Blog Posts

Our incremental optical encoders, an LED, photo detector chip, and a patterned disk to report shaft position.

What exactly is the difference between incremental and absolute encoders? An absolute encoder can tell you the exact position of the shaft in its rotation at any given time (and how many rotations have transpired on a multi-turn absolute encoder). An incremental encoder can only report a change in position. It may not sound like a big difference, but it’s night and day if the system has a loss...   Read More »

US Digitals E16, E4T and E8T series of small rotary encoders.

US Digital’s E16, E4T and E8T series of small rotary encoders. Small rotary encoders are a big thing these days. As motors (and all electronics for that matter) continue to get smaller, we realize we need to shrink our own products to better support our customers needs. Our E16, E4T and E8T optical encoders provide digital quadrature feedback for high volume, restricted space...   Read More »

Encoder Size Comparison Chart - small rotary encoder

When it comes to encoder size, there are a few things to keep in mind: the overall dimensions of the encoder housing, the bolt circle and shaft/bore size. In this post, we’ll go over each item in detail to help you make the right decision. How do you find an encoder’s overall dimensions? Encoder Size Comparison Chart - small rotary encoder Perhaps the most obvious thing...   Read More »

Encoders come in a variety of configurations, but they all translate phyiscal motion into an electric signal that can be interpreted by a motion control system.

What is an encoder and how can it be used in motion control applications? In this post we’ll cover some encoder basics. First up, the definition: An encoder is a sensor that translates physical motion into electrical data. That data can be used by a control device to determine speed, acceleration and position. Encoders come in a variety of configurations, but they all translate...   Read More »

US Digital Mechanical Engineer Camilla Garcia works a new machine she designed in the injection molding area.

US Digital Mechanical Engineer Camilla Garcia works a new machine she designed in the injection molding area. In our latest “Fascinating Tales of Imagination & Ingenuity in Automation” video, you’ll see what happens when our core principles of insourcing processes and continuous improvement collide. We recently installed a new injection molding machine to add redundancy to the...   Read More »

A top-down view of US Digitals new machine vision automation system, LIAS.

A top-down view of US Digital’s new machine vision automation system, LIAS. When our engineering team looked for opportunities to improve processes in our injecting molding department, they set their sights on creating a machine vision system to automate the manufacturing of a key component. The machine, called LIAS or the Lead frame Inspection Automation System, visually...   Read More »

The Hydrow rower features one of our optical encoders. Photo courtesy of Hydrow.

Our encoders are used in a variety of fields – everything from manufacturing automation, aerospace, textile manufacturing, solar power to exercise equipment. In this post we’re excited to put the spotlight on one of our customers who is revolutionizing the rowing machine. The Hydrow rower features one of our optical encoders. Photo courtesy of Hydrow. The Hydrow® Live Outdoor...   Read More »

US Digital COO Neal Donowitz, right, and Technical Support Quality Representative Josh Morris discuss a product return in the US Digital plant.

US Digital COO Neal Donowitz, right, and Technical Support Quality Representative Josh Morris discuss a product return in the US Digital plant. Most companies will tell you that they have a stellar customer service team, but we are confident we can actually back up that claim. That’s because one of our core beliefs is that we are here to help our customers succeed. There’s a couple...   Read More »

US Digital founder and CEO David Madore explains the functionality of an automated machine outside the US Digital clean room.

You may have seen reports from MIT researchers that say that – on average – each robot added to manufacturing replaced 3.3 workers nationally and lowered wages. There’s a lot more to the data than that, so be sure to check out more details on the study on the Robotics Business Review. While we can’t speak for other industries or manufacturers, we can say that automation and robotics...   Read More »

Single output

Looking to track direction of motion or want to squeeze a few extra counts out of your encoder? You’re going to want to know about quadrature. A quadrature encoder is an encoder that has two output channels, with one being offset by 90 electrical degrees, or one quarter of a cycle. With a single output channel, you can tell that something in the system is moving–but you can’t tell in...   Read More »

Diagram of a Quarature Encoder with Index

Have you ever been in the middle of counting something and lost your place? If you didn’t have a system or way of recalibrating where you are, you’re going to have to just start over from scratch. Turns out this can happen with encoders too. If you are designing a system where you can’t let that happen, you’re going to want to know what an Index is. An Index is a unique channel on an encoder...   Read More »

TJ from our assembly team prepares encoder hubdisks at US Digital.

US Digital encoders may play a role in helping save lives during the coronavirus pandemic. Project Pitlane, a group of seven UK-based F1 teams working together to design and make ventilators, placed an order for several thousand E5 Optical Encoders in early April. The ventilator design uses electric motors to pump air into a patients lungs. Encoders are needed to help regulate the flow of...   Read More »

The Quadrature to USB Adapter (QSB), pictured here, is a low cost device designed for basic encoder testing when it is not practical to use an oscilloscope.

