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ELSEVIER Scn~or, und Aclu<ltorll A61 (1997) 256-259

Ultrasonic sensor for liquid-level inspection in bottles

E. Vargas *, R. Ceres, J.M. Martin, L. Calderon
"Uti/litO de Awol/ulrica Jlldllstrllli (IAI-CSIC), N·I/I, Km 22HOO, Argam/a del Re\', 28500 Mat/ml, Sl'am


In this paper, the development of it precise and dynamic ultrasonic dh,tance sensor to mea';ure the level of liquid In bottles for an industrial
line IS descnbed. For this afJplication. optical, capacillve or mechanical means are not suitable. In the fir!!! pnrt the limitations ofaconventlonal
pulllc--echo ranging system are dlscu'\sed. A strategy to measure the time of flight based on the envelope of the echo !'Jignal is performed,
solving in a practical way the problem of the complex signal reflected from the malO !'lurface, meni~cu~ and internal walls of the bottleneck.

Keyuords: UltraSOniC; Sensors. liquid level. Envelope

I. Introduction

The present work is related to the European ESPRIT pro-

ject NETCIM (Cooperative Network for CIME Technolo-
gies in Europe). The Instituto de Automatica Industrial (JAI)
is responsible for the implementation of an advanced wine- Level
bottting plant. with functionalities of inspection, control and
automation integrated by computer. The inspection tasks are
focused on the level of filling. the correct placement ofcorks
and protective covers using ultrasonic techniques (see
~.4~1 Plant
Fig. I). Fig ~. ImpccLlOn and automallon system usmg ultra,onic'i
This paper describes the strategies used in the implemen-
tatIon of the subsystem of the plant that will be used for the Laser and IR ,ensors were discarded because these types
on-hne inspection of the filling level ofwinebotlles. To carry of devices are more appropriate for measurements of flat and
it out, we need to measure the level of liquid, with one mil- opaque surfaces. presenting for our casc a hIgh degree of
limetre resolution, considering the menhcus formauon 10 the absorption and secondary reflection for some angles of IOci-
liquid surface and the VIbration of the bottles produced by dence Other techniques like CCD were refused because of
their movement through the conveyor belt. lighting problems aad tbeir high cost.
Distance and displacement measurements are a well- Ultrasonic sensing has characteristics that make it advan-
known problem and have been studied for many years. Non- tageous in some situations compared with other non-contact
cuntact teChniques are preferred in IOdustrial automation sensing methods such as electromagnetic (includingoptical),
because of their inberent simplicity, and are a reqUIrement electrical, magnetic, thermal, or pneumatic means. For sens-
for this application. The most comwon of these techniques ing through some medi~, such as froth above liqUIds. aqueous
are of ultrasonic, laser and infrared types. media. fibres, loose granular mat.cnals and dense vapours,
In a first stage of the project. some tests were carried out ultrasonic systems may provide the most practical if not the
to select the basic measurement technique and the corre- only possible means [ I J.
sponding transducers to be used. No satisfactory results were The use of ultrasonics in distance measurement in air has
obtained with acommercial laser interferometer even in static been viewed with great interest because it is very inexpensive
tests. and can be used m polluted. smoky or dark environments.
Therefore, we have selected ultrasonic techniques here.
'" Corre'pondmg author. Tel.. +341 871 1900. Fax: +3418717050 However. existing ultrasonic sensors only measure the dis-
E-maIl. evarga,@mcrcunolal C"IC,CS tance to the closest object within their viewing angle (in our
0924·4247/97/$17.00 © 1997 ElscvlcrSclence S.A. All nght'i re,erved
PI/ 80924-4247(96) 0 1421-5
{£ Varga~ etal. /SemUrsllllti A(./Iwtor:; A 61 (!1}f)7j 256-259 257

VD'~ ..
2: .i.. ·:::·~:::::r::::::::::::i::::::::::::t:::::::::::
2 _ '.......... ..: •• .. • ·; •• ·i···· ..
A . : :
1,5 ; ; -: ; .

o : :::::'.: ::::(:::::::: :::j:::::::.:::: :i:"::::: ::::t:::::::::::

50 IJsec/dlv
Fig. 2, Echo envelope from nplane.

application the bottleneck), '0 we have built our own specific In order to determine the Tal' with a sufficient degree of
systeln. accuracy, we have used a subsample interpolation. It consists
of fitting a line to a series of points in the rise-time interval
of the echo signal by a minimum likelihood method (only
2. Measurement technique and its limitations the poinls between V=O.I Vm" and V=0.9Vm" are used,
Fig. 2). This line is intersected at 50% of the peak value of
the echo signal (point A). This Tal' has a theoretical bias
2. J. MeaslIl'emellttechlliqlle which must be compensated for in the process calibration.

