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Have you recently found yourself staring at two identical-seeming proximity switches? Have you wondered, what the heck is the difference between these two? Or maybe you’re getting ready to buy some sensors. You want to make sure you pick up the right device for the right application. Below, we’ll illustrate the differences between capacitive and inductive proximity sensors. We’ll look at how inductive proximity sensors work, how capacitive proximity sensors work, and compare these two types of proximity sensors.

Inductive Proximity Sensor Working Principle
An inductive prox in a “barrel” form factor

Inductive proximity sensors are perhaps the most common type of prox switch in industrial automation. These sensors generate electromagnetic fields to detect their target. This field is strongest when no target is present in front of the sensor.

Inductive proximity sensor with no part present

When a target passes in front of the sensor, eddy currents form in the electromagnetic field, lowering the amplitude of the field as measured at the sensor.

Inductive proximity sensor with a part present
Applications For Inductive Prox Switches

Because inductive proxes use electromagnetism, they are only able to detect metallic objects. Some inductive prox switches have a harder time detecting non-ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metal are metals that don’t contain very much iron. If you want to detect a metallic object, there are a variety of inductive proxes on the market. Depending on the iron content of your target, you can find inductive sensors to fit any of the following applications:

  • Inductive proximity sensors that primarily respond to ferrous metals (such as steel and iron)
  • Inductive proximity sensors that primarily respond to non-ferrous metals (such as aluminum)
  • Also, inductive proximity sensors that respond to varying metals equally

Because inductive proxes only sense metal objects, they have some advantages for certain applications:

  • Inductive proxes can detect metal objects through plastic (or other non-metallic) containers
  • Because they only sense metals, inductive proximity sensors are tolerant to dust build-up on the face of the prox

Inductive proxes can come with either Normally Open or Normally Closed outputs, or as analog sensors. You can hook up the sensor’s output to a PLC, robot, or other controller to detect machine motion.

Capacitive Proximity Sensor Working Principle
A capacitive proximity sensor. Look familiar?

Capacitive proximity sensors are another type of prox switch that are commonly used in industrial automation. Compare the picture of this capacitive prox to the inductive prox in the section above. Note that you wouldn’t be able to tell which sensor was inductive or capacitive just by looking at them. Always check your prox’s part number to determine its specs.

You saw above that inductive proxes generate electromagnetic fields. Capacitive proxes, on the other hand, generate electrostatic fields. Capacitive proxes house a capacitive plate behind the face of the prox. This plate generates an electrostatic field in front of the prox. Whereas inductive prox fields are highest with no target present, capacitive sensors detect very low capacitance when no target is present.

A capacitive prox switch with no part present

When a target passes in front of a capacitive prox, the target acts as a second capacitive plate. For this reason, the presence of a target increases the capacitance measured by the prox. When a certain threshold of capacitance is met, the sensor’s output state will change.

A capacitive proximity sensor being “made” by its target

Unlike inductive sensors, many capacitive sensors are adjustable. This allows you to set the sensitivity of the prox to ensure accurate detection. With adjustable sensitivity, capacitive proxes have a few tricks up their sleeve. Adjustable capacitive proxes can differentiate between material thickness in certain cases. They can even detect liquids inside of containers.

Applications For Capacitive Prox Switches

Nearly any material presented to a capacitive prox will increase the capacitance that the sensor measures. For this reason, capacitive proxes are able to detect both metallic and non-metallic targets. Some applications for which capacitive prox sensors are well-suited include:

  • Sensing of non-metallic materials. This can include plastic, glass, liquids, biological matter, and more
  • Detection of a certain quantity or thickness of material
  • Liquid detection from the outside of the container

Like inductive sensors, capacitive sensor outputs can be NO, NC, or analog.

Comparison Between Inductive and Capacitive Proximity Sensors

While there are clear differences between the two types of sensors, there are similarities, as well. To start with what’s similar, let’s talk about the internals of inductive and capacitive prox switches:

Similarities Between Capacitive And Inductive Proxes

Many of the internal working principles of capacitive and inductive proxes are similar. Capacitive and inductive proxes are both typically fed by DC power. Because they need AC power for the sensor circuit, both types of proxes typically have “oscillators”. Oscillators are electronic circuits that generate AC power from a DC input. You can read more about oscillators in this write-up on Wikipedia.

Additionally, both types of sensors typically have a trigger circuit. Depending on the type of sensor, this circuit activates when the sensed signal passes either above or below a certain threshold.

Lastly, both types of sensors have an output circuit. This circuit switches the sensor’s output when the signal threshold is met. If the sensor is Normally Open, the sensor’s output will turn ON when it sees a part.

For Normally Closed sensors, the opposite is true. In other words, the output for Normally Closed sensors is on by default. When the prox sees a target, the output is turned off.

Other sensors on the market have analog outputs. Analog sensors provide a varying voltage or current output. For example, a sensor may provide an output ranging from 2 to 10 volts, DC. The output varies with how much of the sensor’s field is disturbed. In other words, the more the sensor detects the part, the greater its output value will be.

Form Factors

Another manner in which inductive and capacitive proxes are similar is the form factors in which they’re available. By “form factor”, I mean the physical shape and characteristics of the sensor. Among the sensors I see in use, the three most common form factors are shown below. (Images from Turck website):

  • “Barrel”:  

  • “Pancake”:  

  • “Ice Cube”:  

Among these, the “barrel” form factor is extremely common. In most cases, it won’t be possible to tell whether a sensor is inductive or capacitive just by looking at it. To determine which type of sensor you’re looking at, you will typically need to find the sensor’s part number and look it up online.

Difference Between Capacitive..
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I recently purchased an inexpensive LED light strip off Amazon. I picked up a battery-powered kit with an integrated motion sensor (click here for my review of the product itself). My plan was to line the inside of the door frame on my new linen closet with the light strip. This way, I could have a cool lighting solution that would turn on when you open the linen closet door. Plus, I wouldn’t have to run new wire through my walls. I wanted to extend the light strip in the center so that I would have enough lighting on each side of the door frame to illuminate all of the shelves within my closet. Follow along with me below and I’ll show you how to extend LED strip lights by cutting the strip and soldering in some wire.

