Protecting photoelectric and capacitive sensors

Supply chain and labor shortages are putting extra pressure on automation solutions to keep manufacturing lines running. Even though sensors are designed to work in harsh environments, one good knock can put a sensor out of alignment or even out of condition. Keep reading for tips on ways to protect photoelectric and capacitive sensors.

Mounting solutions for photoelectric sensors

Photoelectric sensors are sensitive to environmental factors that can cloud their view, like dust, debris, and splashing liquids, or damage them with physical impact. One of the best things to do from the beginning is to protect them by mounting them in locations that keep them out of harm’s way. Adjustable mounting solutions make it easier to set up sensors a little further away from the action. Mounts that can be adjusted on three axes like ball joints or rod-and-mount combinations should lock firmly into position so that vibration or weight will not cause sensors to move out of alignment. And mounting materials like stainless steel or plastic can be chosen to meet factors like temperature, accessibility, susceptibility to impact, and contact with other materials.

When using retroreflective sensors, reflectors and reflective foils need similar attention. Consider whether the application involves heat or chemicals that might contact reflectors. Reflectors come in versions, especially for use with red, white, infrared, and laser lights, or especially for polarized or non-polarized light. And there are mounting solutions for reflectors as well.

Considering the material and design of capacitive sensors

Capacitive sensors must also be protected based on their working environment, the material they detect, and where they are installed. Particularly, is the sensor in contact with the material it is sensing or not?

If there is contact, pay special attention to the sensor’s material and design. Foods, beverages, chemicals, viscous substances, powders, or bulk materials can degrade a sensor constructed of the wrong material. And to switch perspectives, a sensor can affect the quality of the material it contacts, like changing the taste of a food product. If resistance to chemicals is needed, housings made of stainless steel, PTFE, and PEEK are available.

While the sensor’s material is important to its functionality, the physical design of the sensor is also important. A working environment can involve washdown processes or hygienic requirements. If that is the case, the sensor’s design should allow water and cleaning agents to easily run off, while hygienic requirements demand that the sensor not have gaps or crevices where material may accumulate and harbor bacteria. Consider capacitive sensors that hold FDA, Ecolab, and CIP certifications to work safely in these conditions.

Non-contact capacitive sensors can have their own special set of requirements. They can detect material through the walls of a tank, depending on the tank wall’s material type and thickness. Plastic walls and non-metallic packaging present a smaller challenge. Different housing styles – flat cylindrical, discs, and block styles – have different sensing capabilities.

Newer capacitive technology is designed as an adhesive tape to measure the material inside a tank or vessel continuously. Available with stainless steel, plastic, or PTFF housing, it works particularly well when there is little space available to detect through a plastic or glass wall of 8mm or less. When installing the tape, the user can cut it with scissors to adjust the length.

Whatever the setting, environmental factors and installation factors can affect the functionality of photoelectric and capacitive sensors, sometimes bringing them to an untimely end. Details like mounting systems and sensor materials may not be the first requirements you look for, but they are important features that can extend the life of your sensors.


An Easy Solution to Extend Sensor Life

Quick-change prox mounts for proximity sensors.

Everyone is looking for quick tricks of the trade. Sensor failure can prove to be costly in any environment. One of the easiest ways to avoid unnecessary downtime would be to add a mounting bracket plus prox mount to the machine to extend the life of a sensor.

What is a prox mount?

It has a quick release tube mounted into a tubular bracket to change out a sensor easily. The sensor is assembled into the prox mount tube and locked into place with a compression ring and metal nut. The prox mount and sensor assembly is then mounted and adjusted as with any tubular sensor, but the prox mount will remain in place on future sensor replacement tasks.

Mounting accessories are geared toward extending sensor performance in harsh industrial conditions involving chemical attack, debris accumulation, shock/vibration/impact, and high temperatures. The brackets act as protection, as well as mounting for the sensor to extend the life of the sensor. Adding a prox mount to it add another layer of protection as well as reducing down time due to the quick release to change a sensor.

Fully Assembled Prox Mount with Sensor Installed

Mounting brackets are a simple solution to decrease installation costs by screwing in the bracket on the machine. They are also prolonging sensor life expectancy by giving it an added layer of protection. Add in the prox mount for a faster option to reduce unplanned downtime with the quick release of the sensors. This helps increase the overall performance and utility of sensors.

To get started visit

Put Out the Fire

Every time I enter tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers, there seems to be a common theme of extreme sensor and cable abuse. It is not uncommon to see a box or bin of damaged sensors along with connection cables that have extreme burn-through due to extreme heat usually generated by weld spatter. This abuse is going to happen and is unavoidable in most cases.  The only option to combat these hostile environments is to select the correct components, such as bunker blocks, protective mounts, and high temperature cable materials that can withstand hot welding applications.

Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.
Example of bad bunkering. Sensor face not protected. Plastic brackets and standard cables used.

