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Process Level Measurement
Traditional sensors such as displacers and differential pressure
transmitters are making way for new technology and in particular
two-wire radar level transmitters.
We look at some of the advances in different level technologies
and highlight why pulse radar is rapidly becoming the preferred
choice for process level measurement.
Capacitive / Admittance level transmitters
Capacitive level transmitters have been used on a variety of liquid
and solid level applications for many years. If the process is
understood and does not vary, and if a number of basic rules
are followed, then capacitive level sensors can prove to be
reliable and cost effective.
In the past, applications with very viscous and conductive products
have proved to be problematic. However, recent advances such
as "phase selective admittance" processing within the transmitter
oscillator have allowed automatic compensation for product
build-up on the probe. This technology is available with two wire
4 to 20 mA / HART and Profibus PA directly from the transmitter head.
"Phase selective admittance" electronics processing
is designed to ignore conductive build-up.
Two-wire transmitters are available with 4-20mA/HART
and Profibus PA.
Hydrostatic level transmitters
Differential pressure transmitters have been used widely in vented
storage tanks as well as in pressurised vessels. The use of pressure
to measure level has obvious limitations particularly when the
density changes between different products. Many older designs
have liquid filled chemical seals and capillaries which do not lend
themselves to accurate level measurement.
Temperature variations on the liquid fill cause measurement
inaccuracies and the process diaphragm is often thin and prone
to mechanical damage.
There have been significant new developments in hydrostatic
sensors designed specifically for level measurement. Mechanically
robust and chemically resistant Sapphire-Ceramic measurement
cells are available with flush, hygienic process connections.These sensors do not have a liquid fill and can be fitted at the very
bottom of dished vessels. They have no "dead volume" that can
cause blockages or hygiene problems within food and pharmaceutical
processes. High accuracy is achieved with these direct mounted
"Sapphire-Ceramic" hydrostatic level transmitter with flush, hygienic process connection. The design is mechanically robust and abrasion resistant with no "dead" pockets. The sensor can be mounted very low in the vessel. It is ideal for food and pharmaceutical applications.
Ultrasonic level transmitters
The benefits of non-contact level transmitters were first realised
with the advent of ultrasonic level transmitters back in the 1970's.
Ultrasonics are suitable for water based liquids and for solids
applications where the effects of pneumatic filling are not too extreme.
In recent years, transducer technology has been improved and
more importantly echo processing software is more capable than
ever before. It is fair to say that ultrasonic level sensors have been
pushed to their physical limits. Even the most powerful ultrasonic
transducers are affected by vapours, gas composition, excess dust,
steam and condensation as well as filling noise and air movement.
Obviously, ultrasonics do not work in a vacuum.
Having said this, ultrasonics still provide a relatively low cost,
non-contact level transmitter with ranges from less than one metre
to 70 metres and above. Ultrasonic transmitters are available with
a variety of analogue and digital output options.
Non-contact ultrasonic level transmitters are used on liquids and solids with measuring ranges up to 70 metres.
Longer ranges generally require larger, lower frequency transducers.
Nucleonic or Radiometric level transmitters
Nucleonic (or radiometric) level transmitters are one of the only
truly non-invasive forms of level measurement. They are able to
measure liquids or solids through the wall of stainless steel or
other metal vessels.
This measurement technique, the differential adsorption of Gamma
radiation from a radioactive isotope, such as Caesium Cs137 or
Cobalt 60, is used to detect the level in the vessel.
This radiation source is specially shielded so that the radiation
is only directed towards the product through the vessel wall.
The radiation source is mounted near the maximum level on
one side of the vessel while radiation detectors are mounted
down the opposite side of the vessel. The amount of radiation
blocked is proportional to the level.
"FibreFlex" is a unique scintillation detector
It uses a special fibre-optic bundle of 7 metres or more that can be wrapped around the contours of a vessel.
In-head smart electronics complete this innovative product.
This measurement technique is very capable and is applied in
some of the most challenging process level applications in the
petrochemical, chemical and offshore industries as well as in
heavy solids handling applications typical in the quarrying and
Ohmart-VEGA have continued to develop nucleonic measurement
into the 21st century. One innovation is the revolutionary "FiberFlex"
flexible scintillation detector. Standard ion chamber and Geiger-Mueller
tube defectors are heavy with low sensitivity and normal scintillation
tube detectors are rigid and limited in length.
