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What Is a Tachometer?

Automobile tachometers display how many revolutons per minute an engine is putting out.
A separate tachometer is used for each engine in a multi-engine piston powered aircraft.
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  • Written By: Damir Wallener
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
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A tachometer is an instrument designed to measure the rotation speed of an object, such as a gauge in an automobile that measures the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the engine's crankshaft. The word is derived from the Greek words tachos, meaning "speed," and metron, meaning "to measure." This device traditionally is laid out with a dial, a needle that indicates the current reading and markings that indicate safe and dangerous levels. Digital tachometers have become more common, however, and they give numerical readings instead of using dials and needles.

Uses in Automobiles

In their most familiar form, tachometers measure the speed at which mechanical devices rotate, which typically is indicated in RPMs. They are used to monitor the RPMs in automobiles because running the engine at excessively high RPM rates can drastically shorten the life of the engine. In some cases, a small generator is attached to the engine drive shaft, and the RPM measurement is based on the electric current generated by the device. This instrument might also simply measure the rate at which the ignition system sends sparks to the engine.

Use in Airplanes

Airplanes typically have one tachometer for each engine, and in those that use propellers, one is also needed for each. A plane's engines usually operate at higher RPMs than its propellers. By using separate instruments for the different parts, the plane's pilot or crew can know whether there is a problem with any particular part.

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Laser Instruments

Traditional tachometers require physical contact between the instruments and the objects being measured. In applications where this is not feasible for technical or safety reasons, it might be possible for a laser to take measurements from a distance. Laser devices work by pulsing a tight beam of light against the rotating element. The rotating element will have one reflective spot, and the instrument measures the rate at which the light beam is reflected back. They can be permanent parts of the system, or they can be handheld for occasional spot measurements.

Medical Applications

A tachometer can even find uses in medicine. By placing a small, turbine-like device called a haematachometer in an artery or vein, a medical professional can use this instrument to estimate the rate of blood flow from the speed at which the turbine spins. This can be used to diagnose circulatory problems such as clogged arteries.

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Discuss this Article

lakefarmer05
Post 11

There are such apps in market which display the RPM of a running fan or gear set compatible with my iPhone 5, iPod touch and all 5th generation iPods. The Tachometer app for iPhone is really cool. It may be old news to some, but new to me and I'm totally impressed!

anon280117
Post 10

Does anyone know the socket size of a 70's sun tach? The one I have has a missing socket.

anon145173
Post 7

What is the mechanism involved in the working of a laser tachometer?

anon110413
Post 6

what is the necessity of selecting 21:42 mode for a four stroke vehicle and 22:44 for a two stroke vehicle when tachometer functions on sensing the pulse from the HD cord?

anon86318
Post 5

What a great website. Thanks for answering people's questions.

anon60469
Post 4

how about this tachometer? who has ever used it?

item No. is DT2234C by a company called Rinch Industrial In China.

anon36910
Post 3

How do you read a digital (light pulsing) tach with all the multiples? In other words, the rotating shaft appears still at the 275 RPM setting; then again at the 550 setting (275 x 2); then again at 825 (275 x 3) etc. How does one determine which is the correct RPM reading?

anon1774
Post 2

how do you test to see if tach is working?

seasilence
Post 1

How does a tachometer work in an aircraft?

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