Lay Out Your Light Strip Temporarily To See How It Will Look

After the package arrived with my LED light strip and controller, of course the first thing I did was put batteries in it and play around a bit. I temped the kit in around the inside of the door frame in my new linen closet. By “temped in”, I mean that I used Scotch tape to temporarily hang the strip so that I could see how it would look.

I had the strip’s controller on one side of the closet, then was running the strip up the door frame, around the top of the door frame, and then down the other side of the door frame. I found that running across the top of the frame as it was, the strip was just a little too short to illuminate the lowest shelf.

Temped on, I found that my LED strip light was almost – but not quite – long enough to get any light down to the bottom shelf.
Plan Your Modification

I decided at this point to extend the light strip to get the light where I wanted it. I wanted to modify the light strip by cutting it and adding enough wire to cross the top of the door frame. This way, I would take the excess light coverage away from the top shelf and ensure that all shelves were illuminated more or less equally.

If I modified the light by cutting it and bridging the gap with wire, I could light all of the shelves in the closet evenly.

If necessary, take the time to temp in your light strip to see how it fits. You can always hang it up with some Scotch tape and move it around if you don’t like where you’ve placed it. Once you peel off that backing paper, though, there’s no turning back. Try to get it right on the first shot by giving it a dry run. That way, you’ll see what you’ll have to do to end up with a job that looks the way you want it to look.

What I’m driving at is that the first step in the project is to determine where you will need to cut your LED light strip. Additionally, you’ll need to know how much wire you will want to solder in at each cut.

When you’re estimating how much wire you need, err on the side of cutting too much wire. You can always wrap up any extra and tuck it out of sight. It’s a lot harder to make 29″ of wire bridge a 30″ gap if you cut it too short.

Cut Your LED Strip Lights

The strip I was working with permitted a cut after every single LED section. Many LED strip lights can only be cut every third section or so. Chances are, an extra inch or half inch won’t make a tremendous difference in the final appearance of your lighting.

One way or the other, it’s typically very obvious where you should cut. You will most likely see a solid line in the middle of the copper pads at which you will make new electrical connections. Take care to make your cuts only at those points. If you cut somewhere other than the marked positions, you will likely disable some of the LED’s on the strip.

The LED strip I purchased allowed cuts after every LED. The black lines in the middle of the copper pads indicate the designated cut points.

Making the cut is extremely straightforward. Simply cut the strip at the designated line with a pair of scissors.

Solder In Wire To Extend The LED Light Strip

It bears mentioning that I did first try to secure my wire to the copper pads without soldering. With the strip I was using, I found that the copper pads were too fragile. Poking the wire through the pads caused them to tear. With the pads torn, I was unable to form a reliable electrical connection.

Remove The Clear Coating Above The Copper Pads

A good solder job will allow you to form a robust electrical connection between the strip and your wire. The first step is to remove the clear coating on top of the copper pads. I took a small paring knife and made a cut just inboard of the copper pads (close to the “-” and “+” symbols).

Use a knife to remove the coating above the copper pads.

I found that as I pressed down with the knife, firm pressure got me through the clear coating without cutting into the white backing. In that regard, the strip I used was pretty easy to cut without damaging. Once I had pushed down and cut the coating, I pressed the knife blade towards the cut end of the strip. This peeled up the 1/8″ or so of clear coating above the copper pads.

Get Ready To Solder Your Wire

Go ahead and gather your materials for soldering. Of course, you’ll need whatever wire you’ll be using to extend your LED light strip. I had some extra garage door safety sensor wire laying around that I thought was perfect. It’s small gauge wire, but has a solid, rigid single conductor instead of stranded wire. This made it very easy to solder to the small copper pads I’d just exposed on the cut ends of the LED light strips.

Because I’d temped in my LED strip light, I knew pretty precisely how long my wire needed to be. I used wire strippers to cut my wire to the desired length and then strip off a small amount of insulation from each end. I used a pair of scissors to cut between the two insulated wires on each end to separate them. Then, I stripped about 3/8″ of insulation or so, but that was mainly out of habit. In reality, you only need to strip a slightly larger length of wire than the width of your copper pad. Probably around 3/16″, maybe 1/4″.

I also like to use a 3rd hand tool. Depending on the situation, I’m not really sure how you would solder without one. After all, you have to hold the part, the wire, the solder, and the soldering iron – all at the same time. So, for a few bucks, a 3rd hand tool can be a big help for these types of jobs.

The LED strip positioned in the third hand tool.

Once you have all of your tools and materials ready, go ahead and heat up your soldering iron. I just used an inexpensive soldering iron that doesn’t have its own base, so I used an old metal pan to protect the table where I was working.

Solder The First Wire To The LED Light Strip

Now, it’s time to make the electrical connections. Using the third hand tool, I positioned the stripped end of the wire on top of the LED strip’s exposed copper pad. The wire I was using had white insulation with a red stripe on one of the two wires. I wanted to connect the wire with the red stripe to the “+” terminal. So, I positioned the wire without the red stripe on the copper pad labeled “-” and got started. I started with that wire because it was on the “back end” of the strip as I had it positioned. By working on the “far” wire first, it wouldn’t be in my way when I go to work on the second wire.

With the first wire in place on the copper pad, add solder to the copper pad. Make sure your joint is strong, both mechanically and electrically. Also make sure that you do not add so much solder that it electrically connects one copper pad to the other.

Make sure your solder joint connects the wire solidly to the copper pad, without making the joint too large.
Test Your Electrical Connection

After each solder joint, I like to test the connection electrically. If I messed up on the joint, I want to fix it now while everything is in position. I don’t want to solder the other wire on and then have it in my way when I realize that I have to fix my first connection.

