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The Secret Ingredient in Efficient Electrical Systems: DC Shunts


Efficient electrical systems rely on accurate current measurement to ensure optimal performance and safety. One crucial component that plays a significant role in this process is the DC shunt. DC shunts are specialized resistors used to measure high currents in various applications, including DC motors, battery chargers, heaters, and more. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the ins and outs of DC shunts, including their installation, usage, and the benefits they bring to electrical systems.

The alternative text for this image could be: "An assortment of DC shunts, which are precision resistors used to measure current flow in ammeters, displayed against a white background. These components vary in size, indicating their different current ratings, and are made of a beige insulating material with metal strips and screws for electrical connections."

What is a DC Shunt?

A DC shunt is an electrical component designed to measure large currents flowing through a circuit. It is a specialized resistor wired in series with a heavy load, such as a DC motor or battery charger. The shunt’s primary function is to provide a known calibrated resistance through which current flows. By measuring the voltage drop across the shunt, the current flowing through the load can be accurately determined.

Understanding DC Shunt Construction

DC shunts are typically made from manganin, an alloy consisting of 84% copper, 12% magnesium, and 4% nickel. This material possesses an extremely low-temperature coefficient of resistance, making it ideal for precise current measurement. Unlike copper, which has a relatively high-temperature coefficient, manganin ensures stable and accurate readings over a wide range of temperatures.

Shunts are available with different voltage drops at full-scale current, typically ranging from 50mV to 100mV. The choice of voltage drop depends on the specific application, with 50mV shunts being preferred due to lower power dissipation and self-heating. Manufacturers typically recommend limiting shunts to less than 2/3 of their rated current for continuous operation.

Installing a DC Shunt

Proper installation is crucial for accurate current measurement and safe operation of a DC shunt. Large shunts are designed for direct mounting to bus bars, ensuring a secure connection. It is essential to avoid stressing the shunt element during installation and allow some movement for thermal expansion. Additionally, bus bars should be anchored to prevent excessive movement that could strain the shunt element during current surges or short circuits.

Smaller shunts may include an insulating base, simplifying their mounting to a panel or enclosure. When installing a shunt, it is recommended to position it on the grounded side of the load, minimizing the voltage present at the shunt and meter connections. This reduces the risk of electrical hazards and ensures accurate measurements.

Ensuring Proper Shunt Temperature

Temperature plays a significant role in the performance of DC shunts. To maintain stable operation, it is crucial to keep the temperature at the center of the manganin blades below 80°C. Above this temperature, the manufacturer may specify a derating factor to ensure safe operation at lower current levels. It’s important to note that a temperature exceeding 140°C can cause a permanent change in manganin resistance, making 125°C the generally accepted maximum safe limit.

Proper mounting of the shunt is essential for minimizing temperature rise. In open spaces, mounting the shunt with its blades in a vertical position facilitates convection cooling. However, if the shunt is located in a cabinet or restricted space, forced air cooling might be necessary to maintain an acceptable temperature range. Choosing a larger size model for shunts with the same amp rating improves heat dissipation and ensures better handling of overloads.

Accuracy Considerations for DC Shunt Measurement

Accurate current measurement is crucial for various applications, and the selection of appropriate measuring instruments is essential. Many meters used in shunt applications are scaled to display amps, even though they measure voltage. A ‘shunt-rated’ DC ammeter is a voltmeter calibrated and scaled for a specific shunt current and full-scale voltage drop.

When using a digital meter to monitor voltage drop across a shunt, the input resistance of the meter is generally 1MΩ or higher, ensuring negligible current flow in the meter leads. This ensures that the meter load does not affect measurement accuracy significantly. However, for analog meters, there is a small current flowing in the meter leads, which may impact accuracy. The meter’s input resistance can vary between 6.5 and 50 ohms, depending on the model.

Factory calibration of analog meters assumes a total lead resistance of 0.065Ω, equivalent to approximately 10 ft of #18AWG or 16 ft of #16AWG wire. Longer leads or finer wires with higher resistance can cause the meter to read low. For instance, using #20AWG wire with a resistance of around 10mΩ/ft over a 50ft distance introduces an additional lead resistance of 1Ω. This additional resistance can cause a meter with 7Ω resistance to read 12% low. Therefore, careful consideration of lead resistance is crucial for accurate measurements.

Other Instruments for Monitoring DC Shunts

In addition to analog and digital meters, other instruments can be used to monitor voltage across a DC shunt. Signal conditioners, for example, are employed to convert millivolt signals into a format suitable for remote transmission or interface with process control equipment. They can convert a 0-100mV signal into a 4-20mA loop current, providing a convenient and reliable means of monitoring.

Recorders or data loggers are also valuable tools for capturing and storing readings for future analysis. They offer the advantage of higher sampling rates, making them suitable for applications where current changes rapidly and may not be visible on analog or digital meters alone. By recording data over time, these instruments provide valuable insights into current behavior and system performance.

The Benefits of DC Shunts

DC shunts offer several key benefits that make them indispensable in efficient electrical systems. Firstly, they provide a cost-effective means of measuring high currents accurately. By utilizing a shunt, the need for expensive and bulky current transformers can be eliminated. This simplifies the overall system design and reduces costs.

Secondly, DC shunts offer excellent accuracy and stability, thanks to the low temperature coefficient of resistance of manganin. This ensures consistent measurements over a wide range of operating conditions. Additionally, the ability to choose shunts with different voltage drops allows for optimal power dissipation and self-heating considerations.

Finally, DC shunts enable real-time monitoring of high currents, allowing for immediate detection of any abnormalities or faults. This enhances system reliability and safety, as potential issues can be addressed promptly, minimizing downtime and preventing damage to equipment.


In conclusion, DC shunts play a crucial role in efficient electrical systems by providing accurate and reliable current measurements. Their installation and usage require careful consideration of factors such as temperature, lead resistance, and the selection of appropriate measuring instruments. By understanding the principles and benefits of DC shunts, you can ensure optimal performance, safety, and cost-effectiveness in your electrical systems. Whether measuring current in motors, battery chargers, or other high-current applications, DC shunts are the secret ingredient for success.

For more information on DC shunts and other electrical components, contact Riedon, a leading resistor manufacturing company specializing in a wide range of resistors tailored to meet your specific needs.

Additional Information:

  • DC shunts can also be used to measure AC currents at low frequencies.
  • DC shunts are commonly used in industrial settings, renewable energy systems, and automotive applications.
  • DC shunts are available in various sizes and configurations to suit different installation requirements.
  • It is important to follow safety guidelines and consult professionals when working with high currents and electrical systems.

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