MAX31856: Unraveling the Thermocouple Digital Converter’s Capabilities

The MAX31856, a precision thermocouple-to-digital converter, is a versatile device designed to simplify the process of measuring and monitoring temperatures through its high level of integration and robust feature set. This powerful component supports a wide variety of thermocouple types, making it ideal for applications that require precise temperature sensing in challenging environments.

With its ability to perform cold-junction compensation, signal processing, and digital conversion of thermocouple voltages, the MAX31856 has become an invaluable tool for engineers and developers seeking a high-performance temperature measurement solution. This compact device is particularly well-suited for industrial control systems, HVAC systems, and consumer appliances, where accurate temperature readings are crucial for efficient and safe operation.

Incorporating a 19-bit delta-sigma analog-to-digital converter (ADC), the MAX31856 ensures high accuracy and excellent noise rejection. It also allows for user-selectable thermocouple types, providing design flexibility and streamlining system integration. With this innovative solution in hand, users can expect minimized measurement errors, reduced system complexity, and improved overall performance of their temperature sensing applications.

Thermocouples and Their Application

A thermocouple is a temperature sensor made by joining two different metals at one end, forming a junction. When the junction is heated or cooled, a voltage is produced that can be correlated to temperature. Thermocouples are widely used in various industries for their simplicity, versatility, and affordability.

There are several types of thermocouples, characterized by the metals used at the junction and their performance properties. Some common types include:

  • Type K (Nickel-Chromium / Nickel-Alumel): High temperature range, accurate and common in many applications
  • Type J (Iron / Constantan): Often utilized in the plastics industry and high vacuum applications
  • Type T (Copper / Constantan): Ideally suited for cryogenic or low-temperature applications

Thermocouples have various applications across industries, including:

  1. Temperature control systems: HVAC systems use thermocouples to monitor and regulate temperatures of heating and cooling systems.
  2. Process control: In the automotive, aerospace, and metal industries, thermocouples are integral for monitoring and controlling the temperature of manufacturing processes.
  3. Oven and furnace: Monitoring and controlling the temperature during firing and heat treatment processes in the ceramic and glass industries.
  4. Medical equipment: In sterilization processes and temperature regulation during patient care.
  5. Research and development: Laboratories use thermocouples for studying temperature-sensitive processes and materials.

While thermocouples have many advantages, they are not without limitations. Some drawbacks include:

  • Nonlinearity: The relationship between voltage and temperature may not be linear, which requires additional circuitry for compensation.
  • Lower accuracy and stability compared to other temperature sensors like RTDs.
  • Susceptibility to electromagnetic interference or noise, requiring proper shielding and grounding techniques.

Considering these factors, the MAX31856 thermocouple digital converter provides a beneficial solution by offering cold-junction compensation, built-in noise filtering, and a wide range of supported thermocouple types.

Features of MAX31856

High Accuracy

The MAX31856 is designed for high accuracy as it offers a 19-bit ADC resolution. It supports different thermocouple types (K, J, N, R, T, E, S, and B) and can deliver a temperature accuracy of ±0.1°C (typical). This high level of precision makes it suitable for demanding applications and industries.

Cold-Junction Compensation

Another significant feature of MAX31856 is that it includes an on-chip cold-junction compensation. This helps eliminate errors caused by the temperature at the non-measuring junction where the thermocouple meets the ADC. This integrated compensation simplifies the design and enhances the overall accuracy of the temperature measurement.

Programmable Digital Filter

The MAX31856 incorporates a programmable digital filter, allowing users to tailor the device to their application requirements. This feature reduces the impact of noise on the measurement output by setting the filter’s time constant. Users can choose from the following filter options:

  • 60Hz rejection: 50ms
  • 50Hz rejection: 60ms
  • 16.7ms
  • Fast mode: 1ms

These filter options allow users to balance response time with noise reduction effectively.

SPI Interface Communication

The MAX31856 is a versatile thermocouple digital converter that communicates using the SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) protocol. SPI is a popular synchronous data transfer method used by many embedded systems and supports full-duplex communication between the master and slave devices.