When ElectroCraft needed help validating encoder output for a customer, it turned to us for help and walked away with a completely customized software solution at no cost. The Quadrature to USB Adapter (QSB) is a low cost device designed for basic encoder testing when it is not practical to use an oscilloscope. A custom application developed by US Digital, helped motor maker...   Read More »

US Digital Soldering Technician Peter Semenov inspects PCBs on the SMT line in the assembly area.

Here at US Digital, we’re always looking for ways to improve our existing processes and how we can use automation to enhance what our people can do. Sometimes a challenge with one particular product can lead to a solution that benefits our entire product line. After releasing our E4T and E8T miniature optical encoders, we decided to take a look at improving efficiency in our surface mount...   Read More »

Robots, rocket ships and deep space sound may sound like parts of a work of Science Fiction, but for FIRST Robotics Team #2471 Team Mean Machine it’s just another year competing in one of the world’s largest robotics competitions. In late December members of the team, which represents a handful of students from high schools in Clark County, Wa., visited US Digital to show off their...   Read More »

Radio tower on the left is an antenna designed to transmit radio waves to a receiving antenna, like the one on the radio. However, as the drawing on the right shows, the same antenna that receives your favorite song can also inadvertently pick up noise from something like a welder, whose cables can act like a transmission antenna that’s broadcasting noise.

In this world three things are certain: death, taxes–and electrical noise, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin. Electrical noise happens. Period. It can wreak havoc by injecting false signals onto encoder lines, or by overwhelming real signals entirely. It’s often intermittent, which can make diagnosing and fixing it a nightmare. But if you use a few simple techniques you can drastically reduce...   Read More »

Cable from the drawworks (located on or near the main platform) runs up to the crown block at the top of the derrick, then down to the traveling block. The top drive rotates the drill string; it is suspended from the traveling block, and is raised or lowered by the drawworks.

Where do encoders face their toughest operating conditions? One answer at the top of the list is in the petroleum industry, where encoders are used everywhere. In this post we’ll look at encoders in the oil industry, from beginning to end–the rough conditions encoders face on oil drilling rigs, how they keep oil flowing in transport pipelines, and the way they ensure accuracy at gasoline...   Read More »

baseball strike zone diagram

If you need an encoder that can measure very small distances, which of the following is most important to you? High Accuracy? High Precision? High Resolution? All about the same? Here's a hint: in the everyday world, those terms might seem like they mean the same thing, but in the world of encoders, accuracy or precision won't help you solve this problem nearly as much as...   Read More »

Pipette and Pipettor

How do you attach an encoder to a liquid? Encoders usually attach to a part of the system that moves—and in a pump, the part that moves is a liquid! How do you attach an encoder to that? In actual practice, you don't. Every pump has a mechanism that moves a fluid. You attach the encoder to that mechanism. If a motor drives the mechanism, for example, you can mount the encoder to the motor...   Read More »

Inside the E4T Miniature Optical Kit Encoder, shown above, is a very small disk. During production, operators had great difficulty transferring the disks by hand.

When US Digital released the E4T Miniature Optical Kit Encoder it needed to update manufacturing procedures to better handle the miniaturized encoder disks. The company decided to use automation and built the delta robot system above. It speeds up manufacturing and frees staff to spend time on higher-level tasks. New Miniature Encoder Disks Caused Production Difficulties for...   Read More »

Disk Resolutions

With some optical encoders you can literally see the resolution right on the encoder disk. Look at the disks above and notice how closely the lines are spaced. Encoder resolution is defined as the smallest distance that can be measured or observed. However, it can be used in three different ways within the same motion control system—this can lead to confusion. In this post,...   Read More »

Figure 1

So far in this blog we've written about encoders that are moved by something else. They're attached to a motor shaft, or a linear actuator, or conveyor belt. Their job is to report their position as they're moved by an external force; other than that, they're just along for the ride. Well, sometimes - the encoder is the ride! Sometimes the encoder moves first, and everything else reacts to...   Read More »

DWG 001: Analog Voltage Output

In an earlier post to this blog, we introduced Absolute Encoders. We illustrated the differences between absolute and incremental encoders, and showed that an absolute encoder can give a unique report for each different position on the encoder disk. But we didn't talk about what that report looks like. Looking back to incremental encoders for a moment, each part of their output waveform looks...   Read More »

DWG 001: Degree – Arcmin – Arcsec

In the motion control industry, accuracy is the difference between target position and actual position. For rotary encoders, we measure accuracy in degrees, arcminutes or arcseconds. 1 degree = 1/360th of a circle - used with low accuracy encoders arcminute = 1/60th of a degree - used with medium accuracy encoders arcsecond = 1/60th of an arcminute - used with high accuracy...   Read More »

Drawing 001: Two Outputs - Quadrature

In earlier posts to this blog, we introduced incremental encoders in Encoders 009 and continued that discussion in Encoders 011, where we talked about Quadrature and Index. In today's post, we'll introduce another major category of encoders: Absolute Encoders. Where Are We? In our posts on incremental encoders, we developed a simplified picture showing essential components: In...   Read More »


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