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Mechatronics: The Major Subsystems

MAY 12, 2010

In just a couple weeks Ill be starting my new mechanical
engineering job with Electroimpact, a major aerospace tooling
and automated machine production supplier (The video above is
one of their automated fiber placement machines; it lays down
carbon fiber tows on the mandrel barrel sections of the Boeing 787
fuselage). Since I have limited professional experience with
CNC/mechatronics system design (beyond teaching simple design-
build-test, kit-based projects to undergrads), I thought it would be
appropriate for me to review the major subsystems which comprise
the design space of a mechatronics-based engineering project.
Rather than focusing on the technical details of how to specify,
design, and select and/or create individual components for each of
these systems (which would be a diabolically large and unfeasible
blog post), this write-up will just review the major subsystemsthe
design building blocksof the technology which underpins CNC
machinery & roboticsmechatronics, in the more general sense.
This write-up will describe and then illustrate these subsystems
with some specific examples. As an entry-level mechanical
engineer, the field of mechatronics necessarily incorporates
expertise which is beyond the realm of the knowledge which I
possess at this point in my career. And, due to the inherent breadth
of disciplines required in mechatronics system design, it will be
quite a whileif everbefore I could comfortably write up a
thorough explanation on specifying and designing components
for all of these subsystems Some of these subsystems are much
better handled by Electrical Engineers, or engineers with a depth of
experience in controls engineering.
Nevertheless, this write-up on mechatronics systems which has
been written in broad brush strokes is outlined as follows:
Mechatronics Defined
Prime Movers
o Electrically Powered Actuation
Linear Movement
Electric Actuators
Shape-Memory Alloys
Stepper motors
o Mechanically Powered Actuation
Linear Movement
Pneumatic cylinders
Hydraulic cylinders
Air motors
Hydraulic motors
Combustion Engine
Steam Engine
Motion Hardware
o Rolling-Element Bearings
Ball Bearings
Roller Bearings
Needle Bearings
Tapered Roller Bearings
Spherical Roller Bearings
Thrust Bearings
Linear Bearings
Linear Guide Blocks & Rails
Ball Screws & Ball Nuts
o Plain Bearings
o Ball Joints
o Leadscrews
o Ballscrews
o Cams
o Gears
Spur Gears
Helical Gears
Double Helical Gears
Bevel Gears
Hypoid Gears
Worm Gears
Rack & Pinion Gears
Epicyclic / Sun & Planet Gears
o Belts & Pulleys; Chain & Sprockets
o Springs
Linkages & Structure
o Foundation
o Frames & Bedplates
o Four-Bar Linkages
The End Effector / Tool
Control Hardware
o Switches
o Relays
o PLCs
o Power Management Hardware
Control Software
o Limit Switches
o Proximity Sensors
o Photoelectric Sensors
o Rotary Encoders
o Machine Vision
o Temperature Sensors
o Pressure Sensors

