TECHNICAL PAPER. Magnetostrictive Level Sensors. Liquid Level Sensors. Theory of Operation. David Nyce and Adrian Totten

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1 l MTS Systems Corporation Sensors Division 3001 Sheldon Drive Cary, NC Phone , Fax TECHNICAL PAPER Part Number: M1166 Revision A Magnetostrictive Level Sensors David Nyce and Adrian Totten Liquid Level Sensors Many types of industrial processes utilize Liquid Level sensors to provide the information needed to monitor and control the process. This enables the design parameters to be maintained in order to produce the end product at the desired level of quality and throughput. Typical sensors may measure product level, interface level, as well as temperature. The type of measurement and the sensor technology will dictate the set of parameters which are important in specifying the appropriate sensor. Liquid Level sensors measure absolute distance along the vertical axis of a vessel. They are available in several technologies, each having its own advantages and disadvantages. This article presents information on the application of magnetostrictive level sensors, which are gaining popularity due to their accuracy and reliability. A comparison of magnetostrictive sensors to level sensors of other technologies is also included. Theory of Operation A magnetostrictive level sensor measures the distance between a float (product and/or interface) magnet and the electronics head end of the sensing rod. See figure 1. The float/s magnet has ample clearance from the sensing rod, and therefore there are no parts to wear out. Electronics Head Sensing Rod Float/ magnet Figure 1: Magnetostrictive Level sensor with sensing rod and float magnet. 1

2 The sensing rod is mounted along the vertical axis of the tank, and the float magnet is allowed to freely move along the sensing rod. The head includes an electronics module, which reports the float/s position information to a controller (or other receiving device) in the appropriate analog or digital format. As shown in figure 2, a magnetostrictive liquid level sensor includes a float with a magnet mounted inside, a waveguide and an outer pipe. Figure 2: Basic Components of a Magnetostrictive Level Sensor The float magnet is a permanent magnet, often made in the shape of a ring, which travels along the sensing rod. The waveguide is housed within the sensing rod, and is a small diameter tubing or wire (approximately 0.30mm to 0.80mm in diameter) made from a magnetostrictive material. Magnetostriction is a property of certain materials, including iron, nickel, cobalt, and some of their alloys, in which application of a magnetic field causes strain which results in a change in the size or shape of the material. This is due to the alignment of the magnetic domains, within the material, with the applied magnetic field. See figure 3. Magnetic domains can be envisioned as many tiny permanent magnets which are randomly arranged before application of the magnetic field1. When the magnetic field is applied, the poles of the magnetic domains align themselves along the gradient of the flux lines of this field. Figure 3: Alignment of magnetic domains to the applied magnetic field H. 2

3 The waveguide is so-named because a sonic wave travels in it during operation of the sensor. The sonic wave is generated by interaction between the magnetic field from the position magnet and a second magnetic field generated in the waveguide by the application of a current pulse (called the interrogation pulse) through the waveguide from the electronics module. The vector sum of the magnetostrictive strain from the two magnetic fields results in the generation of a torsional strain wave in the waveguide at the location of the position magnet, as shown in figure 2. The strain wave travels in the waveguide, toward the head end, at about 2850 m/s. At the head, a pickup device senses the arrival of the strain wave (called the return pulse). Another strain wave also travels from the position magnet in the direction away from the head. This unused wave is eliminated by the damp in order to prevent interference from waves that would otherwise be reflected from the waveguide tip. The electronics module applies the interrogation pulse to the waveguide and starts an electronic timer. After a time delay, which is proportional to the distance between the position magnet and the pickup, the electronics module receives the return pulse from the pickup and stops the timer. The magnitude of the time delay indicates the location of the position magnet. For example, at a measured distance of 1 meter with a waveguide velocity of 2850 m/s, the time delay would be: 1 meter 2850 meters/second = 0.35 milliseconds (eq. 1) The electronics module then uses the time measurement to produce the desired output. The output can be an analog current, or a standard digital interface. Figure 4 shows a block diagram of a typical electronics module, with a sensor element. Sensor Input Circuit Time Pulse Converter to Desired Output Interrogation Pulse Timer Waveguide Interrogation Pluse Driver Sensor DATA FORMATS Digital: Modbus ASCII DDA Analog: 4-20mA Figure 4: Typical electronics module block diagram (with sensor element). 3

