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How do I choose the right sensor?

Selecting an industrial sensor can be a daunting task. With so many different sensing
technologies and the endless variety of products in the market, how is it possible to find that
one ideal sensor for any given application?

Turns out, it’s not really so much a process of selecting the right sensor…it’s really
about eliminating all the wrong choices. Selecting a sensor is a process of asking a series
of questions to eliminate any technology or product that doesn’t fit the application
requirements. For example:

1) Type of Sensing Am I sensing a process parameter (e.g. temperature, pressure, flow), the
presence of an object, the distance to a target, or the position of a mechanism? Let’s say I
want to detect the presence of an object. That means I am looking for some kind of
proximity sensor (sometimes called “presence sensors” or “object detection sensors”). There
are several kinds of sensor technologies that can detect the presence (or absence) of an
object. Inductive, photoelectric, capacitive, magnetic, and ultrasonic sensors are all possible
candidates at this stage of the selection process.

2) Composition of Target What is the material composition of the object (metallic, non-
metallic, solid, liquid, granular)? Let’s say the object is metallic. Inductive, photoelectric,
capacitive, and ultrasonic sensors are all capable of detecting metallic objects, so we need to
ask some more questions.

3) Distance to Target How far away from the object must the sensor be? Well, if I am
building a compact piece of automation machinery, I want to keep everything as close
together as possible. I expect the sensor to be installed pretty close to the metallic object that
I want to detect. In this case, an inductive proximity sensor would be the best choice.
Although inductive sensors have rather short sensing distances (typically 1mm up to about
50mm) compared to other sensing technologies, they have some strong advantages: a) they
ignore all materials except metal (e.g. water, oil, non-metallic dust) b) they are very robust
physically and c) they are relatively inexpensive. Let’s say that I have decided the sensor
needs to see the metallic target at a distance of 4mm.

4) Form Factor What sort of physical form-factor best fits my application? In our example,
it’s fairly tight space and there isn’t much room to mount something with a lot of length to it.
That eliminates the most common inductive proximity sensor type: the threaded tubular
housing. We’re going to be looking at some kind of low-profile, flat sensor, typically called
a block style or rectangular type.

5) Control Interface What kind of controller interface and switching logic is required?
These days, most sensors are 3-wire DC types. There are other types out there, such as 2-
wire DC and 2-wire AC/DC, but by far the vast majority of control systems will require a 3-
wire DC sensor. In our case, we need a “3-wire PNP N.O. sensor,” meaning 3 wires (+24DC,
0VDC, and output), a PNP-type “sourcing” output (current is sourced from the sensor to the
controller), and “normally open” switching logic (means the output is “off” when the sensor
does not see the target).
6) Special Requirements Are there any special application requirements? Special
application requirements might be things like high temperatures (more than 80 degrees C),
nearby welding processes, or high-pressure washdown procedures. In our machine, we don’t
expect anything worse than a little machine tool oil getting splashed around. This is
completely normal for inductive sensors to work around, so nothing special is required other
than an IP67 liquid ingress protection rating (standard on most good-quality sensors).

7) Electrical Connection How do I want to make the electrical connection? Sensors are
typically available with three kinds of electrical connections: a) pre-wired cable with flying
leads b) integrated quick-disconnect connector c) a pre-wired cable with a molded-on
connector (often called a “pigtail” connector). A fourth connection type – terminal chamber –
was once common in the days when proximity sensors were used to replace mechanical limit
switches, but is becoming less common in today’s industrial environment.

Armed with the above information, it’s now possible to visit a sensor manufacturer’s website
or catalog and be able to find an appropriate match for nearly any application. If you’re still
not sure, sales people and technical support personnel are always ready to help you find the
right sensor for your application.

8 Selection Criteria to Remember When

Choosing an Inductive Sensor
Selecting the correct inductive proximity sensor for an application can be an intimidating
process. There are literally thousands of models available from various vendors so having a
good starting point to narrow down the field is essential.

At this point is will be assumed that an Inductive Proximity Sensor is the type of sensor
being selected. If you are at the beginning of your selection process, please read and earlier
blog post pertaining to your initial sensor selection.

8 Selection Criteria for an Inductive Proximity Sensor

1. What sensing distance is required to detect the target? Inductive sensors typically
have a sensing range starting from around 0.8 mm (3 mm tubular style) up to 40 mm (30 mm
tubular style). Models having a sensing distance longer than 40 mm do exist, but the majority
of applications fall under the 40 mm detection distance. The sensing distance needed will
also dictate the sensor size available for the application. In general as the sensor coil
diameter increases, the sensing range increases as well. For example the standard sensing
range for a M8 inductive sensor is 1.5 mm while a M30 size sensor has a sensing range of 10

2. What is the Target Material? Since we are discussing inductive sensors, the target must
be metal – but what kind of metal? The standard sensing distance of an inductive sensor is
based on a target of ferrous mild steel (Fe 360). An inductive sensor will detect non-ferrous
metals such as aluminum, brass, copper or stainless steel – but at a shorter detection distance.
See an earlier target material blog for more detailed information. The main concept to
remember is that if the target material is not mild steel – the sensor will detect the target at a
shorter distance. This sensing reduction can be eliminated by using specialized sensors called
Factor 1 which detect ferrous and non-ferrous targets at approximately the same distance.

