Which Photoelectric Sensor Should I Be Using?

There are many variations within the category of photoelectric sensors, so how do you select the best sensor for your application? Below, I will discuss the benefits of different types of photoelectric sensors and sensing modes.

Through Beam

Through beam sensors consist of an emitter and a receiver. The emitter produces a beam of light, while the receiver identifies whether that light is present or not. So, when an object breaks the beam, an output is triggered by the receiver. Some of the advantages of using the simple through beam technology is that, unlike some of the other photoelectric sensors, it doesn’t matter the color, texture or transparency of your target.

Retroreflective

What if you would like to have a through beam sensor, but don’t have enough room for two sensor heads in your application? Retroreflective sensors have an emitter and receiver within one housing and use a high-quality reflector to reflect the light beam back to the sensor head. This allows for easy connection of just one sensor head, but it doesn’t have the range of your typical through beam sensor. When using these types of sensors, you must factor in how small or reflective your target material is. If you are trying to sense a highly reflective material, then the light reflected back to the receiver could cause the sensor to think an object is present. If you are having these problems, but still want to use a retroreflective sensor, then you should consider versions with a polarizing lens. These lenses make the sensors insensitive to interference with shiny, reflective material.

Fork

Fork sensors include the transmitter and receiver in one housing, and they are already aligned. This saves time and energy during set up. Fork sensors are fantastic for small component and detail detection.

Diffuse

If you don’t have room for a sensor head on each side of your application or even a reflector, or you have had trouble with the alignment of a retroreflective sensor, a diffuse sensor may be a good choice. Diffuse sensors use technology to be able reflect light off the material and back to the sensor. This eliminates the need for a second device or reflector. This significantly reduces set up. You can simply place your target material in front of the sensor and teach it to that point. Once your object reaches that point, the light will be reflected back to the sensor, producing the output. While they are simpler to install, they also have a shorter range compared to through beam sensors and may be affected by your material’s color or the reflectivity or your background… Unless, you have a diffuse sensor with background suppression.

Background Suppression

Diffuse sensors have an emitter and receiver in one housing. In diffuse sensors with background suppression, the emitter and receiver are at a fixed angle so that they intersect at the position of your target material. This will help narrow the operating area (area in which your target material will be entering) and not let reflective material in the background have an influence in your detection.

Conclusion

Photoelectric sensors are simple to use when you need non-contact detection of a material’s presence, color, distance, size or shape, and with their various types, housing and sizes, you can find one that is ideal for your application.

Is IO-Link with Single Pair Ethernet the Future?

20 meters.

That is the maximum distance between an IO-Link master port and an IO-Link device using a standard prox cable.  Can this length be extended?  Sure, there are IO-Link repeaters you can use   to lengthen the distance, but is there an advantage and is it worth the headache?

I hope you like doing some math, because the maximum distance is based on the baud rate of the IO-Link device, the current consumption of the IO-Link device and finally the cross section of the conductors in the cabling.  Now throw all that into a formula and you can determine the maximum distance you can achieve.  Once that is calculated, are you done? No.  Longer cables and repeaters add latency to the IO-Link data transfer, so you may need to slow down the IO-Link master’s port cycle time due to the delay.

Luckily, there is a better and easier solution than repeaters and the sacrifice of the data update rate — Single Pair Ethernet (SPE).

SPE is being discussed in all the major communication special interest groups, so it makes sense that its being discussed within the IO-Link Consortium.  Why?  A couple of key factors: cable lengths and updated speeds.  By using SPE, we gain the Ethernet cable length advantage. So, instead of being limited to 20 meters, your IO-Link cabling could stretch to 100 meters!  Imagine the opportunities that opens in industrial applications.  It is possible that even longer runs will be achievable.  With 10 Mbit/s speed, to start, the update rate between IO-Link devices and the IO-Link master could be less than 0.1 millisecond.

