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.