand-held clamp-on ammeter is a common tool for maintenance of industrial and commercial electrical equipment, which is temporarily clipped over a wire to measure current. Some recent types have a parallel pair of magnetically soft probes that are placed on either side of the conductor.

## Notes

1. The needle's resting position is in the centre of the scale and the restoring spring can act equally well in either direction.
2. provided that its frequency is faster than the meter can respond to

## Related Research Articles

An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical conductor or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of electric charge through a surface or into a control volume. The moving particles are called charge carriers, which may be one of several types of particles, depending on the conductor. In electric circuits the charge carriers are often electrons moving through a wire. In semiconductors they can be electrons or holes. In an electrolyte the charge carriers are ions, while in plasma, an ionized gas, they are ions and electrons.

Voltage, also known as electric pressure, electric tension, or (electric) potential difference, is the difference in electric potential between two points. In a static electric field, it corresponds to the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The old SI definition for volt used power and current; starting in 1990, the quantum Hall and Josephson effect were used, and recently (2019) fundamental physical constants have been introduced for the definition of all SI units and derived units. Voltage difference is denoted symbolically by , simplified V, especially in English-speaking countries, or by U internationally, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring electric potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. It is connected in parallel. It usually has a high resistance so that it takes negligible current from the circuit.

An electrometer is an electrical instrument for measuring electric charge or electrical potential difference. There are many different types, ranging from historical handmade mechanical instruments to high-precision electronic devices. Modern electrometers based on vacuum tube or solid-state technology can be used to make voltage and charge measurements with very low leakage currents, down to 1 femtoampere. A simpler but related instrument, the electroscope, works on similar principles but only indicates the relative magnitudes of voltages or charges.

A galvanometer is an electromechanical measuring instrument for electric current. Early galvanometers were uncalibrated, but improved versions, called ammeters, were calibrated and could measure the flow of current more precisely.

An ohmmeter is an electrical instrument that measures electrical resistance. Multimeters also function as ohmmeters when in resistance-measuring mode. An ohmmeter applies current to the circuit or component whose resistance is to be measured. It then measures the resulting voltage and calculates the resistance using Ohm’s law .

A multimeter is a measuring instrument that can measure multiple electrical properties. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, resistance, and current, in which case it is also known as a volt-ohm-milliammeter (VOM), as the unit is equipped with voltmeter, ammeter, and ohmmeter functionality, or volt-ohmmeter for short. Some feature the measurement of additional properties such as temperature and capacitance.

A magnetic circuit is made up of one or more closed loop paths containing a magnetic flux. The flux is usually generated by permanent magnets or electromagnets and confined to the path by magnetic cores consisting of ferromagnetic materials like iron, although there may be air gaps or other materials in the path. Magnetic circuits are employed to efficiently channel magnetic fields in many devices such as electric motors, generators, transformers, relays, lifting electromagnets, SQUIDs, galvanometers, and magnetic recording heads.

A current transformer (CT) is a type of transformer that is used to reduce or multiply an alternating current (AC). It produces a current in its secondary which is proportional to the current in its primary.

In electronics, a shunt is a device that creates a low-resistance path for electric current, to allow it to pass around another point in the circuit. The origin of the term is in the verb 'to shunt' meaning to turn away or follow a different path.

The wattmeter is an instrument for measuring the electric active power in watts of any given circuit. Electromagnetic wattmeters are used for measurement of utility frequency and audio frequency power; other types are required for radio frequency measurements.

A solenoid voltmeter is a specific type of voltmeter electricians use to test electrical power circuits. It uses a solenoid coil to attract a spring-loaded plunger; the movement of the plunger is calibrated in terms of approximate voltage. It is more rugged than a D'arsonval movement, but neither as sensitive nor as precise.

AVOmeter is a British trademark for a line of multimeters and electrical measuring instruments; the brand is now owned by the Megger Group Limited. The first Avometer was made by the Automatic Coil Winder and Electrical Equipment Co. in 1923, and measured direct voltage, direct current and resistance. Possibly the best known multimeter of the range was the Model 8, which was produced in various versions from May 1951 until 2008; the last version was the Mark 7.

In electrical and electronic engineering, a current clamp, also known as current probe, is an electrical device with jaws which open to allow clamping around an electrical conductor. This allows measurement of the current in a conductor without the need to make physical contact with it, or to disconnect it for insertion through the probe.

A test probe is a physical device used to connect electronic test equipment to a device under test (DUT). Test probes range from very simple, robust devices to complex probes that are sophisticated, expensive, and fragile. Specific types include test prods, oscilloscope probes and current probes. A test probe is often supplied as a test lead, which includes the probe, cable and terminating connector.

Electrostatic voltmeter can refer to an electrostatic charge meter, known also as surface DC voltmeter, or to a voltmeter to measure large electrical potentials, traditionally called electrostatic voltmeter.

A Megohmmeter or insulation resistance tester is a special type of ohmmeter used to measure the electrical resistance of insulators. Insulating components, for example cable jackets, must be tested for their insulation strength at the time of commissioning and as part of maintenance of high voltage electrical equipment and installations.

In electrical engineering class of accuracy is a figure which represents the error tolerance of a measuring device.

A frequency meter is an instrument that displays the frequency of a periodic electrical signal. Various types of mechanical frequency meters were used in the past, but since the 1970s these have almost universally been replaced by digital frequency counters.

In electrical engineering, current sensing is any one of several techniques used to measure electric current. The measurement of current ranges from picoamps to tens of thousands of amperes. The selection of a current sensing method depends on requirements such as magnitude, accuracy, bandwidth, robustness, cost, isolation or size. The current value may be directly displayed by an instrument, or converted to digital form for use by a monitoring or control system.

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