Latency has been the Achilles heal in using IO-Link in high-speed applications, but this could eliminate that argument. It will still be IO-Link, the point-to-point communication protocol (master-to-device), but the delivery method would change. Using SPE would require new versions of IO-Links masters, with either all SPE ports or a combination of SPE and standard IO-Link ports. The cabling would also change from our standard prox cables to hybrid cables, containing a single twist Ethernet pair with two additional conductors for 24 volts DC.  We may even see some single channel converts, that convert standard IO-Link to SPE and vice versa.

There likely would have been pushback if this was discussed just five or ten years ago, but today, with new technology being released regularly, I doubt we see much resistance. We consumers are ready for this. We are already asking for the benefits of SPE and IO-Link SPE may be able to provide those advantages.

For more information, visit www.balluff.com.

Increasing Productivity in the Injection Molding Process

Part of calculating the productivity in an injection molding operation is to figure out the maximum number of items you’d be able to produce if everything worked perfectly. Unfortunately, “everything working perfectly” is not something you often see in manufacturing. How can you get closer to that ideal number? One answer lies in a little sensor which can monitor environmental conditions vital to your operation. With it you can reduce your machine downtime and the amount of scrap you produce.

Condition monitoring sensors seem to be taking the automation world by storm. These sensors take various measurements including temperature, ambient pressure, relative humidity, and vibration. They report the data digitally, which makes it easy to track performance. What used to require several sensors now requires only one.

Monitor humidity in plastic granule drying process

Following the plastic injection molding process from beginning to end we can see the usefulness of this one sensor. Plastic granules need to be dried before they go into the machine. If the moisture level is too high, it can cause splay marks to show up on the final product, which then has to be scrapped. This can be costly and can extend lead times if it is not detected early on. The condition monitoring sensor can track ambient humidity so you can stop that problem in its tracks before it creates waste and increases overhead.

Monitor temperature in the injection molding process

One of the biggest variables to any injection molding process is temperature. Some common temperature-related issues in injection molding include blistering, burn marks, degradation of the polymer used, stringiness, and warping. These are caused by temperature variations that cause the resin to be too hot or too cold. Condition monitoring sensors can detect swings in temperature to prevent products having to be scrapped.

Monitor vibration to detect mechanical wear

It’s clear that condition monitoring sensors can helpfully measure environmental factors, but what about mechanical wear? Vibration sensors can monitor mechanical wear on bearings, linear drives, gearboxes and much more by plotting vibration data. It’s even more effective if they measure vibration on more than one axis so you can see the direction of vibration and not just the overall amount. This way you can be proactive and plan your maintenance in advance instead of being in a constant reactive state, trying to patch problems as they come up. Using vibration data gathered by a condition monitoring sensor, you can avoid the costly consequences of unscheduled downtime.

In conclusion there are many different applications that condition monitoring sensors can be used for in injection molding operations. By tracking a variety of different measurements including vibration, temperature, and humidity, you will be able to improve the efficiency and productivity of your entire operation by using this one compact sensor. It provides a low-cost solution so that you can reduce the scrap that is cutting into your profits. And reduce the amount of downtime that causes so many unnecessary headaches. Put these smart sensors to work for you.

How RFID Can Error-Proof Appliance Assembly

Today, appliance manufactures are using RFID more frequently for error proofing applications and quality control processes.

Whether the appliance assembly process is automatic or semiautomatic, error-proofing processes using RFID are as important as the overall assembly processes. Now, RFID systems can be used to tell a PLC how well things are moving, and if the products and parts are within spec. This information is provided as an integral part of each step in the manufacturing process.

RFID systems installed throughout the manufacturing process provide a way of tracking not only what has happened, but what has gone right. RFID records where something has gone wrong, and what needs to be done to correct the problem.

Appliance manufacturers often need to assemble different product versions on the same production line. The important features of each part must be identified, tracked and communicated to the control system. This is most effectively done with an RFID system that stores build data on a small RFID tag attached to a build pallet. Before assembly begins, the RFID tag is loaded with the information that will instruct all downstream processes the correct parts that need to be installed.