Mechatronics Defined
Mechatronics is defined as a combination of the engineering
disciplines of mechanical, electronic, computer, control, and
systems design. [1] With the advent of electrically powered prime
movers (motors) and then the development of computers, machines
could begin to be controlled much more efficiently with electricity
and then accurately and flexibly with computers. Strictly
mechanical systems (pre-electric, industrial revolution era
machinery for example) had severe limitations relative to these new
types of machines. Computer-controlled machinery can generally
operate much faster, much more efficiently, can be designed to
operate usefully in a wider range of situations, and can operate
much more independent of human input. The main value driving
this interdisciplinary field of engineering are these advantages
which mechatronics systems have over their strictly mechanical
Prime Movers
Prime movers are those elements of a machine which provide the
motive force driving the motion of the device.
Electrically Powered Actuation
Linear Movement
Electric Actuators
Devices called electric actuators are technically a combination of a
motor and gearbox (which provides torque/rotational movement)
coupled to an acme thread and ball-screw assembly to transform the
motors rotation into extension of the rod (acme thread/ball screws
will be described later in the Motion Hardware section).
However, they can be bought as electrically powered plug-and-
play systems which do provide linear motion.
Solenoids are an induction-based technology which ejects a
ferrous pin from the inductor barrel/coil when current is applied to
the coil. I couldnt find a video of a solenoid in action which wasnt
part of a valve demonstration, but this video does show the guts of
the valve (the actual solenoid), as well as a particularly dorky
looking fellow in the role of narrator:
Controlling flow in valves is a very common application of this
technology. I employed these valves in my senior capstone design
project to create a pneumatic t-shirt launcher mounted on a R.C.
mobile platform for Michigan State sporting events.
Shape-Memory Alloys
Shape-memory alloys are applied in technology relatively rarely, but
they commonly function as electrically powered actuators which
provide linear motion. Shape-memory alloys are special metals (or
other materials) which, when heated (typically through resistance to
electric current running through them), return to a shape which
they had prior to being deformed by an external force.
Demonstrating that heat (a warm cup of water) can return the
shape memory alloy to its original shape:
In an actual mechatronics application, a spring force opposing the
memory allocy can be used to stretch the shape memory alloy, which
achieves machine motion in one direction. A current applied to the
alloy causes the alloy to contract, which returns the device to its
original shape or position. A common shape memory material
is Nitinol.
Electric motors are one of the major technologies which makes the
field of mechatronics a viable field worth pursuing. There are many
different types and classifications of electric motors, and a thorough
listing of all types of motors would be the subject of another blog
post. However, the two most relevant types of motors with respect
to precision mechatronics are listed below.
Servomotors are one dominant type of motor used in
mechatronics. Their electrical design (synchronous, asynchronous,
AC or DC) is not limited to a specific design, but all servomotors
share the feature of feedback control. This relies on a controller,
which can be a component separate from the motor itself known as
the servo drive, which monitors the state of the motor or
mechanical system with a sensor. The controller then compares this
sensor reading to a command input. The servo drive then amplifies
the differential electrical reading to power the motor towards the
command input value. A commonly used type of sensor is a rotary
encoder (explained in the Sensors section), which measures
rotational position of the motor shaft.
Stepper Motors
A stepper motor on the other handinstead of relying entirely on
external control hardware and a sensoralso relies on a specific
geometric shape of the rotor and stator. This type of rotor and
stator design allows it to be rotated by a specific angle. The stator
consists of several toothed electromagnets placed around the
periphery of a similarly toothed wheel on the rotor. The
electromagnets are energized sequentially such that torque is
optimally generated based on the current position of the
electromagnet teeth, relative to the position of the teeth on the rotor
(a very good animation of stepper motor design is available at
the wikipedia article on the subject). Stepper motors have high
starting torque and, apparently, can be used for more than just
accurate positioning of CNC machines:
Mechanically Powered Actuation
Linear Movement

Pneumatic Cylinders
Pneumatic (compressed air) power is used in mechatronics
applications requiring the application of a liner force. Compressed
air is already such a common thing in factories where impact tools
are used, that it can be a natural extension to use equipment that
runs on compressed air.
You can see in this video that the cylinder is double acting: some
cylinders rely on a return spring to draw the cylinder back into place
after extending it (the latter are called single acting).
Hydraulic Cylinders
Where high powered linear motion is required, hydraulic cylinders
(compressed fluid) do the job. Hydraulic cylinders require heavy
duty pumps for anything require high throughput, but their power
density allows them to perform even the largest of lifting operations:
watch the A heavy weight on stilts video at Mammoets
website to get a sense of just how large the loads can be, which can
be lifted by hydraulics.
The tensile testing frames I used during my masters thesis to test
carbon fiber composite coupons were hydraulic cylinders, controlled
by feedback control. They could apply peak loads of approximately
1,000 lbs at 100 Hz (1oo cycles per second!).
Air Motors
Less common than using compressed air to power pneumatic
cylinders is using compressed air to power an air motor, which
rotates the shaft of a reversed blower type device.
Wind turbines too can be considered a mechatronics system relying
on air to drive the system. Wind turbines themselves are certainly
mechatronics machines (being automatically operated, controlled,
and monitored by a PLC system). I spent about a year and a half
working on these devices at General Electric.
Hydraulic Motors
Where a supply of compressed fluid exists, or electricity cannot be used,
hydraulic motors may make sense, where a torque is required. Hydraulic
motors drive a shaft off of a set of vanes or gears which are propelled by
hydraulic fluid rushing through the motor housing. They supply much
more torque than air motors.
And similar to wind turbines, river dams use much larger turbines
relying on fluid to drive the mechatronics system / generate
Combustion Engine
Internal combustion engines which convert expanding combustion
gases directly to mechanical work include variations of piston-based
or turbine engines. Obviously, a wide range of power can be derived
from combustion enginesfrom small handheld portable generators
to 600 MW gas turbines at power plants. Modern controls applied
to combustion engines has rendered them mechatronics systems in
themselveseven before considering the possibility of using them to
directly power another mechatronics system.

