Optical Encoder Waveform Triggering

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Seeing Encoder Quadrature with a two-channel scope

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I received an e-mail from a customer concerned about the  “out of control” optical encoder signals he was seeing on his Oscilloscope.

The photo below shows the type of signal he was seeing:

The encoder in question was a 10,000 Line Count optical encoder. I noticed that he was running relatively slowly, about 100 RPM.  At that speed a lot of BLDC motors will show some degree of motor cogging, which is irregularity in rotation due to the magnetic fields in the rotor.

The customer was also triggering on an incremental channel (A&B) and not the index (Z) channel .

I am sure he had omitted the index as he wanted to see if the A&B incremental encoder signals were in quadrature.

I knew that when triggering on an incremental channel, the oscilloscope triggers off of whichever ever edge happens to occur within the scopes timing window.  What the customer was seeing on the oscilloscope was overlapping screen shots of the incremental channels as the motor speed changed.

In other words, he was seeing the encoder report exactly what the motor was doing.

If the customer were to trigger on Optical Encoder channel Z (Index) with one scope channel, they could see a nice steady signal. If they wanted to check quadrature, they could then compare the phasing of A and then the phasing of B relative to where the index channel was located.


That’s a little bit of a hassle, it’s much nicer to see both A and B optical encoder signals on the scope at the same time.  The way to do this with a two-channel scope like the Tektronix TDS 210 we have, is to use the scope’s external trigger and trigger off of channel Z.

The video below compares the optical encoder signals being triggered off of channel A and then being triggered off of channel Z.


Jim is an Applications Engineer for the leading optical encoder manufacturer Quantum Devices Inc. He can be reached via E-mail at jmiller@quantumdev.com.


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About Quantum Devices Inc.
Quantum Devices, Inc. (QDI) Barneveld, WI, was established as a Wisconsin corporation in October 1989, as an outgrowth of activities in the general area of optoelectronics. The main goal of QDI is to provide customers with a complete source for all stages of product design and development, starting from concept to a marketable commodity. These products include application specific Silicon Photodiodes, Optical Encoders and Light Emitting Diodes (LED) for commercial, industrial and medical applications. QDI's photodiodes and LED's are used in instrumentation for photosynthesis and photobiological research, biomedical and medical instrumentation for measuring blood sugar levels (glucometer), oxyhemoglobin and pulse rate (pulse oxymeter). One of the most dramatic products developed at QDI was the application of LED lighting systems for use as the light source for Photodynamic Therapy (PDT). Sales of QDI products include both domestic and international markets. Quality and reliability are very important concepts in maintaining our company wide commitment to overall product performance. Quality simply means continuous process improvement. We are committed to continually increasing our product excellence through increased quality and reliability. Quantum Devices, Inc. is ISO 9001 certified and the ISO Standard will provide the guidance for the vital function of maintaining our commitment to constantly improve our product quality. Quantum Devices is now proud to introduce it's new line of rotary encoders. Incorporating QDI's patented sensor technology, our QPhase™ Family of Encoders feature high resolution, increased frequency response and superior reliability over temperature (0 to 120 degrees C). QDI incremental and absolute encoders set a new standard and are backed by a 2 year factory warranty. We invite you to request an evaluation unit, additional information or price quotations. Mission Statement Quantum Devices is dedicated to the principle that light provides the power for all life on earth. We believe the quality, delivery and control of light is essential to the wellness of man and his advancement into the future.

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