Each part that goes into the appliance also has a RFID tag attached to it. As the build pallet moves down the assembly conveyor to each station, the tag on the build pallet is read to determine what assembly and error proofing steps are required. Often, this is displayed on an HMI for the operator. If the assembly requires testing, the results of those tests can be loaded into the data carrier for subsequent archiving. The operator scans the tag on each part as it is being installed. That data is then written to the tag on the build pallet. For example, in the washing machine assembly process, the washing machine body sits on the build pallet, and as it moves from station to station, the operators install different components like electronic boards, wiring harnesses, and motors. As each one of these components is installed, its RFID tag is scanned to make sure it is the correct part. If they install the wrong part, the HMI will signal the error.

RFID technology can also be used to reduce errors in the rework process. RFID tags, located on either on the assembly or the pallet, store information on what has been done to the appliance and what needs to be done. When an unacceptable subassembly reaches the rework area, the RFID tag provides details for the operator on what needs to be corrected. At the same time, the tag can signal a controller to configure sensors and tools, such as torque wrenches, to perform the corrective operations.

These are just a few examples of how appliance manufactures are using RFID for error proofing.

For more information, visit https://www.balluff.com/local/us/products/product-overview/rfid/.

Machine Vision: 5 Simple Steps to Choose the Right Camera

The machine vision and industrial camera market is offering thousands of models with different resolutionssizes, speeds, colors, interfaces, prices, etc. So, how do you choose? Let’s go through 5 simple steps which will ensure easy selection of the right camera for your application. 

1.  Defined task: color or monochrome camera  

2.  Amount of information: minimum of pixels per object details 

3.  Sensor resolution: formula for calculating the image sensor 

4.  Shutter technology: moving or static object 

5.  Interfaces and camera selector: lets pick the right model 

STEP 1 – Defined task  

It is always necessary to start with the size of the scanned object (X, Y), or you can determine the smallest possible value (d) that you want to distinguish with the camera.

For easier explanation, you can choose the option of solving the measurement task. However, the basic functionality can be used for any other applications.

In the task, the distance (D) between the centers of both holes is determined with the measurement accuracy (d). Using these values, we then determine the parameter for selecting the right image sensor and camera.

Example:
Distance (D) between 2 points with measuring accuracy (d) of 0.05 mm. Object size X = 48 mm (monochrome sensor, because color is not relevant here)

Note: Monochrome or color?
Color sensors use a Bayer color filter, which allows only one basic color to reach each pixel. The missing colors are determined using interpolation of the neighboring pixels. Monochrome sensors are twice as light sensitive as color sensors and lead to a sharper image by acquiring more details within the same number of pixels. For this reason, monochrome sensors are recommended if no color information is needed.

STEP 2 – Amount of information

Each type of application needs a different size of information to solve. This is differentiated by the minimum number of pixels. Lets again use monochrome options.

Minimum of pixels per object details

  • Object detail measuring / detection       3
  • Barcode line width                                           2
  • Datamatrix code module width                4
  • OCR character height                                    16

Example:
The measuring needs 3 pixels for the necessary accuracy (object detail size d). As necessary accuracy (d) which is 0.05 mm in this example, is imaged on 3 pixels.

Note:
Each characteristic or application type presupposes a minimum number of pixels. It avoids the loss of information through sampling blurs.

STEP 3 – Sensor resolution

We already defined the object size as well as resolution accuracy. As a next step, we are going to define resolution of the camera. It is simple formula to calculate the image sensor.

S = (N x O) / d = (min. number of pixels per object detail x object size) / object detail size

Object size (O) can be describe horizontally as well as vertically. Some of sensors are square and this problem is eliminated 😊

Example:
S = (3 x 48 mm) / 0.05 mm = 2880 pixels

We looked at the available image sensors and the closest is a model with resolution 3092 x 2080 => 6.4Mpixels image sensor.

Note:
Pay attention to the format of the sensor.

For a correct calculation, it is necessary to check the resolution, not only in the horizontal but also in the vertical axis.

 

STEP 4 – Shutter technology

Global shutter versus rolling shutter.

These technologies are standard in machine vision and you are able to find hundreds of cameras with both.

Rolling shutter: exposes the motive line-by-line. This procedure results in a time delay for each acquired line. Thus, moving objects are displayed blurrily in the resulting motive through the generated “object time offset” (compare to the image).

