Case Studies in Improving Level Measurement at Ethylene Plants

In ethylene plants, balancing environment, health and safety is essential while maximizing productivity. Each part of the ethylene production process has its own challenges and considerations when it comes to monitoring level and ensuring safety and efficiency. Proper level instrumentation can improve this process and bring peace of mind to plant operators.

Magnetrol® produces a wide range of level instrumentation that can be used in ethylene plants. This blog post features the stories of two ethylene plants that were able to better manage their processes using MAGNETROL instrumentation.

Case Study #1: Visual Level Indication In Cryogenic Applications

An ethylene plant in China required a clear visual indication of level from challenging cryogenic applications including methane, ethane, ethylene and propylene. Specific gravity in these applications ranged from 0.3-0.8. The plant needed a level indicator that could withstand these challenging conditions and provide unobstructed visual indication.

ethylene plants

The Atlas™ magnetic level indicator.

The Orion Instruments® Atlas™ Magnetic Level Indicator (MLI) has physical floats in the MLI chamber that can simultaneously meet cryogenic and low specific gravity requirements. The careful float design allows level to be tracked accurately even as temperature and specific gravity shifts.

Cryogenic visual flags or indicators, also known as frost shields, prevent frosting to provide a clear visual indication of liquid level. By using ATLAS in their applications, the plant was able to obtain the clear visual level indication that was required.

Case Study #2: Meeting Safety Requirements

A refinery and petrochemical facility in Canada that primarily produces ethylene needed to upgrade its level measurement devices to meet safety regulations. The facility’s reliability and safety groups needed level devices that met SIL requirements for emergency shutdown (ESD) and safety systems. Both SIL 1 and SIL 2 applications exist at this site.

The facility needed to implement proof test procedures for their instrumentation and control devices to meet safety loop requirements. One proof test requirement was for the mA output to be set below 4 mA and above 20 mA; this was the necessary output range to meet the NAMUR NE43 recommendation.

The ORION Jupiter® JM4 magnetostrictive transmitter was chosen to fulfill these requirements. It allowed current output to be taken low or high per NAMUR NE43. The advanced diagnostics of the JM4 allowed users to pull echo curves from the transmitter display or access them externally using a PC by wiring into the current loop.

More Information

MAGNETROL offers numerous level and flow solutions for ethylene applications. To learn more about the products we offer and how they can help increase the efficiency and safety of ethylene plants, download our ethylene brochure.

ethylene brochure

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DA Level Measurement Solutions

The deaerator is a key, yet oftentimes overlooked, component of the steam generation cycle, regardless of the scale of your process. Whether it is part of commercial power generation or a packaged boiler system, the deaerator has a crucial role to play.

Aurora Magnetic Level Indicator integrated Guided Wave Radar monitors critical DA level.

Although serving a primary role of removing noncondensable gases (O2 and CO2) from boiler feed water to prevent corrosion for improved hardware longevity, the deaerator also provides additional support functions which, along with its core benefit, require high-quality instrumentation with accurate level controls to ensure optimal performance in its assigned tasks. Here are some of the support functions that deaerators provide:

  • Preheating boiler feed water for improved efficiency
    • Reduces fuel requirements
  • Effective removal of dissolved gases (O2 and CO2) from boiler feed water
    • Minimizes corrosion for improved hardware longevity
  • Ensuring adequate head pressure for boiler feed pumps
    • Increases hardware longevity/lowers maintenance
  • Managing deaerator storage/inventory
    • Ensures sufficient supply to meet steam production demands

Level Measurement Challenges and Considerations

As with all level measurement, the first obstacle is working around the effects process dynamics have on the fundamental technology.   Another difficulty is the complexity of the measurement system relative to hardware installation, software corrections and its perpetual need for calibration. Eliminating variables in the level measurement equation is the easiest method of optimizing your DA level.


A deaerator in the field.

