Processing Magazine

FCC rule changes for radar level sensing should benefit all

Changes have been a long time coming, say industry sources

March 1, 2014

Radar has been used commercially as a core technology in process measurement for decades, both in contact and non-contact forms. Radar level-measurement sensor use has grown significantly, with tens-of-thousands of installations worldwide.

Radar level probes measure the changing level of liquids and solids, with or without foam and dust. Their increasing popularity is due to continuing preference for non-contact devices, application solutions versus ultrasonic or acoustic technology and falling prices over the years.

But now a shot in the arm from the Federal Communications Commission offers new application opportunities and simplified certification testing. It can benefit many in the United States.

Announced by the Measurement, Control and Automation Association (MCAA), on Jan. 15, 2014 the FCC issued Report-and-Order document FCC 14-2, a 43-page report that changes FCC rules regarding use and testing for level-probing radar (LPR) and tank-level probing radar (TLPR).

Rule changes benefit both radar level sensor makers as well as end users, and the changes are a “long time in coming.” It cannot be underestimated the significance of the work done by the MCAA and its member companies with the FCC to make these changes. Our thanks go out to everyone involved.

FCC 14-2 modifies Part 15 of the FCC rules, which apply to LPRs in three frequency ranges, including 5.925-7.250GHz, 24.05-29.00 GHz and 75-85 GHz. According to the report and order the changes “establish a comprehensive and consistent approach” to the testing and certification of LPRs where said benefit is to “provide simplicity and predictability for authorizing LPRs for level measuring applications in any type of tank or open-air environments,” as stated in the order.

How does the report accomplish this and how will these changes benefit manufacturers and users of non-contact radar level sensors? Succinct answers lie below.

The changes in FCC 14-2 will:

Allow certification of LPRs under FCC rules to be based on measuring the energy emissions in the main beam of the antennae. This means that non-contact radar level sensors operating in the three license-free bands previously mentioned can be used for applications where previously they could not. This includes use in non-metallic or concrete tanks and in open pits or other open-field applications where the radar level sensor is still downward pointing.

To date FCC rules have allowed use primarily in steel- or concrete-constructed enclosed tanks. In addition, FCC rules required the use of lower-than-optimal power levels in order to certify emissions to rules in force prior to this rule change. Radar level sensors that comply with the new rule will be able to be “used in any application, whether outdoors in the open or inside any type of enclosure."

How do rule changes benefit manufacturers?

The rule changes still require certification and testing to ensure the radar level sensor complies, even though operating in any of the three mentioned license free bands. However, by changing the emission testing to being about the main antennae beam (rather than from the sides or top of these downward point level sensors), allows manufacturers to apply and sell the devices for more applications.

Dave Miller, managing director of Nivelco USA, indicates that “the new rule change offers potential for product applications in the water and wastewater, agribusiness and mining industry segments.” These industries are where the open environment and fiberglass/plastic tank applications exist. This increase in applications could result in significant sales for manufacturers, allowing economy of scale to provide lower costs. As in any virtuous spiral, this can lead to further product improvements and applications.

How do rule changes impact users?

The price for non-contact laser level probes has been declining for years as technology improves and uses increase. This FCC rule change has the potential to drive another step in the reduction of price for these sensors. This is especially the case as competition continues to build, and as the simplicity of these changes allow for slightly lower barriers to entry for other manufacturers. Lower end-user prices are likely to result from these FCC rule changes. In addition to price reductions, users will benefit from having a solution to an old problem, while replacing more expensive laser devices or problematic ultrasonic continuous level sensors.

Concluding thoughts

Often our government agencies add rules and regulations making it more difficult to do business. This seems to many to have been especially the case in recent years. However, in this case the FCC did a good thing for business that will result in good things for end users. Changing and simplifying the certification testing and allowing the use of these LPRs in a broader range of applications is a great step!