What's behind the target can make a tremendous difference in how well reflective sensors do their job.
Consider a photoelectric sensor operating in simple diffused mode (i.e., as a proximity sensor). The sensor uses the target to reflect light back and senses the reflection as an indication of the target's presence. A point to note is such applications work properly without a secondary device such as a reflector.
But there is a downside to working without a reflector: It may be tough to precisely control the sensing range even if the sensor has a sensitivity adjustment. This conundrum can cause significant problems when sensitivity is such that the sensor accidentally triggers on shiny objects well beyond its specified sensing range. In fact, it is not uncommon for a sensor with a specified range of 15 in. to falsely detect a piece of metal, Plexiglas, or other highly reflective object 6 ft away or more.
Targets can vary greatly in color and their color will directly affect the range of the sensor. This variability of sensing distance is known as black-white differential. The black-white differential is simply the difference in distance between where a diffused sensor detects a 90% reflective white card and where it detects a 6% reflective black card under the same conditions. Sensor manufacturers normally graph black-white differential data to give engineers a guideline for their applications.
There can be a dramatic drop in sensing range when dark objects are involved. The effect arises because diffused sensors recognize a target based on the light reflected back to them. The reflected light must be strong enough to overcome any ambient light or any electrical noise at the sensor receiver. So a black target absorbs large amounts of energy and therefore must sit closer to the sensor to be detected.
Sensors with background suppression can use either visible-red or infrared (IR) light sources. The obvious benefit of visible red is that it simplifies the process of aligning the photoelectric sensor with the target. Of course, humans can't see IR, but these sources put out more power and are less sensitive to target color. Their higher optical power output arises because IR sources are more efficient than those putting out visible red. So sensors that use IR light can detect objects farther away. And photoelectric sensors with both background suppression and IR sources have smaller black-white differentials than similar sensors with visible-red sources.
Background suppression also provides a very small, bright and clearly defined light spot to give the user a high level of precision and repeatability. In addition, the small spot lends itself to detecting small objects in the presence of a background with the same reflective properties (i.e., verifying that a piston ring sits in the groove of a piston).
The basic principle behind background suppression is triangulation. An LED transmits light through a lens in a straight line toward the target. The target reflects light back to the receivers at some angle. The distance between the sensor and target determines the angle at which light reflects back. The closer the target is to the sensor, the greater the angle of reflection.
In addition, the sensor uses more than one receiver element to sense light. The elements sit at different points off the axis of light emitted. Thus the sensor differentiates between a target and the background by noting which element is receiving more reflected light. The reading is based on the distance from the axis of the outgoing light, not on the amount of received light.
Diffused mode sensors with background suppression can operate at either a fixed or variable range. And background suppression can take place either mechanically or electronically. Mechanical background suppression uses physical lenses to focus light reflected from the target and from the background onto light detectors. Electronic suppression generally replaces the receivers with a sensing element called a position-sensitive device (PSD) whose threshold sensing point is electronically programmed. There is a difference in cost between the two methods, as well as size and performance trade-offs.
Mechanical background suppression offers better optical performance and a sharper cutoff range. Mechanical background suppression is inherently more stable over temperature changes. But electronic BGS has a clear advantage in the presence of heavy vibration.
Mechanical background suppression also demands that the sensor have two receiving elements and an adjustable lens. The extra parts take up more real estate in the sensor housing. If the size of the housing is an issue, electronic background suppression is the better choice.
HOW TO APPLY
These sensors generally work at shorter ranges than standard diffused sensors. They also require some minimum distance between the target and the sensor. Targets too close to the lens reflect light at too wide an angle so none of it reaches the receiver. The minimum sensing range is typically under 10% of the sensor's full range.
Mounting and positioning systems are especially important for sensors that operate at a fixed sensing range. The reason is they have no sensitivity adjustments. This makes them tamperproof, but the mounting system may need to allow fine-tuning of the sensing distance and angle to the target.
Fixed background suppression is more difficult to install, but the lack of mechanical parts may make it a less expensive option. An alternative is a background-suppression sensor with an adjustable range. Here an external potentiometer serves as the adjustment mechanism.
There is a special case when a target contains two contrasting colors such as black and white. Suppose a sensor's light spot shines simultaneously on the two contrasting colors. If the target lies at the outer limits of the sensing range, the more reflective side of the target can reflect more light back to the far receiver than to the near receiver. As this border of the target passes through the light beam, the sensor output can turn off momentarily.
This action is referred to as the Pepita effect. It can happen if the sensor is improperly oriented with respect to the black-white border. It's also a possibility in targets with an extreme variation in reflectivity or their contours. The fix for the Pepita effect involves either rotating the sensor 90° so the sensing axis aligns horizontally instead of vertically, or moving the sensor closer to the target.
Another peculiar phenomenon is the cross-eyed effect. This can arise if the target is smaller than the sensor light spot. In this case, the target can't block the sensor light beam. Most light energy passes the target and hits the background surface, making the sensor believe there is no target present. The solution is to make sure the diameter of the sensor light spot is smaller than the target.
The blinding effect is a final challenge. It arises when too much light reflects back to the sensor. The light overload prevents the sensor from being properly adjusted between the near and far distances. This can happen when a background-suppression sensor is aimed at a reflector, a mirror, or is perpendicular to a shiny object.
The remedy for blinding is to angle the sensor slightly (about 5°) so it is not perpendicular to the target/background. This will reduce the light reflected back to the sensor so photo receivers don't get overwhelmed.