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There are four major categories of encoder which are differentiated by the demands of the operating environment. These run from heavy duty (the most demanding environment) to light duty (the most controlled environment).
As the name implies, heavy duty encoders can take the most abuse. They have excellent durability in high temperatures; with particulates, moisture, and contaminants; and under shock or vibration. They have superior speed performance, as well. Heavy duty encoders are the best choice for the most demanding environments – paper, steel, and ore mills where contamination is constant and both shock and heat affect the motor, the stress of aerospace, and the fast factory environments of food and beverage processing. However, heavy duty encoders come at a cost of both size and expense. Unless the environment is truly brutal, a heavy duty encoder may be overkill.
The most common class of encoders is the industrial encoder. An industrial encoder can take punishing operating environments almost as well as heavy duty encoders – rough factories with contamination from dust, particulates, and moisture, in addition to moderate shock and temperature. An industrial encoder offers excellent speed and positioning performance. The class of industrial encoders is versatile.
Servo motor encoders, unlike both heavy duty and industrial encoders, actually reside inside a motor housing. Because it is in a contained environment, it doesn’t have strong sealing, but it has excellent temperature resistance and reliable shock/vibration resistance (which fits its operating environment). Because of its location, servo encoders are smaller and are made for small to mid-sized motors, especially servo and stepper motors.