New Radar Sensor for all Applications The Joker of Radar Level Measurement

Why do you only need to remember one radar level sensor from now on? Whether you’re dealing with liquid or bulk material, whether at 6 GHz, 26 GHz or 80 GHz — in future, one radar sensor will cover all applications. It couldn’t be simpler, promise the radar experts at Vega, who have one thing in mind above all: better processes for the user.

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The Joker of Radar Level Measurement: Whether liquids or bulk solids — a new radar sensor for all applications ushers in a new era of level measurement.
The Joker of Radar Level Measurement: Whether liquids or bulk solids — a new radar sensor for all applications ushers in a new era of level measurement.
(Source: ©Yurii Klymko - stock.adobe.com; Vega)

Let’ws take a look back. 1997: The first two-wire radar gauge proves itself in many applications for which radar measurement technology was previously either too complex or simply too expensive. 2003: Birth of the plics instrument platform; thanks to this sophisticated modular system, every radar level meter can now be assembled individually to customer requirements, starting from prefabricated individual components. 2014: Vegapuls 69, based on the high measuring frequency of 80 GHz, is initially launched as a radar level meter for bulk solids; in 2016, Vegapuls 64, a counterpart for liquids based on 80 GHz follows for the first time worldwide. This is when radar measurement technology finally becomes an all-rounder.

So in 25 years, four milestones in radar level measurement technology were set by the radar experts at Vega.

Anyone who knows the tireless tinkerers from the Black Forest would not be surprised that the next celebration was only a matter of time.  That time arrived this year on February 22 — a lucky palindromic “22.2.22” for anyone getting married in Europe on that day. In the idyllic town of Schiltach, a marriage of a special kind was celebrated and presented to a privileged audience of the trade press. Radar level measurement technologies for bulk solids and for liquids are now married, and in future there will be only one radar sensor for all applications. Its name is Vegapuls 6X.

“Our new Vegapuls 6X will significantly change the radar level measurement market,” say Jürgen Skowaisa and Florian Burgert, the two “witnesses” to the wedding. The two product managers have accompanied the development closely from the beginning of the relationship between the previous technologies.

In this case, too, the driving force was a philosophy that the “yellows” have so internalized for more than 30 years of pioneering radar measurement technology. The principle of simplicity for the user is, as Managing Director Günter Kech emphasizes, “firmly anchored in our DNA”. But how can radar level measurement be made even simpler? How do you optimize a level sensor that already has everything: best focusing, highest accuracy, simple operation, and universal communication?

For the Vega developers, it was clear that the issue of simplicity had to be addressed in the selection of the sensor. After all, their credo is that the actual task of level sensors is to help users and make it easier for them to monitor their industrial processes. Radar sensors often make processes more controllable and efficient, but behind their basically simple operation there remains a complexity in the specification stage that has historically made them more difficult to choose.

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Classically, the search for a suitable sensor begins with the question of which frequency could best cover the specific application. Would 26 GHz or 80 GHz be better, or perhaps 6 GHz? This is followed by considerations about media properties that could influence the measurement, and then by any on-site particularities at the measurement location. Then again, temperature ranges or aggressive media may give cause for concern. Is a standard process connection sufficient, or are special materials for the highest requirements the better choice — if only because they give you the benefit of the doubt? And what else should be taken into account if the sensor is to measure large filling heights or has to withstand wind and weather all year round?

These and countless other questions make one thing clear: If you have a choice, you are spoilt for choice. Users have to choose from a multitude of radar sensors. Because the areas of application are also becoming more complex, along with the processes themselves, a good overview of the market is required in view of the large number of offers. It takes the appropriate know-how and a lot of experience to get a reliable measurement and avoid costly bad investments.

Consistency Based on the Application

“It’s not the sensor that counts, but what users can achieve with it in their individual applications.” Florian Burgert, Vega
“It’s not the sensor that counts, but what users can achieve with it in their individual applications.” Florian Burgert, Vega
(Source: Vega)

Whereas the choice of device used to be time-consuming and often involved queries, Vega is turning this process upside down. Ultimately, it is not the sensor that counts, but what users can achieve with it in their individual applications, Burgert affirms. With the Vegapuls 6X, there is now only one sensor for all applications. Hurdles such as the right frequency or the dielectric constant (DK) of the medium no longer stand in the way of selection, because choosing the right sensor specification has become much easier. The new configurator asks for the type of application and determines the required sensor version in the shortest possible way. For the customer, the entire process consists of just a few clicks; everything else is taken care of in the background, so to speak, by the Vega experts. This background is based on no less than a million successfully installed radar sensors, across all industries from chemicals to pharmaceuticals, and from foodstuffs to ores, metal extraction and the cement industry.

