How do you measure current with a shunt current sensor?

Shunt resistors, also referred to as current sense resistors play a role, in measuring current and are essential components in precision measurement technology. They are vital in sectors from infrastructure to smart metering. When connected in series with a circuit they enable the measurement of current by creating a voltage drop that accurately reflects the flow when measured. This approach is not cost effective but also enables fault detection and precise control in different systems.

The application of shunt current sensors spans across fields such as vehicle health monitoring, medical devices and renewable energy systems underscoring their versatility and significance. This article aim is to explore the realm of shunt current sensors by providing an in depth insight into how they operate how to choose them and their practical applications. By unraveling the underlying principles of these sensors and offering advice on their usage this article empowers readers, with the knowledge needed to leverage the benefits of shunt resistors in their contexts.

Understanding Shunt Current Sensors

Shunt resistors, often. Vital, in measurement play a key role in shunt current sensors. These resistors are strategically positioned alongside an ammeter to extend the range of measurement. Their use is widespread spanning from automotive to applications underscoring their importance in detecting current in high power systems. The basic principle of how they work is simple; as the entire current passes, through the shunt it causes a voltage drop. This measured voltage drop offers an indication of the flowing current.

Key Characteristics of Shunt Resistors:

  • Low Resistance Values: Typically ranging from 100μΩ to several 100mΩ, ensuring minimal power loss and heat generation.
  • Versatility: Suitable for measuring both direct and alternating current.
  • Value for Money: Offers a cost-effective solution for current measurement.

Shunt current sensors and Hall effect sensors are the two methods used to measure high DC currents. While both have been around, for a time shunt resistors are typically preferred for their precision, which is a direct result of how they are physically designed. However this precision can be affected by variables like temperature and placement. On the hand Hall effect sensors, with their size provide an option for situations where space is limited. The decision, between the two often comes down to the needs of the project whether it’s about accuracy, space constraints or ease of maintenance.

The Principle of Operation

In the field of shunt current sensors the way they work is beautifully straightforward yet remarkably impactful. The essence of this mechanism is based on Ohms Law, which explains that the amount of passing through a conductor connecting two points is linked directly to the voltage, across those points and inversely related to the resistance, between them. This foundational concept is what enables shunt current sensors to gauge the flow of current.

Ohm's Law in Action:

  • When current flows through the shunt resistor, it creates a voltage drop.
  • This voltage drop is measured and, knowing the resistance of the shunt (which is very low to minimize energy loss), the current can be calculated using the formula I = V/R.

Heat Generation and Its Implications:

  • According to Joule’s law, the heat generated by the shunt resistor is proportional to the square of the current times the resistance.
  • This heat generation necessitates careful consideration in the design phase to ensure reliability and accuracy, especially at higher currents where shunts can heat up, potentially shifting current readings.

Comparing Shunts and Current Transformers (CTs):

Let’s compare shunts and current transformers:


  • Have lower output voltages, making them more effective at higher currents despite potential shifts in readings due to heat.
  • Do not suffer from inherent phase shifts, unlike CTs, offering more straightforward readings.

Current Transformers:

  • Provide better results at lower currents due to higher output voltages.
  • Traditionally favored in polyphase meters for their inherent isolation, though susceptible to magnetic tampering.

By using the patterns outlined by Ohms and Joules laws shunt current sensors offer a way to measure current in a range of scenarios from infrastructure projects, to electric meters. Their structure and operational concepts guarantee that with imperfections, like tolerance issues and heat production they continue to be a fundamental aspect of precise measurement technology.

Selecting the Right Shunt Resistor

Selecting the right shunt resistor is a critical step in ensuring accurate current measurement in various applications, from industrial infrastructure to precision technology projects. Here’s a guide to making an informed choice:

Key Factors for Selection:

  • Accuracy vs. Power Dissipation: Choose a resistor value based on the required accuracy at minimum load current and power dissipation at maximum load current.
  • Voltage Conversion: A resistance of 250 Ω is commonly used to convert 4 to 20 mA to a voltage range of 1 to 5 V, ideal for many sensing applications.
  • Power Consumption: Opt for a resistor with a power rating of at least 1/4 W to ensure it does not exceed 0.1 W, minimizing energy loss.

