Data Acquisition Systems and Instruments Information

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Data acquisition systems and instruments are either the combination of a number of data acquisition components that make up a complete system or a self-contained instrument. They are used to collect, digitize, and process multiple sensor or signal inputs for the purpose of monitoring, analyzing, and/or controlling systems and processes. Data acquisition systems and instruments are configured in a wide variety of instrumentation and modular systems. Applications include manufacturing testing of all types of technical products, safety, environmental, certification, and research projects.

System Components

Data acquisition systems are comprised of front-end devices, a central processing unit, and back-end devices. Front end devices receive inputs and provide filtering, amplification, converting, and / or other processes required to make the signal suitable for data acquisition. A central processing unit receives and processes the digitized inputs. The back-end is a feedback loop comprised of conditioned outputs used to trigger alarms, provide control signals or transmit the acquired data.

Signal-Chain Block Diagram via Electronic Design Signal-chain block diagram. Image Credit: electronic design

Components used in a data acquisition system include data acquisition computer boards, data input modules, data acquisition output modules, data acquisition I/O devices, signal conditioners, and signal converters.

Data acquisition computer boards are self-contained printed circuit boards (PCBs) that plug into backplanes and motherboards, or interface directly with computer buses. They receive multiple electrical or electronic inputs from devices such as sensors and translate analog data into a digital format that computers can process.

High-Speed, Multifunction OEM Boards via Measurement Computing

Image Credit: Measurement Computing

Data input modules receive signals from devices such as sensors and often provide voltage and current excitation along with signal conditioning. They are a front end device that interfaces with computer boards, systems, instruments, or recorders.

Analog Input Module via Endress+Hauser, Inc.

Image Credit: Endress+Hauser, Inc.

Dat a output modules transfer amplified, conditioned, or digitized signals to processing systems or devices. They are a backend device and the signal is a conditioned output from a computer board, system, instrument, or recorder.

32 Channel Simultaneous Analog Output via D-TACQ Solutions

Image Credit: D-TACQ Solutions

I/O modules and instruments have both input and output functionality. Digital or discrete I/O modules include on-off signals used in communication, user interface, or control.

48 Channel-Isolated Discrete I/O with i2o Option via Acromag, Inc.

Image Credit: Acromag, Inc.

Signal conditioning is a set of operations performed on a signal that makes it suitable for interfacing with other devices or systems. Signal conditioners are the actual devices that perform this operation. These devices have an input and an output. Normally the input is a sensor that measures a variable, not necessarily and electrical signal.

Isolated Analog Signal Conditioner via Dataforth Corp.

Image Credit: Dataforth Corporation

A signal is an electric current or electromagnetic field used to convey data from one place to another. Signal converters are electronic devices that receive one type of signal and output another type of signal. They can be found in many industrial and commercial applications.

A/D Converter via DEWETRON, Inc.

Image Credit: DEWETRON, Inc.

Device Function

The function of the device is to monitor, analyze or control systems and processes.


Data acquisition systems and instruments used to monitor processes and systems have the ability to record data points over a timed interval. They are customized for a particular application and may require specific modules in order to accommodate the type or number of inputs used. They may be equipped with on-board memory, removable storage, or may interface with a computer, used to process, store, and visualize the data. They may also be equipped with a switched output used to trigger an alarm or activate a switch when a pre-set condition is met or exceeded.

Virtual Chart Recorder via Newport Electronics, Inc.

Monitoring with a virtual chart recorder. Image Credit: Newport Electronics, Inc.


Data acquisition systems and instruments may be used for data analysis. Data points or real-time data can be fed into a system that reduces or compiles data in order to generate useful information. Fourier transforms are used to reduce a signal with respect to time into a series of sinusoidal terms. Application software is commonly used for signal processing and measurement functions.

 Fast Fourier Tranforms (FFT) via The Register

Fast fourier transforms (FFT). Image Credit: The Register


Data acquisition systems and instruments can be used to control processes and systems. The central processing unit receives a feedback signal and produces a switched output or analog control signal that is used to control devices in a system or process. Common applications include motion control, industrial automation, web processing, and other industrial operations. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are large-scale, industrial control and measurement systems that consist of a central host, one or more remote units, a communications network, and specialized software. More detailed information about SCADA is available in GlobalSpec's Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems (SCADA) Selection Guide.

Water Treatment - SCADA- Plant-IQ. Video Credit: mmassaNY

Form Factor

Common form factors for data acquisition systems and instruments include circuit board, panel or chassis mount, modular bay or slot system, rack mount, DIN rail, and stand-alone.

  • Printed circuit boards (PCBs) attach to enclosures or plug into computer backplanes.
  • Panel or chassis mounts are used to install the device in cabinets, enclosures, or panels with bolts.
  • Modular style units include stackable units that dock in bays, slots, or boxes.Rack units that fit inside a standard 19” telecommunications rack.
  • Devices can be designed for mount on a Standard Deutsches Institute for Normung (DIN) rail, which is a German standard.
  • Benchtop or freestanding devices often feature full casings or cabinets and integral interfaces.


DATAQ INSTRUMENTS - Waveform Analysis Using The Fourier Transform

United Electronic Industries - Data Acquisition Systems

National Instruments - Monitoring Applications with Data Acquisition Hardware

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