Furthermore, inadequate level controls can inhibit the deaeration process.  If the level is too high, this prevents the temperature from meeting minimum requirements for removal of dissolved O2 and CO2.  On the flip side, if the level is too low it can reduce or shutdown feed water flow to the boiler, affecting end use steam needs. The former affects hardware longevity and efficiency, while the latter risks production losses and possible damage to pumps.

We don’t want to ignore the fact that any appreciable gain in boiler feed water achieved by leveraging the heat exchanger aspects of the deaerator reduces the amount of fuel required at the boiler— every 10.8 °F (6 °C) rise in boiler feed water amounts to a one percent savings in fuel cost.

Level Measurement Solutions

MAGNETROL addresses the measurement challenges of DA level control with several instrument options:

  • For point level
    Model B35 external cage float-actuated switch for low level alarming, ASME B31.1 construction
  • For continuous level
    Eclipse® Model 706 guided wave radar transmitter for aggressive steam application
  • For visual indication & continuous level
    Atlas™ or Aurora® magnetic level indicator with integrated guided wave radar can be supplied with switches

More Information

For more information on solutions for your DA level control and other power/steam generation applications, download the power industry brochure. You can also download the steam generation apps brochure for more information on level solutions for the steam generation and condensate recovery process.

power generation

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Measurement Solutions to Optimize Steam Production & Power Generation

A considerable amount of resources are allocated to the production of steam and electricity in the chemical process industry.   Research shows that minor performance improvements in either of the two areas will have a significant impact on product quality, cost and ultimately a company’s ability to effectively compete in the global arena.

steam drum

A steam drum in a chemical plant.

Regardless of the source of steam for your facility (e.g., packaged boiler, coal or gas-fired plant, combine cycle plant, etc.) or its end use (heating and/or power generation) eliminating the measurement variables associated with more traditional technologies used for boiler or steam drum level control is a solid first step it optimizing the production and quality of steam for a given amount of fuel. U.S. Department of Energy surveys show the boiler as the keystone to optimizing steam production for profit.

This concept of reducing the avenues for error, whether process or calibration related, in the level measurement equation translates extremely well to other critical applications throughout the cogeneration and corresponding condensate recovery processes. For example, leveraging advanced level measurement technologies is a simple and inexpensive method of ensuring proper management of DA level to improve the deaeration process; so is maximizing efficiency of shell and tube heat exchangers used to pre-heating boiler feed and make-up water, or maintaining appropriate level in blowdown and flash (receiver) tanks. Of course, there are maintenance benefits that go hand-in-hand with these performance enhancements.

Level Measurement Challenges and Considerations

The challenges facing any level measurement technology in a cogeneration facility are usually associated with the aggressive nature of steam and vulnerability to process dynamics including pressure, temperature, vacuum and specific gravity.   If left unattended, these seemingly subtle limitations have a profound impact on the bottom line.

Level Measurement Solutions 

MAGNETROL offers a range of level instruments which address the limitations of traditional technologies on key applications throughout the cogeneration process to help your plant operate more efficiently.

  • Eclipse® Model 706 guided wave radar transmitter
  • Aurora® or Atlas™ magnetic level indicator

Our whitepaper and application brochure detail measurement challenges and solutions for critical applications throughout the cogeneration process. This blog post is part of an occasional series thoroughly exploring each application.

More Information

For more information on how our technologies can help improve performance aspects throughout key areas of any cogeneration facility, you can download the following brochures: Steam Generation, Waste Heat & Condensate Recovery Level Applications and Optimizing the Steam Generation Cycle & Condensate Recovery Process for Profit.

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Celebrating 85 Years of Level and Flow Measurement Innovation

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the founding of Magnetrol®. Since its very beginning, MAGNETROL has been a company focused on level and flow measurement innovation, designing cost-effective, cutting-edge solutions for its customers. In honor of 85 years of success, here’s a look back on some MAGNETROL highlights over the years.

