In any application where automation is implemented to increase precision and efficiency, many components generally work together to provide feedback to machinery. One such component is the encoder, which is a precision sensing device that can provide positional and motion feedback to a control system, which can then make adjustments based on that data. In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about encoders so that you have a better understanding of one of the most important components used in automation.
Encoders are electromechanical devices that can detect changes in angular rotation or linear displacement and convert them to a digital signal that an external controller can utilize. They can provide quick and accurate feedback, which makes them popular in applications such as robotics, packaging, conveying, sorting, and imaging, among others. Although some specialty encoders exist for certain applications, the vast majority of encoders in widespread circulation are either linear, rotary, or angle.
In addition to their broad classification, encoders can also be categorized as having absolute or incremental output. Encoders producing an incremental output measure change in position from a fixed zero reference point, which will either be automatically set with each new use or established manually by the user. Incremental encoding scales are equipped with equally spaced lines, much like what is seen on a ruler. As the object and scale move further away from the set reference point, the encoder will count the number of lines passed and transmit that data in the form of a signal. Conversely, absolute encoders do not need to be set with a zero and instead use markings that send unique signals to the reading device.
Encoders are further classified by the mechanism in which they track change in position. Magnetic encoders are paired with scales that produce a magnetic field as they pass by and create a signal based on the change in that field. On the other hand, optical encoders use signals that detect light as it passes through a glass receiver. Generally, optical encoders are more expensive and complicated to set up but can be used in applications where a generated magnetic field may cause harm.
There are many applications in which encoders are currently being used, but they are most common in electronics, machining, automation, and the medical industry. The electronics industry uses high-precision encoders when producing very small components with little to no room for error, such as semiconductors. In automation, encoders help dictate the movement of various devices, from conveyor belts to robotic arms. Meanwhile, in the medical industry, rotary encoders have recently been installed in CT and MRI machines to assist in taking accurate images and are similarly used for radiation treatment for cancer.
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