In many cases I have seen standard sensors and cables installed in a weld cell with essentially zero protection of the sensor. This results in a very non-productive application that simply cannot meet production demands due to excessive downtime. At the root of this downtime you will typically find sensor and cable failure. These problems can only go on for so long before a culture change must happen throughout a manufacturing or production plant as there is too much overtime resulting in added cost and less efficiency. I call this the “pay me now or pay me later” analogy.

Below are some simple yet effective ways to improve sensor and cable life:

Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
Example of properly bunkered sensors with bunker block and silicone wrapped cable
  • Apply flush sensors vs. non-flush sensor in fixtures
  • Bunker the flush sensors to protect the face of the sensor (Let the bunker block take the spatter)
  • Apply sensors with special coatings to combat weld spatter
  • Apply sensors with steel faces for added insurance against contact damage
  • Apply high temp cables such as full silicone high durability offerings
  • Protect cables with silicone tubing and high temperature weld jackets
  • Wrap cables with weld repel tape to insure spatter will not penetrate the ends of the cable

If these simple steps are followed, uptime and efficiency will result in increased productivity with immediate improvements and positive results.

For information on welding improvements visit our website at

3 Tips for Reducing Downtime

Whether it’s through preventative maintenance or during planned machine downtime, reducing downtime is a common goal for manufacturers. Difficult environments create challenges for not just machines, but also the components like sensors or cables. Below are three tips to help protect these components and reduce your downtime.

sacraficialcableCables don’t last forever. However, they are important for operations and keeping them functional is vital. An easy way to help reduce downtime and save money is by implementing a “sacrificial cable” in unforgiving environments. A sacrificial cable is any cable less than two meters in length and placed in situations where there is high turnover of cables.  This sacrificial cable does not have to be a specialty cable with a custom jacket. It can be a simple 1 meter PVC cable that will get changed out often. The idea is to place a sacrificial cable in a problematic area and connect it to a longer length cable, or a home-run cable. The benefits of this method include: less downtime for maintenance when changing out failures, reduced expenses since shorter cables are less expensive, and there is less travel for the cable around a cell.

hdc_cablesA second way to help reduce downtime is consider your application conditions up front. We discussed some of the application conditions to consider in a previous blog post, but how can we address these challenges? Not only is it important to choose the correct sensor for the environment, but remember, cables don’t last forever. Choosing the appropriate cable is also key to reducing downtime. Welding environments demand a cable that weld beads will not stick to and fuse the cable to the sensor. There are a variety of jacket types like silicone, silicone tube, or PTFE that prevent weld debris from accumulating on the cable. I’ve also seen applications where there is a lot of debris cutting through cables. In this case, a stainless steel braid cable would be a better solution than a traditional cable. Fitting the right protection to the right application is crucial..

gizmo4A third tip to help reduce your machine downtime is to simply add protection to your existing components. Adding protection, whether it is a protective bracket or a silicone product, will help keep components running longer. This type of protection can be added before or after the cell is operational.   One example of sensor protection is adding a ceramic cap to protect the face of a sensor. You can also protect the connection by adding tubing to the cable out version of the sensor to shield it from debris. Mounting sensors in a robust bracket helps protect the sensor from being hit, or having debris cover the sensor.  There are different degrees of changes that help prolong operations.

Metalforming expert, Dave Bird, explains some of these solutions in the video below. To learn more you can also visit our website at



Plural of Giz-mo.  A noun.  Defined as a gadget, one whose name the speaker does not know.  Customers call us and ask for this or that “gizmo” all the time!  I think we should consider creating a product category simply called “GIZMOS”.

I like to call these things “Enablers” because these devices are very much helping hands that optimize the function of sensors.  A sensor of any brand and manufacturer performs only as well as it’s mounted, matching the fixture to the demands of the application at hand. But how often does this happen in a price-driven world?  They often end up in below-par mounting that fails with regularity, in both pristine environments as well as in hostile environments.  Some examples:

Here’s one example below. These inductive proximity sensors in plastic brackets, showing an exposed coil on one, with corroded mounts on the sensor caused by being beaten to death during parts loading and heat.

gizmo1      gizmo2

With a few “Gizmos” like an application-specific quick change mount, some care in gapping the sensor and guarding the cable/connector system, it could look much different. Check out the examples below.

gizmo4 gizmo5

Photoelectric sensors can suffer the same fate.  In this case, a plastic bodied photoelectric sensor, originally used to replace a fiber optic thru beam pair also suffered abuse. With a little extra beefy mounting, these photoelectric sensors can be expected to last a long time without failure.

gizmo6 gizmo7

There are literally hundreds of these mounting “ENABLERS”, off-the-shelf, cost-effective application specific mounts, guards, actuators and entire systems to help protect your sensor investment.  All categories of products have these “enabling” accessories for Magnetic Field (air cylinder), Inductive Proximity, Capacitive, Ultrasonic, Connectivity, Linear Transducer and Photoelectric product categories.