Reviewing the basis of pulse-echo techniques, the ultm- 2.2. Limitatiolls ofIhe melhod
sonic sensor measures the time of flight (Tal') of an ultra-
sonic pulse reflected from an object and calculates the The above strategy does not consider the shape of the
distance between the tran,ducer and the object. Sound travels reflector. There are, though, notable differences when the
at around 340 10 s - I in air. The distance, d, from transducer reflector has more than one reflecting surface that can produce
to object is interference phenomena. Due to the faclthat the object under
d=(V,I)J2 inspection has acomplex geometry, the echo-signal reflection
is the vectorial addition of multiple simple echoes [6], back-
with scattered by the mam liqUid surface, the associated meniscus
and the internal walls of the bottleneck. This phenomenon
V, =331.5 +0.61T (10 s·,)
produces very different signal profiles when the bottle passes
where Tis the air temperature (OC). under the transducer, depending On the liquid level, the diam-
A good accuracy in the determmation of the Tal' is eter of the bottleneck and the wavelength of the echo signal.
required to achIeve enough precision in the dIStance meas- Because of diffraction and interfering multiple echoes, the
urement; this is not a tnvial task, due to the shape ofthe signal positive slope of the echo signal does not always correctly fit
supplied by the transducer corresponding to the echo signal the linear model, which introduces deviations into the meas-
[2]. urement (see Fig. 3(a), Liquid echo). Sometimes it can
The conventional method for determining the Tal' is to occur that although the signal fits correctly to the linear
start a counter when the transducer is excited and to stop it model, the obtained measurement is not correct. That situa-
when the signal echo achieves a fixed threshold. This method tion is less probable. because it only occurs if the caniers of
has a great uncertainty in the determination of echo anival the returned echoe' arc in the same phase.
due to the variations of echo signals in amplitude and shape
with the distance and noise components.
Some authors have developed systems with a dynamic 3. A practical approach
detection threshold, but the amplitude of the echo SIgnal var-
ies not only with the distance [3], but also with thc nature In order to solve the explained problem, we have used the
of the reflector, which in our application IS a complex and knowledge ofthe echo·signal's rise time (t,) to decide which
internal surface. measurements are valid and which not. The measurement IS
We have chosen to work with the enve10pe of the echo considered valid if:
signal. Becouse the carrier contains no information about the (a) VmJl\ > V'hrc,hakl'
closest object and can be eliminated, this allows us to use a (b) The rise time (t,) is such that II <1,<1, (TL" see
larger sample time and thus to obtain a Simpler and more Fig. 3(b», where II and I, are emplncal values and depend
reliable system, in agreement with some researchers [4,5). on the characteristic of the reflector. TheSE restrictions reduce
A single transducer is used which operates in pulse-echo the variance of the measurements.
mode, the transducer alternately being the transmitter and Additionally to the level measurement, the ultrasonic sen-
receive,. of ultrasound waves. sor is able to detect the presence of lhe bottle WIthout any
258 E, Vllrgm l!t lI/. /Semor~ allli ACllwlor~ A 61 (J!)97) 256-259


'"15:- v_~J ~ '~ ~ ro ro~. w ~ ~

(b) 457

1~ 1ro
N° Sample (Ts=5J!5eC)
Fig. 3 Two s,lInpl~ echo Mgndb from cOII~cculivc tr<ln!lmi"'~lOns

complementary sensor; the procedure to do this is the distance measured by an analog voltage, digitized using the other
measurement to the top of the bottleneck. channel of the A/D board.
After a bottle is detected, II measurements of the liquid We have selected a piezoelectric ultrasonic transducer of
level are taken. To obtam the final estimated distance (~), 220 kHz, the E-188/220 from Massa Corporation. This trans-
we calculate the weighted average. The weIght is the value ducer was selected for to its suitable Characteristics: high
of the peak amplitude of the echo signal. resolution in the measurement, reduced sensitiVity to envi-
ronmental nOIse, narrow lobe of emission and adequate range
EV lllo1lt ,d, for the applicatIOn.
Another advantage of this transducer is that it can work
as both transmitter and receiver, eliminating problems of
,=, parallax [7].

S. Experimental results and conclusions

4. Experimental set-up In Fig. 4 we show some results obtained from one bottle
at three different speeds ofthe conveyor belt, v, = 12 cm s- I
The sensor consist of a PC compatible with an A/D board (3600 bottles per hour), v, = 18 (5400) and v, =22 (6600).
plug in one slot, the WBFlash12-2 from OMEGA, the trans- It is very difficult to give absolute figures because the
ducer, the driver block, and the filter/amplifier. see Fig. 1. accuracy depends on too many factors (the line velocity,the
Three pulses at 220 kHz with 50 V amplitude excite the conveyor belt, etc.), but we can observe in Fig. 4 that the
transducer with a pul,e rate frequency of 100 Hz; the echoes accuracy and consistency of the measurements lies within the
are amplified and demodulated by a full-wave rectifier. The range of tolerance at the three velocities.
demodulated signal curresponding to the echo envelope is In all distances WIthin our operation range (20-170 mm
then digitized by the AID board, with 12-bit resolution and measured from the bottleneck) sImilar satisfying resl'lts were
a sampling rate of 200 ksmnples S-I. For each transmission obtained: 99.7% of the measurements achieve an accuracy of
400 points are digitized, corresponding to a range of 340 mm ±0.9 mm (worst case).
from the transducer. This simple sensor tested in an mdustnal plant has a good
The temperature for correction of the sound velocity is accuracy and consistency, low cost and high reliability, hav-
sensed by a platinum deVIce, whose resistance variation is ing been implemented with a general-purpose computer.