Pros:

    • More light sensitive
    • Less expensive
    • Smaller pixel size provides higher resolution with the same image format.

Cons:

    • Image distortion occurs on moving objects

Global shutter: used to get distortion-free images by exposing all pixels at the same time.

Pros:

    • Great for fast processes
    • Sharp images with no blur on moving objects.

Cons:

    • More expensive
    • Larger image format

Note:
The newest rolling shutter sensors have a feature called global reset mode, which starts the exposure of all rows simultaneously and the reset of each row is released simultaneously, also. However, the readout of the lines is equal to the readout of the rolling shutter: line by line.

This means the bottom lines of the sensor will be exposed to light longer! For this reason, this mode will only make sense, if there is no extraneous light and the flash duration is shorter or equal to the exposure time.

STEP 5 – Interfaces and camera selector

Final step is here:

You must consider the possible speed (bandwidth) as well as cable length of camera technology.

USB2
Small, handy and cost-effective, USB 2.0 industrial cameras have become integral parts in the area of medicine and microscopy. You can get a wide range of different variants, including with or without housings, as board-level or single-board, or with or without digital I/Os.

USB3/GigE Vision
Without standards every manufacturer does their own thing and many advantages customers learned to love with the GigE Vision standard would be lost. Like GigE Vision, USB3 Vision also defines:

    • a transport layer, which controls the detection of a device (Device Detection)
    • the configuration (Register Access)
    • the data streaming (Streaming Data)
    • the handling of events (Event Handling)
    • established interface to GenICam. GenICam abstracts the access to the camera features for the user. The features are standardized (name and behavior) by the standard feature naming convention (SFNC). Additionally, it is possible to create specific features in addition to the SFNC to differentiate from other vendors (quality of implementation). In contrast to GigE Vision, this time the mechanics (e.g. lockable cable connectors) are part of the standard which leads to a more robust interface.

I believe that these five points will help you choose the most suitable camera. Are you still unclear? Do not hesitate to contact us or contact me directly: I will be happy to consult your project, needs or any questions.

 

 

The Pros and Cons of Flush, Non-Flush and Semi-Flush Mounting

Inductive proximity sensors have been around for decades and have proven to be a groundbreaking invention for the world of automation. This type of technology detects the presence or absence of ferrous objects using electromagnetic fields. Manufacturers typically select which inductive sensor to use in their application based on their form factor and switching distance. Although, another important factor to consider is how the sensor will be mounted. Improper mounting conditions can cause the sensor to false trigger, decreasing its reliability and efficiency. Since inductive proximity sensors target metal objects, surrounding the sensor with a metal mounting will cause unintended consequences for the user. Understanding these implications will help you select the correct inductive sensor for you specific application. There are several mounting options available for this type of sensor, including flush mount, non-flush mount, and semi-flush mount. We will dive into each type in more detail below.

Flush Mounting

Flush mounting, also known as embeddable mounting, is exactly what the name describes. The sensor is flush with the mounting surface. The advantage of mounting the sensor in this way is that it provides protection to the face of the sensor. The opportunities are endless for how sensors can be damaged but with the flush mounting style, these factors are reduced. The way a flush mounted sensor is designed causes the magnetic field to only generate out of the face of the sensor (see below). This allows the sensor to work properly by avoiding triggering from the mount as opposed to the target. The disadvantage of this is that it creates shorter switching distances than other mounting types.

Non-Flush Mounting

A non-flush inductive proximity sensor is relatively easy to spot because it extends out from the mounting bracket and also uses a cap that surrounds the sensor face. Non-flush sensors offer the longest sensing distance range because the electromagnetic field extends from the sides of the sensor face as opposed to the edges or strictly the front of the face. There are some consequences to consider when selecting this style. The sensor head is exposed to the external environment. These sensors are more susceptible to being hit or damaged, which in turn, can cause failures within the process and cost the company money for replacements. It is important to understand these potential problem factors so they can be avoided in the design phase if you require the longer switching distance.

