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A Beginner’s Guide to Data Acquisition Terminology WP-30-REV0-4508-1/5

WHITE PAPER © 2008 by B&B Electronics.

A Beginners Guide to Data Acquisition

Data Acquisition, or DAQ for short, is critical in today’s
manufacturing environment. DAQ Systems are designed to
gather, store, and analyze data. With this information, plant
managers can make intelligent decisions concerning process
improvement, quality, and efficiency. This white paper examines
some basic DAQ terms and concepts. It is intended as an
introduction to the world of Industrial Data Acquisition and
Control systems.

Digital Input / Output (I/O)

Sometimes referred to as Discrete I/O, these types of inputs

Digital or Discrete I/O
and outputs are much easier for a micro-processor based DAQ
concerns the digital
system to use since they are already a binary signal. The State
State (on or off, high or
of a digital signal is essentially the level of the signal (on or off,
low) and Rate, the
high or low). A common application is monitoring the condition
frequency at which the
of a switch (open or closed). The Rate of a digital signal is
state changes.
determined by measuring how often it changes state with
respect to time. A common application is determining how fast a
motor shaft spins. Unlike Analog Frequency, digital rate
measures how often a signal occurs and an algorithm is not

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There are several types of Digital I/O:

Digital Inputs Digital Outputs

Sinking / NPN Sinking / NPN
Sourcing / PNP Sourcing / PNP
Counter Relay

Sinking & Sourcing

When choosing I/O
modules, it is When choosing a Digital I/O module, it is important to
important to have an understanding of these terms. A sinking device
understand the concept provides a path for the current to ground and is not
of Sinking and responsible for powering the device. Terms used to
Sourcing. describe sinking devices include NPN and Open
Collector. A sourcing device provides the power or a
positive potential. Sourcing devices 'push' the current
through the load. Terms used to describe sourcing
devices include PNP and Open Emitter.

When selecting digital I/O, recognize that not all

manufacturers define sinking and sourcing the same
way. In general, Sinking / Sourcing describes a
current signal flow relationship between field input /
output devices in a control system and their power
supply. Sourcing I/O modules supply (or source)
current to sinking field devices. Sinking I/O modules
receive (or sink) current from sourcing field devices.
However, you should always consult your devices
manual to determine the required I/O.


As the name implies, a counter is an input that

increments a register with each successive pulse
received. Using this information, a frequency or pulse
rate can readily be determined. Counters are

characterized by their number of bits. In an X bit counter,

the maximum number of counts is equal to 2 raised to the
X power. For example: a 16 bit counter can count up to 2
to the 16th power or 65,536.

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A relay is a device in which power applied to a coil or

input terminal causes the path between contacts open or
close. These contacts are designed for interrupting and
applying power to larger loads (i.e., integral horsepower
motors) and significant resistance loads (i.e., lighting and
heaters). Relay outputs come in several variations:

Form A – Single Pole, Single Throw, Normally Open

Form B – Single Pole, Single Throw, Normally Closed
Form C – Single Pole, Double Throw, Break-before-

Analog I/O

Digital computers have replaced analog recording and

display technologies in all but the simplest data
acquisition applications. However, these computers
speak only the binary language of ones and zeroes.
Manufacturing processes and natural phenomena,
Analog I/O is however, are still by their very nature analog. To be
concerned with the manipulated by a computer, analog measurements such
Analog Level, as pressure, temperature, or flow rate, must be translated
Frequency, and Shape. into a digital equivalent. An algorithm is used to translate
the signal based on several factors. The Analog Level
gives important information, such as the intensity of a
light source, pressure in a chamber, or temperature in a
room. Analog signals can also be characterized by their
Frequency. When the Analog Frequency is important,
acquisition speed must be considered. The Shape of an
Analog signal can be as important as the level. By
measuring shape, the DC value, peak, and slope can be
determined. This is of particular interest when the value
changes rapidly. Sounds and vibration are some

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Analog I/O

Voltage - Common voltage signals used in the controls

industry are 1-5 VDC, 2-10 VDC, 3-15 VDC, 0-5 VDC, 0-
10 VDC and 0-15 VDC.

Current- The 4-20 mA signal is the industry standard

current signal for use with analog and digital controllers.
A variation of the 4-20 mA signal is 0-20 mA.

Resolution – ADC devices are defined by the resolution,

ranging from 8-bit to 32-bit.The higher the resolution, the
higher the accuracy and data integrity. But it also means
that your costs will be higher. Because of this, it is
essential to calculate exactly what your sampling rates
will really be and balance that with budgeting needs.
Further information on data sampling, including how to
calculate your resolution needs, can be found in our
paper, The Fine Art of Analog Signal Sampling.

Temperature – Temperature inputs come in two

variations, Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD) or

RTD – Simply put, an RTD is a sensor used to measure

temperature by correlating the sensors electrical
resistance with a specific temperature. RTD elements
consist of a length of fine wire coiled around a ceramic or
glass core. The wire is made of a pure material with a
Temperature is
defined resistance. Platinum is the most popular and
measured using
accurate. Copper is also used in some instances. A
PT100 sensor has a resistance of 100 ohms at 0°C and
Temperature Detector
is by far the most common type of RTD sensor. A
or Thermocouple
PT1000 has 1000 ohms resistance at 0°C. Copper RTD’s
are usually built at 10 ohms (CU10). Because of this low
resistance, measured temperatures spans must be large

to get an adequate signal. Therefore, CU10 RTD use is

limited to devices such as motors or transformers.

2-Wire RTD - The lowest cost method is to keep the

signal conditioner close enough to the sensor so the
copper wire resistance change does not introduce an
excessive error in the measurement.

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3-Wire RTD - Lead compensation with three wires

requires two conductors attached to one end of the RTD
and a single conductor on the other end. This method
requires the three lead wires to track each other in
resistance change versus ambient temperature. It is
effective for a total copper lead resistance equal to about
10% of the RTD value. The error introduced increases
proportionally as the lead wire length increases.

4-Wire RTD - A four wire input provides the most

accurate measurement. Current flows through two wires
and the other two wires are used to measure the voltage
across the RTD. The wire leads have no influence on the
accuracy of the measurement.

Thermocouple – Based on the principle that when two

dissimilar metals are joined, a predictable voltage will be
generated that relates to the difference in temperature between
the measuring junction and the reference junction or connection
to the measuring device. The selection of the optimum
thermocouple type (metals used in their construction) is based
on application. Temperature Range, Atmosphere, Required
length of service, Accuracy and Cost all play a factor in the

Thermocouple Type / IEC Temperature Range (Short Temperature Range

Color Code Term) (Continuous)
E – Purple -400 to +900 °C 0 to +800 °C
J – Black -180 to +800 °C 0 to +700 °C
K – Green - 180 to +1300 °C 0 to +100 °C
T – Brown -250 to +400 °C - 185 to + 300 °C

Data acquisition modules from B&B Electronics handle a broad

range of analog and digital remote I/O and deliver that data over
serial, Ethernet, USB or wireless connections. Compact, low
cost modules fit a variety of applications to monitor sensors and
control processes or equipment

B&B Electronics started in 1981 manufacturing a single product, an RS-232

tester. Since then B&B Electronics has had continuous growth in industrial
communications and automation. For a library of technical information and
one of industry’s most popular industrial electronics and communications
catalogs, visit

International Headquarters: Ottawa, IL USA 815-433-5100

European Headquarters: Oranmore Co. Galway Ireland, +353 91 792444