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In electronics, signal conditioning means manipulating an analog signal in such a way that it meets the requirements of the next stage for further processing. Most common use is in analog-to-digital converters.
In control engineering applications, it is common to have a sensing stage (which consists of a sensor), a signal conditioning stage (where usually amplification of the signal is done) and a processing stage (normally carried out by an ADC and a micro-controller). Operational amplifiers (op-amps) are commonly employed to carry out the amplification of the signal in the signal conditioning stage.
Signal inputs accepted by signal conditioners include DC voltage and current, AC voltage and current, frequency and electric charge. Sensor inputs can be accelerometer, thermocouple, thermistor, resistance thermometer, strain gauge or bridge, and LVDT or RVDT. Specialized inputs include encoder, counter or tachometer, timer or clock, relay or switch, and other specialized inputs. Outputs for signal conditioning equipment can be voltage, current, frequency, timer or counter, relay, resistance or potentiometer, and other specialized outputs.
Signal conditioning processes
Filtering is the most common signal conditioning function, as usually not all the signal frequency spectrum contains valid data. The common example are 60 Hz AC power lines, present in most environments, which will produce noise if amplified.
Signal amplification performs two important functions: increases the resolution of the inputed signal, and increases its signal-to-noise ratio. For example, the output of an electronic temperature sensor, which is probably in the millivolts range is probably too low for an Analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to process directly. In this case it is necessary to bring the voltage level up to that required by the ADC.
Signal isolation must be used in order to pass the signal from the source to the measurement device without a physical connection: it is often used to isolate possible sources of signal perturbations. Also notable is that it is important to isolate the potentially expensive equipment used to process the signal after conditioning from the sensor.
Magnetic or optic isolation can be used. Magnetic isolation transforms the signal from voltage to a magnetic field, allowing the signal to be transmitted without a physical connection (for example, using a transformer). Optic isolation takes an electronic signal and modulates it to a signal coded by light transmission (optical encoding), which is then used for input for the next stage of processing.
It is primarily utilized for data acquisition, in which sensor signals must be normalized and filtered to levels suitable for analog-to-digital conversion so they can be read by computerized devices. Other uses include preprocessing signals in order to reduce computing time, converting ranged data to boolean values, for example when knowing when a sensor has reached certain value.
Types of devices that use signal conditioning include signal filters, instrument amplifiers, sample-and-hold amplifiers, isolation amplifiers, signal isolators, multiplexers, bridge conditioners, analog-to-digital converters, digital-to-analog converters, frequency converters or translators, voltage converters or inverters, frequency-to-voltage converters, voltage-to-frequency converters, current-to-voltage converters, current loop converters, and charge converters.
- "Data acquisition techniques using PCs." Academic-Press - Pages 44-47