To test the connection, I got out my multi-meter. With batteries in my LED light strip’s control module, I make sure the lights on the strip turn on. Voltage should be present at the + and – copper pads at the cut end of my terminal strip. For a “sanity check”, I first measure DC voltage at the copper pads to make sure my multi-meter is working. Then, I touch one multi-meter lead to the opposite end of the wire that I just soldered on, and the other multi-meter lead to the copper pad that I haven’t yet soldered. I should see approximately the same DC voltage reading on the multi-meter as when I measured the two pads directly.

How’d I Do?

If I see voltage between the pads, but not between the unsoldered pad and the opposite end of the wire I soldered on, or if I see a significantly reduced voltage, then my solder joint is no good and I need to try again. Hopefully you can just melt the solder and try to get a better joint. If you’ve damaged the copper pad beyond use, you can always cut back one more section and try again.

If I have good voltage, then I’m good. I can go ahead and solder the other wire onto the other copper terminal at the cut end of the LED light strip.

You want secure but reasonably sized solder joints on both terminals. As mentioned above, I connected the wire with the red stripe on its jacket to the + terminal.

Once you’ve made the second joint, check both electrical connections. With the LED light strip on, test for good DC voltage between the two wires on the opposite end of your wire..

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Ah, the old backup game. What could be more fun than taking backups for a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand robots? If you’re reading this, you probably know that there is something that’s a lot less fun than managing backups: not having a backup when you need one. Reprogramming a production robot from scratch – now that sounds like a pain. In this post, we’ll look at how to backup and restore a Fanuc R-30iB controller.

Contents of this post:

Types Of Fanuc Backups

Like many electronic controllers, the Fanuc R-30iB offers more than one possible backup method. The two common Fanuc backup solutions are referred to as “MD backups” and “image backups” (or “IMG backups”).

Fanuc MD Backups

MD backups preserve the “user-editable” portions of the controller. To be specific, MD backups record the contents of SRAM, which consists of the following:

  • Teach Pendant programs
  • Frames
  • Variables
  • Mastering
  • Menu settings
  • I/O configuration
  • and more

MD backups are not a complete controller backup. If you lose a main board or FROM/SRAM module, or otherwise have to completely reload your robot controller, an MD backup will not get you up and running by itself.

With that said, it would certainly be better than nothing. If you had a similar robot nearby, you could backup and restore an image from that robot. After doing so, you could restore your MD backup on top of the image. You would have a lot of work to do before you’d be out of the woods, and would be reteaching a lot of positions, but at least you’d have all of your programs.

When would you use a Fanuc MD backup?

While MD backups won’t fully restore a controller, they do have their distinct uses. I would say MD backups are most useful for two purposes:

  • Development and debug
  • Quickly restoring a single (or a few) teach pendant program(s)

In the shop where I work, a common use for MD backups is as reference material for debug and development. Robot programs that are stored in your MD backups can be viewed in a text editor, if you’ve saved your ASCII programs, or converted to readable forms with Fanuc utilities. If you’ve consolidated your backups onto one computer, you can use them to compare logic from similar applications or to borrow logic for new robot programs.

Additionally, MD backups can come in handy big-time if you have to revert to an earlier robot program.

For instance, let’s say the integrator on the previous shift moves a position to try to improve cycle time. During your shift, you find that the new position causes a portion of the robot dress to contact the part. If you have a copy of the MD backup on a thumb drive (or in PC File Services), you can quickly load your backed up version of just that one program.

Fanuc IMG Backups

An image backup is a complete image of the robot controller’s contents – both FROM and SRAM. If you have an image, you can fully restore the robot in the event of FROM/SRAM module or main board failure. An image stores everything that an MD backup stores, plus the robot’s core software, patches, and any software customizations that have been loaded for your facility.

Image backups are obviously the more complete backup solution. There’s no doubt about it – it is an absolute necessity to maintain an image backup for each and every robot, especially for production robots.

With that said, IMG backups do have one major drawback. Their contents are not easily read. As a result, they don’t offer the same value in reference and simplicity that’s found with MD backups. Images are all or nothing – their only use is to completely restore the controller.

A Final Thought On Fanuc Backup Types

You have to have images. There’s no getting around it unless you want to be teaching every point and doing a ton of config whenever you lose a main board or controller.

If you’re already visiting every robot in your facility to take image backups, it’s only a few more minutes per controller to take MD’s as well. You might as well perform both backup processes at each robot. You’ll get the images you need, plus the MD’s, which might just come in handy for development, debug, and partial restorations.

MD Backup and Restore Process on Fanuc R-30iB How To Perform a Fanuc MD Backup
  1. Obtain a thumb drive with plenty of room available:
    • A typical MD backup is around 10 MB, depending on your robot programs and other content
  2. Insert the thumb drive into either the USB port in the black door on the controller (UD1:) or the USB port on the right side of the teach pendant (UT1:)
  3. On the TP, press the MENU button then select File -> File
  4. On the FILE menu, press F5 [UTIL]. If [UTIL] is not shown above F5, press NEXT until [UTIL] is shown and then press F5
  5. Select Set Device
  6. Select either USB Disk (UD1:) or USB on TP (UT1:), depending on where you inserted your thumb drive
  7. Press F5 [UTIL] again and select Make DIR
  8. Enter a new directory name that will help you remember which robot you’ve backed up. I like to use the Upper Case input method (like my old Nokia flip phone)
  9. Once you have made your new directory, you should be taken there. The directory listed on the top line should be UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-NEW-DIR}\*.*
  10. Press F4 [BACKUP]
  11. Select All of above
  12. You will be prompted to “Delete UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-NEW-DIR}\ and backup all files?”. Press F4 YES
  13. The MD backup will commence. Typical backup time is ~2-3 minutes, depending on the contents of your robot
Backing Up ASCII Programs

If you would like to save the ASCII (human-readable) versions of the robot programs as well, then, without leaving your thumb drive directory in the FILE menu:

