Encoders are communication devices that produce incremental or absolute signals. These signals provide critical data about the speed or position of a motor or other moving equipment and operating devices. These versatile apparatuses convert motion into electrical signals that can be interpreted and analyzed by a separate control device in a motion control system, such as a programmable logic controller (PLC). As a result, the control device can utilize this information to send a command for a specific function.
There are two types of encoders: linear and rotary. Linear encoders respond to motion along a designated path, while rotary encoders respond to rotational motion. Moreover, linear encoders are considered sensor transducers with a scale that encodes position. The sensor analyzes the scale to convert the encoded position into an analog or digital signal which is decoded into position by a digital motion controller.
Rotary encoders, on the other hand, are electromechanical devices that convert the angular position or motion of a shaft or axle into a digital signal. They find use in applications that necessitate precise shaft unlimited rotation, such as industrial controls and robotics. Beyond being categorized by their function, encoders are also defined by the type of signal they produce.
Encoders may produce either an incremental or absolute signal. Incremental signals do not indicate a specific position, but rather, show that the position has changed. In contrast, absolute signals utilize a different word for each position, providing an indication that the position has changed and an indication of the absolute position of the encoder.
Both types generate signals in different ways. Incremental encoders produce a series of pulses that are utilized to determine position and speed. Meanwhile, absolute encoders generate unique bit configurations that allow them to track positions directly. Nonetheless, each encoder is widely used in many applications, including automotive, laboratory and medical equipment, robotics factory automation, and electric motors.
Serving a diverse set of operations, encoder feedback is integral to the performance of many automation applications. When properly calibrated and specified, encoders deliver the feedback necessary to support effective positioning at a price point that suits varying budgets. If an encoder is improperly specified, it can affect the performance of an entire system.
Of all their advantages, one of their most favorable qualities is the accuracy they provide. It is important to note that encoder accuracy is measured in arcminutes or arcseconds. However, accuracy can be affected by multiple error sources. One source can be the encoder itself. For example, the widths of the lines present on the encoder disk vary, which may introduce a small error in the timing of the pulses. Errors may also be attributed to the equipment being monitored. For instance, a gearbox may have backlash, or a lead screw might have play in its motion.
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