Tricky level applications on the rise

Level measurement is as old as the Nile, but some application problems simply will not go away. Editor in Chief Walt Boyes provides his thoughts on the results of the recent ControlGlobal.com Web Poll.

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In the case of clean fluids, you can use anything you want, from a float-type gauge to a person with a stick. “If K-Tek's float will float in your media without sticking problems, then you will have a very ‘forgettable’ level transmitter,” says Tom Jarrett regarding the instrument covered in the review.

For highly accurate measurement, there is a selection of products and technologies, as well. From differential pressure (Emerson Rosemount, Foxboro, Honeywell, etc.) and tank farm radar (Emerson Saab-Rosemount, Endress+Hauser), to hydrostatic tank gauging systems (King Gauge, Varec), and load cells (Hardy, Mettler Toledo, etc.), there is a high accuracy sensor to fit nearly all vessels and all media.

The Level Measurement Continuum
I’ve written before about what I call the “Level Measurement Continuum.” If you think of all of the possible level measurement applications as a continuum from “too easy to instrument” to “too hard to measure” it becomes easier to decide what sort of field instrument to make your level measurement with.

One of the reasons it is a continuum is that it is possible to use many different level measurement technologies on some of the same measurements. For example, you can measure water with a staff gauge, a float, a probe, ultrasonic or radar sensors, lasers, nuclear radiation, and by calibrated Mark I eyeball. Water sits on the “easy” side of the continuum. Molten steel level in the head box of a continuous casting process is not so easy. Many of the devices and technologies usable in a water level application go away when the fluid or solid becomes very hot, very cold, sticky, gooey, corrosive, abrasive, or otherwise noxious.

 



Tuning Off-Key Level Loops

 

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ONTROL recently had the opportunity to preview a soon-to-be-released product from Expertune, called the Level Control Wizard. Expertune regularly wins the loop tuning software category in CONTROL’s Readers’ Choice Award poll, and is considered one of the market leaders in the category. Expertune’s president, John Gerry, shared with us that level is one of the more difficult loop types to tune, because many operators and engineers don’t understand the dynamics of level measurements. Expertune developed this new product in reaction to the demand from their customer base for an easier way to tune level loops.

“Level loops present a unique challenge to process control, Gerry says, “since they contain an integrator. This is further complicated because different level loops have different goals.” 

To explain this concept, which is certainly not obvious to most operators, or to many engineers, Gerry continues, “The performance goal of one level loop may be the opposite of another. For example, many level loops provide better benefit to the plant when "tuned" sluggishly.”

Different level loops have different goals or requirements. Sometimes plants need fast and accurate control of level, other times it is best for the level to "float" so the vessel can absorb flow upsets. Gerry designed the wizard so that it guides users through the process of identifying the goals for the level loop; choosing the level control strategy that matches the plant's goals; and finding the best P, PI or PID parameters to meet those goals.

The software wizard optimizes level loops with the following level control goals: Fast and accurate control of level to setpoint; with and without D (derivative). The purpose of this goal is to improve the speed of recovery back to setpoint in the face of upsets. Averaging level, where the purpose of the tank is a surge vessel to smooth flow upsets. In this case the vessel is used to reduce the effects of upstream disturbances. The goal is that one unit feeding a second should disturb the second as little as possible. Averaging level with P (proportional) action only. In this example, the level is floating, maximizing the use of the surge vessel to smooth flow upsets. Averaging level with P and I (integral) action. In this case the level floats and slowly returns to setpoint.

Averaging level techniques may use tank volume. Using test data, the ExperTune Level Control Wizard automatically determines tank volume and controller settings.

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