  1. Press F4 [BACKUP]
  2. Select ASCII programs
  3. You will be prompted to “Save UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-NEW-DIR}\{PROGRAM-NAME}.LS?”. Press F3 ALL
  4. The ASCII program backup will commence. Typical backup time is ~2 minutes, depending on the contents of your robot programs
How To Restore From a Fanuc MD Backup
  1. Obtain a thumb drive with a previous MD backup for the robot you’re working on
  2. Insert the thumb drive into either the USB port in the black door on the controller (UD1:) or the USB port on the right side of the teach pendant (UT1:)
  3. Perform a Controlled Start:
    1. Cycle power to the controller
    2. As soon as the robot starts to power back up, hold PREV and NEXT on the teach pendant to be taken to the Configuration Menu
    3. Type 3 and press ENTER to initiate a Controlled Start
  4. Once the teach pendant boots back up, press the MENU button then select File -> File
  5. On the FILE menu, press F5 [UTIL]. If [UTIL] is not shown above F5, press NEXT until [UTIL] is shown and then press F5
  6. Select Set Device
  7. Select either USB Disk (UD1:) or USB on TP (UT1:), depending on where you inserted your thumb drive
  8. Navigate to the directory in which your MD backup is stored. If no files or directories are shown, you will have to press ENTER on (* * (all files)) to see the thumb drive’s contents
  9. If [RESTOR] is not shown above F4, press FCTN, then select RESTORE/BACKUP to toggle between restore and backup
  10. Press F4 [RESTOR]
  11. Select the type of restore action that you want:
    1. System files (system variables, servo parameter data, and mastering data)
    2. TP programs (.TP, .DF, and .MN files)
    3. Application (“Non-program application files”. If you know what this means, let me know in the comments.)
    4. Applic.-TP (All of the above, except system files)
    5. Vision data
    6. All of above
  12. You will be prompted with “Restore from UT1: (or UD1:\) (OVERWRT)?”. Press F4 YES
  13. The TP will show “Accessing device. PREV to exit.” for about 30-60 seconds, then the restore will commence. Once it begins, typical restore time is ~2-6 minutes, depending on the contents of your robot
  14. As many files as possible will be restored. Once the restore is complete, you will need to perform a Cold Start:
    1. Press FCTN
    2. Select START (COLD)
Restoring a Single Robot Program From a Fanuc MD Backup
  1. Make sure that the file you want to restore is not currently being edited
  2. Obtain a thumb drive with a previous MD backup for the robot you’re working on
  3. Insert the thumb drive into either the USB port in the black door on the controller (UD1:) or the USB port on the right side of the teach pendant (UT1:)
  4. On the TP, press the MENU button then select File -> File
  5. On the FILE menu, press F5 [UTIL]. If [UTIL] is not shown above F5, press NEXT until [UTIL] is shown and then press F5
  6. Select Set Device
  7. Select either USB Disk (UD1:) or USB on TP (UT1:), depending on where you inserted your thumb drive
  8. Navigate to the directory in which your MD backup is stored. If no files or directories are shown, you will have to press ENTER on (* * (all files)) to see the thumb drive’s contents.
  9. Find the {PROGRAM-NAME}.TP program that you would like to restore. Scroll down so that the name of that program is highlighted.
  10. With the program name highlighted, press F3 LOAD
  11. Press F4 YES
  12. If it’s an existing program, you will be prompted with “UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-BACKUP-DIR}\{PROGRAM-NAME}.TP already exists”. Press F3 OVERWRITE
  13. The restore will commence. Once it does, it should only take a few seconds, and you should see “Loaded UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-BACKUP-DIR}\{PROGRAM-NAME}.TP” when the restore is complete.
IMG Backup and Restore Process on Fanuc R-30iB How To Make An IMG Backup
  1. Obtain a thumb drive with plenty of room available:
    • A typical IMG is around 64 or 128 MB, depending on your robot model
  2. Insert the thumb drive into either the USB port in the black door on the controller (UD1:) or the USB port on the right side of the teach pendant (UT1:)
  3. On the TP, press the MENU button then select File -> File
  4. On the FILE menu, press F5 [UTIL]. If [UTIL] is not shown above F5, press NEXT until [UTIL] is shown and then press F5
  5. Select Set Device
  6. Select either USB Disk (UD1:) or USB on TP (UT1:), depending on where you inserted your thumb drive
  7. Press F5 [UTIL] again and select Make DIR
  8. Enter a new directory name that will help you remember which robot you’ve backed up. I like to use the Upper Case input method (like my old Nokia flip phone)
  9. Once you have made your new directory, you should be taken there. The directory listed on the top line should be UT1:\ (or UD1:\) {YOUR-NEW-DIR}\*.*
  10. Place the robot in Teach
  11. Once in Teach, press F4 [BACKUP]. Hit the right arrow button to go to the second menu page and select Image backup
  12. On the Desination device menu that pops up, select Current Directory
  13. You will be prompted to “Cycle power?”. Press F4 OK
  14. The robot will restart and the image backup will begin
  15. The Fanuc image backup process takes about 4-5 minutes and then the robot will start back up
  16. If you’re taking backups of many robots, it goes a lot quicker if you get about 5 thumb drives per person and perform multiple backups at the same time
How To Restore An IMG Backup
  1. Obtain a thumb drive with a previous IMG backup for the robot you’re working on
  2. Insert the thumb drive into either the USB port in the black door on the controller (UD1:) or the USB port on the right side of the teach pendant (UT1:)
  3. Restart the robot and load the Boot Monitor:
    1. Cycle power to the controller
    2. As soon as the robot starts to power back up, hold F1 and F5 on the teach pendant to enter the Boot Monitor menu
  4. Type 4 and press ENTER to go to the Controller backup/restore menu
  5. On the Controller backup/restore menu, type 3 and press ENTER to select Restore Controller Images
  6. Type the appropriate number to select your device (UD1: or UT1:) and press ENTER
  7. Type the appropriate number to select the directory in which your IMG backups are stored, or type 0 for the next listing of directories or -1 for the previous listing of directories, and press ENTER
  8. Once you are in the appropriate directory, type 1 for OK (Current Directory) and press ENTER
  9. Make sure the FROM and SRAM images are the appropriate size (64Mb and 2Mb respectively for the controller model I was using). If everything looks good, type 1 and press ENTER
  10. The restore process will begin. Once initiated, the Fanuc image restore process takes about 5 minutes
  11. When the restore is complete, you will be prompted with “Press ENTER to return >”. Press ENTER
  12. Type 1 for Configuration menu and press ENTER
  13. Once the Configuration menu loads, type 2 for Cold start and press ENTER
  14. After the robot restarts, check for mastering errors. Correct any errors
  15. Validate that robot program positions have not changed. Reteach positions as necessary
I hope this helps!

