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The 5 ways to choose the perfect electronic counter

If you use your fingers (and toes) to count, then your digits and your brain are a rudimentary ‘counter’.  Bottle it in a handy digital device for automated industrial and commercial processes, and there’s your definition of an electronic counter right there. You can buy an electronic counter at any reputable supplier like RS Components.

To get a little more scientific, a counter is a mechanical or digital form of what’s known as a logic device, and typically consists of a simple input line with a number of output lines adhering to the binary number system.  The counter itself can have either a single (ie. one-directional counting) or multi function, and typically resembles either the mechanical-type meter we’re all familiar with, or the sort of digital device that often appears in a film along with a bundle of TNT counting down to detonation.

In the world of industry, however, there are plenty of sub-divisions of counter types that fulfil differing objectives.  To use a couple of examples we’re all familiar with, though, consider the humble microwave and washing machine – two household appliances that make life all the easier thanks in part to their on-board digital counters.  When we ask the microwave for 1 minute of heat, it’s the counter that does the calculations to only increase the temperature by a certain amount until that increase is reached.  And in your washing machine, it’s a similar story – we select the setting (the input), and the counter counts down the necessary or requested time.  Once time is up, the timer sends out the instruction to stop the cycle.

But even in industrial and commercial settings, digital counters are used for even the most rudimentary of purposes – for the most critical of operations.  Take, for example, a stadium simply wanting to keep tabs on how many people are in the venue at any one time.  As a person enters (input), the counter adds 1.  And when any of those counted individuals leave (another input), the counter subtracts 1.

In other cases, the function of digital counters can be different or more complex.  There are single-action counters, ones for totalising, and yet more varieties for other varied and multiple kinds of calculations.  On top of that, there’s the ability to cover all types of inputs and outputs, different user interfaces, brands, models, physical specifications and advanced features.

Some of the main types are frequency counters, batch counters, position indicators, arithmetic counters (programmable for sums, square roots, etc.), controllers (incorporating outputs to control integrated equipment based on sensors or presets), totalisers, preset counters, pulse (current or voltage) counters, and multi-counters that can handle, for example, both counting and timing and other functions.

What industry are you in?  What do you need your electronic counter to do?  If you need somewhere to get started, consider that you might base your desired counter selection on:

  1. Type

The first question to consider is whether you need an electronic counter, or either a mechanical or electro-mechanical counter is more suitable.  In most cases, however, arguments suggesting mechanical options are cheaper or more durable are outdated.

  1. Function

With a bit of luck, your application may be best served with a preset counter, with the necessary values all designed or programmed in from the start.  But in many cases, the wisest choice is a multi-function counter, which is designed to be able to adapt to your needs.

  1. Mounting

How will your counter be integrated: on a printed circuit board, a panel, or on a din rail?

  1. Display

For electronic counters, your display is likely to be either LCD or LED, although some digital devices will still integrate a mechanical display.

  1. Power

Whether your counter/application requires AC or DC power, or a battery, will also be relevant

Are you ready to start browsing the product range, or do you need more help?  Don’t forget: the right choice will save you and your operations time, space, energy and headaches, so if you need a little more expert guidance, never be afraid to ask.  Good luck!

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