“We build you exactly the Vegapuls 6X you need for your application,” is Vega’s promise. The customer transmits all the parameters for their process via the configurator — or in a personal conversation, which of course remains a good alternative, as Skowaisa takes care to point out. The Vega experts then select the appropriate unit design. From then on, it should only take a few days until the perfect radar sensor is manufactured, tested and shipped.

Since all presets in the Vegapuls 6X can already be designed for the customer-specific application, the new unit is immediately ready for use. This is because commissioning has also been reduced to a minimum, with just a few clicks or framework data to be added. “With the ex-works settings, our customers can even order a sensor that has been set down to the last detail and only needs to be mounted and connected,” says Skowaisa. In any case, he says, the result is previously unknown simplicity for users and a measurement solution that delivers perfect results regardless of the myriad of media, process conditions or container shapes and installations.

The control centre and guarantor of this new high level of simplicity is the new second-generation radar chip, into which the radar experience of more than 30 years has flowed. Skowaisa is correspondingly proud: “In its scope and functionality, this chip is special worldwide.” Colleague Burgert highlights two performance features: Thanks to the high dynamic range, the only question is whether the medium is solid or liquid. Other differences — whether it is oil or water, plastic granulate or stones, for example — no longer matter. Whether it is a standard or SIL device, whether the medium is liquid or bulk solid, the Vegapuls 6X always reaches the full measuring range of 120 metres.

Furthermore, thanks to the new technology, the bandwidth can be significantly increased. Previously, 1 GHz was common for bulk material applications and 4 GHz for liquids. A new higher bandwidth of 8 Ghz enables the use of shorter pulses, which in turn allows interference to be better separated from the useful signals. This is important, for example, for vessels with agitators and heating coils, or for poorly reflecting liquids such as ­fuels. In bulk solids, the higher bandwidth extends the fields of application to smaller silos, and in large silos allows the vessel volume to be better utilized.

The Vegapuls 6X has also been upgraded for hygienic applications: It has all the important hygiene connections and certificates. And in the chemical and petrochemical industries, smaller flange variants, new horn antennas and ceramic designs extend the range of applications to high-temperature and high-pressure processes (see Technical Data).

SIL and IT Security Combined

Another highlight of the Vegapuls 6X is its comprehensive safety. On the one hand, functional safety is guaranteed by fulfilling the requirements of the corresponding safety integrity level (SIL). A SIL sensor is characterized by two key figures in particular: safe undetected failures and dangerous undetected failures. The Vegapuls 6X has exceptional performance here: For safe undetected failures it ranks about 10 times better than the industry standard, while dangerous undetected failures are reduced by half. If you also carry out a proof test you can get close to zero, explains Burgert, who also attributes this high level of operational reliability to Vega’s immense wealth of experience with 80 GHz technology. But that’s not all: a SIL assistant supports the user — true to Vega’s motto “as simple as possible” — during the initial commissioning of his safety-related system.

The developers have also focused on cybersecurity, which is becoming increasingly important. Here, the Vegapuls 6X complies with the strictest requirements for secure communication and access control in accordance with IEC 62443, thus ensuring holistic process security right down to the control system.

The third part of the comprehensive safety equipment is a self-diagnosis system. It seamlessly detects whether the safe function of the sensor has been impaired, and thus makes a significant contribution to the higher availability and performance of the sensor.

“Users no longer need to worry about technology, frequency or design.” Jürgen Skowaisa, Vega
“Users no longer need to worry about technology, frequency or design.” Jürgen Skowaisa, Vega
(Source: Vega)

To conclude, the Vegapuls 6X has allowed the Schiltach company to complete its radar measurement technology with four important innovations: More safety and self-diagnosis, new radar chip technology, new application possibilities, and easier operation. “Furthermore,” emphasizes Jürgen Skowaisa, “the technology as a whole has reached such a high level today that it is not safe functioning that is the sticking point, but actually only the wrong sensor selection that can pose a risk.” Thanks to the new approach, Vega reliably offers the right sensor version for any particular application in nearly all cases. For the remaining specialist applications, Vega’s experienced application engineers continue to be available. “So in the future, the user no longer needs to worry about the technology, the frequency or the design — the measurement simply works,” Skowaisa concludes.

Speaking of the future: Vega would not be Vega if the next radar milestone were not already taking shape in the yellow think-tank. Can radar possibly get any easier? We can only wait!