Understanding Sensor Switching Speeds (with Some Helpful Math)

There are a variety of terms to understand when you’re researching different types of sensors for your industrial automation needs. Apart from understanding terms around the overall type of sensor you need (color, contrast, UV, etc.), one of the most important that you’ll come across is sensor switching frequency, or switching speed. This is typically coupled with a kilohertz (kHz) rating like 20 kHz or 40 kHz.

This is a measurement of the speed of the sensor and how quickly it can take readings in your production environment. Since we’re talking in kilohertz, or 1,000 cycles per second, a 40 kHz sensor is capable of completing 40 readings every one-thousandth of a second or 40,000 readings per second. Another example: A unit with a 20 kHz sensor switching frequency is capable of 20 readings every one-thousandth of a second or 20,000 readings per second. Here’s the quick math for those who’d prefer to see an equation:

kHz * 1,000 = max # of readings per second

Why Sensor Switching Frequency Matters

In today’s high-speed production environments, whether it’s manufacturing consumer goods or industrial components needed for some other downstream product, using sensors with high sensor switching frequency is essential to success. 

For example, medical products manufacturers or those that make packaging and containers for pharmaceutical companies process hundreds of thousands of products per minute (think labels for syringes or barcodes for packaging). These companies need industrial sensors to verify a number of different production requirements:

  • That products are in fact present on the line and nothing was missed
  • That registration marks for printing purposes are present and accurate
  • That barcodes are present on the packaging and are dark enough

These medical products are small, and when they’re moving at very high line speeds, only an automated sensor — and one with a high sensor switching frequency — is going to be able to verify and capture the information these companies need to ensure their production processes are running smoothly.

Switching Speed Helps Manufacturers Verify Detection Needs

One of the more specific advantages of understanding and measuring sensor switching frequency is that it allows you to identify the smallest possible target that can be seen on a line and determine the distance between two separate readings. This will help you validate the line speed and make any optimization adjustments as needed.

To measure this, you multiply the microsecond response time of a sensor by your current line speed. Using the 40 kHz example above, the microsecond equivalent (one-millionth of a second) is 25 microseconds (.000025). Multiplied by a line speed of eight meters per second equates to a response every .0002 meters — an incredibly fast rate that indicates products can be extremely small (two-ten-thousandths of a meter equates to about .008 inches or .2 millimeters) and will still be detected. If your product is larger than that, it’s a guarantee that the sensor will work for your production needs.

EMX Industrial Sensors Offers Multiple Options for Your Needs

For decades, EMX has been manufacturing a variety of industrial automation sensor solutions for multiple production goals. All of our sensors are designed, engineered, manufactured, and supported right here in the U.S., giving you a local partner for all of your detection needs. Below are just some of the many sensors we offer with rapid sensor switching frequencies.

CNTX Contrast Sensor — Showcased as the example sensor switching frequency throughout most of this blog, the CNTX contrast sensor is the fastest sensor available at EMX. Its 40 kHz switching speed and 25-microsecond response rate make it the ideal choice if you need to detect varying levels of grayscale, surface finish differences, or simply any application where contrast is the determining factor such as labels and registration marks. Learn more about this sensor and its applications here.

ColorMax Color Sensors — For applications where it’s critical to understand the color values of a target for quality control, the ColorMax color sensor is a high-speed solution you can trust. Its 20 kHz switching speed makes it more than capable of identifying up to 20 different colors (saving you from having to use multiple sensors) as well as RGB intensity. Its handy configuration software allows for efficient adjustment and programming. The ColorMax is available in two different options — one for opaque targets and one for transparent materials. See how they’re used in different applications.

UVX Luminescence Sensor — Designed for identifying the presence of materials that glow upon being hit with a beam of ultraviolet light (inks, adhesives, paints, and others), our UVX line is the more accurate and cost-effective solution for confirming manufacturing processes over competing equipment like machine vision systems. And with its rapid 10 kHz switching speed, it’ll handle anything you throw at it. The UVX has been used for multiple applications — learn more about them here.

Let’s Find the Right Sensor for Your Environment

If you’re unsure which sensor is right for you, or if you need assistance in identifying the best option based on the speed of your line, our expert engineering team will be happy to assist you. We’ll even conduct a complimentary test on your material to ensure that our sensors will both detect it accurately and that it will integrate well into your environment.Simply let us know what you’re looking to do, and we’ll be in touch to assist!