Potentiometers: measuring displacements and lengths

A potentiometer can measure linear displacements and lengths up to about a meter. For example, a blade that moves up and down like a guillotine can easily be tracked using a potentiometer. For greater lengths, other solutions prove to be the better option, as potentiometers can then get too expensive.

A potentiometer is protected by an industrial housing that resembles a shock absorber. Inside, a sliding contact moves over a foil with a carbon pattern. The resistance varies according to where the sliding contact touches the foil. The greater the displacement and the more the potentiometer is extended, the higher the resistance.


Advantages and disadvantages of potentiometers

The advantage of the shape is that it is easy to install. There is an eyelet on both sides used to easily attach the device to two machine parts. The potentiometer then creates a rigid connection between those two points. This can be very useful, but does raise a potential problem. If the forces and movements are not aligned with the axis in the potentiometer, its service life will suffer.

The mechanical character of a potentiometer must always be taken into consideration. With every movement and every vibration, the sliding contact moves over the foil. The technology is now so advanced that hundreds of thousands of movements are possible, but it does limit the service life in dynamic systems or when there are many vibrations involved.

Featured potentiometers

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