"FiberFlex" utilizes a special fibre-optic bundle that can follow the
contours of the process vessel. It is light in weight, easy to transport
and install and it can be longer than standard detectors at over
Advances in detector technology include in-head HART / 4 to 20 mA
transmiller, Foundation Fieldbus transmitters for scintillation
detectors including "FiberFlex".
Guided microwave level transmitters
The guided microwave level measurement technique is a variation
of radar. Also known as Time Domain Reflectometry, or TDR,
extremely short microwave pulses are transmitted down the
outside of a cable or rod and reflected off the surface of the product
that is being measured. The measurement possibilities include
level measurement in liquids and solids plus interface measurement
between low dielectric non-conductive liquids and conductive liquids.
In solids applications, guided microwave sensors look similar to
cable capacitive probes. However, they have the advantage of
being unaffected by changing product characteristics and they
can be calibrated without filling the vessel. Also, they are
independent of the internal structure of the silo or hopper and
many different powders and granular products can be measured.
Guided microwave or TDR level transmitters for different
powder and granular solids.
Guided microwave or 'radar on a rope'. It can be calibrated without filling the silo and is independent of changes in the characteristics of the product being measured.
Different designs are used on liquids applications. This includes
dual rod and concentric tube/rod designs. The advantage of these
designs is that the electrical field around the probe is concentrated
in the tube or between the rods and there is little external influence
from the vessel structure. However, these designs are susceptible
to build up of product between the rods or within the tube. This
can lead to measurement problems with false echoes caused by
the build-up. They are better suited for clean liquids.
Two-wire, loop powered guided microwave level transmitters for
liquids and solids are available with HART /4 to 20 mA and Profibus PA.
Radar level measurement
The benefits of radar as a level measurement technique are
compelling and clear. Radar provides a non-contact sensor that
is virtually unaffected by the following process conditions
* Changes in process temperature,
* Changes in process pressure
* Variations in the gas and vapour composition.
* Air movement between the sensor and the product surface
* Density of the product
* Conductivity of the product
* Dielectric constant of the product
Using time of flight measurement, pulse radar does not need
the expensive and power consuming processors that enable
the alternative FM-CW (frequency modulated continuous wave)
radar technique to function.
There are no Fast Fourier Transform (FF1) algorithms to calculate.
Instead, the echoes derived from a pulse radar are discrete and
separated in time. All of the processing is dedicated to echo
This means that pulse radar is better equipped to handle multiple
echoes and false echoes that are common in process vessels.
Some FM-CW radar transmitters cannot cope with multiple echoes
that occur in simple horizontal cylindrical vessels due to the
parabolic effect of the vessel top. This does not trouble pulse radar.
The low power consumption requirements of pulse have ensured
that a very capable iwo-wire intrinsically safe radar has been realised.
The averaging of the pulse technique reduces the noise curve to
allow smaller echoes to be detected. Well designed circuits
containing good quality electronic components ensure that pulse
radar can detect echoes over a wide dynamic range of about 80 dB.
This can make the difference between reliable and unreliable
VEGA produced the world's very first iwo-wire, loop powered
radar level transmitter in the summer of 1997. The VEGAPULS 50
series set the standard in performance for process radar.
Overnight, two-wire technology reduced the unit cost of radar
sensors and ensured that radar became an affordable first choice
level measurement technique.
These two-wire radar level transmitters have been proved on
some of the most arduous applications from agitated chemical
and pharmaceutical process reactors to solids applications
including fly ash and cement clinker silos.
The still unrivalled, "ECHOFOX" echo processing software is
at the heart of this success.
5.8 GHz radar
Example: VEGAPULS 54 6" horn is optimum size.
Choice of radar frequency
Process radar level transmitters operate at microwave frequencies
between 5.8 GHz and 26 GHz. Manufacturers have chosen
frequencies for different reasons rangin from licensing considerations,
the availability of microwave components and perceived technical
There are arguments extolling the virtues of high frequency radar,
low frequency radar and every frequency radar in between.
