IO-Link: End to Analog Sensors

With most sensors now coming out with an IO-Link output, could this mean the end of using traditional analog sensors? IO-Link is the first IO technology standard (IEC 61131-9) for communications between sensors and actuators on the lower component level.

Analog sensors

A typical analog sensor detects an external parameter, such as pressure, sound or temperature, and provides an analog voltage or current output that is proportional to its measurement. The output values are then sent out of the measuring sensor to an analog card, which reads in the samples of the measurements and converts them to a digital binary representation which a PLC/controller can use. At both ends of the conversion, on the sensor side and the analog card side, however, the quality of the transmitted value can be affected. Unfortunately, noise and electrical interferences can affect the analog signals coming out of the sensor, degrading it over the long cable run. The longer the cable, the more prone to interference on the signal. Therefore, it’s always recommended to use shielded cables between the output of the analog sensor to the analog card for the conversion. The cable must be properly shielded and grounded, so no ground loops get induced.

Also, keep in mind the resolution on the analog card. The resolution is the number of bits the card uses to digitalize the analog samples it’s getting from the sensor. There are different analog cards that provide 10-, 12-, 14-, and 16-bit value representations of the analog signal. The more digital bits represented, the more precise the measurement value.

IO-Link sensor—less interference, less expensive and more diagnostic data

With IO-Link as the sensor output, the digital conversion happens at the sensor level, before transmission. The measured signal gets fed into the onboard IO-Link chipset on the sensor where it is converted to a digital output. The digital output signal is then sent via IO-Link directly to a gateway, with an IO-Link master chipset ready to receive the data. This is done using a standard, unshielded sensor cable, which is less expensive than equivalent shielded cables. And, now the resolution of the sensor is no longer dependent on the analog card. Since the conversion to digital happens on the sensor itself, the actual engineering units of the measured value is sent directly to the IO-Link master chipset of the gateway where it can be read directly from the PLC/controller.

Plus, any parameters and diagnostics information from the sensor can also be sent along that same IO-Link signal.

So, while analog sensors will never completely disappear on older networks, IO-Link provides good reasons for their use in newer networks and machines.

To learn about the variety of IO-Link measurement sensors available, read the Automation Insights post about ways measurement sensors solve common application challenges. For more information about IO-Link and measurement sensors, visit

The Evolving Technology of Capacitive Sensors

In my last blog post, Sensing Types of Capacitive Sensors, I discussed the basic types of capacitive sensors; flush versions for object detection and non-flush for level detection of liquids or bulk materials.  In this blog post, I would like to discuss how the technology for capacitive sensors has changed over the past few years.

The basic technology of most capacitive sensors on the market was discussed in the blog post “What is a Capacitive Sensor”.  The sensors determine the presence of an object based on the dielectric constant of the object being detected.  If you are trying to detect a hidden object, then the hidden object must have a higher dielectric constant than what you are trying to “see through”.

Conductive targets present an interesting challenge to capacitive sensors as these targets have a greater capacitance and a targets dielectric constant is immaterial.  Conductive targets include metal, water, blood, acids, bases, and salt water.  Any capacitive sensor will detect the presence of these targets. However, the challenge is for the sensor to turn off once the conductive material is no longer present.  This is especially true when dealing with acids or liquids, such as blood, that adheres to the container wall as the level drops below the sensor face.

Today, enhanced sensing technology helps the sensors effectively distinguish between true liquid levels and possible interference caused by condensation, material build-up, or foaming fluids.  While ignoring these interferences, the sensors would still detect the relative change in capacitance caused by the target object, but use additional factors to evaluate the validity of the measurement taken before changing state.

These sensors are fundamentally insensitive to any non-conductive material like plastic or glass, which allows them to be utilized in level applications.  The only limitation of enhanced capacitive sensors is they require electrically conductive fluid materials with a dipole characteristic, such as water, to operate properly.

Enhanced or hybrid technology capacitive sensors work with a high-frequency oscillator whose amplitude is directly correlated with the capacitance change between the two independently acting sensing electrodes.  Each electrode independently tries to force itself into a balanced state.  That is the reason why the sensor independently measures  the capacitance of the container wall without ground reference and the capacitance of the conductivity of the liquid with ground reference (contrary to standard capacitive sensors).


Up to this point, capacitive sensors have only been able to provide a discrete output, or if used in level applications for a point level indication.  Another innovative change to capacitive sensor technology is the ability to use a remote amplifier.  Not only does this configuration allow for capacitive sensors to be smaller, for instance 4mm in diameter, since the electronics are remote, they can provide additional functionality.

The remote sensor heads are available in a number of configurations including versions image2that can withstand temperature ranges of -180°C up to 250°C.  The amplifiers can now provide the ability to not only have discrete outputs but communicate over an IO-Link network or provide an analog output.  Now imagine the ability to have an adhesive strip sensor that can provide an analog output based on a non-metallic tanks level.

For additional information on the industry’s leading portfolio of capacitive products visit

Ultrasonic Sensors with Analog Output

Many times in an application we need more than a simple discrete on/off output. For a more accurate detection mode we can utilize analog outputs to monitor position, height, fill-levels and part presence typically found in object detection assemblies. When utilizing Ultrasonic sensors with an analog output we can simply measure the distance value that is proportional to the distance of our target within the operating range of the sensor. Typically 0…10V or 4…20mA outputs are available with the option of rising or falling characteristics. Rising and falling is a way to invert the view of the output, so 0…10V would simply be inverted to 10…0V or 4…20mA would be 20…4mA.

Ultrasonic sensor offerings are a great alternative as they can deal with difficult targets that are typically a challenge for other sensor technologies. They also offer very good resolution with the options of long and short range detection. Below is an example of a 4…20mA linear output. As you can see the closer our target gets to the sensor face it indicates an output closer to 4mA and the further away from the sensor it will provide and output closer to 20mA. For more information on Ultrasonic sensors, click here.