Instrument and instrumentation?

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Minh Tam

Senior Member
Vietnamese
Hi everyone!

In engineering, what is the difference between instrument and instrumentation?

My dictionaries say they are tools. And here's a screenshot from my document: Link

Thank for your consideration!
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Did you look at the dictionary? instrumentation - WordReference.com Dictionary of English

    Instrument (countable noun and verb)
    Instrumentation (uncountable noun)
    1. The Cambridge dictionary definition of "instrumentation" is useless.
    2. Please use the link above for "instrumentation".
    3. In the type of engineering that your link shows, do you think anyone is bothered about music?
    4. Your picture link does not mention "instrumentation"
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Minh Tam, an instrument is a single device - a thermometer, a tachometer, a pressure gauge. The instrumentation of a machine is the group of instruments used to monitor and control the machine.
     

    Minh Tam

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    Minh Tam, an instrument is a single device - a thermometer, a tachometer, a pressure gauge. The instrumentation of a machine is the group of instruments used to monitor and control the machine.
    Thank Andypc!. That's pretty clear to me now.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The Cambridge dictionary definition is woefully inadequate, even when you scroll down to the engineering definition. Personally I would avoid the word "instrument" in an engineering context. Andygc's post isn't wrong; a thermometer is a measuring instrument, but we would never call it that. It would be a thermocouple or pyrometer or RTD, depending on the type of device it was; the general term is usually "device" rather than "instrument" ("what device do you use to measure temperature?") — not, I might add that "instrument" is wrong, just that we don't use it much. It's use isn't wrong in the image you link to.

    "Instrumentation" is primarily the collection of measuring devices, their displays, how they are connected together and integrated with the rest of the machine and its controls. We would use "instrumentation" even if there was only one measuring device, or none at all ("there isn't any instrumentation on this old machine"). In your linked image, all three columns show symbols used in instrumentation, but from what I can tell, the writer uses the term only for displays (though I could be mistaken). This is quite common, using "instrumentation" to refer specifically to the display, such as someone asking what instrumentation a car has, whether for instance, it has a rev counter (tachometer). They would be referring to the display on the dashboard, not to whatever the car uses to measure engine speed.

    In general "instrumentation" is distinct from "control", with instrumentation just referring to the measuring and monitoring side, whereas "control" works the motors, valves, pistons and other devices (these devices definitely aren't "instruments", by the way) that cause the machine to do whatever it does. Clearly the two things, instrumentation and control are closely linked, and often one term involves or includes the other, but it is more common for the word "control" to include instrumentation than it is for "instrumentation" to include "control".
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Uncle Jack, I suggest that you are applying a narrow, specialist view to this topic. "We" meaning "you the engineer" might not call devices instruments, but the devices in my boat that tell me heading, speed, distance run, wind speed, wind direction, and depth are certainly called "navigation instruments", not "navigation devices" by those who design, make, sell and use them. I can also point out that the equivalent devices in the aeroplanes I have flown were called "flight instruments", not "flight devices".

    The definition is not "woefully inadequate". It should be taken in context. It is not from a comprehensive dictionary of English such as the OED and it does not come from a technical dictionary for engineers. It comes from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus. It is, necessarily, at the simpler end of the range of dictionaries that are available. Oxford Dictionaries Online gives us
    Measuring instruments regarded collectively.
    ‘the controls and instrumentation of an aircraft’
    in which the word "instruments" is used correctly.

    As for my use of "control", the operator of a machine uses the information provided by the machine's instrumentation to decide in what way to adjust its function. That is the meaning that I intended when I wrote
    The instrumentation of a machine is the group of instruments used to monitor and control the machine.
    I did not mean that I thought that motors, valves and pistons were instruments.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Uncle Jack, I suggest that you are applying a narrow, specialist view to this topic.
    Fair enough.
    Out of interest, do you use "instrument" to refer to the measuring device, the display, or both? I did find it curious the OP's example used "instrument" just for the measuring device, and appears to use "instrumentation" for the display.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    do you use "instrument" to refer to the measuring device, the display, or both?
    An interesting question. When I bought a new wind instrument I bought the whole thing - sensor, cabling and display. The most modern boat instruments are networked, so we can turn to the pages in the catalogue that are indexed as "navigation instruments" to find displays and sensors sold separately. I think I'd still consider the "instrument" to encompass the sensor and the display. When somebody is instrument flying, he would think he was looking at the instruments, but actually he'd be looking at the displays. But conceptually, the instrument he is looking at is the system - pitot tube, static port and airspeed indicator.
     
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