Q: VEGA is well known as a pioneer in radar measurement technology, after being at the forefront of this field for the last thirty years. Now you have introduced a new series of sensors. For which applications can the sensors be used and what makes them so special?
A: Radar used to be a special technology for complex applications where other technologies failed. Radar sensors are designed for a wide pressure and temperature range, which makes them expensive. In many applications, there are no high temperatures or pressures, but radar would still be the ideal technology. Those are the applications we are focusing on with the new radar devices. Our main focus is the water and wastewater industry, where ultrasonic is still the most commonly used technology. But there are many other applications in which radar has often proved to be the best choice, e.g. in power plants, in small chemical tanks, as well as in applications in the food and beverage industry that have lower demands on hygienic design. The main advantage of radar, in comparison to other measuring principles, is that it is not affected by the process conditions and the measured product.
Q: For the new series you actually started from scratch, designing a completely new radar microchip. How long did that take and what features did you focus on in the design process?
A: Radar is being used more and more in the automotive industry. There are now radar modules for use in simple distance measuring systems. However, these modules are not suitable for radar level sensors that have to meet the high demands of industrial process automation. Their power consumption is too high and their frequency ranges don’t fit. That’s why we decided to design our own radar chip optimised for level measurement. Working with a microwave semiconductor design company and a semiconductor manufacturer, we developed our own radar chip perfectly designed for a new generation of radar sensors. During its development, our main focus was on low power consumption, an optimised frequency range for level measurement, as well as high accuracy.
Q: So you are now able to deliver new sensors at a competitive price compared to ultrasonic sensors. What are their main advantages from a technological point of view?
A: When comparing sound waves with electromagnetic waves, you’ll see many differences. Sound waves are strongly influenced by temperature, pressure and different gases. The result is inaccuracy, as these effects cannot be easily compensated. If an ultrasonic sensor is mounted outdoors, it needs a sun shield or an external temperature sensor to compensate for the heat generated by sunlight. In bulk solids applications, dust and filling noise cause problems for ultrasonic measurement. Radar signals, on the other hand, are not influenced at all by such conditions. This makes radar sensors highly reliable and extremely accurate.
Q: Explosion protection and communication are two important criteria when it comes to a decision in favour of or against products. In which environments can the new sensors be used and what are the interfaces you can provide?
A: Even in simple applications, it is sometimes absolutely necessary to use an Ex- approved sensor. VEGA provides all essential approvals for use in hazardous areas, for gas and dust applications. The encapsulated sensor for gas Ex applications in Zone 1 or 2 is completely new. With this version, it’s not necessary to provide an intrinsically safe power supply. The sensor can be directly connected to a PLC without any barriers, which makes it very easy to use a radar sensor.
Q: Radar measurement used to be a kind of last resort for niche industries showing a very healthy development up to the present. What are you expecting for the next five years?
A: Level measurement with radar technology has never been so attractive. The new microwave technologies enable us to design instruments for applications we had never even considered before. Together with high-capacity batteries and new wireless communication standards, such as LoRa, we now have the technology to design wireless radar sensors for totally new areas of use.
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