I hope this is helpful for you. For more automation content, plug in your email address below and I’ll let you know whenever I have something new for you. Thanks for reading and happy robot programming!

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The post How To Backup And Restore A Fanuc R-30iB appeared first on SkylerH.

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When you write logic in a PLC that initiates motion, you want to be certain that the motion you are expecting actually occurs. This is where sensors come into play. Sensors provide indication to the PLC, robot, or other controller that some physical event has taken place. As examples, sensors may detect that a part is present, that a part is not present, that an actuator is in a certain position, that a lift is lowered or raised, that a door is open or closed, or that a spring-returned component is a certain distance away. Proximity sensors are a specific subset of sensors in general. In this article, we’ll look at some of the many different types of proximity sensors that are used in industrial automation.

Contents of this post:

What Is A Proximity Sensor?
A “barrel prox“; a type of proximity sensor that threads into a tapped hole. Sensors of this type are triggered when an object of a certain material (depending on the sensor’s detection mechanism) is nearby the sensor. The sensor shown is an inductive barrel prox, which is a common type of proximity sensor utilized in industrial automation.

Proximity sensors – sometimes referred to as proximity switches – are sensors that are used in industrial automation and other applications. What distinguishes them from other sensors is that they can sense objects without having to touch them. Because they don’t have to physically interact with the objects they detect, proximity sensors often have no moving parts. If you don’t already know, solid-state devices – devices that have no moving parts – often last much longer than devices which have to move to do their job. Wikipedia sums this up as follows:

A proximity sensor is a sensor able to detect the presence of nearby objects without any physical contact.

Proximity sensors can have a high reliability and long functional life because of the absence of mechanical parts and lack of physical contact between the sensor and the sensed object.

Wikipedia article on Proximity sensors
Advantages Of Solid-State Proximity Sensors

For the reasons above, proximity sensors are very popular in industrial automation. Other types of sensors, such as limit switches, require contact with the part.

Because they have to contact the part, limit switches require moving components. Because they have moving components, they may fail much sooner than a non-contact proximity sensor. For this reason, limit switches and other sensors that require internal motion are becoming less and less common.

An Allen Bradley limit switch. This switch is an example of a sensor that requires contact with the part and is thus subject to failure modes resulting from its own internal motion.
Proximity Sensor Types

The zoo of sensors on the market is quite diverse. Although there are other, more obscure sensors out there, I want to go over the types of proximity switches that I see most commonly used in industrial automation:

Inductive Proximity Sensors
An inductive proximity sensor manufactured by Turck. The flat, rectangular form factor lends this style the moniker: “pancake prox.” This is one example of an inductive proximity sensor. The barrel prox shown at the top of this article is another.

In industrial automation, inductive proximity sensors are one of the most common types of proxes. Inductive proximity sensors have a coil inside of them. The coil and body of the prox are designed to generate an electromagnetic field at the face of the prox. When a target is presented within the prox’s sensing range, the electromagnetic field is dampened. Once this dampening exceeds a certain threshold, the state of the output changes.

I felt a great disturbance in the force

Obi-Wan Kenobi, and inductive proximity sensors

The state of the output changes based on whether you’re using a “Normally Open” or “Normally Closed” sensor. Normally Open (or “NO”, or “N.O.”) sensors have outputs that are normally OFF (“open”). A NO sensor’s output turns ON when the sensor detects its target.

Similarly, Normally Closed sensor outputs are normally ON (“closed”). When an NC sensor sees a target, its output turns OFF. You can read much more about the concepts of NO and NC here.

The sensors above (NO and NC) are referred to as digital sensors. Digital, in this context, refers to the fact that the sensor’s output is either ON or OFF. In addition to digital sensors, there are analog sensors.

Analog sensors provide feedback as a variable voltage or current output. As the sensor’s target moves closer or further, the output signal increases or decreases. Using an analog sensor, you’re able to tell not just that the part is present, but also how far away the part is.

Inductive Prox Applications

Because inductive proximity sensors utilize electromagnetic fields, they can only detect metallic objects. Within the domain of metallic objects, inductive proximity sensors respond differently to different metals. As sensors in this family have evolved, you can now purchase sensors that respond more sensitively to ferrous metals (such as iron and steel), nonferrous metals (such as aluminum), or sensors that respond to a variety of metals approximately equally.

Turck’s uprox factor 1 sensor has been the standard in the automotive sector for twenty years. The same large switching distances for all metals, weld field immunity and a large degree of mounting flexibility are the key benefits of these inductive sensors without a ferrite core.

From “Smart Switches“, a Turck publication describing their family of inductive proxes that sense different metals equally

The fact that inductive sensors only sense metal objects can be of benefit in many applications. As non-metallic contaminants will be less likely to trigger an inductive sensor, sensors of this type are tolerant of dirt and moisture build-up. For this reason, they’re the go-to choice for detection of metallic components.

Learn More About Inductive Proximity Sensors Capacitive Proximity Sensors
A capacitive proximity sensor. Note that this prox has the same “barrel” form factor as the inductive sensor shown at the very top of this page. This capacitive sensor’s threads and face are blue, but the coloring is not indicative of whether the prox is inductive or capacitive. You would need to look up the sensor’s part number to determine its sensing type.

Outwardly, capacitive proxes can be quite similar to inductive proxes. The two types are often available in the same form factors. Where capacitive proximity sensors differ from inductive proxes is in the sensing mechanism. Capacitive proxes work as capacitors. There is an energized metallic plate in the face of a capacitive prox. This plate serves as one side of the capacitor, with the prox’s target serving as the other side.

