Before we delve too far into the subject, not all sensors have enough electronics on them to be configurable. For example, if a basic pressure transducer is capable of adjusting anything, then it would only be the zero and span. However, for digital pressure gauges, many things can be configured from units of measure to trip points.
The pros and cons of a purpose built sensor are worth discussing. The main benefit is that it’s a perfect fit for your application. Common applications where programming and parameters are constant are a good home for purpose built sensors. OEMs that commission a custom sensor for their machine or process often use purpose built sensors, with a mash-up of features to suit their needs.
These sensors are typically less expensive because they consist of fewer components and either simple or no software.
However, for end users who cannot find a sensor that fits their application just right, a sensor built for someone else can be difficult. In addition, end users and OEMs alike that prefer one sensor for a few similar but individual applications will have difficulty with an inflexible instrument.
A sensor that can be programmed for different applications in the field is known as field configurable. These smart sensors are capable of accurate measurement in a variety of applications. The advantage is versatility. For example, a single sensor can “spare” many applications. If configured with a PC, the appropriate configuration files for each application can be stored and downloaded to the sensor quickly.
In addition, output signals and trips can be adjusted in the field to adapt to changing process conditions, or to fine tune the process for optimum performance.
In general, a field configurable sensor allows a single instrument to adjust to change, rather than buying another purpose built sensor that may or may not be a good fit.
These sensors are typically more expensive because of the added electronics and programming software. In applications where conditions are fairly constant and many sensors are needed, it can be a pain to worry about programming at all – so a purpose built sensor may be the better choice.
In the end, as with anything else, it is the application that determines what sensor should be used. However, the ability to adjust to changing needs with the same sensor is a bit of a safety net, and worth consideration.
We make both types of sensors. Let us know if you need any help in the selection process. With so many options, it can feel like hacking through a jungle. Let our experts help guide the way.