1,000 Watts of piston power by Honda

520,000,000 Watts of turbine power by General Electric
Steam Engine
The steam engineeither piston-powered or turbine-basedis
another mechanical source of torque. Steam piston engines were
common during the industrial revolution but are rare nowadays
(However, the floating relic known as the SS Badgera coal-fired
carferry I lived and worked on one summer on Lake Michiganstill
relies on them. We had a breakdown one night and I observed the
ship engineers swapping a new two-foot diameter piston into the
suffering steam-powered cylinder). Modern steam-powered
systems burn fossil fuels (coal or gas typically) to generate steam in
boilers, which is then run through a steam turbine. These are large
complex systems which are usually attached to generators whose
electricity is subsequently used to power smaller machines. As with
many combustion engines, steam engines are typically complex
mechatronics systems in their own right.
Motion Hardware
Motion hardware are the machine elements which promote
system motion, and enable it to move in a reliable manner. They
often also serve to prevent wear of other components (the linkages
and structure).
Rolling-Element Bearings
Rolling-element bearings come in many forms, but greatly reduce
frictional wear at a pivot point by replacing material-on-material
sliding with elements rolling across each other. There are many
types of rolling element bearings. The images below are taken
either from the wikipedia article on rolling-element bearings, or
from the McMaster-Carr catalog offerings on bearings.
Ball Bearings
Ball bearings are good for high speed applications and can be made
fairly economically relative to other bearing types. However, the
high point-load contact with the race can limit the load they are able
to bear. The inner and outer races can tolerate some misalignment
and ball bearings can tolerate axial and radial loads.

Roller Bearings
Roller bearings rely on cylindrical rolling elements. Due to the line-
contact of the cylindrical rolling element, they can bear a higher
load than an equivalently sized ball bearing of similar material.
However, they do not tolerate race misalignment or axial loading
very well.

Needle Bearings
Whereas roller bearings use rolling elements with a length only
slightly greater than their diamter, needle bearings rely on elements
whose length greatly exceeds their diameter. This also incrases the
number of elements while permitting the bearing to fit much more
closely around the shaft.

Tapered Roller Bearing
Tapered roller bearings rely on conical races and conically shaped
rolling elements. Their large contact surface and ability to bear high
radial and axial loads are beneficial, but their unique, conically
based geometry makes them more difficult to manufacture than
simple ball bearings. The outer ring, or cup, can be separated
from the inner roller cage and race.

Spherical Roller Bearing
Spherical roller bearings are designed with rolling elements whose
outer surface is some portion of a sphere, with a race to run to
match. The primary benefit of these bearings is that they can run
with misalignment of the inner and out race, but they are difficult to
manufacture and run hot because different points along the contact
line run at different speeds as the elements rotate, causing wear.

Thrust Bearings
These bearimgs can have cylindrical, conical, or spherical rolling
elements, and can also be bought as turntables. Obviously, they
are designed for where the primary load is axial thrust. Fluid and
magnetic thrust bearings are also available, which do away with
rolling elements altogether.

Linear Bearings
Linear bearings are used to promote sliding along the axis of a rod
as opposed to promoting rotation of the rod within the bearing
(though linear bearings are available which permit both, if that type
of unique application is what you are dealing with).

Linear Guide Blocks & Rails
Linear guide blocks and rails are co-engineered, precision-made
units. The rolling elements in the guide block are designed to fit
into features on the rails with minimal clearance. Due to the fact
that the rolling elements ride in grooves on the rails, linear guide
blocks typically can bear more load than simple linear bearings, and
can handle offset loads better than simple linear bearings.

Ball Screws & Ball Nuts
Another type of rolling-element bearing which promotes linear
translation is the ball screw and ball nut. This is a bearing with a
large number of spherical ball bearings that are captive, internal to
the ball nut. The ball nut itself is threaded on a ball screw threaded
rod, and when the ball screw is rotated, the ball nut translates up or
down the ball screw rod. The ball bearings roll along inside the
grooves in the threaded rod, and are recirculated to begin the
process again, through a ball passageway that is external to the race.
Ball screws have a much higher efficiency than leadscrews
(described later) because they rely on rolling elements, instead of
frictional sliding. They are fairly expensive to make, but are great
where precise linear positioning is required.

