Encoders 002 - Encoder Applications-Robotics

Wire Measuring from 1910-1920
Wire Measuring Machine from 1910-1920

Encoders 002-Encoder Applications-Robotics

In the previous blog, we offered many definitions of encoders and based on the definition chosen, the above wire measuring machine qualifies as an encoder. For now, ignore that picture and we will chat about it later in this blog.

My plan is to post the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month. The 2nd Tuesday will focus on encoder related concepts and the 4th Tuesday will focus on real world applications and solutions. Per that plan, today's post will discuss current uses of encoders which are happening all around us. Unless otherwise specified, the normal definition we will use when talking about encoders is the US Digital definition of encoder. "An encoder is a sensor which translates either rotary or linear mechanical motion into electrical signals, so a control system can determine the speed, acceleration and/or position of a mechanical system."

One very enjoyable part of my job is viewing the wide spectrum of industries which employ encoders. In fact, it is difficult now for me to think of an industry that cannot benefit from the use of encoders somewhere in their operation. Can you think of one?

One of the most popular usages of encoders is direct installation onto the rear of a motor. That application by itself can be used in a myriad of industries on both AC and DC motors. Robotics are one industry which uses a ton of motors and encoders to accomplish the automation required. The picture below shows a delta robot made by US Digital which was used at SPS 2018 to showcase some their encoders and motor driver. Note that each of the three motors have an encoder on it which is used to monitor the angle of the shaft and corresponding robot arm.



Speaking of robots, one of the fastest growing segments in robotics is that of the cobots (collaborative robots). In the past, cages were required when using robots in production, to isolate the robot from anyone in the area. Cobots on the other hand are robots which are designed to work right alongside workers with safety features built in to prevent injury to the workers. Some of those safety features include stopping when contacting an obstruction and moving at a much slower speed. Universal Robots is a major player in this industry. You may have seen one of their robots ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange last year. But that function, although it was fun to watch, is almost an insult to the ability of these cobots as they are designed to do much more complicated tasks. The picture below shows the LMI Gocator which is used to scan 3D images of objects. Click on the picture below to see a video of it going through it's paces.



As innovative as these designs and use of available technologies are today, so was the wire measuring machine pictured at the top of this blog in its day. Last year I wanted to purchase a tool to measure cable for fabricating custom garage door cables. I found this "Improved Wire Measuring Machine" made by the John J. Waldman Company at a local auction and purchased it. I set it up and after testing the measuring tool found it to be quite accurate. I was oblivious to its significance at the time of the purchase, but if we define an encoder as a device which translates physical movement into useful information, this tool qualifies as an encoder. Below is a picture of the three parts making up the complete fabrication assembly including the spindle, the measuring machine and the coiler.



It is my goal to make this blog as informative, engaging and as accurate as possible. If you ever have some additional or contrary information, please contact me directly at, and I will be glad to make any appropriate corrections in a future post. Previous Post →

Encoders 001 - What is an Encoder?

World's Largest Encoder

World's Largest Encoder? - see video link below
By Gts-tg - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Encoders 001—What is an Encoder?

Finally the time has arrived for this first post of my blog focused on encoders. The goal of this blog is to provide an easily accessible resource for anyone in the motion control industry from students to engineers. It is my desire to provide a platform for us to ask questions, make comments and solve problems together. There will be two posts each month. On the second Tuesday of each month, the focus will be more of an encoder concepts discussion. The fourth Tuesday of each month, the focus will be on real world applications and solving problems. For the present, to contact me for anything related to this blog you can message me through LinkedIn or email me at

One of the most common question guys ask each other when they meet is—what do you do?—meaning your place of employment and your role there. Since working at US Digital, I have worked through several definitions to explain encoders when that question has been posed to me. In this post we will start from a very generic but practical definition and move towards more technical definitions.

The first recorded usage of the word encode comes from the 1930’s. It’s most basic meaning is to convert into code. Contrary to how encoding is done in the motion control industry, encoding has often been used to hide information from those who didn’t know the code. In the United States, one of the most famous such applications was the use of the Navajo language by “code talkers” in WWII. For even more security, the Navajo language was not used straight up but the Navajo recruits were asked to take their language and create a new code. For example, the Navajo word for a chicken hawk was used as code for a dive bomber. This encoding attempt was very successful—so much so that Major Howard Connor said the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima without the assistance of the Navajo code talkers.

Translation—based on the previous paragraph, translation seems like an obvious choice for describing encoding. I have always enjoyed languages—studied Greek in college, speak Spanish and am in the process of learning Russian. In one sense, an encoder is a translator. It takes movement and changes that “information”, into a different kind of information—information that is useful.

Sensor with an Output—Encoders are included in the sensor category because the encoder “senses movement” when it happens. But sensing without reporting is of no value. When your brother hit you, there was no doubt you sensed that action. However, it was not until you reported the pain (MOM, he’s hitting me!), that you received the support you needed to prevent further pain. So it is with the encoder. It senses the movement and provides feedback to a control device. Fortunately, the encoders don’t yell at us but provide an electrical signal to a decoder to make sense of the message sent. When we use the broad term “movement”, that would require that inclinometers also be included as an encoder, but for the present, we will focus on rotational and linear movement.

