What are the Different Types of Sensors and Sensing Technologies?

Sensors are devices that detect change in their surrounding environment and provide data in the form of an analog or a digital signal that is used for process control. They are not standalone devices and are often connected to a transmitter that can amplify their output signal. There are many different sensors and sensing technologies currently available, each equipped to provide varying data. As such, this blog will provide a brief overview of the most common, how they work, and their applications.

In order to understand how a sensor works, you must become familiar with the differences between a sensor and a transducer. While a sensor is a module or chip that observes minute changes in the physical world and provides measurable feedback, a transducer also observes changes, but without the need for power supply. Instead, transducers measure changes and convert these measurements into a certain form of voltage output.

There are two types of transducers. The first is an input transducer which absorbs energy and converts it into electricity. The second is an output transducer which takes electrical energy and changes it into another form of energy.

Similarly, there are two distinct categories of sensors. The first set are active and passive sensors. The major difference between the two is that active sensors do not necessitate any external power supply while passive sensors do. The second set are analog and digital sensors. Analog sensors provide output in the form of analog when they detect changes in their environment, and digital sensors produce discrete binary signals in digital communication.

There are a variety of sensors, all of which detect data in different scenarios. As such, sensors are distinguished by the parameters they are intended to measure. In the next section, this blog will cover some of the most common types of sensors and sensing technologies as well as their uses.

Temperature Sensors

Temperature sensors are utilized to measure the temperature of any object or medium. They are available as analog and digital sensors, and the most widely used types include thermocouples, thermistors, and RTDs.

Thermocouples are composed of two dissimilar metal wires, are self-powered, and do not require excitation when working over a wide temperature range. These sensors are used in industrial, automotive, and consumer applications.

Thermistors monitor the change in resistance to measure temperature. They are made up of ceramic or polymer materials, and they are available in one of two configurations: NTC (Negative Temperature Coefficient) and PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient).

RTDs, or resistance temperature detectors, also monitor changes in resistance to measure temperature. Platinum, nickel, or copper wires are the materials of choice for this sensor as they have positive temperature coefficients.

Proximity Sensors

Proximity sensors are sensing devices that have the capacity to detect the presence of objects without the need for physical contact. They are considered one of the most widely used sensors and are utilized in industries to measure the close proximity of mechanical parts. The most common types include inductive proximity sensors, magnetic proximity sensors, capacitive proximity sensors, photoelectric proximity sensors, and ultrasonic proximity sensors.

Pressure Sensors

Pressure sensors are utilized to measure the force applied on a body or in an environment as a result of a solid, liquid, or gaseous object. Similar to pressure sensors, pressure gauges also measure force and provide a direct output reading of a pressure value. Pressure measurements can be organized into three categories, those of which include differential pressure, absolute pressure, and gauge pressure.


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