Incremental Encoder Lathe Automation

I have been working on a project to automate a manual lathing operation for our incremental encoder/optical encoder line.

To keep things simple, thumb switches allow the set point, along with some offsets for fine-tuning, to be entered.

I am not completely finished with project, but in the video below you can get a feel for how the machine will mill down the incremental encoder shaft.  We have control of the tool position to within .0001”

QD145 Incremental Encoder Shaft Tolerance

I received a phone call the other day that caught me a bit off guard. A customer was asking what tolerance they need to have on their motor shaft for it to fit with one of our incremental encoders.   I reflexively told the customer that we machine our shaft I.D. to  a –0.0000” +.0005” tolerance. He told me he already knew that, but what did we recommend for his shaft, the motor shaft that the incremental encoder was to be mounted on?

Since I am an Electrical Engineer, I wanted to make sure I had all of my ducks in a row before I took my second shot at answering a mechanical related question. I let him know that I would look up the information he needed and call him back.  After I got off the phone I immediately knew what I should have told him.  This answer may surprise you, but we don’t specify tolerances for the fit of our customer’s motor shafts. – not in the way one would expect.  Instead of a fit tolerance, we have TIR and Endplay tolerances on total encoder movement after it is mounted.

The reason for this is because unlike modular incremental encoders, which rely on the mounting shaft to hold the disk and sensor air gap, the QD145 series of incremental encoders has an internal bearing set that maintains the air gap. This takes the need for an exacting precision shaft to shaft fit out of the list of problems motor manufacturers face when designing a new motor.

I called the customer back and let him know the good news; that instead of some tight machining numbers, he only needed to keep his QD145 Incremental encoder within .007” of radial shaft runout and within +/- .030” for axial shaft runout.

I also pointed him to our QD145 Incremental Encoder Mounting Instructions, which contain other incremental encoder mounting, and wiring suggestions.

How to calculate pulses per degree for an incremental encoder

When using an Incremental Encoder, you often have to know how many pulses there are per degree of rotation. This is a very straightforward math problem.

Pulses per Degree = Number of encoder pulses per rotation/Number of degrees in a circle

For a 5000 Line count incremental rotary encoder we divide 5000/360 to get 13.89 pulses per degree of rotation.

Calculating Degrees of rotation per pulse for an incremental encoder

If you want to find out how many mechanical degrees of rotation there are for one pulse, you would do the problem the other way:

  Pulses per Degree = Number of degrees in a circle/Number of encoder pulses per rotation

For a 5000 rotary incremental encoder we divide 360 by 5000 to get 0.072.

This means that there are  0.072 Mechanical Degrees of rotation for every incremental encoder pulse.

This calculation is often useful if you have a counter totalizing incremental encoder pulses over a given distance or rotation.

Quantum Devices Interface Cable for the QDH20

QDH20 interface cable

Quantum Devices is now offering an interface cable to our QDH20 series of Industrial Incremental Encoders.

While we like to focus more on building encoders than “add on” products, we did find this to be something that made sense to offer with our QDH20 encoders.

At this time the ten pin Female MS connector to flying leads is the only interface cable for the QDH20 encoder that is option being offered.  Part numbers can be constructed  by using the prefeix 2100A and adding the length of the desired cable in inches as a part suffix.


If an eight foot cable is desired, 8 x12 = 96 so the part number would be 2100A096

Contact any of our distributors, or QDI sales for pricing and delivery



Finding the Index Pulse of an Incremental Encoder

The index pulse, often also called “Z” or “Marker pulse”, of an optical incremental encoder is a once per revolution digital pulse that is used for homing or count verification of incremental signals.

In the QD145 and QD200 series of encoders the index pulse fires when the mark on the top cover of the optical incremental encoder and the mark on the encoders shaft are aligned.

This mark also indicates the rising edge of the U channel for commutated optical incremental encoders.  Knowing the location of this edge is useful for the initial rough timing of Brushless DC motors.

Quantum Devices is a leading manufacturer of Optical Incremental Encoders.

Jim can be reached at 608.924.3000 or by e-mail at

Finding the Index on an Incremental Encoder with a DMM

Sometimes you don’t have the right tools to do the job.

Lets say you needed to identify where the index pulse was firing on your incremental encoder, but you left your oscilloscope in your other jacket pocket, and now all you have on hand is a DMM.

Well fear not, finding the index with a multimeter is possible although a bit tedious.

The index fires once per revolution and at higher line counts this makes it VERY easy to miss.  Since there is some delay in a multimeter’s display time, you will need to rotate the encoder very slowly to catch a change in voltage level.

The Blue box has a nine-volt battery inside that I regulated down to 5Vdc for the encoder power.  I have pulled out connections to ground (Black wire) and the index channel (Orange wire). When the index fires, the voltage will go from zero to five volts.

Jim is an Applications Engineer with Quantum Devices Inc. A leading manufacturer of Optical Encoders.

Understanding Incremental Encoder signals

Which incremental encoder wires should I use?

Channels A & B (Incremental Channels)

Use only A (or only B) for an RPM or counting applications where the rotation is either unidirectional, or where you don’t need to know direction.

Use A and B together to know direction. After two low pulses the next high pulse indicates direction.  This is due to the phasing offset between A and B of 90 electrical degrees, placing the signals in what is known as quadrature.

These signals can also be used to set up an up/down counter

Index pulse, also known as Z, marker, or I

Index pulse is a pulse that occurs once per rotation. It’s duration is nominally one A (or B) electrical cycle, but can be gated to reduce the pulse width.

The Index (Z) pulse can be used to verify correct pulse count

The Incremental Encoder Index pulse is commonly used for precision homing.  As an example, a lead screw may bring a carriage back to a limit switch.  It is the nature of limit switches to close at relatively imprecise points. This only gives a coarse homing point. The machine can then rotate the lead screw until the Z pulse goes high.

For a 5000 line count encoder this would mean locating position to within 1/5000 of a rotation or a precision of .072 Mechanical Degrees.  This number would then be multiplied against lead screw travel.

Commutation (UVW) signals are used to commutate a brushless DC motor. I always like to compare these signals to that of a distributor in a car. The commutation (sometimes called “Hall”) signals tell the motor windings when to fire

You would need to have encoder commutation signals if the motor you are mounting the encoder to has a pole count and there is no other device doing the work of commutation.  It is important to note that commutation signals need to be aligned or “timed” to the motor.

Single ended VS differential

These terms refer not to the waveforms of signals, but instead to the way the signals are wired.

Single ended wiring uses one signal wire per channel and all signals are referenced to a common ground.

TTL and Open Collector are types of single ended wiring.

Differential wiring uses two wires per channel that are referenced to each other.  The signals on these wires are always 180 electrical degrees out of phase, or exact opposites.  This wiring is useful for higher noise immunity, at the cost of having more electrical connections.

Differential wiring is often employed in longer wire runs as any noise picked up on the wiring is common mode rejected.

RS-422 is an example of differential wiring.