New liquid radar level measurement tools assisting in material supply

The VEGAPULS 64 liquid radar level measurement instrument is helping improve efficiency, not just for bitumen suppliers, but also for the service providers maintaining their assets.

Setting the target of sealing every major highway in NSW by 2023, as outlined in this year’s 2018-19 state budget, the NSW government has set the bar high. Part of the onus is not just on government, industry and the companies set to deliver on this goal, but also on the various material producers that will supply these projects.

For asphalt plants and quarries to meet such demand, not just in NSW, but all across the country where billions of dollars are fuelling the nation’s infrastructure boom, material supply firms are seeking the best equipment to ensure material supply is constant and to the best possible quality.

On the front line are service providers like Fleming Electrical – a Queensland-based firm specialising in a range of industrial electronics solutions and maintenance services on such plants, particularly in the asphalt production sector.

New developments in level material measurement technology is a key area where such productivity gains could potentially be achieved on material supply operations and help contribute to the major national road infrastructure task at hand.

According to Kyle Flynn-O’Brien, electrician with Fleming Electrical, the VEGA brand of level measurement instrument products is at the cutting edge of this.

“We’ve used a lot of VEGA equipment for level indication and production on a range of asphalt operations, especially bitumen tanks,” Flynn-O’Brien said.

“VEGA is the go-to name and we use their instrument for most of our customers.”

Since 1991, the family-run German business has provided the international market with radar level measuring sensors for material production, such as those used in road construction.

In 2014, the business introduced its first radar level instrument with a transmission frequency of 80GHz to the Australian market. In 2016, it followed that up with the liquid version of the 80GHz – the VEGAPULS 64.

When VEGA Australia released the new 80GHz radar measurement instrument for liquids, it increased the capacity for this kind of measurement tool for bituminous materials, which have traditionally proved a challenge, given the high temperature and viscosity of the material.

“VEGA’s transition towards non-conduct liquid radar measurement technology has been the major point of difference for him, in regard to maintenance and operation of such instruments, and he’s followed suit by updating his own tool kit,” Flynn-O’Brien said.

“Most other instruments are still using level guided radar, including the old VEGA models. It’s similar technology, but the difference is that the old models have a rod or cable on it to guide and measure the material physically.”

On the VEGAPULS 64, the sensor emits a continuous radar signal through the antenna, which is reflected by the material and received as an echo by the antenna. The frequency difference between the emitted and received signal is proportional to the distance and depends on the filling height.

The instrument then converts the height into a respective output signal, which is then outputted as measured value.

“The software presents a lot more advantages in general,” Flynn-O’Brien said.

“With the new one, we’re not having to jot down all the dimensions of the tank. It can give you a sample of the vessel and does all the calculations for you.”

Because the VEGAPULS 64 operates with a transmission frequency of 80GHz, this ensures the radar level sensor receives only distinct, definitive reflections from the product surface. The focused 80GHz beam also avoids internal installations and build-up on vessel walls.

The sensor operates with an antenna aperture of 75mm and a beam angle of just four degrees, which ensures reliable and certain measurements.

“With guided radar instruments in bitumen applications, what would happen is you’d get material build-up on the roads, which can result in false signals and readings,” Flynn-O’Brien said.

“This is often the biggest issue our clients face in reliable material measurement and bitumen tanks.”

One of the key features of the VEGAPULS 64 is the ability to adjust the transmitter wirelessly, using Bluetooth technology. The optional feature enables a smartphone or tablet to access the setup and adjustment functions of the sensor, which are all integrated into the VEGA Tools app.

The sensor can be adjusted from a distance of 25m and the app gives the user access to all the operational data, including measured value, event memory, sensor status display, echo curve and Bluetooth range information.

If VEGA has been granted access to a particular sensor, it can also access the tool remotely to assist with any technical issues or questions.

For Flynn-O’Brien, the simplicity of the VEGAPULS 64’s design also contributes to its ease of use from an installation and maintenance perspective.

“You don’t have lots of parts to deal with – it’s just a probe and the radar, and the only thing you have to clean is the antenna,” Flynn-O’Brien continued.

“The VEGAPULS 64 is much easier to install and is really reliable, so it ticks the boxes for me. I’d say our clients are also much happier with the new ones because we’re not getting the false readings.”

Part of Flynn-O’Brien and Fleming Electrical’s affinity for VEGA sensor technology also stems from the manufacturer’s prominence in the wider market. He adds that the capabilities of the new VEGAPULS 64 resonate not just with him, but are now gaining in popularity with his peers and co-workers.

“The majority of asphalt plants we see are European-built plants and they come to Australia pre-installed with many parts, including the probes, which are typically VEGA products,” Flynn-O’Brien said.

“Because the technology is already on the plant and they do the job, it’s easier for us to fit those requirements by also using VEGA products.

“My boss is in his 60s and when radar came around when he was younger, the technology was harder to understand and unreliable, so he wasn’t a fan.

“But when the VEGA liquid radar instruments came out, and after my fifth or sixth installation, the boss had a play and was blown away – he’s a big fan now.”

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