Technological Alternative to Fiber Optics

Photoelectric applications with space restrictions, small part detection, high temperatures, or aggressive harsh environments may be solved using fiber optic sensors. These sensors allow the electronics to be mounted out of harm’s way while at the same time focusing the light beam on a small target. The sensing tips can be manufactured in a wide variety of housings for unique mounting requirements.

Fiber optic sensors require two components: a remote mounted amplifier, and the fiber optic cable(s). The amplifiers can be basic, with few features, or advanced with many configurable options and digital displays. The fiber optic cables are made of either plastic or glass fibers, each with advantages and application specific solutions.

Many applications, primarily those in the medical Technological Alternative to Fiber Optics 1sciences and semiconductor industries, cannot be solved with fiber optic or miniature photoelectric sensors because they are physically too large to fit in the instruments. Additionally, the cables are typically not flexible enough to be routed through the instruments.  Today, highly flexible and miniature sensors are are being incorporated in other industries due to today’s demands of smaller machines and tools.

MICROmote® sensors are miniaturized photoelectric Technological Alternative to Fiber Optics 2sensors with separate amplifiers that are also available with a variety of functionalities. Their highly flexible, electric sensor cables make them a genuine technical alternative to conventional fiber optics. The photoelectric sensor heads have extraordinarily small dimensions, excellent technical characteristics, and outstanding flexibility for application-specific solutions.

Similar to fiber optic sensors, these micro-optic photoelectric sensors function as either a through-beam or diffuse type sensor with comparable sensing ranges. Unlike fibers, the wired sensing heads are inherently bifurcated type cables so that there is only one connection to the amplifier.

Unlike conventional fiber optic cables,Technological Alternative to Fiber Optics 3 there are no significant coupling losses, minimum bending radius and cyclic bending stresses.  The patented precision elements produce extremely small beam angles with sharply defined light spots unlike standard fiber optics where the beam angle is a function of the fiber geometry.  Additional lenses must be used if the light beam of a fiber optic cable must be focused which adds to the costs.

MICROmote® photoelectric sensors for water detection use a specific wavelength at which water absorbs more light. This significantly simplifies the detection of liquids with high water content using optical sensors. The combination of an ultra-compact design and powerful micro-optics allows for reliable use in capillary tubes where other sensing devices are stretched to their limits.

These sensors can also be used as precision tube Technological Alternative to Fiber Optics 4sensors for detecting bubbles through use of either light refraction or attenuation through the air, or liquid column within the tube. They provide excellent detection for even the smallest air-to-liquid transitions and are reliable for all liquid types, even clear liquids.

In addition, these sensorsTechnological Alternative to Fiber Optics 5 are designed to detect free-floating microbubbles in transparent liquids. Microbubbles refer to little gas bubbles with dimensions smaller than the inside diameter of the tube. Uniform lighting is achieved in the liquid column by using a concentrated arrangement of multiple light beams with very uniform intensity distribution. Gas bubbles that move through this field induce a signal jump in the built-in photoelectric receiver elements

For more information on this technological alternative to fiber optics visit

Liquid Handling Solutions in Action

On Sensortech, we have posted several entries about the trend toward miniature sensors including, Let’s Get Small: The Drive Toward Miniaturization and Trending Now: Miniature Sensors. At the end of January Balluff attended SLAS in San Diego, CA and saw this trend firsthand. Automation in the clinical lab is growing by leaps and bounds. Bioscience engineers are facing pressure to reduce cost, increase the number of samples run, and improve the speed at which lab tests are performed.

As an exhibitor at the event, we were able to showcase our solutions with a great functional demo. Below is a brief video of the demo with our Life Science Industry Manager, Blake DeFrance explaining the technology.

For more information on solutions for the Life Science Industry visit

Miniature Capacitive Sensors for Small Part Detection

As discussed in a previous blog post, miniature sensors are an ongoing trend in the market as manufacturing and equipment requirements continue to demand smaller sensor size due to either space limitations and/or weight considerations. However, size and weight aren’t the only factors. The need for more precise sensing — higher accuracy, repeatability, and smaller part detection — is another demanding requirement and, often times, the actual main focus point.

This post will look specifically at capacitive sensors and how smaller capacitive sensors can lead to better detection of smaller parts.

Principle of a capacitive sensor
Parallel-plate capacitor equation

Capacitive sensors provide non-contact detection of all types of objects, ranging from insulators to conductors and even liquids. A capacitive sensor uses the principle of capacitance to detect objects. The equation for capacitance takes into account the surface area (A) of either electrode, the distance (d) between the electrodes, and the dielectric constant (εr) of the material between the electrodes. In simple terms: a capacitive sensor detects the change in capacitance when an object enters its electrical field. Internal circuitry determines if the gain in capacitance is above the set threshold. Once the threshold is met the sensor’s output is switched.

Actuation of a capacitive sensor

When looking at small part detection, the size of the capacitive sensor’s active sensing surface plays a significant part. Now there isn’t a defined formula for calculating smallest detectable object for a capacitive sensor because of the numerous variables that need to be considered (as seen in the equation above). However, the general rule for optimal sensing is that the target size should be at least equal to the size of the sensor’s active surface. The reason behind this is if the target size is smaller than the sensor’s active surface, the electric field would travel around the target and cause unreliable readings.

Taking the general rule into consideration and comparing a miniature 4mm diameter capacitive sensor to a standard 18mm diameter capacitive sensor, it’s simple to determine that the 4mm diameter capacitive sensor can reliably detect a much smaller target (4mm) than the 18mm diameter capacitive sensor (18mm).

So when looking at small part detection, the smaller the sensor’s active sensing surface is, the better its ability for small part detection. Therefore, if an application requires detection of a small part, it’s best to start with miniature capacitive sensor.

For more information on miniature capacitive sensors click here.