Level instruments offering greater functionality as technology develops

Paul Boughton

While monitoring of critical process parameters is essential for field engineers in process industries, the task is often cumbersome when individual parameters are to be recorded manually.

This has necessitated aneed for the online monitoring of process parameters such as level,pressure, temperature and flow and advancements in the level sensing systems have made it possible to monitor process parameter and transmit them over the plants network. As a result, level monitoring systems that can be linked to factory-wide Ethernet or fieldbus networks are gaining prominence, rendering stand-alone systems obsolete.

Radar and ultrasonic level sensing systems are gaining greater acceptance among end users as advancements in these systems have raised accuracy and reliability levels. In addition to a simplified electrical circuitry, they also enable the monitoring of multiple parameters and offer network connectivity with high-speed data transfer over plant networks.

Hence, end users that have been using traditional level sensing systems, such as the float or displacer and magnetic level gauges, are increasingly migrating to advanced level sensing technologies such as the radar and ultrasonic. However, the level instruments market is approaching saturation and lack of fresh investments in new projects is restricting market growth.

As companies are finding it difficult to justify the return on investments (ROI), lack of sustained investments in key industry sectors such as oil and gas, chemical and petrochemicals and food and beverage is causing fewer purchases, leading to a decline in demand for level instruments.

Also, the requirement of quality certifications and environmental approvals from various institutes is proving expensive and preventing smaller firms from venturing into diverse end-user sectors. Apart from the ISO standards and the Conformite Europeenne (CE) mark for quality conformance, manufacturers need to comply with industry standards such as Deutches Institut fur Normung eV (DIN), International Electrotechnical Commission IEC) and European Norms (EN). Further, level sensors that operate in hazardous environment must meet explosion-proof certifications and the approval process often involves a great deal of time.

 While such stringent legislations are proving to be an entry barrier for new entrants, existing participants do not seem to be gaining a competitive edge from such certifications as not all end-user sectors have made them mandatory. While the chemical and petrochemicals industry was the largest end-user sector in the level instruments market in Europe, Germany remains the leading regional market with a revenue share of 31.5 per cent. Overall market revenue is expected to reach $867.9 million in 2011, up from the $700 million recorded in 2004. l

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