The following definitions are the top results I found on a web search which is helpful to show how different vendors define an encoder—links are provided to each vendor’s website where the definition was found. In some cases, it will be obvious that the encoders being defined, are a specific type like an optical rotary encoder while other definitions provide a broader definition.

Anaheim Automation—a sensor of mechanical motion that generates digital signals in response to motion.

BEI Sensors—an electro-opto-mechanical device that attaches to a shaft and provides angular position information to a counter or controller.

Celera Motion—a device that converts position or motion to an electrical signal-usually a digital code.

Codechamp—an electromechanical device which has an electrical output in digital form proportional to the angular position of the input shaft.

CUI—a device used to measure the speed, direction of motion or position of a rotating shaft.

Dynapar—an electromechanical device that provides an electrical signal that is used for speed and/or position control.

EPC—a sensing device that provides feedback. Encoders convert motion to an electrical signal that can be read by some type of control device in a motion control system.

RLS—a device which can detect and convert mechanical motion to an analogue or digital coded output signal.

Timken—a communication device that controls the motion of an operating device.

TW Controls—a device that senses mechanical motion and translates the information (velocity, position, acceleration) into useful electrical data.

US Digital—a sensor that translates either rotary or linear mechanical motion into electrical signals, so that a control system can determine the speed, acceleration and/or position of a mechanical system.

Conclusion—I am sure that some of you noticed that some of these definitions seem to include facets of motion control which go beyond the actual function of the encoder. The elements of a definition of an encoder which must be included are 1) movement takes place, 2) an output of an encoded electrical signal is produced.

Having fun with Ancient “Encoders”

With the creative minds of our ancestors, although they didn’t have the electronics of our current encoders, nonetheless, they did have devices which translated physical movement into a different kind of information which was useful.

If you are like me—you may now be all defined out and are ready for a practical application. Although the word encoder was not used until the last century, that in no way means that some types of encoders were not made prior. One of my favorites is what is said by some to be the first odometer. The picture above is a reconstruction of the Hero odometer from the first century AD. However, even older than that is one believed to be designed by Archimedes over 200 years before Christ. Leonardo Da Vinci attempted unsuccessfully to reproduce that first odometer based on the faded drawings available to him. Fortunately for us, that problem has been solved in our time and we are now able to view a video of a reproduction of that first “encoder”.

It is my goal to make this blog as informative, engaging and as accurate as possible. If you ever have some additional or contrary information, please contact me directly and I will be glad to make any appropriate corrections in a future post. In my next blog, in addition to showing a functioning “encoder” from about 1915, we will discuss some common current applications for encoders. Next Post →

Please note that all hyperlinked text supply the source of the information provided.

E4T and S4T Miniature Optical Encoders are Now Available at Higher Resolutions up to 1000 CPR

E4T and S4T Miniature Encoders

We've got some great news about our smallest encoders. The E4T and S4T miniature optical encoders are now available at even higher resolutions than before! With two new CPRs of 512 and 1000, we've successfully doubled the resolution while keeping the housing unchanged.

Utilizing state-of-the-art transmissive optical sensing technology, these newly announced resolutions now support applications requiring up to 4000 pulses per revolution. This substantial increase in resolution was achieved without any compromise to package form factor, electrical characteristics or output signal robustness. The E4T line of encoders is available in both single-ended and differential signal outputs for applications where noise immunity is critical. Moreover, the 512 and 1000 CPR options retain the E4T's simple and efficient, push-on hub disk assembly process, helping US Digital customers keep installation time, assembly cost and complexity to a minimum.

Where space is limited, the E4T and S4T miniature optical encoders are the perfect fit for motion control. Get details at: and

US Digital at SPS IPC Drives 2018

SPS 2017 logo

US Digital will be exhibiting at SPS IPC Drives 2018 from November 27th - 29th at the Nürnberg Exhibition Centre, in Nürnberg, Germany.

Please contact us with any questions regarding SPS IPC Drives or to set up an appointment with a motion control specialist. Thank you for your continued business and we look forward to seeing you there!

Exhibition Centre Nuremberg
Messeplatz 1
90471 Nuremberg

US Digital Releases New MD3 Microstepping Motor Driver

MD3 Microstepping Motor Driver

Vancouver, Washington, USA, August 6, 2018 – US Digital, a U.S. manufacturer of motion control products since 1980, announces the release of the MD3 Programmable Microstepping Motor Driver. It is capable of driving motors from NEMA size 14 to 42. The MD3 accepts 9-50VDC power inputs and rated for currents up to 7A continuous duty.

In addition to digital input controls, the MD3 can be configured and controlled using the open MODBUS RTU protocol over an RS485 bus. A supplied GUI application allows change to many settings including the number of microsteps per full step, acceleration/deceleration rates, speed, and current cutback.

The design supports multiple MD3 units on the same RS485 bus and allows for programmable motion profiles. In addition, the MD3 has a brushed DC motor speed control mode.

For more information visit

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