Semi-Flush Mounting

The semi-flush, also known as quasi-flush, is similar to that of the flush mounting style but requires a metal-free zone around the sensor face to achieve the optimal sensing range. Thus, this sensor is protected and offers a larger sensing field than a flush mounted sensor. The disadvantage is that if metal is touching the edge of the sensor face, this will dramatically decrease the sensing range.

Each style offers advantages and disadvantages. Each style uses a specific technology and design to allow it to adapt to different applications. Understanding these pros and cons will allow you to make a more informed decision for which to use in the application at hand.

Improve OEE, Save Costs with Condition Monitoring Data

When it comes to IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) and the fourth industrial revolution, data has become exponentially more important to the way we automate machines and processes within a production plant. There are many different types of data, with the most common being process data. Depending on the device or sensor, process data may be as simple as the status of discrete inputs or outputs but can be as complex as the data coming from radio frequency identification (RFID) data carriers (tags). Nevertheless, process data has been there since the beginning of the third industrial revolution and the beginning of the use of programmable logic controllers for machine or process control.

With new advances in technology, sensors used for machine control are becoming smarter, smaller, more capable, and more affordable. This enables manufacturers of those devices to include additional data essential for IIOT and Industry 4.0 applications. The latest type of data manufacturers are outputting from their devices is known as condition monitoring data.

Today, smart devices can replace an entire system by having all of the hardware necessary to collect and process data, thus outputting relative information directly to the PLC or machine controller needed to monitor the condition of assets without the use of specialized hardware and software, and eliminating the need for costly service contracts and being tied to one specific vendor.

A photo-electric laser distance sensor with condition monitoring has the capability to provide more than distance measurements, including vibration detection. Vibration can be associated with loose mechanical mounting of the sensor or possible mechanical issues with the machine that the sensor is mounted. That same laser distance sensor can also provide you with inclination angle measurement to help with the installation of the sensor or help detect when there’s a problem, such as when someone or something bumps the sensor out of alignment. What about ambient data, such as humidity? This could help detect or monitor for moisture ingress. Ambient pressure? It can be used to monitor the performance of fans or the condition of the filter elements on electrical enclosures.

Having access to condition monitoring data can help OEMs improve sensing capabilities of their machines, differentiating themselves from their competition. It can also help end users by providing them with real time monitoring of their assets; improving overall equipment efficiency and better predicting  and, thereby, eliminating unscheduled and costly machine downtime. These are just a few examples of the possibilities, and as market needs change, manufacturers of these devices can adapt to the market needs with new and improved functions, all thanks to smart device architecture.

Integrating smart devices to your control architecture

The most robust, cost effective, and reliable way of collecting this data is via the IO-Link communication protocol; the first internationally accepted open, vendor neutral, industrial bi-directional communications protocol that complies with IEC61131-9 standards. From there, this information can be directly passed to your machine controller, such as PLC, via fieldbus communication protocols, such as EtherNET/Ip, ProfiNET or EtherCAT, and to your SCADA / GUI applications via OPC/UA or JSON. There are also instances where wireless communications are used for special applications where devices are placed in hard to reach places using Bluetooth or WLAN.

In the fast paced ever changing world of industrial automation, condition monitoring data collection is increasingly more important. This data can be used in predictive maintenance measures to prevent costly and unscheduled downtime by monitoring vibration, inclination, and ambient data to help you stay ahead of the game.

Use IODD Files with IO-Link for Faster, Easier Parameterization

Using IO-Link allows you to get as much data as possible from only three wires. IO-Link communicates four types of data: device data, event data, value status, and process data. Value status data and process data are constantly sent together at a known rate that is documented in each device’s manual and/or data sheet. Device and event data stores your device parameters and allow for the ultimate flexibility of IO-Link devices. Since the IO Device Description (IODD) files contain each device’s full set of parameters, using them saves you from the need to regularly refer to the manual.

