The use of potentiometers in Incremental Encoder Design

Recently I decided to catalog the competitive Incremental Encoders that have populated the shelves surrounding my desk.  In doing so, I was surprised to find that many of our competitors use potentiometers in their designs.

I can understand why they need to use potentiometers.  In most designs the potentiometers are used to balance the raw analog signals produced by the Incremental Encoder sensor.   A potentiometer is the perfect component for this, you fire up the Incremental Encoder during test, lay a scope probe on it and dial the value specified by Engineering.  For most encoder designs, the only other option is to guess at some resistor values hoping that you don’t have to solder and unsolder resistors too many times until you hone in the correct signal, as that would be a very time consuming process.

While I can understand the use of Potentiometers, the reason that I am a bit shocked by their ubiquity in competitor’s designs is that potentiometers are inherently a much less reliable component.  A resistor is all one solid piece, but a potentiometer (which is a variable resistor) has a resistive track and a movable wiper that slides along to vary the resistance value. Moving parts are inherently less reliable than a non-moveable part.

Here are a few of the PCBs from various manufacturers ,  the potentiometers are circled in Red:

 

This next one is my favorite.  Thirteen potentiometers!

I am proud to say that Quantum Devices Encoders do not use potentiometers in their Incremental Encoder designs.  The reason we can avoid potentiometers is because of our patented phased array sensor that provides perfectly balanced complementary signals right from the sensor.

Other incremental encoder sensors suffer from having their active areas in different locations along the length of the sensor. Since the light source spreads light unevenly over the sensor, some active areas receive more light than others creating signal imbalances.

In Quantum Devices Incremental Encoders the photosensitive areas of each channel are interlaced with each another,  so all active areas receive the same amount of light.  This eliminates the need to balance any signals, which in turn eliminates the need for potentiometers in the design.

Below is an drawing of the phased array sensor Red indicates Channel A active areas, Blue indicates channel B active areas.

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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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