The Beginning

The history of MAGNETROL dates to 1932 as a Chicago-based manufacturer of boiler systems. The first MAGNETROL level control was born when the founding company, Schaub Systems Service, needed a controller for its boiler systems. Our innovative device was the first of its kind to accurately and safely detect the motion of liquid in boilers and feedwater systems. Soon the MAGNETROL name became synonymous with rock-solid, reliable mechanical buoyancy controls.

measurement innovation

One of the first Magnetrol® level instruments

Innovation in Radar

Mechanical buoyancy isn’t the only area where MAGNETROL has been a force for innovation. Our devices have changed the radar landscape as well. In 1998, we introduced the Eclipse® Model 705 as the first loop-powered guided wave radar (GWR) transmitter for industrial liquid level applications. The unprecedented reliability and accuracy of the ECLIPSE 705 set a new standard for radar devices.

We didn’t stop there, continuing to develop radar technology and adapt it to the needs of our customers. In 1999, MAGNETROL released the first ECLIPSE high-temperature/high-pressure probe, rated to 750 °F (400 °C). We developed an overfill-capable coaxial probe in 2000. And in 2001, we became the first company to incorporate GWR technology into a patented magnetic level indicator chamber, offering true redundant measurement.

In addition to these new developments in GWR, MAGNETROL created many pulse burst and non-contact radar devices for use in challenging process applications. We also secured our core capabilities in electronic technologies, including RF capacitance and ultrasonic.

Looking Toward the Future

Most recently, MAGNETROL released the Pulsar® Model R86, a groundbreaking new 26GHz non-contact radar featuring a smaller wavelength for smaller antennas and improved 1mm resolution.

We continue to raise the bar for level and flow measurement. Whatever the future of industrial technology, MAGNETROL will be in the thick of it, developing the products that bring customers accuracy, reliability and peace of mind. We are a team of innovators—and innovators are always moving forward.

More Information

To learn more about the MAGNETROL history of level and flow measurement innovation and our many products, visit

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Managing Condensate Storage & Overflow

When it comes to commercial power generation, cogeneration (combined heat and power) or operating packaged boilers for process steam production, the recovery and storage of condensate plays an important role in overall operational cost and efficiency.

condensate storage

Condensate and make-up water storage tanks

In addition to its energy content, condensate has real value in that every gallon recovered spares the cost of additional makeup water, makeup water treatment and discharge to municipal or other systems. Depending on your plant configuration the condenser hotwell, main condensate storage and/or overflow tanks provide the means to manage condensate inventory and, subsequently, make-up water requirements.

Magnetrol® has produced an applications brochure for the power and utilities industries, detailing measurement challenges and solutions for each step of the steam generation and condensate recovery processes. This blog post is part of an occasional series exploring each application in detail.

Level Measurement Challenges and Consideration

Reliable and accurate point/continuous level technologies are critical in these applications to ensure sufficient supply of treated water is available to meet steam production demands as well as protect expensive hardware. Waste heat recovery through the use of flash steam also presents challenges related to level control. Oftentimes, it is the instrumentation, or lack thereof, that limits the performance of the overall system, causing the condensate and waste heat recovery processes to fall short of financial expectations.

Level Measurement Solutions 

MAGNETROL has produced several level measurement solutions for condensate storage tanks:

  • For point level
    Models B10 or B15 displacer-actuated switches
  • For continuous level
    Eclipse® Model 706 guided wave radar transmitter; Pulsar® R96 pulse burst radar transmitter; Echotel® Model 355 non-contact ultrasonic level transmitter
  • For visual indication
    Atlas™ or Aurora® magnetic level indicators 

More Information

For more information on level solutions for condensate storage tanks or other commercial power generation, cogeneration and boiler applications, download the power industry brochure. You can also download our steam generation white paper to learn more about solutions for the steam generation and condensate recovery cycle.

power generation

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Level Measurement for Your Hotwell

 The hotwell is an important part of the turbine cycle and plays a role in determining the overall operating cost of a power plant as well as its ability to respond to fluctuations in electricity demand. It serves as a water reservoir for steam condensate coming from the condenser – a valuable resource when considering the cost associated with the treatment of make-up water.


