What is an encoder and why are they applied?

Found in machinery of all industries, encoders are responsible for converting motion or optical interruption into an electrical signal. Providing feedback by implementing a control device within a motion control system capable of reading and transcribing motion, encoders are ultimately used to calculate position, count, speed, or direction. Producing either absolute or incremental signals when generating feedback, encoders are critical for controlling many mechanical systems, helping to determine what actions need to be taken to maintain high-precision for sensitive mechanical work.

Once an encoder within a control device has transcribed received data from a sensor, it can be used to control various functions in relation to motion feedback and motion control. Using received signals to directly coordinate and control a piece of equipment, the encoder will determine what signals should be sent to certain machinery to control or perform specific functions. Utilizing mechanical, magnetic, resistive, or optical component options depending on each individual part’s application, encoders are often applied within CNC machines, automation and other unmanned mechanical systems, robotics, medical devices, and more.

While there are numerous encoders available on the market for measuring rotational or linear motion, the common options you will want to consider for most equipment include linear, rotary, and angle encoders. Calculating measurements in a straight line, linear encoders use sensor heads that move along a guided path, sending digital or analog signals to a control system for further processing. Rotary encoders, on the other hand, measure rotational movement. Typically placed on a surface surrounding a rotating shaft, rotary encoders are used to sense any changes in rotational movements. With their ability to determine changes in rotational movements, rotary encoders are commonly paired with motors to reinforce accuracy, speed stability, power loss, bandwidth, and noise reduction. Similar to rotary encoders for their measurement of rotational movement, angle encoders are often applied when accuracy and precision are the predominant concern.

When calculating any measurements, all absolute or incremental signals sent out require identifiable markers or codes for the recognition and processing of measurement increments. To ensure all encoders are functioning properly and are distributing the correct signals, magnetic, optical, sealed, and exposed encoders can all add an extra layer of support to your applications when looking for industry-specific options. For a compact and reliable encoder solution, magnetic encoders are a simple option that rely on the relationship between static and dynamic magnetic forces to measure, track, and translate input. On the other hand, optical encoders are just as valuable of an option, but are known for having greater accuracy and lower durability. In regard to sealed and exposed encoders, like their names imply, both options provide sealed or closed encoder variations depending on the severity of an encoder system's sensitivity.

As encoders are known for their accuracy when measuring linear or rotational motion, it is imperative that each part is manufactured for its intended application. They should also be constructed from particular materials capable of withstanding forces imposed while performing routine functions. Common examples of encoder applications in use include: encoders affixed to measurement wheels for clean and precise material cuts, encoders paired with actuators to adjust objects based on received positioning feedback, encoders applied to an elevator control systems indicating a lift when it has reached the correct floor, printing applications that rely on information sent from an encoder to a print head that then marks specific surface areas, automated assembly lines supplied with encoders to provide programmed automated commands, and various other related performance functions.

As most encoders relay signals to machinery for the purpose of performing certain functions, part alignment is crucial for most systems employing an encoder. A disruption of encoder parts can result in interrupted feedback, ultimately affecting its prearranged configuration. Though encoders can be calibrated for a variation of performance functions to benefit a wide range of machinery, they are still commonly misconfigured. Engineers not familiar with various encoder calibrations may rely on basic static encoder settings, foregoing a more complex encoder for one relative to a one-size-fits-all option. Sacrificing improved performance and quality, this route often leads to reduced output, setting failure, and the part’s inevitable replacement. Alongside such errors coincides the mismanagement of encoding presets for various input and output assemblies.

Rest assured knowing that we at NSN Orbit can easily help you obtain the parts you are in need of. As encoders must be applied relative to the specified measurement job they are expected to perform, one must choose equipment capable of producing a desired pressure outcome. As a dependable distributor of linear encoders, optical encoders, card encoders, encoder covers, and more, we invite you to browse our inventory for numerous encoder types and their various supplies. Due to our quality control and export compliance, we operate with AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B certification and accreditation. If you would like to request a quote for your comparisons, you can submit an RFQ form as provided on our website. Upon receipt, a dedicated account manager will quickly review and respond with a personalized solution to your needs in just 15 minutes or less, 24/7x365.


May 17, 2023
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