Commissioning IO-Link devices

When first using an IO-Link device, the standard process data will be displayed. To maximize the functionality of the device, parameters can be accessed and, in some cases, changed.  The available parameters for any IO-Link device are located in at least two places: the device’s manual and the device’s IODD file.  The manual will display the required hexadecimal-based index and sub-index addresses to point your controller’s logic, which will allow the user to change/monitor parameters of the device during operation.  This is great for utilizing one or two parameters.

However, some devices require a large number of parameter adjustments to optimize each device per application.  Using IODD files to commission devices can be faster and make it easier to select and change parameters, because all available parameters are included in the XML based file.  Certain masters and controllers have the ability to store these IODD files, further improving the integration process.  Once the IODD files are stored and the device is plugged into an IO-Link port, you can choose, change, and monitor every parameter possible.

Where can I find IODD files?

The IO-Link consortium requires all IO-Link device manufacturers to produce and post the files to the IODD finder located on io-link.com.  Most IO-Link device manufacturers also provide a link to the IODD file on the product’s web page as well as the IO-Link.com site.

Injection Molding: Ignore the Mold, Pay the Price

Are you using a contract molding company to make your parts? Or are you doing it in house, but with little true oversight and management reporting on your molds? As a manufacturer, you can spend as much on a mold as you might for an economy, luxury or even a high-performance car. The disappointing difference is that YOU get to drive the car, while your molder or mold shop gets to drive your mold. How do you know if your mold is being taken care of as a true tooling investment and not being used as though it were disposable, or like the car analogy, like the Dukes of Hazzard used the General Lee?

What steps can you take in regard to using and maintaining a mold in production that can help guarantee your company’s ROI? How can you ensure your mold is going to produce the needed parts and provide or exceed the longevity required?

It is important for any manufacturer to understand the need for the cleaning and repair required for proper tool maintenance. The condition of your injection mold affects the quality of the plastic components produced. To keep a mold in the best working order, maintenance is critical not only when issues arise, but also routinely over time.

In the case of injection molds specifically, there are certain checks and procedures that should be performed regularly. An example being that mold cavities and gating should be routinely inspected for wear or damage. This is as important as keeping the injection system inspected and lubricated, and ensuring all surfaces are cleaned and sprayed with a rust preventative.

Figure 1 An example of the mold usage process.

The unfortunate reality is that some molders wait until part quality problems arise or the tool becomes damaged to do maintenance. One of the biggest challenges with injection molders is being certain that your molds are being run according to the maintenance requirements. Running a mold too long and waiting until problems arise to perform routine maintenance or refurbish a mold can result in added expense, supply/stock issues, longer time to market and even loss of the mold. However, when molders have a clear indication of maintenance and production timing, and follow the maintenance procedures in place, production times and overall costs can decrease.

Figure 2 Balluff add-on Mold ID monitoring and traceability system.

Creating visibility and accuracy into this maintenance timing is something today’s automation technology can now address. With todays modern, industrial automation technology, visibility and traceability can be added to any mold machine, regardless of machine age, manufacturer and manufacturing environment.

With the modern networked IIoT (industrial internet of things)-based monitoring and traceability system solutions available today, the mold can be monitored on the machine in real-time and every shot is recorded and kept on the mold itself using, for example, an assortment of industrial RFID tag options mounted directly on the mold. Mold shot count information can be tracked and kept on the mold and can be reported to operations or management using IIoT-based software running at the molder or even remotely using the internet at your own facility, giving complete visibility and insight into the mold’s status.

Figure 3 Balluff IIoT-based Connected Mold ID reporting and monitoring software screens.

Traceability systems record not only the shot count but can provide warning and alarm shot count statuses locally using visual indicators, such as a stack light, as the mold nears its maintenance time. Even the mold’s identification information and dynamic maintenance date (adjusted continuously based on current shot count) are recorded on the RFID tag for absolute tracability and can be reported in near real-time to the IIoT-based software package.

Advanced automation technology can bring new and needed insights into your mold shop or your molder’s treatment of your molds. It adds a whole new level of reliability and visibility into the molding process. And you can use this technology to improve production up-time and maximize your mold investments.

