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Removing Guesswork from Container Scanning (Op-Ed)

3DLevelScanner by APM The 3DLevelScanner developed by APM. / Credit: APM.

Sharon Blatt, a writer with APM, contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

For some companies, the Holy Grail is accurate measurement of enormous volumes. Whether bulk collections of tiny parts, or containers of chemical powders, or steel silos filled with feed, it can be a nightmare to take accurate stock of a contained volume of material. Even worse, without being able to peer into storage containers, employees could be unaware of a container's imminent collapse if contents are unevenly distributed inside.

One solution is to use a radiating beam to generate an accurate image of a container's contents, or at least the level of its surface. The technologies competing for domination of that volume-measurement space are radar/microwave level sensors and ultrasonic level sensors, but each has its drawbacks.

Level sensor technologies

Radar/microwave level sensors beam electromagnetic waves from one end of a container to sensors on another end, allowing users to infer the height of contents within and extrapolate stock levels. Since the sensors gathering the data are based on a single continuous sample point, they are not always accurate when measuring bulk solids because they don't take into account variations that occur on material surfaces.

Ultrasonic level sensors work in a similar way, but transmit ultrasonic sound waves through a container instead of electromagnetic waves. Such sensors have capabilities such as non-contact continuous level measurement, the ability to measure most bulk solids and are free of mechanical loads — but, they have a limited range and can only transmit single frequencies. That is a problem because they only measure the time/distance of the sound waves but not their directions, are inaccurate in dusty environments and require custom designs for varying container shapes.

A schematic showing how the 3DLevelScanner measures the surface of a material in a closed container. Credit: APM.

3D volume measurement

To overcome to those limitations, our company developed a new volume measurement technology - the 3DLevelScanner. It relies on the sending of low-frequency pulses from an array of three antennas and receiving the echoes to gauge volume levels. Unlike other technologies, the 3DLevel Scanner measures not only the time/distance of each echo but also its direction, resulting in more accurate volume measurement.

While ultrasonic and radar/microwave scanners measure single points along a material's surface, the 3DLevelScanner measures multiple points simultaneously, generating a 3D picture of a container's contents and resulting in a more accurate calculation of volume. These results are further enhanced due to the use of a 2-dimensional array beam-former that is lowered into the container. That technology transmits low-frequency pulses, and its echoes are filtered out and then processed with a digital signal processor to generate a 3D image of the container's contents — all displayed on a remote screen.

The sturdy design of the 3DLevelScanner, coupled with the proprietary self-cleaning capabilities that prevent material from adhering to the internal workings of the device, ensure long-term reliability and minimal maintenance. It works well in dusty, humid or high temperature environments, and is unaffected by the type of materials being stored. Consequently, it does not need special calibration, resulting in easy installation. It seamlessly integrates to existing ERP systems, enables remote measurement and data delivery, and yet is still cost competitive with other technologies.

The efficacy of the APM volume measurement solution has been proven in the most trying of conditions. The Ropar coal-fired power plant in India in 2009 was the scene of the first 3DLevelScanner installation in that industry. This is one of the toughest proving grounds for such technology as it is characterized by hot temperatures, dust, filling noises and a generally dirty environment, as well as challenging material characteristics. Accurate volume measurement is required at numerous stages of the power generation process to ensure the smooth and continuous operation of the production flow. The performance of the 3DLevelScanner exceeded expectations and has resulted in the installation of over 50 additional units.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.