The MAX31856 SPI interface consists of four main signals:

  • SCLK: Serial Clock signal, generated by the master device to control data timing.
  • MISO: Master In Slave Out, for data transmission from the MAX31856 to the master device.
  • MOSI: Master Out Slave In, for data transmission from the master device to the MAX31856.
  • CS: Chip Select, an active-low signal used by the master device to initiate communication with the MAX31856.

The operation begins when the master device pulls the CS line low, signaling the MAX31856 to become active. Data is then transmitted between the two devices, with the master generating the SCLK signal to control the timing. After the required data exchange is complete, the master releases the CS line, setting it high and ending the communication session.

The MAX31856 uses an SPI-compatible interface operating in Mode 1 and Mode 3, with CPOL (Clock Polarity) = 0 or 1, and CPHA (Clock Phase) = 1. This flexibility allows it to be compatible with various microcontrollers and processors that support SPI communication.

During the data exchange, the master device sends 8-bit data words to the MAX31856 via the MOSI line and receives 8-bit data words from the MAX31856 via the MISO line. The command and data bytes are exchanged simultaneously during each SCLK cycle, allowing for full-duplex communication. The SPI data transfer involves the following steps:

  1. The master sends an 8-bit command byte, which contains the register address and read/write bit.
  2. Depending on the command byte, the master will send or receive an additional 8-bit data byte.

The MAX31856 provides multiple registers for configuration, temperature readings, and status information. These registers can be accessed using their respective 8-bit addresses while adhering to the read and write protocols specified in the datasheet.

In summary, the MAX31856 relies on the widely-used SPI protocol for communication with master devices, offering full-duplex, synchronous data transfer with flexible compatibility. Utilizing the SPI interface, the MAX31856 can efficiently provide accurate temperature measurements and other related data to the host system.

Supported Thermocouple Types

The MAX31856 thermocouple digital converter supports a wide range of thermocouple types, ensuring versatility in various temperature sensing applications. These thermocouple types can be mainly classified into three categories – Base Metal Thermocouples, Noble Metal Thermocouples, and Refractory Metal Thermocouples.

Base Metal Thermocouples

Base metal thermocouples are cost-effective and offer a good combination of sensitivity, stability, and durability, making them popular for general-purpose applications. The MAX31856 supports the following base metal thermocouples:

  • Type K (Chromel-Alumel): Wide temperature range (-200°C to 1372°C), good stability, popular in many industries.
  • Type J (Iron-Constantan): Temperature range of -210°C to 1200°C, suitable for vacuum, reducing, and oxidizing atmospheres.
  • Type T (Copper-Constantan): Temperature range of -250°C to 400°C, excellent for low-temperature measurements in cryogenics or environmental studies.
  • Type E (Chromel-Constantan): Temperature range of -200°C to 900°C, known for its high voltage output and stability.

Noble Metal Thermocouples

Noble metal thermocouples provide long-term stability and are often used in high-temperature applications. The MAX31856 supports the following noble metal thermocouples:

  • Type R (Platinum-Rhodium 13%): Temperature range of -50°C to 1768°C, used in high-temperature applications such as glass or metal industries.
  • Type S (Platinum-Rhodium 10%): Temperature range of -50°C to 1768°C, used in high-temperature applications and often considered a standard in laboratory work.

Refractory Metal Thermocouples

Refractory metal thermocouples are used in extremely high-temperature applications. The MAX31856 supports the following refractory metal thermocouple:

  • Type B (Platinum-Rhodium 30%-Rhodium 6%): Temperature range of 0°C to 1820°C, used in high-temperature applications like ceramics, glass, and steel industries.

The versatility of supported thermocouple types allows the MAX31856 to cater to diverse temperature sensing applications, making it a valuable tool in various industries.

Fault Detection and Diagnosis

The MAX31856 thermocouple digital converter has built-in fault detection and diagnosis features that help identify common issues related to thermocouples or the circuitry itself. These fault detection features aid in maintaining the accurate and reliable functioning of the thermocouple, ensuring precise temperature measurements.

One of the primary fault detection features is the open thermocouple detection, which identifies breaks in the thermocouple wires. When such a break occurs, the MAX31856 halts the temperature conversion process and sets a fault code in the fault register. This code is then accessible for further troubleshooting and diagnosis.

Another important fault detection capability is the overvoltage and undervoltage detection. The MAX31856 monitors the voltage levels at the input pins and checks for abnormal conditions. If an overvoltage or undervoltage scenario is detected, the device sets an appropriate fault code in the fault register.