Plain Bearings
Also known as a sleeve bearings or journal bearings where
loads are not too high, it can be practical and much less expensive to
install a sleeve bearing to promote sliding (along a shaft) or rotation
(within the bearing). Sleeve bearings come in many types of durable
plastic, but also in porous metal which has been impregnated with
oil to self-lubricate itself; some even have graphite cores
embedded in them to promote lubrication.

Plain linear bearings are also available for promoting linear
sliding along a shaft:

Plain bearing versions of the guide block format of linear bearing
are also available:

Ball Joints
Ball joints are a type of bearing which captures a spherical metal
ball in a housing, and allows rotation within a limited range of
motion. They are not technically rolling-element bearings because
the sphere slides within the housingit does not roll. There are
many different geometries of ball joints available.

Leadscrews (also known as power screws) are used to translate
rotational motion into linear translation. Acme leadscrew threaded
rod can be purchased and matched to internally threaded
components which can be mounted to the device which requires
linear translation.
Acme threaded rod:

Acme threaded nuts and flanges:

Leadscrews can also be bought as a prepackaged devices with a
slide table mounted onto a component with internal threading
matched to the leadscrew.

Leadscrews are commonly used in the x and y axis positioning of
milling machines, and anywhere else precise positioning is needed
and a feasible length of threaded rod can be installed.
Cams are mechanical timing elements which are carefully shaped to
cause a predicted motion output for a cam-follower that rides on the
cam. The most familiar application of cams is in internal
combustion piston-based enginesthey are used to lift the intake
and exhaust valves at known positions of the engine crankshaft,
preventing the piston from colliding with the valves. Much more
complicated motion can be accomplished than just a simple linear
valve lift:
Gears transfer rotational motion accurately between two shafts and
can increase/decrease torque while decreasing/increasing shaft
rotational speed, respectively. Gearboxes are combinations of
multiple sets of gears which can achieve higher gear ratios in more
reasonably sized and feasibly produced sizes, than if just one gear
stage were employed. There are many different types of gears which
allow the engineer to achieve different ends. Again, many of the
images below are from a wikipedia article on gearing.
Spur Gears
This is the typical hob-cut, simple gear external gear. Axes must be
parallel for these types of gears since the teeth are parallel to the
shaft axis; and they exhibit noise if running in high speed
applications because the teeth do not engage gradually.

Helical Gears
Helical gears, while being more complex to make than spur gears,
are much better suited for high-speed applications since the teeth
engage more gradually than spur gears. Spur gears engage
instantaneously along a line across the whole tooth, but helical gears
engage at a point, develop into a line of contact, then separate at a
single point of contact. This causes less noise / mechanical shock in
the tooth. The tooth shape of a helical gear is a segment of a helix,
and their shaft axes can be oriented at any angle, though the contact
area tends to be optimal when the shafts are parallel [2]. Thrust is
generated along the shaft axis in helical gears, which has to be
counteracted with thrust, taper, or spherical bearings.

Double Helical Gears
Double helicals (also known as herringbone gears) prevent the
problem of axial thrust which is present in helical gears. However,
they are even more complex to manufacture.

Bevel Gears
Bevel gears consist of two conically profiled gears (in cross-section)
whose hypothetical vertices intersect. Teeth can be straight-cut or
spiral-cut (which are analagous in functionality to straight hob-cut
spur gears and helical gears).

Hypoid Gears
Similar to bevel gears except the shaft axes do not lie in the same

Worm Gears
Worm gears function similar to leadscrews. The worm can always
drive the gear, but they can be designed such that the gear cannot
backdrive the worm.

Rack and Pinion
When the teeth on the periphery of a helical or straight-cut gear are
instead placed along a single line instead of the circumference of a
circle, a rack and pinion is formed. In this way, finite linear
motion can be achieved directly from a rotating gear.

Epicylic / Sun & Planet Gears
Gears can be paired to create epicyclic gear sets, in which one or
more of the gear axes rotates during gearing operation. By fixing
one or more sets of these axes, different output gear ratios can be
obtainedand this is the principle and type of gearing in the modern
automotive gearbox transmission (a great interactive illustration, in
which various axes can be held fixed by the user, is available here).

