Next level material measurement

VEGA Australia’s new 80GHz radar level measurement instrument is helping bituminous products and asphalt manufacturers improve production processesThe floppy disk and the humble VHS cassette – relics of an age almost forgotten. Advancements in digital technology have made them obsolete – smaller and sleeker technology reigns supreme, and will in time become obsolete, too, when the next technological marvel takes over.

The desire to improve how we do things is indicative of human nature – we want to make things easier and simpler. Like the transition from analogue video recordings via VHS to digital files, the tools used to ensure precise and high-quality level measurement in the pavement construction sector is constantly evolving.

For global measurement technology manufacturer and supplier VEGA, a leap in the advancement of levelling and precision measurement instruments came when radar technology became a reality.

Radar boasts a number of advantages in industrial processes, including reliability, convenience and non-contact, maintenance free operations. Further to that, the transmitters themselves are unaffected by any properties of the product, such as condensation or heavy vapour.

Since 1991, the family-run German business serviced the market with radar level measuring sensors and its development of the technology hasn’t stopped

In 2014, the business introduced its first radar level instrument with a transmission frequency of 80 gigahertz (GHz) to the Australian market, and in 2016 it followed that up with the liquid version of the 80GHz.

For John Leadbetter, Managing Director of VEGA Australia, this latest release is a first for the Australian road construction and maintenance sector.

“As far as road construction and maintenance goes, that includes concrete batching equipment and road service providers, but mainly the raw material producers – basically any kind of material used in road construction,” he says.

“When we started, our instruments were mainly dealing with dry types of raw material. One of the more difficult applications for our products is in the measurement of bitumen, which is high in temperature and extremely sticky.”

When VEGA released the new 80GHz radar measurement instrument for liquids, it increased the capacity for this kind of measurement tool for bituminous materials.

Because it operates with a transmission frequency of 80GHz, this ensures the radar level sensor receives only distinct, definitive reflections from the product surface. The focused 80GHz beam also avoids internal installations and build-up on vessel walls.

The sensor operates with an antenna aperture of 75-millimetres and a beam angle of just four degrees – ensuring reliable and certain measurements.

“After we released it to market, it just took off – we had major contractors use the liquid version and make the transition from other kinds of level measuring instruments, including pressure gauges,” Mr. Leadbetter says.

He says that as the demand for different products increases, particularly in the quarry and asphalt markets, there is increased responsibility from the manufacturer to produce high-quality products. The tools used to help efficiently produce these quality products will, in turn prove defining factors for many businesses.

“Fifty per cent of planning comes from what industry wants us to do, and what we’re doing is looking at all the mistakes of the past in this space and eliminate all the risks going forward,” Mr. Leadbetter says.

“When you look at quarry concrete and batching operations, they’ve been run very agriculturally for a long time,” he asserts. Before occupational health and safety standards changed the regulations around these processes, Mr. Leadbetter says operators would typically check material manually by climbing on top of the silos. “Some smaller businesses in the industry are still using manual dipsticks in some instances too,” he adds.

“There’s a big shift towards producing different materials, faster. The other reality, too, is the number of technical personnel used on site is diminishing, such as electricians.”

He says the need for accurate, real-time information is increasing, but how that information is gathered needs to be simple enough for the operator to do without assistance from an electrician or another specialist.

One of the key features of the new VEGA instrument is the ability to adjust the transmitter wirelessly, using Bluetooth technology. The optional feature enables a smartphone or tablet to access the setup and adjustment functions of the sensor, which are all integrated into the VEGA Tools app. The sensor can be adjusted from a distance of 25 metres and the app gives the user access to all the operational data, including measured value, event memory, sensor status display, echo curve and Bluetooth range information.

“If you connected the system with head office, for instance, someone onsite can gather the info, which can then be monitored offsite,” Mr. Leadbetter says.  Essentially, an operator can monitor the production remotely and make decisions on things such as whether or not they need to make more material, helping to streamline the process. “Really, it comes down to accountability,” he adds.

If VEGA has been granted access to a particular sensor, it can also access the tool remotely to assist with any technical issues or questions. “The instrument is even run off solar cells, so you can quite easily run it off a 12-volt solar battery for remote applications.”

Mr. Leadbetter says the benefit of the sensor equipment comes down to reliability and availability, but in a simple way.

“Pretty much every contractor has a smartphone – they can simply download the app. Using the app, it gives the advantage of simply looking and make decisions at head office based on that. It just makes it a lot easier for companies big and small. Besides, the younger generation is coming through now, and they’re more technology-savvy, so this works well,” Mr. Leadbetter says. “Everything is about better information. The more information you can give, the better chance of eliminating mistakes, increasing production and reducing the cost of breakdowns,” he says. “At one time, everyone ran their own race and now it’s all about standardisation, connectivity and automation.”

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