In addition to these, the MAX31856 also provides detection for:

  • Temperature limits: If the measured temperature goes beyond the user-defined limits, a fault code is triggered. This feature is useful for preventing potential damage caused by overheating or freezing conditions.
  • Noise detection: The converter has built-in noise filtering to help detect any interference that might affect the temperature measurement accuracy.

The MAX31856 makes it simple for the user to identify and diagnose faults through the fault register. The register holds the fault codes for each detection feature, and users can easily read the register through the SPI interface. The fault codes assist in pinpointing the source of the problem, allowing for quick resolution and maintaining the overall reliability of the thermocouple system.

Integration with Microcontrollers

The MAX31856 thermocouple digital converter is a versatile device that can be easily integrated with microcontrollers, such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, for various temperature sensing applications. This section will briefly discuss the steps to connect the MAX31856 to a microcontroller and utilize its functions.

Firstly, connect the MAX31856 to the microcontroller using the SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) communication protocol. The required connections are:

  • Clock (SCK) pin: Connects to the microcontroller’s SPI clock pin
  • Master Out, Slave In (MOSI) pin: Connects to the microcontroller’s SPI MOSI pin
  • Master In, Slave Out (MISO) pin: Connects to the microcontroller’s SPI MISO pin
  • Chip Select (CS) pin: Connects to a digital output pin on the microcontroller

After establishing the hardware connections, you can configure the microcontroller for SPI communication. For example, with an Arduino, you can use the SPI.h library to configure the SPI settings and initialize the MAX31856.

Once initialized, it is essential to configure the MAX31856 according to your thermocouple type and specific needs. Typically, this involves setting the thermocouple type, selecting between 50Hz and 60Hz mode, and enabling or disabling the fault detection feature.

With the configuration complete, obtain the temperature data from the MAX31856 by sending the appropriate register addresses and reading the raw data. Then, convert the raw data to a temperature value using the microcontroller.

In summary, when integrating the MAX31856 with a microcontroller, follow these steps:

  1. Connect MAX31856 to the microcontroller using SPI
  2. Configure the microcontroller for SPI communication
  3. Initialize and configure the MAX31856 settings
  4. Obtain raw temperature data and convert it to a temperature value

By following these steps, you can efficiently use the MAX31856 for temperature sensing applications with your microcontroller.

Real-World Applications

The MAX31856 thermocouple digital converter is a versatile and efficient device that finds its way into various real-world applications. Let’s explore some of these scenarios:

  • Industrial temperature control: The MAX31856 plays a crucial role in measuring and maintaining precise temperatures in industrial equipment such as ovens, furnaces, and kilns. Its high accuracy and wide temperature range make it an ideal choice for these demanding environments.

  • Automotive: In vehicles, the MAX31856 can be used to monitor and regulate the temperature of critical components such as engine control modules, batteries, and exhaust systems. It helps prevent damage caused by overheating and optimizes performance.

  • Medical devices: Accurate temperature measurement is essential in medical equipment like incubators, sterilizers, and environmental test chambers. The precision and reliability of the MAX31856 make it a suitable choice for such applications, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical treatments.

  • Aerospace: In the aerospace industry, the MAX31856 is employed to monitor and control the temperature of various systems exposed to extreme conditions, such as cryogenic tanks, rocket engines, and avionic equipment.

  • Consumer appliances: Home appliances like ovens, refrigerators, and water heaters can also benefit from the accuracy and versatility of the MAX31856, allowing for better temperature management and energy efficiency.

By catering to these diverse applications, the MAX31856 proves to be a valuable component in temperature management across multiple industries.


The MAX31856 is a highly precise and versatile thermocouple digital converter that simplifies temperature measurement and monitoring. With its wide range of supported thermocouples (types B, E, J, K, N, R, S, and T), this converter allows users to achieve accurate readings across various industries and applications.

Key features of the MAX31856 include:

  • Built-in cold junction compensation
  • User-selectable resolution
  • Adjustable digital filter options

This compact, cost-effective solution provides designers and engineers with a highly reliable component for temperature monitoring and control tasks. The MAX31856 delivers exceptional performance, enabling users to efficiently develop systems that require accurate and stable temperature readings.

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