For more information, visit https://www.balluff.com/en/de/industries-and-solutions/solutions-and-technologies/mold-id/connected-mold-id/

AMR and GMR: Better Methods to End of Travel Sensing

Today’s pneumatic cylinders are compact, reliable, and cost-effective prime movers for automated equipment. Unfortunately, they are often provided with unreliable reed or Hall Effect switches that fail well before the service life of the cylinder itself is expended. Too often, life with pneumatic cylinders involves continuous effort and mounting costs to replace failed cylinder position switches. As a result, some OEMs and end users have abandoned magnetic cylinder switches altogether in favor of more reliable — yet more costly and cumbersome — external inductive proximity sensors, brackets, and fixed or adjustable metal targets. There must be a better way!

One position sensing technique is to install external electro-mechanical limit switches or inductive proximity switches that detect metal flags on the moving parts of the machine. The disadvantages of this approach include the cost and complexity of the brackets and associated hardware, the difficulty of making adjustments, and the increased physical size of the overall assembly.

A more popular and widely used method is to attach magnetically actuated switches or sensors to the sides of the cylinder, or into a slot extruded into the body of the cylinder. Through the aluminum wall of the pneumatic cylinder, magnetic field sensors detect an internal magnet that is mounted on the moving piston. In most applications, magnetic sensors provide end-of-stroke detection in either direction; however, installation of multiple sensors along the length of a cylinder allows detection of several discrete positions.

The simplest magnetic field sensor is the reed switch. This device consists of two flattened ferromagnetic nickel and iron reed elements enclosed in a hermetically sealed glass tube. The glass tube is evacuated to a high vacuum to minimize contact arcing. As an axially aligned magnet approaches, the reed elements attract the magnetic flux lines and draw together by magnetic force, thus completing an electrical circuit. The magnet must have a strong enough Gauss rating, usually in excess of 50 Gauss, to overcome the return force, i.e. spring memory, of the reed elements.

The benefits of reed switches are that they are low cost, they require no standby power, and they can function with both AC and DC electrical loads. However, reed switches are relatively slow to operate, therefore they may not respond fast enough for some high-speed applications. Since they are mechanical devices with moving parts, they have a finite number of operating cycles before they eventually fail. Switching high current electrical loads can further cut into their life expectancy.

Hall Effect sensors are solid-state electronic devices. They consist of a voltage amplifier and a comparator circuit that drives a switching output. It might seem like an easy solution to simply replace reed switches with Hall Effect sensors, however, the magnetic field orientation of a cylinder designed for reed switches may be axial, whereas the orientation for a Hall Effect sensor is radial. The result? There is a chance that a Hall Effect sensor will not operate properly when activated by an axially oriented magnet. Finally, some inexpensive Hall Effect sensors are susceptible to double switching, which occurs because the sensor will detect both poles of the magnet, not simply one or the other.

Today, solid-state magnetic field sensors are available either using magnetoresistive (AMR) or giant magnetoresistive (GMR) technology.  Compared to AMR technology, GMR sensors have an even more robust reaction to the presence of a magnetic field, at least 10 percent.

The operating principle of AMR magnetoresistive sensors is simple: the sensor element undergoes a change in resistance when a magnetic field is present, changing the flow of a bias current running through the sensing element. A comparator circuit detects the change in current and switches the output of the sensor.

In addition to the benefits of rugged, solid-state construction, the magnetoresistive sensor offers better noise immunity, smaller physical size, less susceptibility to false tripping, speed and lower mechanical hysteresis (the difference in switch point when approaching the sensor from opposite directions). Quality manufacturers of magnetoresistive sensors incorporate additional output protection circuits to improve overall electrical robustness, such as overload protection, short-circuit protection, and reverse-connection protection. Some manufacturers also offer lifetime warranty of the sensors.

Over the years, many users have abandoned the use of reed switches due to their failure rate and have utilized mechanical or inductive sensors to detect pneumatic cylinder position. AMR and GMR sensors are smaller, faster, and easer to integrate and are much more reliable however; they must overcome the stigma left by their predecessors. With the vast improvements in sensor technology, AMR and GMR sensors should now be considered the primary solution for detecting cylinder position.