4 The interrogation in a liquid level sensor rate is internally generated at a rate anywhere from one time per second to 4 times per second. This is the update rate, and is the frequency at which new position information becomes available at the sensor output. The maximum update rate depends on the requirements of the communication protocol. Selecting the Appropriate Type and Size Housing Style: Magnetostrictive Level sensors are available in several housing configurations to enable mounting in a wide range of applications. Length: When determining the proper size of magnetostrictive Level sensor to order for a particular application, it is important to consider the length and alignment criteria of the sensing rod and position magnet. See figure 8. There is a minimum distance allowable between the head end of the sensor rod and the float magnet. This is to prevent interaction of the position magnet with the pickup, and is called the null. The specified length of the null depends on the mounting configuration of the sensor. In figure 5, it is 12 in. According to the drawing, the sensor mounting must be designed so that the float magnet will be no closer to the mounting flange of the sensor than 1". Figure 5: Sensor Electrical Stroke, Null, and Dead Zone Threaded NPT Fitting Level 1 Float (Ordered separately) Level 2 Float (Ordered separately) Inactive Zone 2.9 in 3.75 in. (95.3 mm) Tank Flange Pipe diameter (0.625 in. dia.) (15.88 mm) Tip of transmitter At the sensor rod tip (the end opposite the head), there is an unusable area in which the damp is housed. This is called the dead zone. Like the null, the system must be designed so that the float magnet will come no closer to the tip than the specified dead zone distance. In figure 8, the dead zone is 3.0 in. Electrical Power: Typical industrial magnetostrictive level position sensors operate over a power supply voltage range of 10.1 to 30.1 VDC. Mobile applications usually utilize 12 or 24 VDC from the battery; but often require special consideration because of a wide battery load range and the interface to the charging system. Make sure that you know the range of voltage provided by your power source. Output Signal: The signal from the transducer, and measured by the electronics module, is a time delay. 4

5 This is shaped into a digital pulse when the sensor is specified with a start-stop interface. The time between the two pulses indicates the location of the float magnet. The signal is 4 to 10 ma, or 1 to 5 volts with 250 ohm load resistor. Several standard digital communication interfaces are also used: RS485 (Modbus, ASCII), Profibus, and Foundation Fieldbus. Application Examples There are a wide range of applications in many industries for magnetostrictive sensors. Table 1 lists some industries and applications presently incorporating these sensors into their processes and products. INDUSTRY Automotive Chip & Wafer Handling Electric Actuators Hydraulic/Pneumatic Cylinders Food & Beverage Liquid Level Medical Metalworking Mobile Equipment Paper Converting Plastics Primary Metal Primary Wood Secondary Wood Testing Equipment Textiles APPLICATION Production machinery, on-board suspension, transmission, and steering. Precision measurement and no wearing parts enable this application. Linear and rotary position can be measured using two position magnets. Sensor mounted within the rod and the magnet is fixed to the cylinder. Milk tanks and can filling machines Process control, leakage detection, inventory control Hospital bed positioning Measurement & control in forges, presses, bending, and cutoff machines. Garbage trucks, agriculture, grading and paving. Used to control slitters and flexographic presses. Injection molding: injector, ejector and mold halves, also blow-molding. Walking beams and ladle control Sawmills, lathes, cutoff saws, positioning knees, and presses. Saw positioning and tennoners Materials, automotive, military/aerospace, earthquake and wavemakers Used in carpet tufters Table 1: Industries and applications using Magnetostrictive Sensors. 5

6 Comparison of Technologies As mentioned in the beginning of this article, there are several technologies in addition to magnetostriction which are used for measuring liquid level. Some key properties of these are compared in table 2. Technology Repeatability Non-linearity a Level & Ruggedness Interface Magnetostriction high low Yes high Radar high medium No high Ultrasonic Medium medium No medium Capacitance Medium medium No low TDR Medium medium Yes medium Diff Pressure medium medium No medium a) Lower non-linearity is better, and means the difference between a straight line and the output. Table 2: Comparison of several popular types of level sensors. References: 1. D. S. Nyce, Magnetostriction-Based Linear Position Sensors, SENSORS, vol. 11, no.4, 1994 Further reading: 1. J.G. Webster, The Measurement, Instrumentation, and Sensors Handbook, CRC Press, R.M. Bozorth, Ferromagnetism, D. Van Nostrand Co., H.F. Olson, Dynamical Analogies, D. Van Nostrand Co., 1943 For further information contact: MTS Systems Corporation 3001 Sheldon Drive Cary, NC Tel: , Fax: Part Number: M1166 Revision A

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