Belts & Pulleys; Chain & Sprockets
Belts & pulleys (and cables) / chain & sprockets transfer force and
motion from one shaft to another, and similar to gears, they can
increase/decrease torque while decreasing/increasing rotational
speed respectively. Pulleys combined with a non-toothed belt or
cable, such as a V-belt, provide a useful method of transferring
power where an approximate (but not absolute) ratio of input speed
to output speed is necessary.

Timing belts are pulleys with teeth features on the belt and pulley,
which provide a much more exacting ratio of input-to-output
rotational speed.

Of course, compound pulleys (a block and tackle arrangement)
can be used to magnify mechanical forcetrading off the distance a
load is moved for the amount of force applied to it.

Timing chains and sprockets are more expensive, (can be) noisier
than belting, and require lubrication, but they can transfer more
power within a given space and have a direct and exact ratio of
input-to-output shaft speed. They also require exacting location of
the shafts.

Springs store mechanical energy in the form of strain energy of the
spring material. They can supply a linear reactive force or a torque
when they are deformed from their resting state (either compressed
or extended). A typical helical spring for linear tension force:

Clock springs can supply a reactive torque when deformed from
their initial state:

Leaf springs and recurve bows function on the same basic
geometryapplying a bending moment to a strip of material,
applying tension between the two points of the spring elements
attachment. They can also apply a force transverse to a line through
the mounting points, if deformed from their initial static state. This
is what provides suspension force in the case of leaf springs, and the
force to launch an arrow in the case of a recurve bow.

Linkages & Structure
The Linkages & Structure serve as the frame (dynamic or static) or
platform/base upon which all the other elements are installed or
work from. These are often custom designed for unique process
machinery. Basic elements of mechtronics linkage and structure
include the following categories.

Some mechatronics systems are meant to be stationary, but involve
very large forcesjust from the sheer mass of the machine or what it
is manipulating, or from dynamic loading from the machines
motion. This is especially true for process and assembly machinery
and the design of the foundation for the machine can be critical to
ensuring the machine will operate effectivelyappropriately
supporting and damping out any vibrations. Companies such
as Unisorbspecialize in installation and foundation design
Frames & Bedplates
Generally, major mechatronics systems that require a serious
foundation will also have machine components which could be
described as the machine frame in order to do useful work.
Frames & bedplates serve as structures which all the other system
components mount to, and serve as the rigid base which
counteract any forces generated by the prime movers to move the
other kinematic elements of the system. A diagram from a GE

In that illustration, the Main Frame (labeled as number 5), as well
as the bedplate (directly under the Gearbox-13), and the tower
serve as the frame to which the dynamic elements are mounted
the rotor assembly, rotor shaft, (internal gears of the) gearbox, and
the generators rotor (Though it should be noted that the machine
head itself can rotate on top of the tower).
Four-Bar Linkages
A unique machine element which can effect complex machine
motion, while still serving as part of the machine structure is the
four-bar linkage. Four-bars are exploited in robotics, and
anywhere a unique but consistently repeatable path is required, or a
mechanical advantage needs to be derived from a simple assembly
of linkages in series:
Applications are numerous in mechatronics. A parallel
manipulator is shown in the video belowvery similar to the ABB
Flexpicker featured in an earlier writeupand each of the three
arms is a parallelogram of linkages with ball joints at their vertices:
Each of the kinematic parallelograms is a four-bar linkage. A four-
bar is also what enables the vise-grip to do such great work for us in
the shop:

Four-bar linkages can be thought of as a means to do one of three
things. The first is to achieve a unique but repeatable tool path (the
position of elements in the four-bar system are an exercise in
advanced geometry). The second is to increase force input to a
system: by rotating one of the larger linkages in the system, input
force can be multiplied in the motion of one of the smaller links
(this is what vise-grip pliers do). Four-bar linkages can also help
you achieve the opposite process: by manipulating one of the
shorter linkages in the system, the output speeds and distances
translated at a larger linkage in the system can be greatly increased
relative to the input. Mounting a motor at one of the jointsdriving
one of the linkages to rotateis one way in which a four-bar could be
incorporated into a mechatronics system.
The End Effector / Tool
The end effector is the device which carries out the task which the
machine is designed to perform. This is typically a custom-designed
device, and is specific to whatever the mechatronics machine has
been designed to do. In the first video at the very top of this write-
up, the end effector is the head which contains multiple spools of
carbon fiber tows, the motors and hardware for paying out the tows
and guiding them onto the mandrel, and the shears used to trim the
tows. In this robot however, the end effector is a painting head:
In this robot, its a spot welder:
The end effector is specific to whatever the task of interest is.
Control Hardware
There is electronics or controls-related hardware associated with
any mechatronics system.
A switch is typically defined as a component which can interrupt an
electric circuit. It usually also refers to an electromechanical device
that is manually thrown by an operator. Wide-scale use of switches
to operate mechatronics systems is not common todaygood system
design and the use of PLCs and sensors can remove the need for an
operator to approve every step of a machines operation by
throwing a swtich.

