Sensors Midwest 2018: Sensor Signal Conditioning, A Black Art Demystified

In a tech arena that hopes to deploy trillions of sensors globally, and eventually elsewhere, there is bound to be a wealth of noise and interference in the air that can invade, degrade, and compromise data signals. Importantly, analog signals in general need to be cleaned and polished prior to getting digitized. In terms of mass sensor deployment, signal conditioning is set to become a tedious and time-consuming task that most engineers and designers view as a product of the black arts, downright witchcraft.


In a whitepaper of 2016, National Instruments informs that most analog signals require some form of preparation before they can be digitized. Signal conditioning is the manipulation of a signal in a way that prepares it for the next stage of processing. Many applications involve environmental or structural measurement, such as temperature and vibration, from sensors. These sensors, in turn, require signal conditioning before a data acquisition device can effectively and accurately measure the signal. For example, thermocouple signals have very small voltage levels that must be amplified before they can be digitized. Other sensors, such as resistance temperature detectors (RTDs), thermistors, strain gages, and accelerometers, require excitation to operate. All of these preparation technologies are forms of signal conditioning.

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But there is no reason that signal condition be a metaphysical adventure, help and resources are readily available. For example, on Wednesday, October 17, 2018, from 9 am to 8 am at Sensors Midwest 2018 in Rosemont, IL, you can absorb great insights and solutions from an expert in the field. Keith Curtis, Technical Staff Engineer at Microchip Technology, will be presenting a session titled, “Designing Appropriate Sensor Signal Conditioning Circuitry for Optimal Performance” in Theater 1.


Keith Curtis began his career during college as a technician/programmer for Summit Dana. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Montana State University in 1986. After graduation, Keith was employed by Tele-Tech as an engineer developing microcontroller controls for RF applications.


In 1992, Keith joined Bally Gaming in Las Vegas. After working for several Nevada companies, Keith moved to Arizona in 2000 to work as an Application Engineer for Microchip Technology Inc. Later, after being promoted to Technical Staff Engineer, Keith continued to design systems and training for the variety of eight-bit embedded application markets.


Reiterating the above, signal conditioning is a dark and mysterious path. Choosing amplifiers, a/d converters, filters and bypass capacitors can be tedious, confusing, and both boring and challenging at the same time. Results are often a complex acquisition function with some cumbersome filtering thrown in.


Fortunately, it is not necessary to resort to Spice simulations and complex math. Simple rules of thumb, basic math, and some simple graphical analysis serve just fine. This session walks attendees through a typical signal conditioning design, including component selection, shielding, and layout.


Okay, you have a boatload of sensors in your project that need an attitude adjustment, but you don’t know where to start. Who ya’ gonna call? Ghostbusters? Stanley Steamer? I think not. There’s a much easier and more readily available solution requiring two extremely simple steps:

  1. Register for Sensors Midwest 2018.
  2. Attend the “Designing Appropriate Sensor Signal Conditioning Circuitry for Optimal Performance” session, October 17, 2018 at 9 AM. 

And while you’re at it, checkout the conference schedule for related sessions and the exhibitor lineup for presentations of the latest sensors and sensor-related products plus a plethora other technologies.



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