Counting Reflective objects

Retroreflective sensors are pretty convenient. They consist of an LED emitter that sends a (usually infrared) beam of light and a light sensor integrated in the same package. The LED is aimed at a reflector (hence the retroreflective name) and the reflector bounces the light beam back to the sensor. Do this on a conveyor belt, and every time an object on the belt blocks the beam, it causes a signal change that can be counted. This is more convenient than a through-beam sensor that requires the LED emitter on one side and the sensor on the other. That additional cabling can be a hassle. Using the reflector means that cabling is only needed on one side and that simplifies installation.

One problem with retroreflective sensors is when you need to detect a shiny object. Say you have a production line that packages product in reflective Mylar bags. The count sensor may not be able to distinguish between a reflection from the retroreflector or the bag. This means that a reflection caused by the bag gives exactly the opposite state than you want. The bag is obviously present, but it being reflective means the sensor “thinks” there is nothing in front of it.

A possible solution is to use polarized light. By polarizing the light and using a corner-cube reflector, only changes caused by the light being blocked will be detected, so the shiny Mylar packaging is no longer an issue.

Another approach is to debounce the signal. The bag moving past the sensor causes multiple fast transitions (the problem with counting reflective objects is often that a single object causes too many counts). Debouncing is a technique where the fast, multiple transitions are ignored in favor of a slower change. We have used this technique to assist a customer who needed to count shiny objects moving on a conveyor belt and it made a great improvement in the situation.