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Level Measurement Q&A

  •   We load very fine, light, fluffy clay powders. We have tried various ways to detect when the vessel is filled to near capacity. Nothing has been successful at reliably preventing overfill. Do you have any recommendations?

    There are three methods of overfill detection I would recommend you investigate for your application. Though there may be more options on the market, for me, the choices would be between capacitance, vibrating fork (or rod), and laser level. All three have been mounted on solids loading arms so that the level detection device is always ready when loading is taking place. Each has its requirements, advantages, and drawbacks, so the application will determine the correct choice.
    Capacitance will require the powder to have a minimum dielectric value. This is not likely to be a problem depending on the probe selected. Clay has a fairly high dielectric, around 12 depending on the moisture content. Most manufacturers make a sensitive capacitance switch for bulk solids applications. Buildup and bridging can be an issue with this technology if the powder is sticky.
    Vibrating forks or rod switches require a minimum bulk density for switching and that density will affect the depth required for switching to take place. Again, the bulk density of clay is fairly high, so this technology would also be a good choice. The forks should be installed vertically for best performance and to reduce the chance of bridging.
    Laser is a non-contact solution to this application. The advantage of laser is that it will measure the level no matter the angle of repose of your fill. You also don’t have to be concerned about the operators damaging the device when they are positioning the fill arm since it will be above the vessel and likely also in a nozzle. The two concerns you would need to address would be the unmeasurable distance right at the sensor and heavy dust in the atmosphere. Device settings can address some dust, but if the cloud is too thick the light will not penetrate to the level.

  •   We have had reliability issues with various continuous level measurement systems in flour storage silos. Laser and sonar seem to have limitations giving reliable readings when a silo is being filled due to concentrated dust between the flour bed trying to be measured and the top of the silo where the measurement instrument is mounted. Guided wave radar (radar on a rope) seemed to have issues giving reliable readings after the cable that dangles from the top of the silo to the bottom gets coated with product build-up over time. What advancements have there been in these technologies today that have helped resolve these limitation of yesterday?

    There have been advances in non-contact radar over the last five years or so, but it also has issues with very heavy dust in the atmosphere. The only way to see if it will work for you is to test it in the application or rely on the experience of the manufacturer. You could also check the transducer size which was originally specified in your application or the settings of your laser. It is possible that your application can be solved with a slight modification of the equipment you have rather than another full investment.

  •   We do plastic molding but have the pellets in a melt pot that gets hot enough to melt the pellets into a very high viscosity. When the pot gets low, we just add scoops of plastic pellets. Also, the pellets are black and the liquid is also black. At 350° F, with a pot size roughly that of half of a 5 gal bucket, it has been a challenge. Also, we need to keep the lid on the pot to seal moisture as the material will gain moisture. Is there a level sensor that you can recommend?

    Assuming, the vessel is taller than 24 in. and there are no agitators, guided wave radar with a polished metal rod would be a good choice.

  •   We currently have E&H Micropilot M microwave level sensors installed in two powdered material silos, one in a sand silo, and one in a granular material silo. These sensors are prone to accuracy degradation due to dust build-up on the microwave feedhorn – requiring frequent cleaning. Is there something we can do to eliminate the frequent sensor cleaning or is there an alternative technology that would be impervious to the dust?

    I assume the complete name of the product used in your applications is Micropilot M FMR250 – non-contact radar product from E+H. As far as I am aware, E+H provides a purge port on their free space radars to address exactly this particular issue – dust build-up on the horn launch surface and they advertise this feature in their literature. Do you use the air purge on this product?
    If you used that already and still have problems, then the alternative non-contact level measurement technologies to use are laser or ultrasonic:
    1. Laser will have no problem with dust build-up, because it is non-intrusive to the process mounting and the lens are protected by dust tubes. The only limiting factor for this technology is the dust density and time dust present. If your process is as such that dust is present only during fill cycle and then settles (this operation type is typical for storage type silos), then the laser is a good solution for this application.
    2. Applying ultrasonic requires careful consideration of all application and mounting specifics (reposing angles, position of feedstream, mounting nozzle location etc.). Ultrasonic usually handles OK with a dusty environment as the transducer sound emitting surface vibrates while the sound wave is launched and tends to clean itself from dust particles. Nevertheless, to apply ultrasonic in dry bulk applications require a lot of expertise and field experience.
    I would suggest the following:
    1. Check first the purge option for FMR250
    2. If you have been already through step 1, then consider alternative technology trial (laser or ultrasonic)

  •   What is the most accurate type of device to use for accurate level measurement in a silo or pressure vessel when using powders to avoid errors?

    For continuous level measurement in silos with powders, there are two choices for level measurement:
    1. Contact level measurement method – this method is very accurate and will avoid errors which may occur during silo fill or empty cycle. A typical device used for such measurement is GWR (Guided Wave Radar). Level measurement accuracy is +/-5 mm (+/-0.2 in.). This method is cost effective.
    Limitations: Dielectric constant of the measured material – if very low (<2), this may present a problem for the GWR device. Another limitation is the silo height – if silo height exceeds 15 m/50 ft, usually the advice is to check how well re-enforced is the silo roof – the pull forces on the GWR cable during material discharge can be very high and this may have an impact on the silo roof integrity.
    Plum Bob – this product is a mechanical on-demand measurement device with good accuracy. Not advisable to be used during silo fill cycle.
    Here we will not discuss another common method for measurement – Load Cells – as this technology comes with a higher price tag, it also measures weight instead of level and to be effective must be installed before the silo is erected.
    2. Non-contact level measurement method – the advantage of this method is the easy installation and almost no need for preventive maintenance. One disadvantage is that with powders, especially during silo fill cycle, the generated dust may introduce errors and impact the measurement reliability. Many end-users, however, will look first to this method to find their level measurement solution as non-contact avoids lot of post-installation issues.
    Products used: Laser, Ultrasonic, Open Air Radar. Note: it is not advisable to apply Ultrasonic products in pressurized silos (pressure exceeding 1.5 bar/22 psi)
    To determine which technology/product is the most applicable, the application specifics must be reviewed.
    Conclusion: If accuracy and measurement reliability are the two most important criteria, then GWR should be applied if limitations (see above) are not met.

  •   How does the laser technology compare to other non-contact level measurement technologies?

    Laser technology has two major differences when compared to the present ultrasonic and open air radar product markets:
    1. The laser can measure any solids surface at any angle.
    2. The laser measures with a very narrow beam with virtually no divergence.