A comprehensive hotwell level solution incorporating a modular instrumentation bridle on a single set of process connections with redundant level controls and high/low level alarming

The primary function of any level technology employed on the hotwell is to ensure an adequate supply of condensate is available for the boiler to meet current generation needs. This allows the plant to address any shortfall in the supply of make-up water in a timely and efficient manner. Inaccurate reporting of level due to instrument-induced vulnerability to process dynamics or calibration errors can, in extreme circumstances, curtail a plant’s responsiveness to market demands.

In addition to its primary function, hotwell level controls facilitate the routing of excess condensate to the appropriate storage/overflow vessels as well as protecting expensive hardware due to low level conditions.

Level Measurement Challenges and Considerations

The greatest challenge associated with reliable and accurate hotwell level control is a technology’s vulnerability to process dynamics – specifically swings from a partial to full vacuum that can be experienced in the hotwell. Calibration also plays a role in determining an instrument’s performance and cost of ownership. Lastly, air in leakage resulting from ineffective isolation of the instrument in all process extremes, although subtle, does impact condenser efficiency.

Level Measurement Solutions 

MAGNETROL’S level measurement solutions eliminate the aforementioned challenges as they relate to reliable and accurate hotwell level control:

  • Continuous level: Eclipse® Model 706 guided wave radar transmitter or E3 Modulevel® liquid level transmitter
  • Continuous with visual indication & redundancy: Atlas™ or Aurora® magnetic level indicators
  • For point level: Model B40 float-actuated switch

Our applications brochure for the power industry details measurement challenges and solutions for critical applications throughout the power generation process. This blog post is part of an occasional series exploring each application in detail.

More Information

For more information on level measurement solutions your hotwell and other critical power industry applications, download the power industry brochure.

power generation

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Expert Answers to Thermal Mass Flow Questions

The Magnetrol® flow portal,, provides information about thermal mass flow meters and how they can improve the efficiency and safety of many processes. Periodically, MAGNETROL product manager Tom Kemme answers questions about flow meters in the portal’s Ask the Expert column. This week’s blog shares some recent Q&As.

thermal mass flow meters

Magnetrol® expert Tom Kemme answers your questions.

Will thermal mass flow meters be affected by changes in the composition of gas (i.e. will they require recalibration every time the composition changes)?

Thermal mass flow meters measure a flow rate based on convective heat transfer. Fluid properties are some of the many factors that influence convection. Each gas has unique properties, which is why these flow meters are calibrated for a specific application. You would not want a meter calibrated for an air application placed into a natural gas application without recalibration or some type of field adjustment if applicable.

All gas mixes are not created equal. If you had a gas mix with high hydrogen content, a variation in hydrogen would have a much greater effect than typical variation in natural gas content. Hydrogen has a tendency to create more heat transfer than most gases. For natural gas, it is common to have some slight variation in composition between the calibration of the device and the application itself. However, the effect is minimal for slight changes in methane or ethane at different times of the year. Natural gas fuel flow is one of the most prevalent applications for thermal mass.

Based on our experience, the biggest cause of malfunction in flow meters is improper installation. If you do not install a flow meter per the manufacturer’s recommendation this will greatly influence the performance of the meter. For thermal mass, this includes proper straight run, depth into the pipe (insertion probes) and flow arrow alignment.

Each application presents unique difficulties for every flow meter technology, and each end user has unique needs. There is no exact answer as to when a recalibration would be needed for thermal mass flow, as it is application dependent. You do not always need recalibrations for variation in gas composition.

What role do thermal flow meters play in emissions monitoring applications?

Thermal flow meters are at the forefront in flow measurement for emissions reporting and energy management projects. The energy management arena spans many markets, including some of the largest in the oil & gas and power industries. Some popular applications include monitoring gas fuel flow to a combustion source to report SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions, stack (flue) gas flow in power plants as part of a continuous emissions monitoring (CEM) system of NOX (nitrous oxide) and SO2, and flares in a gas field that need to be reported to environmental authorities. These applications prove difficult for many flow meter technologies.

