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3 Points That Help You Understand How Optical Level Sensors Work

Level meters are widely used in different industrial, commercial, healthcare and agricultural applications. In fact, whenever you see tanks and transportation networks for water, natural gas, fossil fuel, chemicals, beverages and pharmaceutical materials, there are highly advanced technological level meters at work behind the scenes.

The advanced abilities of different models of level meters, allow for an industrial manufacturer to perform complex tasks, for instance, to regulate fresh water intake to run hydraulics.   Without enough water, entire manufacturing lines can be shut-down and equipment can be damaged.  In agricultural settings, an unregulated flow of water or pesticides can harm crops, or render them unsuitable for sale.

Optical level sensors are a new technology for the next generation of level meters, that enhance control and accuracy, when level meters are used in any application.  The advanced sensor abilities, combined with the ability to save on system power consumption, makes them a valuable improvement that saves time, reduces waste, and helps eliminate environmental accidents.

In this post, we’ll discuss five points that demonstrate how optical level sensors work, and why businesses are upgrading to a higher level of accuracy and control, while improving productivity when using level meters in all production settings.

What is an optical level sensor and why is it efficient?

When thinking of technology that regulates water or fluid level, classic technology operates much the same way as a sump pump does.  Lift off the lid of your bathroom toilet, and you will see the most uncomplex example of level controller.  When the float (lightweight plastic piece) raises to a parallel level, the intake of water into the toilet basin stops.   When the toilet is flushed however, and the float drops, the basin is opened to allow water to refill.

The classic technology works when you are dealing with a small volume of fluid.  On a grander scale, would you trust that same basic technology with regulating a flammable chemical in a factory?  Or sewage at a treatment plant?  When debris may be a factor that can disrupt an accurate reading from a float, a more advanced option is needed, which is where optical level sensors provide a solution.

Optical liquid level sensors have no moving parts, that can be obstructed by debris. The sensors work like a live-eye on fluid levels, and can sense both the absence and presence of liquid. In many industries, optical liquid level sensors are recognized as the pinnacle of accuracy and reliability, by helping businesses to improve precision and reduce waste, and also prevent loss or accidental spills.

Keeping an Energy Efficient ‘Eye’ On Things

The emitter on an average optical sensor (the eye) is responsible for the intake of visual data, and its transmission to a control center. The built-in emitter typically consumes a lot of power, but this isn’t a problem in industrial settings where emitters can be (in some cases) directly hardwired to power sources. However, in many cases, where the level meters are regulating rivers and lakes that may be very far from residential areas, the option of providing a reliable power source is very difficult, even impossible.

Today, the results and data from an optical level sensor can be transmitted via light-beam to the receiver (i.e., photo diode), and the efficiency of the communication between the emitter and receiver (including the use of LED display) reduces power drain, and the need to replace battery power. The amount of light entering an optical receiver is converted into a reliable analog signal to the level gauge, to increase or reduce volume flow for level regulating.

New optical level sensors now rely on radar,laser and infrared technology, to send the signals that can measure height by sensing the speed and velocity of particulates that occur in air, water, fossil fuels and akin. Laser technology and optical level sensors are favored in many industries, but particularly in gas and oil for the prevention of flare metering. In oil and gas production, when the flow of fossil fuels is too great for the pipeline, excess fuel is ignited or expressed, and essentially wasted.  Reduction of metering is both cost saving, and beneficial for the environment, by reducing greenhouse gases.

Carbon monoxide, as well as the composition of the fuel and condensation do not impact measurement or response, and they can be installed without forcing a shut-down of the section where they are being installed, resulting in saving production and profitability.

Why does the agricultural industry rely on optical sensors and flow meters to scale production and reduce costs?


Precision farming utilizing state-of-the-art flow regulation and optical sensors, is an important innovation that increases profitability for crop farmers. This includes using optical sensors that can report directly to drones, to reduce crop stress from over or under hydration and watering, nutrient deficiencies in the soil, and over-fertilization.

In São Carlos, Brazil, a hub where 70% of the production of staple foods is done and gets exported to South America, the technology is already being used, linked to smartphone devices, to increase yields, and optimize the use of land.

From an environmental perspective, improving production also means that less land needs to be used for crop production of coffee, sugar and even grazing land for livestock production, which reduces the need for clear cutting, helping Brazil preserve valuable rainforest acreage. It also helps to reduce over-fertilization which is toxic to the soil, and damaging to fresh water reserves.

The global mining industry has also been innovative in using optical level sensors for the detection of CH4 gas, which is a leading cause of fires and explosions in mines. Municipalities are using the optical sensors to help monitor water conditions and distribution systems for freshwater management, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The discussion points are only a small sample of the scope of industrial and environmental practices that can benefit from optical level sensors in level management, and the technology has the potential to optimize virtually every industry that relies on accurate level monitoring.

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