When a capacitive sensor is exposed to open air, the measured capacitance is low. As an object approaches the prox’s sensing area, the capacitance increases until a threshold is met and the output is set. Like inductive sensors, many capacitive sensors are wired as NO or NC digital sensors, or alternatively as analog sensors.

Capacitive Prox Applications

Whereas inductive sensors generate electromagnetic fields, capacitive sensors generate electrostatic fields. Capacitive sensors are an interesting type of proximity sensor used in manufacturing. Because capacitive sensors detect changes in the capacitance of the field they generate, they have the special property of being able to detect non-conductive materials. Due to this attribute, capacitive proxes can detect plastic, glass, water or other liquids, biological materials, and more.

In fact, capacitive proxes are often used as liquid or solid level detection sensors. Because the sensitivity of many capacitive proxes is adjustable, these sensors can be set up to read the presence or absence of a material through the material’s container.

Learn More About Capacitive Proximity Sensors Magnetic (Hall Effect) Proximity Sensors

A magnetic (Hall Effect) proximity sensor. Note that, like inductive and capacitive sensors, magnetic sensors are also available in the barrel form factor, and that the color of the face or threads is no indication of whether the prox is inductive, capacitive, or magnetic. You would need to look up the part number to determine the prox’s detection mechanism.

Magnetic, or “Hall Effect,” proximity sensors are triggered by magnets. As illustrated in the image above, magnetic sensors are available in the barrel form factor, among others. Hopefully you have seen by now that you cannot assume a sensor’s type by its form factor. When buying or “spec’ing” a prox for your company or application, you have to research the part number to be sure of what you’re buying.

Humanity has known of the Hall Effect since the 19th century. Hall Effect switches have been in use since at least the 1970’s. Modern Hall Effect sensors detect the presence and distance of a permanent magnet. With the right setup, magnetic sensors can also detect ferrous metals.

Like inductive and capacitive proxes, magnetic sensors can provide either digital or analog outputs. Digital outputs are either on or off, whereas analog outputs provide a variable voltage or current based on how far the part is from the sensor.

“Reed sensors” bear mentioning in this space. Reed sensors are in many ways equivalent to the solid-state Hall Effect sensor, except that reed sensors have tiny parts inside that move. Because reed switches function very similarly, but have moving parts, I’ve chosen to limit the conversation to Hall Effect sensors.

Magnetic Sensor Applications In Industrial Automation

Magnetic sensors are very common and have many applications across industries – from automotive to aerospace engineering. Within industrial automation specifically, there are several prominent applications for magnetic sensors.

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Been thinking about picking up an Amazon Fire TV Cube? Now’s the time! With Amazon’s Easter Deals, you can get $40 off – a 33% discount! Click the banner below for your Amazon Fire TV Cube deal:

Amazon Fire TV Cube is a streaming media player (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Sling, HBONow, etc.) that interfaces with your home entertainment system. Your Cube can be controlled with its remote, or hands-free with Alexa. It even integrates with your smart home devices – you can, for instance, ask Alexa to show you your security camera feeds, or set the temperature on your thermostat.

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Amazon Fire TV Cube

The post Amazon Fire TV Cube Deal – Click Here For 33% Off! appeared first on Skyler H.

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In this article, we’ll discuss atomic data types in Rockwell Automation’s RSLogix 5000. Atomic data types are the predefined data types that form the backbone of RSLogix 5000’s memory structures. These data types are inherent to RSLogix 5000 and will be utilized by many of its native instructions.

RSLogix 5000 supports the following IEC 61131-3 atomic data types:

Below, I’ll go over each of these data types. Further down the page, we’ll go past the basics by looking at memory utilization and programming practices. Let’s start by looking at RSLogix 5000’s simplest atomic data type, a BOOL.

Atomic Data Types BOOL
Bits of Data1
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag32
Possible Range of Values0 to 1

A Boolean tag can hold one of two possible values: a 1 or a 0. Booleans are useful for storing states that are either true or false, light or dark, on or off, etc. Booleans are perhaps the most-used data type, representing not only real world inputs and outputs (proximity sensor made or not made, valve output on or not on, etc.), but also various status conditions in the PLC (process 1 complete, next unit data available, etc.).

What does “stand-alone tag” mean?

By “stand-alone tag”, I mean a tag that is not part of a UDT or other structure.

For example: I go to Controller Tags and click the Edit Tags tab. Then, on the very bottom row, I type New_Boolean for Name and BOOL for Data Type. The New_Boolean tag would be an example of a “stand-alone tag” of type BOOL.

Programmable Logic Controllers that are compatible with RSLogix 5000 use 32-bit memory allocation. As a result, even though it only requires one bit to represent a Boolean value, a stand-alone tag that is defined as data type BOOL will still take up 32 bits in memory.

I’m not saying that you should never use BOOL’s, and in fact, you’ll surely use many, many BOOL’s. But there are ways to economize your memory usage if you’re going to use many Boolean tags in the same chunk of logic. You should consider doing so, especially if you’re writing logic that will be reused over multiple devices or applications. We’ll cover memory economization further down the page.

Bits of Data8
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag32
Possible Range of Values-128 to 127

A tag of data type Single Integer, or SINT, stores 8 bits of information. Because SINT’s hold signed values, a SINT tag can hold values from -128 to +127. A SINT may be useful for storing integers with small possible values, such as robot program calls, small counter values, etc.

The 32-bit rule applies for stand-alone SINT tags as well. Even though SINT’s hold only 8 bits of information, 32 bits of memory are nonetheless allocated for a stand-alone SINT tag.

Bits of Data16
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag32
Possible Range of Values-32,768 to 32,767

A tag of data type Integer, or INT, stores 16 bits of information. INT’s also hold signed values, and so a tag of type INT can hold values from -32,768 to +32,767. An INT may be useful for storing larger but still not gigantic integer values, such as encoder counts, total events since some infrequent reset, minute of the day, etc.

I bet you’ve picked up the pattern by now. Despite the fact that you only need 16 bits to store an INT value, 32 bits will still be allocated to a stand-alone tag of type INT.