Switches can be designed to be thrown by almost any sort of
stimuli the engineer can think of, which then makes the switch
then defined as a sensor (a binary, on-or-off, mechanical state
detector): vibration, turning a key, the orientation of the switch,
presence of a magnetic field, rotation, presence of a mechanical
stopthe possibilities are numerous. For machinery incorporating
pneumatic and hydraulic power, switches (valves) are available for
these systems as well.

Relays are a step up in terms of automation, relative to switches.
Instead of manually throwing a switch, relays close a circuit when
current is provided to the relay from another circuit. In this way, a
sensor can close a relay when it detects a certain machine state, and
the closed relay then powers some other device, reacting to the
machine state which triggered the sensor. For example, an optical
switch monitoring a conveyor belt can detect the presence of a
package and then send a low voltage signal to the relay wired to the
conveyor belts motor. When the optical switch detects a package on
the belt, it closes the relay with a low voltage sensor reading; the
closed relay supplies high-power electricity to the motor, which then
drives the conveyor forward.
Electromechanical relays are based on induction: copper windings
energized by the low power circuit drive an iron core out of the coil,
which closes or opens the high-power relay contacts.

Relays do not have to be mechanicalphysically closing a contact;
they are available as solid-state devices. Based entirely on
circuitry and with no moving parts, these can be particularly useful
where vibration can risk closing an electromechanical relay when
the circuit is not actually energized. For high-current applications
or where frequent switching occurs, heatsinks are required to
dissipate the power which is consumed during their operation.

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)
Many, if not most, modern mechatronics devices are controlled by
programmable logic controllers. PLCs are simple computers which
can continuously monitor multiple inputs, compare these inputs to
user defined settings or operator commands, and then command
govern the behavior of multiple components in the system as
outputsturning them on or off as appropriate. In this way, PLCs
are the brain of many mechatronics systems you see today.
PLCs were designed to replace the increasingly complex control
systems comprised entirely of huge systems of logic-based relay
circuitry. Modern PLCs commonly have the code which runs them
written on and debugged on a separate personal computer. This
code is then downloaded to the PLC via ethernet or RS-232 cabling
and stored on RAM or flash memory. To control high-powered
devices, PLCs often energize relays to close high-power circuits.
PLCs need not interact and control their mechatronic systems
according to digital on/off inputs and outputs; analog inputs and
outputs can be incorporated because PLCs can monitor the intensity
of a voltage or current being sent to it (this enables quantifiable
monitoring of things like pressure, temperature, or weight).
Additionally, PID control can be implemented to prevent
overshooting system targets.
Power Management Hardware
With so many devices requiring different power and voltage levels
(sensors, prime movers, end-effector machinery), its common for
mechatronics systems to need power management hardware. To be
honest, I have very little experience with this hardware at this point
in my career, but its worth mentioning that it can be necessary.
Control Software
The software controlling the PLC depends on the PLC which is
selected for the job. The logic controllers manufacturer will have
their own code language for their hardware. For example, Fanuc
has its own software for the robots it sells, Ive worked with and
taught the use of Parallax pbasic to students, and Arduino
microcontrollers have a language that is similar to C++.
The details of coding are a topic way outside the purpose of this blog
post, but logic commands like IF, THEN, ELSE, FOR,
WHILE, and COUNT, were some of the common commands
from pbasic code. There are analogous commands between
different manufacturers coding languages, and computer
programming in general. For example, lot of my training as an
undergrad in MatLab code writing carried over pretty directly into
coding in pbasic.
Sensors monitor features of the system which the engineer deems
important to the behavior of the systemeither with respect to
function, safety, or preventing system damage. Some common
sensors are presented below.
Limit Switch
These are mechanical switches with a toggle or button which, when
depressed by an object moving past them, either activate or
deactivate a circuit. These provide true/false information about the
machine statushas the machine reached this positionyes or no?
They dont provide information about the absolute current position
of the machine beyond whether it has reached the limit defined by
the switch position itself. They are useful in shutting off or slowing
down machinery which are reaching a position which could be
dangerous to an operator, or to damaging the system itself. Limit
switches come in many forms.