In reality, no single radar frequency is ideal for all radar level
It is a question of physics. Which frequency is best for the particular
process conditions or vessel characteristics Low frequency: 58 GHz
5.8 GHz radar is ideally suited to difficult process vessel applications
such as chemical reactors and solids level applications. The lower
frequency is less affected by condensation, build-up, agitation and
In general terms, 5.8 GHz is more "forgiving" than higher frequencies.
In addition, 5.8 GHz is capable of measuring liquid ammonia where
higher frequencies signals are damped.
5.8 0Hz radar
Example: VEGAPULS 53 PTFE dielectric rod antenna.
High frequency: 26 GHz
26 GHz is ideally suited for bulk storage tanks, horizontal cylinders,
mixing tanks, small vessels such as receivers and also bypass
tubes and stilling tubes.
The high frequency radar has better focusing for a given antenna
size. As a consequence, a higher accuracy can be achieved and
smaller horn antennas can be used. The focusing of high frequency
radar avoids many false echoes and there is very little influence
from standard vessel nozzles.
26 GHz radar
Example: VEGAPULS 42
Smallest horn antenna radar with
a diameter of 40mm.
Non-contact process radar has developed at a rapid pace.
Antenna designs for more and more arduous process environments;
echo processing software that can cope with the false echoes
from the internal structure of a vessel; a choice of radar frequencies
to ensure that the correct radar is chosen for the myriad of possible
applications; very capable and affordable two-wire loop powered
pulse radar transmitters.
With very low dielectric constant liquids, such as butane (dielectric
constant of 1 .4) and propane (dielectric constant of 1 .6), a stilling
tube is required to enable measurement with radar.
Essentially, the stilling tube is a wave-guide that concentrates the
microwaves and ensures that the signal amplitude is high enough
for reliable measurement. A high frequency radar design for
liquefied gases and other clean liquid hydrocarbons uses an
integral stilling tube. The design is optimised for maximum accuracy
and has the benefit of being pre-calibrated.
Two-wire, intrinsically safe 5.8 GHz
radar on a small process reactor vessel
Ultimate chemical resistance
A special enamel (glass) coated metallic horn antenna is aimed
at the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. This has all the
benefits of a horn antenna with excellent materials compatibility.
The enamel coating is the same material as the glass lined vessels
for which they are designed.
The only other "wetted" material is the PTFE waveguide inside
the enamel coated steel horn. The 5.8 GHz frequency makes this
radar ideal for chemical reactor applications.
High frequency pulse radar measuring
hot oil in a stirred process vessel.
High temperature and pressure
Pressurized process vessels in the chemical and petrochemical
industries are required to withstand constant high temperatures
at continuous high pressures.
These arduous process conditions are met by using radar with
a chemically and thermally stable ceramic waveguide. The whole
assembly is laser welded to ensure that the transmitter is gas
tight and that differential thermal expansion is negligible.
The electronics housing are mechanically isolated from the high
process temperatures by a temperature extension tube.
The design is capable of withstanding 400 °C at a constant
pressure of 160 Bar.
The author of this article, Peter Devine has published a book called
"Radar level measurement - the user's guide".
The guide is a full and comprehensive publication in full colour hardback A5 format covering the following:
1. History of radar
2. Physics of radar
3. Types of radar.
4. Radar level measurement
5. Radar antennas
6. Radar level installations
a. Mechanical installation
b. Electrical installation
7. Other level techniques:
Amongst others, DP transmitters, Capactive transmitters, Electromechanical transmitters and Ultrasonic.
Covering applications in the following industries: Brewing & Distilling,
Cement, Chemical, Food, Metals, Offshore, Pharmaceutical, Power and Water & Waste water industries.
9. VEGA radar
Two wire loop powered radar
Vegapuls 50 - technical specification
Vegapuls 40 - technical specification
Vegapuls 40 & 50 options
The book also has additional appendices, which cover the following:
Glossary of terms, Radar power & radar power density, Dielectric constants Symbols, Photograph acknowledgements.
Peter Devine - Technical Manager
VEGA Controls Limited
Telephone: +44(0) 1444 870055
Fax: +44(0) 1444 870080
Email for details...
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