Magnetrol® buoyancy product manager Kenny Heidel was recently interviewed by Flow Control Magazine for a story on industrial level measurement technology. This week’s blog shares his Q&A on the state of industrial level technology today. To learn more about this topic, read the full article from Flow Control Magazine.
How has technology for industrial level measurement and monitoring evolved over the past 10-20 years?
Over the last 10-20 years, level measurement has changed drastically. Previous methods of
level measurement primarily involved mechanical level switches, which are passive elements that only identify a level when that switch point is achieved. These devices do not provide continuous level measurement, which is what most users presently require. Other methods used in the past were differential pressure, but this technology can require significant calibration to ensure that the process specific gravity and temperature are known. The real game changer was the introduction of guided wave radar (GWR) to the market. This is a level measurement technology that could produce a continuous output and is independent of changing media characteristics, like specific gravity and temperature. GWR is an emerging technology that provides instrumentation people more flexibility to optimize their process.
How can industrial level measurement technology be leveraged today, in ways that were not previously possible, to increase the efficiency of industrial process applications?
One key way to leverage level measurement is with respect to utilizing the heat rate measurement for power plants. It is important in a boiler feedwater heater to maintain a certain level of water; this helps the boiler run efficiently with the correct portion of steam being created. Deviations from the appropriate water level could cause damage to downstream equipment, or cause the heat required to increase and reduce efficiency. By using a continuous level measurement technology like guided wave radar, process engineers can ensure that the feed water is at the appropriate level for optimal performance.
In your experience with customers, where do you most often see missed opportunities regarding industrial level measurement technology and applications?
People are creatures of habit, and opportunities are being missed with customers who are unwilling to change. Many users are simply more comfortable with older technologies, regardless of whether newer, more advanced technologies can offer advantages, such as, for example, additional diagnostics.
What are some examples of end-user applications where novel methods for industrial level measurement and monitoring are being utilized to produce a significant impact on the bottom line?
As discussed above, helping to ensure the desired feed water level in boiler feedwater heaters and how it affects the overall heat rate of the power plant. Newer technologies offer more advanced, proactive diagnostics that allow users to better utilize technicians and reduce overall down time, which also affects the bottom line.
How do you see industrial level measurement and monitoring evolving in years to come? How will the technology and systems for level measurement and monitoring be better tomorrow than they are today?
The evolution from point contact switches to continuous level transmitters will continue. Many customers still have mechanical level switches used for level alarms and level monitoring. These will begin to be replaced with transmitters that have continuous level monitoring capability, as well as advanced diagnostics. The push will be to give customers as much information as possible so they can make smarter decisions and make their processes more efficient. Wireless will become more prevalent, but is very slow to be adopted in the process measurement market. Security is one concern limiting the uptake of wireless, and the other is the selection of a standard to use, as there are a few standards out there for wireless communication.