Proximity Sensor
Proximity sensors come in various forms. They can detect the
presence of a metal object (through the hall effect), they can detect
the presence of liquidsome liquid level sensors close their circuit
through the liquid itself. Noncontact liquid level sensors can
measure the presence of liquid by reflecting ultrasonic waves off the
surface of the liquid. A metal-sensing proximity switch looks like

While working as a mechanical engineering co-op for GE Wind
Energy, I saw the switches in this image used as redundant
measures of wind turbine tower rotation In addition to encoder
measurement of yaw motor rotation, these prox switches measured
the passage of gear teeth on the yaw bearing, relate to the bedplates

Photolelectric Sensors
Photoelectric sensors are another sensor which provides
information in a yes or no formatthey provide a signal to the
controller when an object is present or absent, when it interrupts a
light beam.

Rotary Encoders
Most machine motion is facilitated by torque-providing prime
moverselectric motors, or perhaps engines rotating a shaft. If this
is isnt the case (for example, if hydraulic cylinders are being used),
most machine motion can still be measured fairly easily as a
function of rotation, and thus rotary encoders are the devices
which are commonly used to measure the absolute position of a
machine. Rotary encoders measure the position of a rotating shaft.
Some encoders also have the ability to count the number of
complete revolutions the shaft has turned, which gives the engineer
the ability to know how far the machine has moved from a specified
If an encoder is being integrated with a PLC system, an analog to
digital converter (ADC) will be required to convert the analog
voltage or current signal to a digital signal that the PLC can readif
its not already integrated into the encoder itself. Encoders optically
measure a pattern etched into or through a surface with a photo
detector, the photo detector yields a current/voltage reading, and
this reading is converted to a digital signal. The encoder etching
pattern determines the shaft position which corresponds to the

It can be observed in the image above that each of the eight, 45-
degree arc sections has a unique pattern in it, which then uniquely
(in 45-degree increments) determines the position of the shaft.
However, encoders are available with more than 10,000 counts per
revolution! Obviously, very precise positioning can be achieved with
encoders. Precision can (typically) be further enhanced by
measuring motor rotation instead of machine component rotation
this is true because motor rotation speeds are (typically) kicked
down by a gearbox in order to attain speeds which are useful for
most machinery.
In the days of yorewhen the computer mouse relied on a trackball
instead of optical surface sensingencoders were what measured the
movement of the trackball.
Machine Vision
Machine vision is a large topic in itself, but it is like a photoelectric
switch on steroids Instead of measuring the presence or absence
of light on a single sensor, an entire array of pixels on a CCD can be
monitored for the presence or absence of specified light intensity
levels. In this way, objects of interest can be differentiated from
their background, and these objects can then be reacted to by the
controller system thats monitoring them. For example, if you fast
forward to 1:50 in the video below, the ABB Flexpicker control
system can be seen locating the presence (AND type!) of muffins on
the conveyor belt:
Machine vision is a new but rapidly expanding field.
Temperature Sensors
Temperature can be measured as an analog signal by a temperature
sensor, converted to a digital signal, and read and reacted to by a
microcontroller. Thermocouples can serve this purpose; infrared
thermometers are also available.

Pressure Sensors
Similar to temperature sensors, pressure transducers can measure
pressuremeasured as an analog signal, converted to digital by an
ADC, which is then read and reacted to by a PLC.

There are few limits on how many types of machine conditions
could potentially be read by a sensor of some type, as either a digital
or analog signal.


GT2 timing pulleys 20 teeth 6mm width and 10m length belt

Type: GT2 timing pulleys 20 teeth 6mm width and 10m length belt

1. 20GT2-6 timin gpulley
Tooth nuber: 20
Width: 6mm
Bore: 5mm
Material: aluminum
Flange: double
Hub: one
Screw hole: 2*M3
Quantity: 10pcs

2.6GT2-10m open timing belt
Width: 6mm
Material: rubber with glass fibre
Quantity: 10m