Inductive sensor: what it is, how it works, and what it is for

inductive sensor

Maybe you didn't know him, or maybe you did. In any case, here we will try to show you something more about inductive sensor, a very interesting component for your electronics projects, providing new functions with this new component that we added to the list of electronic components which we have already discussed previously.

You will be able to learn what this inductive sensor is, how it works, what it is for, etc. This way, you can start including it in your future DIY projects…

What is an inductive sensor?

Un Inductive sensor is an electronic device that detects the presence of metal objects without the need for physical contact. They work according to the principle of electromagnetic induction, generating an oscillating magnetic field around their internal coil.

When a metallic object approaches this field, Eddy currents are generatedt in it, which in turn induces an opposite magnetic field that modifies the inductance of the sensor coil. This variation in inductance is translated into an electrical signal that indicates the presence of the metallic object.

When we talked about the transformer I already made an introduction about it, but if you don't remember, eddy currents, also known as eddy currents, eddy currents or turbillon currents, are an electrical phenomenon discovered by the French physicist Léon Foucault in 1851. They occur when a conductor is in a changing magnetic field, or when the conductor moves in a magnetic field.

Change in the magnetic field or relative motion causes a circulation of electrons, or induced current, inside the driver. These circular eddy currents create electromagnets with magnetic fields that oppose the effect of the applied magnetic field (see Lenz's Law). The stronger the applied magnetic field, or the greater the conductivity of the conductor, or the greater the relative speed of movement, the greater the eddy currents and opposing fields generated...

Advantages and limitations

Thanks to They only detect metal objects, can be a fantastic alternative to presence sensors that detect all types of objects. In this way, it will only generate an output when it detects something metallic, and not with the presence of any other object... In addition, it has other advantages:

  • Without physical contact: They do not require physical contact with the detected object, making them ideal for applications where contact could damage the object or sensor.
  • High precision and reliability: provide accurate and reliable detection of metal objects.
  • Long useful life: They are robust devices that can withstand adverse environmental conditions.
  • Easy installation and maintenance: They are easy to install and maintain.

However, there are also some limitations:

  • They only detect metals: They can only detect metal objects.
  • Limited range: The detection range is limited by the size and shape of the coil.
  • Sensitivity to electromagnetic interference: They may be sensitive to electromagnetic interference from other devices.

Inductive Sensor Components

Regarding the components or inductive sensor parts, the following must be cited:

  • Coil: serves to generate the oscillating magnetic field and is the main element that detects inductance variations.
  • Oscillator circuit: produces the alternating current that powers the coil and processes the inductance signals to generate the output signal.
  • Starting Line: It can be analog or digital, depending on the type of sensor. The exit signal indicates the presence or absence of the metal object, and in some cases, its distance or speed.
  • housing- Protects internal components and provides a mounting means for the sensor.

Types of inductive sensors

There are also several types of inductive sensors that you should know, like:

  • Cylindrical: They are the most common and are used in a wide variety of applications.
  • Rectangular: They offer a larger detection area and are useful for detecting large or irregular objects.
  • Flush: They mount flush to the sensing surface, making them ideal for applications with limited space.
  • Of slot: They are used to detect objects passing through a slot or opening.

Possible applications

As for the possible applications of an inductive sensor, we can mention some such as:

  • Presence detection: to detect the presence of metal parts in production lines, conveyor belts and machinery.
  • Position control: They are used to control the position of moving metal objects.
  • Piece count: to count metal pieces that pass through a specific point.
  • Industrial Security: to protect workers from dangerous machinery areas.
  • Industrial automation: They are used in a wide variety of industrial automation processes.

How to choose a suitable inductive sensor and where to buy

When you go to choose a suitable inductive sensor, You should pay attention to several technical characteristics on which its operation will depend:

  • Detection range: is the distance at which the sensor can detect a metal object.
  • Oscillation frequency: determines the frequency of the alternating current that powers the coil.
  • Detectable object size- The minimum size of a metal object that the sensor can detect.
  • Detectable object material: is the type of metal that the sensor can detect.
  • Departure from: type of output signal (analog or digital) and voltage or current range. This is important for your project, depending on what other elements you are going to combine it with (microcontrollers, development boards,...).
  • Temperature resistance: is the maximum temperature at which the sensor can operate without damage.
  • Degree of protection: refers to the level of protection of the sensor against dust, humidity and other external agents.

You can find inductive sensor models for your projects of maker in specialized stores, but also on platforms such as Aliexpress, Amazon, eBay, etc. Here we recommend some models:

Do they need maintenance?

Lastly, and no less important, you should know that the inductive sensors require maintenance preventive to ensure its correct functioning and extend its useful life. Although they are robust and reliable devices, exposure to environmental factors and continuous use can affect their performance over time.

  • For proper maintenance, you should clean the external dirt that may be accumulating, such as dust, grease residue, among others. In this way, it will continue to maintain its sensitivity and detection accuracy. You can simply use a clean, dry microfiber cloth, or use compressed air. But never use chemicals such as detergents, solvents, grease removers, etc., as they could damage it. The casing protects the rest of the components, and it is important to treat it well to avoid breakage, corrosion, etc.
  • Always consult the datasheet of the device you have purchased to see if it requires calibration, and the ranges of temperature, voltage, etc., with which it can work safely.

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