3D Technology for Measuring, Mapping Ideal for Demanding Applications

Since BinMaster introduced its 3DLevelScanner in North America in 2009, inventory accuracy in bins, tanks and silos has improved significantly. Nevertheless, the company hasn’t stood still and has continued to introduce new improvements and upgrades to the acoustics-based sensor. When it was initially introduced, BinMas­ter’s 3DLevelScanner delivered many ad­vantages to the forefront of level measure­ment technology. For one thing, the sensor’s low frequency signals were able to penetrate dust in envi­ronments where radar and ultrasonic can perform inconsistently. The device measures multiple points in the bin, taking into account variations in material topography resulting in significant­ly improved accuracy. In addition to providing data on minimum, maximum and average level, BinMaster’s 3DLevelScanner provides a highly accurate estimate of the volume of material in the vessel. It also can measure and map the material surface and provide a 3D visualization of the contents that shows the low and high areas in the bin.  

BinMaster’s 3DLevelScanner has under­gone an evolution over the past three years with new features and upgrades being add­ed as a result of the customer feedback gen­erated from over 600 installations through­out Canada and the United States. New software has been developed, in­cluding MultiVision software that allows an entire network of vessels to be viewed on a single screen. The MVL multiple scanner solution was created to provide better accuracy for very large vessels. Specialized extensions were designed to allow for installation in vessels with structure in the top of the bin. With each installation, BinMaster worked closely with customers to solve their biggest level measurement challenges in powders and bulk solids across the agricultural, bio­energy, chemical, cement, food, mining, plastic, and power industries.

Mine Over Matter

A frac sand mine (including a silo 42 feet in diameter and 118 feet in height) was concerned for employee safety and wanted to eliminate the need to climb bins to take measurements. Silica sand, often referred to as frac sand, can be especially difficult to measure. The shape of the particle itself can prove challenging, as it gives the sand a tendency to deflect signals, which can lead to false or inaccurate readings. The mine had tried radar with limited suc­cess, but found the measurement data in­consistent and unreliable. The angle of repose of the sand at times could be very steep, which caused the sig­nals to bounce around in the silo and give false readings. The mine installed a 3DLevelScanner Model M which could penetrate the dust as well as take multiple measurements of the material to calculate an average level in the silo. Signal deflection proved not to be an is­sue for the acoustics technology employed by the 3DLevelScanner. It was able to mea­sure the sand reliably and accurately and eliminated the need for employees to climb the silo to take measurements

Bigger is Better

Grain bins are getting larger all the time and as the need for storage grows, opera­tions want to maximize the storage they have available. A grain facility storing corn and soybeans found themselves with three 105 feet diam­eter bins and no way to measure them.  They were climbing the bins and dropping tape measures through a hatch to deter­mine inventory levels. However, the bins are center fill and have five discharge points which can make the grain levels vary throughout the bin, making a single tape measurement very unreliable for estimating inventory. As the bins were extremely wide and a high level of inventory accuracy was desired, a 3DLevelScanner Model MVL-2 which em­ploys two scanners was specified for each of the three bins. One scanner was mounted near the cen­ter, but out of the material flow, and the other was mounted well away from the sidewall to allow the scanner to measure the maximum amount of surface area. As each scanner takes multiple mea­surements in a 70° beam angle, the MVL-2 multiple scanner system was able to take measurements across the 105 foot bin.

A controller that comes with the MVL-2 com­bines the measurements and generates data that provides the lowest point, the highest point and the average level of the bin. Additionally, the 3DLevelManager soft­ware generates a 3D visualization of the bin contents, approximat­ing the location of high and low points in the customer’s bin. MultiVision software is also used at this grain facility as it was import­ant for them to manage the grain inventory in all three bins. The MultiVision soft­ware enables the cus­tomer to view all three bins on a single screen and then view each bin in detail, along with its 3D image at the simple click of a mouse. The facility is now able to push the data out to all of its local users in real time, so they can more efficiently schedule deliver­ies and shipments. The MVL-2 multiple scanner system with its multiple point measurement technol­ogy provides an accurate inventory level that helps the facility maximize storage ca­pacity while keeping the operation running smoothly.

Powders Behaving Badly

Alumina powder is among one of the toughest materials to measure. It’s ex­tremely dusty and behaves unpredictably when stored in silos, prone to clumping, pil­ing up and making the topography in the silo as variable as a lunar surface. This Quebec-based manufacturer was attempting to measure multiple 100 foot diameter, 100 foot tall silos with multiple filling and emptying points. Their only solution was to climb each silo and drop a tape measure in 20 different lo­cations and then write the measurements down and climb down the silo to average the measurements. This procedure was very inefficient and arduous during the winter months in Que­bec. Safety was the major driver in getting an alternative to manual measurements in place, but the operation also needed reli­able data and a device that measured only a single measurement point wasn’t a viable solution.

Due to the wide diameter of the silos, the 3DLevelScanner MVL-2 with two sensors was specified for this extremely high dust application. Optimally locating the two sensors using the Locator Software, the sensors are able to measure and map multiple points on the material surface, which is a far safer alterna­tive to climbing the silos. The 3D visualization can be used to detect high and low spots in the bin to help man­age filling and emptying points. Another benefit of the 3DLevelScanner over other technologies in high dust pow­ders is that it requires very little mainte­nance, needing only occasional cleaning.

Not a Happy Meal

Soymeal, and the pro­cess of mea­suring it, was a particularly troublesome job at this milling opera­tion. The envi­ronment in the 42 feet diameter by 120 feet tall concrete silo is character­ized by extreme levels of soymeal dust that is moist and clings to sensors, walls and oth­er internal structures. The mill had tried both radar and ultra­sonic and neither proved to work consis­tently over time. Any device they tried got caked with soy­meal dust, making the measurements unre­liable or nonexistent, and creating a main­tenance nightmare. Since soybean meal doesn’t flow freely, a single point measure­ment system would not account for varia­tions in the level throughout the silo.  

BinMaster’s 3DLevelScanner Model MV was installed in the silo and proved to per­form in the dusty environment, providing consistent measurement readings, unlike the technologies previously used. The minimum, maximum and average distance data was able to take into account variations in the material surface and pro­vide a more reliable inventory estimate. Despite the high levels of soymeal dust, the sensors continued to perform over time requiring only occasional cleaning, signifi­cantly reducing work for the maintenance crew. The MV Model also features 3D vi­sualization of the contents, detecting high and low spots in the silo which may be a sig­nal that buildup is occurring in the silo and cleaning may need to be scheduled.