3. What form factor and mounting style are needed? The most popular form factors are
tubular models however compact rectangular housings are also available. If limited space
(depth) is available, a rectangular form factor may be the best choice as some of these are
only 5 mm in depth. The type of mounting required will also need to be considered. A
shielded bodied sensor can typically be mounted flush in metal whereas a non-shielded
sensor cannot be mounted flush in metal. Some applications may require a flush mount
sensor due to the restricted space available for the sensor.

4. What is the size of the target? Per the IEC specification there are two basic rules for the
proper target size. Rule 1 indicates the target size should be flat, square in shape, and have
sides at least as long as the sensor coil’s diameter (12mm sensor = 12mm x 12mm target).
Rule 2 indicates the target size should be equal to 3 times the rated operating distance (Sn) of
the sensor. The target should then be the larger result of these two rules. An inductive sensor
will detect a target smaller than these recommendations, but at a reduced sensing distance.

5. What is the shape of the target? As referenced above, a flat metal target of the
appropriate size is the best target for an inductive proximity sensor. If the target is a bent
piece of metal or has a concave or convex shape the rated sensing distance may not be
achieved. Once again, at some point the inductive sensor will detect the odd shaped target,
but more than likely at a closer range. A flat metal target will provide the best detection

6. Do any unique environmental conditions exist? Will the sensor be subject to low
temperatures (below -25°C) or high temperatures (above +70°C)? Are welding process or
servo motors being ran close by? Are caustic chemicals or high pressure wash-down cleaning
requirements stipulating a stainless steel housing? Most inductive sensors are rated to IP67
liquid ingress protection which is appropriate for the majority of applications. Sensors with
an IP69K rating also exist for high pressure wash-down needs as well. Make sure you
understand what environmental conditions the sensor will be subjected to and then ensure the
sensor has the proper ratings for that environment.

7. What electrical requirements are needed? For this answer the control interface will
need to be known. What electrical voltage is needed to interface to the controller and what
output type is needed? Most of the inductive proximity sensors sold in the U.S. are 3-wire
DC types. These can have outputs of PNP N/O, PNP N/C, NPN N/O or NPN N/C. 4-wire
models having both a N/O and N/C output are also possible. The more popular output in the
U.S. is the 3-wire PNP N/O version. 2-wire DC (polarized and non-polarized) and 2-wire
AC/DC sensors are also available, but they are used to a lesser degree. Your PLC or
interface controller will dictate the voltage and output type needed – then you need to ensure
the chosen sensor can match that need.

8. What connection method is required? The majority of inductive sensors sold are quick
disconnect type. This means they have an integrated quick disconnect and must have a
mating cable connected. For DC sensors that connector is usually a M5 x 0.5, M8 x 1, or M12
x 1.
Other connection options are a pre-wired cable with flying leads (maybe 2 meters or 5 meters
long) or a pre-wired cable with a molded on connector (sometimes called a “pigtail”). Any of
these connections methods are acceptable; it’s normally the customer’s preference that drives
the requirement.
Inductive Sensors
Inductive proximity sensors are the preferred choice for the majority of applications requiring accurate, non-contact detection of metallic
objects in machinery or automation equipment. As a pioneer and market leader, Pepperl+Fuchs offers innovative, high quality inductive
sensors to meet the needs of the worldwide automation and process control markets. Our experience, flexibility and customer focus continues
to allow us to offer custom designed solutions for the most unique and demanding applications.

Standard Inductive Sensor Product features:

• Smooth or threaded stainless housings

• Polarity reversal and short-circuit protected
• LED status indication
• Connection styles include M8, M12 or terminal connection models
• Models with PVC, PUR or silicon cable
• Outputs in 2-, 3-, 4-wire DC, AC, NAMUR, and AS-Interface versions

Application Specific Inductive Sensor features:

• Analog output models with 4-20 mA output signal

• Integrated speed monitor with up to 100 Hz operation
• Pressure resistant cylinder sensors for up to 500 bar
• Sensors approved for gas and dust Ex zones
• Models with stainless steel sensing face
• Protective class of up to IP68/ IP69k (submersible/ high pressure water jet resistant)
• Weld resistant designs with PTFE-coated surface
• Reduction factor of 1, all metals sensed at same distance
• Exclusive ferrous and non-ferrous detection models
• Safety function sensors
• Extended temperature range: -40 °C up to +250 °C

Capacitive Sensors
Capacitive sensors can be used to detect metal objects as well as nearly all other materials. These sensors are often used in applications
including level, flow control for detection of liquids, grains and powders.

Standard Capacitive Sensor Product features:

• 12, 18 and 30 mm cylindrical styles of stainless steel or plastic housings

• 5mm thin rectangular and long range 80 mm x 80 mm x 40 mm styles
• Sensor outputs of 3-wire DC and NAMUR output types
• Models with hazardous area approvals

Magnetic Field Sensors

Our magnetic field sensor selection consists of the M12 housing style for traditional magnetic detection applications. Also offered is a non-
contact, piston detection sensor for use with steel hydraulic cylinders. These magnetic sensors offer reliable piston magnet detection and are
easily mounted, without the need for mounting slots or holes in the cylinder.

Sensors: Linear / Angular Position

Linear / Angular Position

Potentiometers Servo
Potentiometers utilize a variable resistor to convert an angle or displacement to a resistance/voltage. They eter
operate by moving a contact along a resistor to produce a voltage proportional to the position.


An encoder is a sensor of mechanical motion. It translates motion (such as

position, velocity, and acceleration) into electrical signals.