Bits of Data32
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag32
Possible Range of Values-2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647

A Double Integer, or DINT, stores 32 bits (one “word”) of information. Like SINT’s and INT’s, DINT’s hold signed values. A tag of type DINT can hold values ranging from -2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647. DINT’s are a bit paradoxical, as it’s uncommon (in my experience) to need to store an integer with a value in the multi-millions. Nonetheless, because the size of a DINT matches the size of the memory allocated for a stand-alone tag, DINT’s are very, very commonly used when programming in RSLogix 5000.

Bits of Data32
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag32
Possible Range of Values-3.4028234738 to 3.4028234738 (see below)

Unlike the other data types we’ve looked at, which only store integer values, tags of data type REAL store signed, 32-bit floating-point decimal values. A tag of type REAL can hold values ranging from -3.4028234738 to -1.17549435-38, 0, and from 1.17549435-38 to 3.4028234738.

As you can see, REAL’s can represent some very large and some very small numbers, but they do so at reduced precision when compared to a DINT. In addition to the smaller number of significant digits, there is another factor to consider when using REAL’s.

Some decimal values must be approximated

BOOL’s, SINT’s, INT’s, and DINT’s all represent integer values. In binary, integer values can be represented precisely. In other words, when you store 255 in a DINT tag, the PLC stores a value at that address that represents 255 exactly. REAL’s, on the other hand, represent floating-point decimals. Just as 1/3 cannot be represented precisely in decimal (1/3 becomes 0.33333…), many decimal values cannot be represented precisely with floating-point data types. Because math.

Even the value 0.1, which seems like such an innocent number, can be very troublesome when you attempt to represent it in binary. The necessity of approximating decimal values can sometimes lead to unexpected or unwanted behavior.

Will this prevent you from using REAL’s? No; from time to time, it will be necessary to use REAL’s in your logic. There are some considerations to make when doing so, however, and sometimes it may be better to avoid them if possible. To learn more about floating-point decimal data types, head to the additional information section at the bottom of the page.

Special-Use Atomic Data Type: LINT
Bits of Data64
Bits Reserved for Stand-Alone Tag64
Possible Range of ValuesDate and Time information (see below)

Long Integers, or LINT’s, store 64 bits (two words) of information. LINT’s are not always listed when discussing atomic data types, but Rockwell Automation considers them to be “Special-Use” atomic data types. Rockwell typically discusses them in the same literature as the others.

LINT tags are used for Date and Time information and, per the Rockwell literature, represent the following:

Valid Date/Time range is from 1/1/1970 12:00:00 AM coordinated universal time (UTC) to 1/1/3000 12:00:00 AM UTC.

From Logix5000 Controllers Design Considerations

Native RSLogix 5000 instructions provide limited support for LINT’s. Although they are an option, there are other ways to represent date and time information that don’t get into some of the messiness that can result from using LINT’s.

Summary of RSLogix 5000’s Atomic Data Types

Here’s a nifty summary from Rockwell Automation’s Logix5000 Controllers Design Considerations document:

Deciding Which RSLogix 5000 Atomic Data Types To Use Choosing Atomic Data Types For Stand-Alone Tags

Let me cut to the chase: when creating stand-alone tags, use DINT’s and BOOL’s. To perform operations on smaller integer data types, the PLC has to first convert them into DINT’s, do the operation, then convert them back to their original data type. DINT’s don’t just use less memory per useful bit; they’re actually faster, as you can see in the Rockwell guidelines below. So don’t be silly. Use DINT’s.

Like SINT’s and INT’s, BOOL’s are also memory-wasters, in that you’re only getting 1-bit’s usage out of 32 bits in memory. Nonetheless, for stand-alone tags, I say that you should still feel OK to use BOOL’s as they can potentially make your logic more readable. With that said, if memory is at all a concern, you should instead use DINT’s or arrays of DINT’s and allocate individual bits to your Boolean operations. If you do this, you’ll want to make sure you use good descriptions for the various bits you assign.

An example of BOOL vs DINT

To illustrate what I’m saying above, let me show you the same logic using BOOL tags and using bits from a DINT. Here’s with BOOL’s:

Both instructions reference tags of type BOOL

Here’s the same logic if I need to consolidate my stand-alone BOOL tags into bits off of a DINT:

Both instructions reference specific bits from the same tag of type DINT

The difference is that instead of creating two tags of type BOOL, I created a single tag of type DINT. I can then reference any of the 32 bits available in that DINT by using [tag name].0 through [tag name].31. My two BOOL’s would occupy 64 bits in memory, whereas the DINT requires only 32 bits. Furthermore, I have 30 more bits available off of the DINT. If I instead defined 30 additional BOOL’s, I would occupy 30 x 32 additional bits in memory.

Decriptions are key if using DINT’s

If you do use bits off of a DINT as Booleans, it is very important that you provide good descriptions for each bit. In the example, I provide the “Process Output Conditions Met” and “Turn On The Process Output” descriptions for the specific bits: Process_Output_Bits.0 and Process_Output_Bits.1. If I didn’t take the time to provide descriptions, I would have no idea what those bits represent.

On the other hand, with the BOOL tags we defined in the first example (Process_Output_Trigger and Process_Output), the tag names themselves served as pretty specific documentation for what the bits represent.

In summary, the decision between using BOOL tags and referencing specific bits off of a DINT tag is a decision between readability for humans and reducing wasteful allocation of memory. For many projects, throwing in a few Boolean tags probably won’t be the end of the world.

Now, with all of that said, there will surely be exceptions. For example, Rockwell’s documentation states that you may need to use SINT or INT tags ” when communicating with an external device that does not support DINT values”. In such cases, you may have to go with what works and not worry about the overhead. There is, however, a case where you can use BOOL, SINT, and INT tags without wasting memory. We’ll cover that case below.

Choosing Atomic Data Types In RSLogix 5000 For User-Defined Data Types (UDT’s)

Within User-Defined Data Types, you have the ability to consolidate bits (and save memory) without sacrificing descriptive tag names. In other words, if you do it right, you can define BOOL, SINT, or INT tags within a UDT without wasting (as much) memory as you would with stand-alone tags. Let’s take a look.

