The Pot of Electrical Engineers: The Potentiometer


PotentiometerPotentiometers or ‘pots’ as engineers call them colloquially are electronic components used to measure position changes in a circuit using electrical resistance. Having versatile use, these devices measure the flow of electricity through a circuit and use that information to indicate absolute displacement.

With a wide array of applications in home and industries, different types of potentiometers are in use today, such as linear and logarithmic.

How Potentiometers Work

Materials notwithstanding, potentiometers function when their control moves, the contacts in a potentiometer either separates or presses them together.

Potentiometers comprise of a resistive strip of material. It is between the terminals of this strip that electricity flows. The more the distance between the terminals, the more the resistance will be and vice-versa. Thus, the higher the resistance, the greater the displacement.

Features of Potentiometers

Some typical features of potentiometers are:

• Their sensors vary in dimensions.
• They have a variable total resistance.
• The electrical output signals can be analog, digital or an alarm.
• The resistive elements could be carbon, wire wound, ceramic metals or cermets, or conductive plastic.

Applications of Potentiometers

Potentiometers find a wide application around the house, and manufacturers of linear and rotational potentiometers market their products for a variety of fields.

• Potentiometers are essential components in volume control, frequency and other audio signals in audio equipment.
• Likewise, potentiometers control brightness, color response and contrast in an analog television set.
• Used in DC motors to control and measure the speed as well as the angle of motion.
• Part of displacement transducers as they can give a large output signal.
• Component of older, analog computers to set the initial conditions for calculations.
• For more domestic uses, as pieces to control lights and other electronic devices in homes and cars.

In addition, potentiometers are also in farm, marine, medical, heavy industry and robotics settings for varied purposes. A potentiometer has a myriad of potential applications in the world today!

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