Back to the Basics – Measuring

In the last post about the Basics of Automation, we discussed how objects can be detected, collected and positioned with the help of sensors. Now, let’s take a closer look at how non-contact measurement – both linear and rotary – works to measure distance, travel, angles, and pressure.

Measuring travel, distance, position, angle and pressure are common tasks in automation. The measuring principles used are as varied as the different tasks.

Sensor Technologies

  • Magnetostrictive enables simultaneous measurement of multiple positions and can be used in challenging environments.
  • Magnet coded enables the highest accuracy and real-time measurement.
  • Inductive is used for integration in extremely tight spaces and is suitable for short distances.
  • Photoelectric features flexible range and is unaffected by the color or surface properties of the target object.

Different Sensors for Different Applications

Distance measurement

Janni1Disc brakes are used at various locations
in wind power plants. With their durability and precise measurement, inductive distance sensors monitor these brake discs continuously and provide a timely warning if the brake linings need to be changed.

In winding and unwinding equipment, a photoelectric sensor continuously measures the increasing or decreasing roll diameter. This means the rolls can be changed with

minimal stoppages.

Linear position measurement

Janni4Workpieces are precisely positioned on the

slide of a linear axis. This allows minimal loss of production time while ensuring quality. Magnetic encoders installed along the linear axis report the actual slide position to the controller (PLC) continuously and in real time — even when the slide is moving at a speed of up to 10 m/s.

In a machine tool the clamping state
of a spindle must be continuously monitored during machining. This improves results on the workpiece and increases the reliability of the overall system. Inductive positioning systems provide continuous feedback to the controller: whether the spindle is unclamped, clamped with a tool or clamped without a tool.

Rotational position measurement

Janni5Workpieces such as a metal plate are printed, engraved or cut on a cut/print machine. This demands special accuracy in positioning it on the machine. Magnetic encoders on both rotating axes of the machine measure the position of the workpiece and ensure an even feed rate.

In a parabolic trough system,
sunlight is concentrated on parabolic troughs using parabolic mirrors allowing the heat energy to be stored. To achieve the optimal energy efficiency, the position of the parabolic mirror must be guided to match the sun’s path. Inclination sensors report the actual position of the parabolic mirror to the controller, which then adjusts as needed.

Pressure and Level Measurement

Janni7Consistently high surface quality of the machined workpiece must be ensured in a machine tool. This requires continuous monitoring of the coolant feed system pressure. Pressure sensors can reliably monitor the pressure and shut down the machine within a few milliseconds when the defined pressure range is violated.

Janni8In many tanks and vats, the fill height of the liquid must be continually measured. This is accomplished using ultrasonic sensors, which note levels regardless of color, transparency or surface composition of the medium. These sensors detect objects made of virtually any material (even sound-absorbing) including liquids, granulates and powders.

Stay tuned for future posts that will cover the essentials of automation. To learn more about the Basics of Automation in the meantime, visit

Distance Measurement with Inductive Sensors

When we think about inductive sensors we automatically refer to discrete output offerings that detect the presence of ferrous materials. This can be a production part or an integrated part of the machine to simply determine position. Inductive sensors have been around for a long time, and there will always be a need for them in automated assembly lines, weld cells and stamping presses.

We often come across applications where we need an analog output at short range that needs to detect ferrous materials. This is an ideal application for an analog inductive proximity sensor that can offer an analog voltage or analog current output. This can reliably measure or error proof different product features such as varying shapes and sizes. Analog inductive sensors are pure analog devices that maintain a very good resolution with a high repeat accuracy. Similar to standard inductive sensors, they deal very well with vibration, commonly found in robust applications. Analog inductive proximity sensors are also offered in many form factors from M12-M30 tubular housings, rectangular block style and flat housings. They can also be selected to have flush or non-flush mounting features to accommodate specific operating distances needed in various applications.

Application Examples:



For more specific information on analog inductive sensors visit

Measurement Fundamentals: Position Measurement vs. Distance Measurement

Continuous measurements on industrial machines or the materials that these machines are making, moving, or processing can be categorized into two main types of sensors:  position measurement sensors, and distance measurement sensors.  It’s a somewhat subtle distinction, but one that is important when evaluating the best measurement sensor for a particular application.

Position Measurement: When we speak in terms of position measurement, we’re typically talking about applications where a the sensor is installed onto a machine, and mechanically coupled to the moving part of the machine – or is installed into a hydraulic cylinder that is moving the machine – and is reporting the continuous position of the machine.  In a positioning application, the questions that need to be answered are: “Where is it?  Where is it now?  And now?”.

Scott image1

Examples of position measurement sensors include magnetostrictive linear position sensors and magnetically encoded linear sensors.  With each of these sensor types, either the sensor itself, or the position marker, is typically attached to the moving part of the machine.

Distance Measurement: Distance measurement sensors, on the other hand, are used in applications that require accurate measurement of a target that is typically no part of the machine.  A good example would be an application where parts or components are moving along a conveyer belt, and the position of those parts needs to be accurately measured.  In this example, it wouldn’t be practical, or even possible, to attach a sensor to the moving part.  So its position needs to be measured from a DISTANCE.  In a distance measuring application, the question being answered is: “How far away is it?”.

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Examples of distance measuring sensors include photoelectric (laser) sensors and inductive distance sensors.  These types of sensors are usually mounted on the machine, or in the immediate vicinity of the machine, and are aimed at a point or a path where the object to be measured is, or will be, located.

In summary, while both position and distance sensors do much the same thing – provide continuous indication of position – the applications for each are generally quite different.  Gaining an understanding of the application and its requirements will help to determine which type of sensor is the best choice for the task.

For more information on position and distance measurement sensors, visit