Within a UDT, consecutive elements of the same data type will be packaged within the same 32-bit address in memory. If you have a UDT with 32 BOOL tags, the size of the UDT will be 4 bytes (32 bits):

Similarly, if you have a UDT with 1 DINT followed by 4 SINT’s and then 32 BOOL’s, the UDT’s size is 12 bytes (96 bits):

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If you’ve been reading this blog, you know by now that I’m an Iris survivor. After making my choice for home automation systems that I would use to replace Iris, I’m working on getting everything set up. (I chose the Samsung SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit, btw). While most of my Iris devices were not compatible with my new home automation kit, one device I was very eager to dust back off was my Iris Smart Thermostat (Radio Thermostat CT101, a variant of this product). Unfortunately, I ran into some problems pairing my thermostat with my new SmartThings hub.

The SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit I purchased came with a SmartThings gen 2 hub. Everything I’d read said that I should be able to pair the CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat with the gen 2 SmartThings hub. It was definitely a frustrating experience to watch that MATE indication blink endlessly while SmartThings’ blue circle spun fruitlessly on my Android phone!

How I initially tried to get my CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat to pair with my SmartThings hub

I initially went through the complete installation procedure that I found in a PDF on Lowe’s website. The installation guide steps you through the complete process of setting up your thermostat to control your HVAC system.

After working through the installation procedure, I attempted to add the device in my SmartThings Classic app. As mentioned above, all I got was a lot of blue circle action with no device found.

It was at this point that I began, ever so slightly, to panic. I realized that I had never unpaired my thermostat from my previous Iris setup. Did I brick this thermostat? Is it because I have a 4-wire HVAC system with no C wire? What a lousy state of limbo I was in.

I got back into the installation PDF and looked through each page, hoping to have missed the magic instructions that would allow me to link my thermostat with my new SmartThings controller. I did find that once you finish the installation process, it refers you to the operations guide (also on the Lowe’s website):

I felt like this guide was really on my side.

What an inspiring message! I figure: ok, I’ll find what I’m missing in the operations guide. So, I read through the operations guide and find the following heading:

“Communicating Thermostat”

Communicating thermostat! That’s exactly what I want! Unfortunately, though, I did not find any information on resetting my thermostat’s network settings or linking it to a new Z-Wave network. I only find some information on removaling the thermostat from an existing Iris setup. Yeah, that’s right, I said removaling:

If only I’d removaled it from Iris previously

So, here I was, with my wireless thermostat only working as a wired thermostat. At this point, I had dismounted my CT101 from its wall plate and brought it immediately next to my SmartThings hub in the hope that it was simply too far away on the wall to pair.

No dice. So, time to hit the forums. I found some info on the SmartThings Community pages that helped me to piece together my CT101 Smart Thermostat puzzle.

Understanding the indication on your CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat menu

One clue for me was that the LINK indication was being shown beneath the radio icon in my CT101 menu. If you hit the MENU button, there is a little radio tower icon on the mid left of the screen:

The image above is copied from the operations guide. I’m not sure where the little “2” in the guide comes from. On my CT101, I only see a 1.

Here’s what this icon is telling you:

  • As far as I can tell, the LINK indication is shown when the CT101 thinks it’s set up on a Z-Wave network
  • The MATE indication flashes if the device is in pairing mode

On my thermostat, the LINK indication was being shown. Because I never unpaired this device from Iris, the smart thermostat was still set up for its previous network. From what I’d read in the forums, I believed I needed to first exclude my device from my SmartThings network before attempting to pair it.

Excluding a Z-Wave device from your SmartThings network

I’d read several SmartThings Community posts that led me to believe that, before I could pair my CT101 with SmartThings, I would need to first “exclude” my thermostat to snap it out of its previous network settings. One of the forum posts provided a link to Samsung’s guide for general Z-Wave device exclusion from your SmartThings network.

I followed the simple steps in that guide to get my SmartThings hub to try to exclude my thermostat. The steps (for the SmartThings Classic app) are, per the Samsung guide, as follows:

  • Tap the menu icon
  • Next, tap the hub (where it says “Hub is Online”)
  • Tap Z-Wave Utilities
  • Then, tap General Device Exclusion
  • Then click Remove

The SmartThings hub will now go into exclusion mode. The next step is to “follow manufacturer’s instructions” on your device to perform the exclusion process. Erm. I tried putting the smart thermostat in pairing mode (MENU -> MATE), but nothing happened. So, I went back to the Samsung forums.

How to put your CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat into exclusion mode

Here is what I had to do:

  • Take off the upper plastic cover on the smart thermostat that conceals the wire terminals
  • Reset the CT101 using the little switch to the left of the wire terminals
  • When it comes back up, hit MENU -> MATE -> MATE (hit MATE twice)

I still had my Iris Smart Thermostat immediately next to my SmartThings hub. After following the steps above, my thermostat pretty much immediately flashed its LED’s and the LINK indication disappeared.

Pairing your CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat with your Samsung SmartThings hub

Now, finally, the pieces were in place. With my thermostat still next to my gen 2 Smart Things hub, I went back into my SmartThings Classic app. I set the app to add a device and then hit MENU -> MATE on my CT101.

Still nothing! At this point, I reset my smart thermostat (using the switch next to the wire terminals) and then attempted to put it in pairing mode again by hitting MENU -> MATE.


If you are having trouble pairing your smart thermostat with your SmartThings hub, I hope that this process will help you to resolve your issue. If it doesn’t, please let me know in the comments below. I’d also love to hear from you if you’ve had to work through the same problem with a gen 1 or gen 3 hub – or if it’s any different on the iPhone app.

Thank you for reading!

I truly hope this article helped. If it did, and you’re interested in seeing similar content in the future, sign up for my newsletter!

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More info

Here were some of the SmartThings Community posts that helped me to figure this out:

The post Can’t Get Your CT101 Iris Smart Thermostat To Pair With SmartThings? appeared first on Skyler H.

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