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An Overview of Rotary Encoders Rotary encoders, also referred to as shaft encoders, are electromechanical devices whose job is to convert the angular motion or position of an axle or shaft into a digital or analog code. The tools are useful in a whole range of applications in which precise and unlimited rotation of the shaft is required. Examples of such applications are robotics, rotating radar platforms, industrial controls, controlled stress rheometers, and special purpose photographic lenses. Types of Rotary Encoders There are two primary kinds of rotary encoders, and they are absolute and incremental.
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Absolute encoders’ output serve as angle transducers, indicating the shaft’s current position. On the other hand, incremental encoders’ output provides facts about the shaft’s motion, and is often processed further into valuable pieces of information like position, distance, speed, and the like.
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Absolute Encoders Absolute encoders do not lose position information with or without power in the system. When power is introduced, the encoder’s position is readily available. The relationship of the encoder value to the physical position of the controlled machinery is set during assembly; it is not necessary for the system to return to a calibration point for its position accuracy to be maintained. Extra code wheels and gears are included in a multi-turn absolute rotary encoder. A high-resolution wheel takes care of the measurement of the fractional rotation, while a lower-resolution geared code wheel is in charge of recording the number of whole shaft revolutions. Several code rings with different binary weightings go with an absolute encoder, and these give a data word which represents the absolute position of the encoder in one revolution. Parallel absolute encoder is a term often used to refer to this type of encoder. Incremental Encoders An incremental encoder makes accurate recordings of any position changes, but doesn’t power up with a permanent relation between physical position and encoder state. Devices that are controlled by incremental encoders will have to return to a fixed reference point for initialization of position measurement. With an incremental encoder, things work differently – an A and a B pulse output will be provided, but on their own, they will give no relevant count information. The counting is done instead in the external electronics. The start of counting depends not on the encoder’s position, but rather on the external electronics counter. To provide helpful information, the encoder position should be aligned with the device to which it is attached, generally with an index pulse. What’s unique about incremental encoders is the reporting of incremental position changes of the encoder to the counting electronics. Servomotor Encoders Rotary encoders are usually used to monitor motor shaft position on permanent magnet brushless motors, which are regularly used on robots, CNC machines and other types of industrial equipment. Induction motor type servomotors usually use incremental encoders, while permanent magnet brushless motors usually work with absolute encoders.