The latest radar level sensor from Vega is the first such product that operates at a frequency of 80 GHz. And, according to its makers, it is just what food and beverage makers have been asking for. Matthew McDonald writes.
Food and beverage processing, like the rest of the manufacturing sector, continues to demand ever improving efficiency. Any product that speeds things up, decreases downtime, or makes life simpler on the factory floor is always welcome.
For example, food makers who need to do processing and mixing in vessels and need to be able to measure tank levels, want devices that are simple to use, versatile, intuitive, easy to clean, safe and reliable.
In particular these days, businesses want sensors that can work well with small vessels. Vega has released such a product, the VEGAPULS 64.
“About two years ago we released our solids radar development [the VEGAPULS 69] which is a radar level transmitter used predominantly for measuring solids material, so your grains, your flours, your mixtures like that,” John Leadbetter, Managing Director of Vega Australia told Food & Beverage Industry News.
“And then with the success of that particular unit, we brought forward by three years the development of the VEGAPULS 64 which is the liquid version of that particular development.”
Leadbetter explained that the unit is the first of its kind to use an ultra-high frequency of 80Hz. “This gives us some refined improvements such as narrower beam angles, faster updates and more resilience to things such as build up sprays – things like that which are normally present in the food industry,” he said.
In other words, it provides accurate level measurement even in poorly reflective liquids and in in vessels with internal installations such as heating coils and agitators.
In addition, the sensor has the smallest antenna of any such product and can function accurately with small storage vessels.
Leadbetter explained the use of small vessels is very much an industry trend. “We develop due to industry feedback and the industry was telling us that they need smaller devices, they need smaller fittings. They need to adapt to narrower vessels.”
Pet foods, dairies, biscuit makers, and so forth are making vessels in smaller sizes these days and know that, when it comes to fittings, bigger equals more expensive.
As such, the VEGAPULS 64 has a thread that measures just ¾ inch.
To demonstrate just how small a vessel it can be used with, the company connected the sensor to a 300ml bottle of water and successfully measured its contents.
“No other radar on the market can do that,” Leadbetter said.
“It’ll still work in larger vessels but it’s specifically been targeted at the smaller end of the market.”
Asked about cleaning procedures, Leadbetter explained that normal industry procedures should be followed.
“Most applications in the food industry using cleaning in place with caustics, so we’ll all fully approved, we have temperature ratings and everything for that. Realistically in the food industry you’re going to have no little gaps or anything like that so it’s going to be a smooth finish.”
The level sensor is suitable for use in areas other than the food and beverage sector.
“When developing a product, we look at all markets then make changes in options to adapt to the different markets,” said Leadbetter.
The product is suitable for use with any type of conductive fluid including water, bitumen, chemicals and so forth. Where the model for the food sector differs from models for other industries is that has received all relevant food approvals.
“We will change fittings or change approvals to adapt to the industry we are going into…it’s just the adaption and the fitting that are changed,” said Leadbetter.
According to Leadbetter, the market for level measurement sensors is changing.
“A lot of the technologies of the past which were traditionally used such as capacitance and ultrasonic pressure and things like that are going to become less and less effective (or used) and these more developed products like 80 GHz radar will start replacing those older technologies for size, for convenience and for adaptability,” he said.
Still, the business of level measurement is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Vega makes other devices such as tuning fork point level switches which are used where it is only necessary to know when a material has reached a particular point; and pressure transmitters which are suitable for applications where there are no fittings on top of the vessels to use things like radar level transmitters.
It is a horses-for-courses approach and Leadbetter often returns to the theme of responding to industry demand.
“It’s [about] helping the customer streamline and improve their processes and responses and things like that,” Leadbetter said.
“In most cases we’re able to. In some cases, it’s a little bit far-fetched. We don’t believe we’ve reached the end of radar development and we think there’s a lot more to go yet but this is certainly along the path the food industry is taking us.”
“Other industries have different criteria so we adapt to their types of requirements for their industries – high temperatures, fumes, larger vessels, faster filling, things like that. We try to adapt to all things as much as possible.”
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