For example, in a flare application most of the time gas is not being flared off, but it needs to be measured in case of an event. The user will want to monitor the low flow of pilot gas keeping the flare lit. This requires a flow meter with a very high turndown with good low flow sensitivity, which is a limitation of some technologies, such as differential pressure flow meters.

Many operators are most concerned with measuring CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. However, with thermal flow meters we are increasingly finding applications with the need for methane measurement. Methane is a greenhouse gas that has more than 20 times the global warming potential as CO2. No longer can coalmines or landfills emit this directly to the atmosphere. If not flaring the gas off, the owners are beginning to capture it, treat it, and produce usable natural gas from it. Some facilities that emit landfill gas, or facilities that produce biogas, are involved in carbon credit programs or clean development mechanisms. Similar applications can be found in wastewater treatment plants where customers are reporting digester gas emissions and even capturing this gas to produce electricity and reduce energy costs. Thermal dispersion flow meter technology, such as the MAGNETROL Thermatel® TA2, has become well accepted in all of these markets.

For more information, or to ask Tom Kemme a question about thermal mass flow technology, visit

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Level Measurement Solutions for Ammonia Storage

Vaporized ammonia is used in catalytic and noncatalytic reduction systems for emissions control in power plants. Ammonia is injected into the flue gas stream and acts as a reducing agent. The EPA mandates the reduction and control of these emissions, and ammonia is a key part of ensuring that a power plant is in compliance with EPA regulations. It is also used to enhance precipitator efficiency for particulate control. In order to keep the supply of ammonia readily available for usage and avoid spillage or accidents, a robust ammonia storage system with accurate level measurement must be in place.

ammonia storage

An ammonia storage tank at a power plant.

Magnetrol® has produced an applications brochure for the power industry, detailing measurement challenges and solutions for each step of the power generation process. This blog post is part of an occasional series exploring each application in detail.

Level Measurement Challenges and Considerations

Pure ammonia is stored in a pressure vessel rated for 250 to 300 psig. Aqueous ammonia (70 to 80% water) is stored in a tank rated for 25 to 30 psig. Storage requirements for aqueous ammonia are three to four times that of pure ammonia. A level measurement device for ammonia storage tanks must be able to withstand pressure and still measure accurately. Accidental atmospheric release of pure ammonia vapor can be hazardous, so safety and environmental measures may be required which affect the level control selected.

Level Measurement Solutions

MAGNETROL has produced several level measurement solutions for ammonia storage tanks:

  • For point level
    Model A15 displacer-actuated switch
  • For continuous level
    Eclipse® Model 706 guided wave radar transmitter with 7XP coaxial probe
  • For visual indication
    Atlas™ or Aurora® magnetic level indicators can be supplied with switches or transmitters

More Information

 For more information on level instrumentation for ammonia storage tanks or other power industry applications, download the power industry brochure.

power generation

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Flow Instrumentation Solutions for Tank Blanketing

Tank blanketing, or tank padding, is the process of injecting a gas into the empty space in a storage container. Nitrogen—the most widely used commercial gas—is the ideal tank blanketing gas when injected into the vapor space of a storage tank. It prevents ignition of flammable liquids, inhibits vapor loss, and protects chemicals from oxygen and moisture degradation. Nitrogen is also used as a purging agent and in cryogenic applications. tank blanketing

Magnetrol® has produced a brochure detailing different level and flow applications in ethylene plants and exploring measurement challenges and solutions for each one. This blog post is part of an occasional series exploring each application in detail.

Tank Blanketing Challenges and Considerations

For proper measurement and control of the gas used for tank blanketing, any flow instrumentation device needs to be sensitive to extreme low flows and pressures. Otherwise, the instrument will not be able to detect minor changes in the amount of gas in the tank. Flow monitoring of feed lines can prevent unsafe conditions that may arise when gas supply is insufficient. High-quality flow measurement can also ensure economical mass flow totalization.

