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DISPLAYS Encoder Basics

Features Optical encoders are the most widely used feedback device.
Compact, inexpensive, and reliable, they provide high reso-

• Compact rotary lution while maintaining a simple (usually digital) electronic

encoders fit inside interface. Encoders are valuable when used with stepping

standard motor motor driven systems, where they can correct a variety of

mounts positioning table errors, as well as warn of stalling in sys-

tems with dynamic loads. Servo motors, in comparison, must

• Three grades of have a feedback device to operate. To a first order, the com-

linear encoders for mand current (and hence, torque/force) applied to a servo

resolutions down to motor is proportional to the error between its desired and

20 nanometers actual position; the latter is obtained via an optical encoder.

• Encoder displays Figure 1a illustrates encoder operation: a stationary light This drawback is solved by using a modified phase plate and
with RS-232 source (usually an LED) illuminates the rotating code disk, two detector/amplifier sets (Figure 1b). The phase plate con-
interface which has a number of light transmitting slits. Light passing sists of two sets of slits, with the second set offset by 1/4 of
through the code disk then falls upon the phase plate, which the interslit spacing. This generates two electrical signals,
consists of a similar but stationary set of slits. Finally, the called Channel A and Channel B, which are 90 degrees out of
detector (typically a solar cell or photodiode) converts the phase (also referred to as being “in quadrature”). Logic cir-
transmitted light to an electronic signal. This analog signal is cuits can now easily determine direction, since channel A will
then amplified and “squared up” to provide a standard +5 switch before channel B for one rotation direction, and after-
volt digital signal, which can be input to a counter circuit. wards when rotating in the opposite direction. An added
Each “count” records one light-dark cycle of the code disk bonus is a four-fold increase in resolution if the counting cir-
relative to the phase plate. cuit records both rising and falling edges of both channels A
and B (as do all of our encoder interface products).
A serious limitation to the above technique is that the counter
cannot tell which direction the encoder moved: a movement We offer rotary and linear encoders that conveniently mount to
of 100 counts clockwise followed by 100 counts counterclock- most of our standard motorized products. The main decisions
wise is recorded as 200 counts, while an accurate position that need to be made are whether an encoder is necessary, and
feedback system should display 0 (no net change in position). if so, whether to use a rotary encoder, a linear encoder, or both.

Figure 1a

Figure 1b

800.227.1066 • 603.893.0588
Rotary vs. Linear DISPLAYS

Rotary encoders are effective, low cost feedback devices that

can confirm motor shaft position (or provide feedback to a
servo motor). The accuracy of rotary encoded systems is
dependent on other system components, whereas linear
encoders can increase the system accuracy. Linear encoders
tell you a stage’s position, regardless of how you got there
(leadscrew errors, thermal expansion, and nut backlash, for
example, are measured by a linear encoder).

Rotary encoders provide a low cost way to confirm rotary Rotary

motor position. They are an ideal feedback mechanism for Encoders
use with a rotary servo motor. Rotary encoders are typical- • Provide position
ly mounted to the leadscrew or ballscrew shaft in our feedback of a
stages, which eliminates errors due to coupling wind-up rotary motor
and backlash, but their position feedback still depends on
the accuracy of the leadscrew or ballscrew. Although step- • Cost-effective
ping motors operated within their allowable torque/speed
ranges will operate repeatably without a step error, there is • Allow a tight servo
the possibility of stalling (due to external events). If loop (when used
queried, a rotary encoder will tell you of such an event. with a rotary servo

Linear encoders cost more than rotary encoders, but can Linear
provide better position feedback and increase system accu- Encoders
racy. Although it is physically impossible to mount a linear • Provide actual loca-
encoder’s read head in the same exact place as the user’s tion feedback of a
load, it can be mounted nearby, telling you actual position positioner
(regardless of the drive mechanism accuracy). This allows
correction of position in stepping motor systems. • Can increase system
In linear servo motor driven systems, a linear encoder is
required as the feedback source. The 1700 and 1500 Series • Allow a tight servo
controls support dual-loop encoder feedback. This feature loop (when used
can combine the advantages of rotary and linear encoders. with a linear servo
For example, a rotary encoder can be used to provide motor)
damping (velocity feedback) to the position controller, and
a linear encoder can be used to close the position loop
and improve system accuracy. For applications with partic-
ularly demanding accuracy requirements, laser interferome-
ters should be considered. Please see our Motion Control
Handbook for details.

800.227.1066 • 603.893.0588