Important Parameters:

  • Tolerance: ±0.1% is standard, but this may vary based on the precision needed for the conversion.
  • Maximum Ratings: Consider the resistor’s maximum current rating, voltage drop at maximum current, and power rating. A common voltage drop for rated current is either 50 mV or 100 mV.
  • Physical Configuration: For enhanced accuracy, four-wire shunts are recommended, where two wires are used for current flow and two for voltage measurement, reducing measurement errors.

Trends and Considerations:

  • There’s a move towards smaller shunts with higher outputs. Custom versions with specific connection geometries and sizes are becoming more prevalent to meet diverse application needs.
  • The resistance value is a balance between minimizing voltage drop and facilitating easy measurement, with values in the milliohm range preferred to keep power loss and heat development low.

By carefully considering these factors, one can select the most suitable shunt resistor for their project, ensuring both accuracy and efficiency in current measurement tasks.

Step-by-Step Guide to Measuring Current with a Shunt Sensor

To accurately measure current using a shunt current sensor, follow these steps:

Setting Up the Measurement Tools:

  1. Connect a voltmeter or a digital multimeter (DMM) to the shunt sensing leads. This setup is crucial for measuring the voltage drop across the shunt accurately.
  2. If available, an oscilloscope can be connected in parallel with the shunt. This tool is beneficial for observing the current waveform in real-time, providing a visual representation of the current flow.

Measuring the Voltage Drop:

  1. Once the voltmeter or DMM is connected, observe the voltage drop across the shunt. This drop is a direct result of the current flowing through the circuit.
  2. The voltage measurement device should be calibrated and set to the appropriate range to ensure accuracy.

Calculating the Current:

  1. To find the current value (in amps), use the formula: Current = Voltage drop (in millivolts) / Shunt resistance (in milliohms).
  2. For enhanced precision, ensure the shunt resistor’s resistance value is accurately known and consider any potential heat generation that might affect the measurement.

Safety Consideration: It’s crucial to have a grasp and handle DC shunts with care. Using them incorrectly can lead to dangers. Make sure to adhere to safety protocols and refer to sources, like AKMs guide on Shunt Resistor Current Measurement and Heat Generation for, in depth guidance and safety advice.

Note: By adjusting the ammeter according to the shunts specifications you can accurately measure the current flowing through the circuit. This enables monitoring and control in a range of applications from large scale infrastructure projects, to intricate technology setups.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When troubleshooting common issues with shunt current sensors, it’s essential to consider several factors that could affect their accuracy and performance. Here’s a breakdown of practical solutions:

Temperature Effects and Compensation:

  • Shunt resistors may experience changes in value due to temperature, affecting accuracy. Use a resistor with a low temperature coefficient or a dedicated current sensing IC for better stability.
  • For temperature compensation, adjust the voltage/current measurement based on the ambient temperature and the resistor’s data sheet temperature coefficient.

Dealing with PWM-Controlled Circuits and Noise:

  • In PWM-controlled circuits, ensure the shunt resistor is inline with the power supply or add a low pass filter (LPF) before the current sense IC to measure current effectively, even if the motor is stalled.
  • Electrical noise can cause inaccurate readings. Implement filtering techniques such as:
  • Setting the current sensor LPF period in software (e.g., Betaflight) to reduce noise while considering the impact on the update rate.
  • Adding a filtering capacitor to the ADC input to stabilize the signal.

Placement and Circuit Design Considerations:

  • Placement: To eliminate common mode voltage, place the shunt in the grounded side of the circuit. If sharing a common ground with the measurement device, position the shunt as close to the ground as possible.
  • Circuit Design: Connect the current detection circuit to a differential amplifier circuit for high accuracy. Adjust the amplification degree according to the maximum current value to avoid exceeding the operational amplifier’s operating voltage.


Throughout this article we’ve explored the realm of shunt current sensors from how they work to the details of choosing the right resistor, for precise current measurement. The exploration delved into the foundations of shunt resistors highlighting their role in various sectors like industrial setups renewable energy systems and high precision technology projects. By grasping the principles rooted in Ohms and Joules laws readers gain insights into using these sensors for current monitoring and control. It emphasizes factors such as precision, power usage and temperature impacts when selecting and using them.

In conclusion it’s evident that shunt current sensors are pivotal in precision measurement tech due to their accuracy, flexibility and cost effectiveness. Their application across industries underscores their importance in today’s tech world. By following the advice outlined in this article individuals can navigate the complexities of measuring current with shunt current sensors to ensure efficiency and reliability in their tasks. We hope this comprehensive guide empowers readers to use shunt sensors in their fields promoting innovation and precision, in current measurement methods.

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