Flow Measurement Solutions

Mass flow measurement is generally a trusted solution to monitor the nitrogen blanketing gas. A mass flow meter can track usage as a cost control measure and determine the particulars of gas usage.

MAGNETROL produces the Thermatel® TA2 thermal mass flow meter for use in these applications.

More Information

For more information about measurement solutions for tank blanketing and other ethylene plant applications, download the ethylene industry brochure. And to learn more about the THERMATEL TA2, visit

ethylene brochure

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The Elusive Search for Non-Contact Radar Nirvana

When it comes to measurement, the ultimate goal for operators in the process industries is to find a trouble-free, loop-powered level transmitter that can be mounted, wired and forgotten. As instrument shops’ staffing has been whittled back to a minimum, it has become the goal of many manufacturers to meet that challenging need for “plug and play” devices. So, how close have we gotten to applying two wires and walking away? This blog post explores the search for non-contact radar nirvana and how radar technology has evolved over the years.

A History of Radar Advancements

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, low-cost, loop-powered radar burst onto the scene. It was enthusiastically applied due to its ability to work even in the changing conditions that plagued the most popular technologies of the time. No longer would changing specific gravity ruin the accuracy of DP cells or displacers, or changing dielectric spoil the performance of RF capacitance devices, or vapor space changes affect the propagation consistency of ultrasonics. In short, a new age was upon us.

non-contact radar level transmitter

The Pulsar® Model R86 radar transmitter.

Radar had already evolved into two variations: Non-contact/through-air (antenna-based) and contact/guided wave (probe-based). In a perfect world all transmitters would be non-contact so they would not have to contend with contacting the dirty, coating-prone, turbulent liquids that can wreak havoc with performance and mechanical integrity. However, since guided wave radar (GWR) employs a metallic probe, a highly efficient electrical path is provided to propagate the signal. This allows for extremely strong radar reflections from the liquid surface, thus providing excellent performance in difficult conditions.

A Love-Hate Relationship

Non-contact radar (NCR) slowly became the technology many people love to hate. Theoretically, NCR can be so effective it should be everyone’s first choice. It is small and easy to install. This means that measurement in tall tanks does not necessitate a long, expensive and unwieldy probe like GWR, and the device sits up high in the tank, away from the tank contents. However, the vagary of launching an electromagnetic signal into space and waiting for its return is fraught with potential complications: false reflections from objects in the vessel, severe turbulence that can scatter the signal and foam that can absorb it are just some of the issues that exist to render NCR ineffective. Users reported challenges getting these devices ideally configured, which discouraged others from using them.

The Goldilocks Dilemma

Two of the keys to the effective use of NCR are correct installation and proper configuration. Installation includes avoiding sidewall and false target reflections. Configuration is getting the gain (amplification) settings just right. This is the “Goldilocks dilemma”— it can’t be too hot or too cold—too hot (excessive gain) and the echo saturates (distorts), deteriorating accuracy; too cold (insufficient gain) and the weak signal is lost. Optimal configuration is not an impossible task, but it is one that has eluded many good instrument personnel.

How Circular Polarization Helps

Electromagnetic energy can be launched using linear or circular polarization. Linear polarization has a constant E-field and needs adjusting to avoid sidewall reflections. To remove these launcher adjustments, the new Pulsar® Model R86 non-contact radar transmitter from Magnetrol® employs circular polarization which has a rotating E-field. In this way, no antenna adjustment is necessary during commissioning, getting the user closer to the “plug and play” goal.

When configured properly, the Model R86 can be everyone’s go-to transmitter. Having said that, no transmitter ever made is totally trouble-free. But if problems occur, MAGNETROL should have the ability to diagnose them quickly and bring the device back on line as fast as possible.

That means no more waiting for the trouble-free, loop-powered level transmitter that can be mounted, wired and forgotten. Non-contact radar nirvana is finally here.

For more information about this new innovation in non-contact radar, visit

R86 transmitter

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