Next-Generation Level Measurement Technology: Helping to mitigate the workforce skills shortage

  • October 31, 2017
  • Emerson Automation Solutions
  • Feature
Next-Generation Level Measurement Technology: Helping to mitigate the workforce skills shortage
Next-Generation Level Measurement Technology: Helping to mitigate the workforce skills shortage

By: Marianne Williams, Marketing Manager, Emerson Automation Solutions

Increasingly fierce competitionleaves no margin for inefficiencies in any process industry. Automation helps helps support greater efficiency and optimizes processes and production, but there is also the human element. An estimated 30% of the existing workforce is expected to retire over the next five years, and those people will take a large slice of the operating and commissioning experience with them. It is becoming an increasing challenge to install and maintain constantly evolving technology. Therefore, it is vital for industrial automation companies to find ways of reducing complexity, hence the improved ease-of-use with the latest generation of measurement devices.


Human-Centered Design

Process automation has advanced considerably in the past 40 years, but much of the investment has centred on technology enhancement, instead of designing around how people actually use the technology. In recent years, there has been a change of focus and a belief that technology must begin to serve people, instead of the other way around. This forms the basis of the human-centered design concept, which companies like Emerson are increasingly adopting when developing new technology.

A recent group of new levelmeasurement transmitters are a case in point (Figure 1), with designs and features aimed at supporting plant workers, taking into account the nature of their tasks, the scenarios that they have to deal with and ultimately their final goals. Product designers understand plant managers’ demand for reduced complexity, so enhanced ease-of-use is very much at the heart of newgeneration technology coming onto the market. Making a device easier to install, configure and operate can create significant time savings and help counteract the loss of experienced workers.

Figure 1: Rosemount’s new 5408 SIL-rated non-contact radar transmitter was designed using information gathered while watching plant technicians perform routine daily job tasks. The product reflects those practices.


Non-Contacting Radar

Level measurement technology is certainly embracing the human-centered design philosophy and the need to simplify both the installer and user experience. Emerson’s next-generation Rosemount non-contacting radar, for example, provides a major step forward when it comes to ease of implementation and operation, enabling increases in worker efficiency and plant safety (Figure 2).

As a broad range of applications includes safety-critical tasks such as overfill prevention, it is essential that radar level transmitters simplify operator tasks wherever possible. With this in mind, these new units are now designed to deliveroutstanding ease-of-use, starting with clear and precise instructions displayed on the operator interface, relating to installation, commissioning, proof-testing, operation and maintenance.

In addition, the latest radar transmitters can provide enhanced diagnostics which support preventive maintenance and provide actionable information, streamlining the troubleshooting process and making it as easy to understand as possible. There is also the capability for proof-testing and site acceptance tests to be performed remotely, a significant benefit to plant managers in terms of saving valuable time, increasing efficiency and reducing the reliance on more experienced workers.

Figure 2: One of the realities of plant technicians is their tendency to avoid reading product manuals. One accommodation to this is attaching quick-start instructions to the transmitter housing so they are easy and quick to find and review.


Effects on Accuracy and Reliability

The ease-of-use designed into these new products has not been achieved at the expense of functionality. In fact, the reverse is true—they offer increased functionality and provide greater measurement accuracy and reliability.

Among these enhancements is two-wire fast-sweep frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) technology, which uses a continuous echo to maximize the radar signal strength and produce a more robust and reliable measurement. There is also radar on-chip technology, which removes sources of EMC noise able to cause signal disturbance, improving the accuracy and reliability of measurements.

To enhance measurement reliability, embedded power back-up functionality eliminates vulnerability to intermittent power losses. If a power failure lasts for a short time, a device with this capability can remember past echo profiles so measurements can resume immediately after the power returns with no need for a boot-up sequence.


Vibrating Fork Technology

As with radar transmitters, designers of vibrating fork switches understand the requirement for these devices to be as straightforward as possible to operate, while at the same time delivering outstanding safety and reliability. New-generation devices, such as Emerson’s Rosemount wired HART vibrating-fork level detector, providereliable level detection and overfill prevention while offering greater ease-of-use and flexibility. They deliver the benefits of advanced smart diagnostics, providing greater insight into the condition of the switch, and support predictive maintenance practices by identifying potential problems before they become serious.

Ease-of-use throughout installation, commissioning and operation is integral to the new designs. Easy integration into HART 5 and HART 7 systems allows them to take advantage of the latest HART communication functionality. This supports the devices’ smart diagnostics capabilities, enabling operators to continuously monitor their electronic and mechanical health. Local configuration can be enabled via integral push buttons and LCD, or remotely from the control room, meaning that operators can now spend less time in hazardous areas when commissioning. Data is presented on the operator’s interface in a clear and easy-to-understand way.

New-generation switches also feature a range of additional functions to enhance their effectiveness. Frequency analysis functionality, for example, enables the immediate detection of any build-up, fork blockage or excessive corrosion. This provides a significant benefit for plant managers, because once there is an indication that maintenance may be required, it can then be scheduled during periods of downtime to optimize process availability.

A further enhancement is power advisory functionality, which enables any potential problems with a device’s power supply or connectors to be identified. Adjustable media density functionality, meanwhile, enables appropriate density settings to be configured to ensure a consistent switching point. Again, this information can be accessed remotely, making life easier for operators as they no longer need to climb tanks and access the device for routine inspections.

Device intelligence has also been developed to enable automatic selection of optimum switching points on commissioning if media properties are unknown. This is a very simple process and gives operators increased peace of mind about switching reliability.


Safety Enhancements

In SIL 2-certified versions of switches, for installations within safety instrumented systems (SISs), remote partial proof-testing capability is now available. Performing a remote partial proof-test reduces the PFD (probability of failure on demand), enabling the time interval between full proof-tests to be increased. This enables this complex, expensive and potentially risky procedure to be fitted in around the plant’s scheduled shutdowns, when the device needs to be removed. Partial proof-testing is safe, quick and very easy, and increases process availability and worker efficiency.

Plants need to adapt to meet the challenges they face, and ensuring that automation technology becomes as user-friendly as possible is one way in which the loss of skills and experience can be mitigated. Thanks to advances in human centered design, new-generation level measurement devices are now able to reduce complexity, while also ensuring that safety, accuracy and reliability are enhanced.

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