Emerson's Rosemount non-contacting radar technologies are used in industries such as oil and gas, chemical processing, food and beverage, metals and mining, water and wastewater and process industry utilities.

Non-contacting radar technology’s growing application landscape

May 10, 2023
Product evolution and industry-specific innovation create emerging opportunities in new markets

Fifty years ago, Emerson began utilizing a new method for measuring tank levels: non-contacting radar technology. Taking a technology originally designed for military aircraft, the company became a leader in using radar technology for maritime and land-based tank level applications. Technology has evolved over those five decades and, these days, new opportunities are emerging for several industries to use the non-contacting radar thanks to the continual evolution of the products available on the market. Christoffer Widahl, director of solutions management for radar new markets at Emerson, talked with Control’s editor in chief, Len Vermillion, about the transformation, benefits, and emerging opportunities for non-contacting radar level measurement.

Q: The footprint for non-contacting radar technology is becoming broader across the application landscape. What has created these opportunities?

A: When we started 50 years ago, the products were very big, bulky and expensive. Over the years, technology has evolved from discrete components on large boards that were very power hungry and inefficeint. Everything has become much smaller and less power hungry. Also, the cost has gone down. Now with our sixth generation of frequency-modulated continuous wave radar transmitters, we're able to make them very compact and power efficient.

Q: The transformation radar technology has gone through is fascinating. Why is radar technology superior to other technologies, such as ultrasonic level measurement, and what are the advantages that non-contacting radar offers?

A: Legacy technologies, such as ultrasonic level transmitters, are sensitive to environmental changes that typically happen when a device is installed, especially outdoors. Ultrasonic level transmitters are affected by not only moisture, temperature, condensation on the antenna, but also dust and wind. And, they are prone to deliver inaccurate measurements and require more maintenance and manual checks.

Q: There are applications in water and wastewater, metals and mining, food and beverage, life sciences and chemical industries. Explain why they're fits for non-contacting radar transmitters relative to other level measurement technologies?

A: In many of these applications, for example, the chemical industry, the media in some cases are very aggressive and corrosive. As the name stipulates, it is a non-contacting technology. So, nothing of the radar sensor is in contact with the liquid or the fluid it is measuring, so you don't have to worry about corrosion.

The same applies for metals and mining where you're using a lot of chemicals, but it's also quite rough. You have solids applications with rocks, cement or other things that are very abrasive. Having non-contacting, top-down technology that is far away from the media is an advantage. The lifetime of the product will increase. It won’t break down as easily.

In food and beverage, the radar is also always mounted on top of the tank, measuring top-down and without contact with the media, thus minimizing contamination risk. In life science we still comply with all the hygienic requirements and hygienic certifications, but it's easier to put it on top. You don't have to dismount the entire system to do the cleaning.

One thing that is good in the water and wastewater industry with non-contacting radar is that you can do open-channel flow measurement with a non-contacting radar by measuring the level.

Q: Can you talk about some of the different non-contacting radar transmitters that are in the level portfolio for Emerson?

A: We can start with the Rosemount™ 5408 Level Transmitter. It's the radar with the most advanced capabilities. It's designed to cope with any application or condition. It has proven to be efficient in chemical applications, as well as petrochemical and oil and gas applications. It's rated for safety-instrumented applications. In this case, we developed our own radar front-end to get better signal output, better efficiency, and more power that we could use to do our level measurement.

The next one was the Rosemount™ 1408 Level Transmitter, where we saw a need for hygienic, cost-effective transmitters for the food and beverage industry. We recognized that there were legacy products or technologies that were only fulfilling our customer needs partially, and we had transmitters that were originally developed for other industries, such as oil and gas or chemical, which were adapted with hygienic approvals and then used in food and beverage or life science.

But none of these really were developed specifically for these industries, and we saw the opportunity to make something that really addresses our customers' needs, what they're really asking for in these industries. When we did our first trials with the 1408, we realized there could be an issue when you're doing the cleaning of the tanks, the SIP cleaning, or the CIP cleaning of the tanks. We developed a specific algorithm that detects when the spray ball is starting to move so that the transmitter would not go into any alarms.

The Rosemount™ 3408 Level Transmitter was specifically designed for the chemical industry. We added our Smart Meter Verification diagnostics that have been leveraged through other Emerson product lines. This is also available within our radar portfolio and that helps our customers to verify the performance and the health of the radar transmitter. So, you don't have to do anything to take it out of process or service. You can just do that while it's still operating, and you can get a good verification that everything is still working according to certification or standards.

The Rosemount™ 1208 Level and Flow Transmitter is a new addition to our portfolio. We tailored it specifically for water, wastewater and process industry utilities. With the 1208, we really focused on making it even more compact, smaller, and more efficient in terms of power management. Also, we developed the plastic housing since that is common in those industries.

One thing that differentiates the 1208 from many of the competitors, especially in the water and wastewater industries, is the M12 connector. Many of the products for this industry have cables that are molded into the plastics, which means that if you would have a problem with a cable, you'd have to replace your entire instrument. That is not sustainable. So, for the 1208, we added an M12 connector that makes it more sustainable. If it would have any issues, it's easy to replace the hardware on the transmitter. If the cable breaks down, it's easy to replace the cable without having to replace the entire unit.

Q: Every industry values different things, but, besides non-contacting features, what does non-contacting radar bring to the table that you don't see from many other technologies?

A: The trend is that you would add more and more diagnostics. But to have reliable diagnostics, you need reliable data. And you must have a lot of data, otherwise, it's difficult to build those diagnostics and have that data reliable.

That's one thing that differentiates our transmitters. The latest generation of radar products feature Fast Sweep Technology, which allows them to to send more sweeps to the media surface. With our Fast Sweep Technology, we send more sweeps and get more data, which in turn increases reliability, and leads to better diagnostics.

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