(mm) Static Distante at center = 31.5 mm

m- .. __
31 "1 ___m__ ..__=
~ ~:.:~_f__ ~_~~_ -:~~ -+- v3 (03 =0 30)
305 - I
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 1415 1617 1819 20
N° of measurement
Fig 4. Meusurcments obt.uncd from a. bOUle
E Varf,lu,\ el ai, I SI!IUOI'f (/I/({ At'/I/ClIOl~ 11 6/ (/997) 256-25!.J ~59

Aclmowledgemenls Ralll'}" Ceres was born in 1947 in Jaon, Spain. He gradu-

ated in phySICS (c1ectronic) from Universidad Complu'ense
This research has been carried out at Instituto de Auto- of Madrid in 1971 and received the Ph.D. degree in 1978.
matica Industrial within the Esprit Project (9901) NETCIM. After a lirst stay, for one year, in the LAAS-CNRS in Tou-
E. Vargas would like to thank Agencia Espanola de Coop- lou~e (France), he has been working at the Insututo de Auto-
emci6n Internacional for their financial support of his Ph.D. matica Industrial (IAI), a dependent of the Spamsh National
atU.C.M. Council for Science Research. For the period 1990-1991 he
worked in an electronics company (Amelec) as R&D direc-
tor. Since the beginning, Dr Ceres has developed research
activtties on sensor ~ystems applied to different fields, such
as continuous process comrol, machine tools, agriculture,
robotics and dis~bled people. Onlhese topics he has published
rI J R. BrY.lol "lid R Bogner. Ultnl\OOlC .. urf.lce imJgmg in advcr.. c
cnvirOnmcnl1>, IEEE TrailS. Somu UI(mw/llc~. 3/ (1984) 373-390 more than 70 papers and congress communications, and he
121 J,M. M..ulin, R, Cere.. and T. Frclre, Ultr.l\OmC ranging' envelope has several patents in industrial exploitation. At present Dr
:lnaIY3l~ glvc~ unproved l.lccuracy • St'll\or Rei'.. 12 (1992) 17-21. Ceres is the Spanish delegate for the IMT (Brite-Euram)
[3 J T, Freire. Scgubmcllto y Anuli\l\ de Enlomm de SolduJura por Areo Commitlee and deputy scientific director of the IAI.
Automatlluda Mcdi.mtc Ullr.....onido\, Ph.D TlJe,\/,. Univcr\ldJd
Complulcnloc de MJdnd. 1995.
[41 K. Audcnllcrt, H. Pcrcm,m ... Y. KuwuhJrd and J van Colmpcnhoul,
Jose M. Mal'lln Abreu was born 111 1958 in Isla Cristina
Accurate ranging of multlple object u:-.ing ultr..\olllc .. co..or.... /I1I. Conf
Rolwlin and AII/OlI/lItIOJI, NICe, FIClI/ce, /992. pp. 1733-1738.
(Spain) He graduated In physics from the Universileit van
[5] G. Bcnct,J,J, SCITJno. P J, Gil and M, Sanchc7, DC'lgnor In ultrJ'OIlIC Amsterdam in 1982 and received the doctoral degree in 1990
~en,or cqulpped wIth a f.Jull-lolcr.lnl rClll·tIlnc Ian for prace..:-- control from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He has devel-
llpplicalloO\ ,1m Symp lme'"gemIIlMflImentatuJ/l, Be/gil/Ill, 1993. oped many research activities in the field of automation of
16] A Freedman. A mechllni.. m of acoustic echo formation, Acmt/w, 12
processes and especially on the study of sensors (focused on
171 P Shlrlcy, An IlIlroducllon 10 ultra!lomc "cn..mg, Se/lSOfl, (Nov.) ultrasonic sensors) and their processing and application. He
( (989). has published many sciemific papers and holds several
patents. He has also participated in different national and
international sCientific programmes and congresses.
Leopoldo Calderon was born in 1947 in Lumbrales
Enrique A. Vargas Cabral was born 111 Concepci6n. Par- (Spain) He graduated iu physics from the Universidad de
aguay,lI1 1966. He graduated in electrical engll1eering in 1991 Sevilla 111 1974 and received the doctoral degree in 1984 from
from the Faculdade de Engenharia Industrial (Sao Paulo, the Universidad Complutensede Madrid. SlI1ce 1974 DrCal-
Brazil). He was a research engineer and assistant professor der6n has been working in the Instituto de Automatica Indus-
at the Department of Electrical Engineenng, Catholic Uni- trial developing many re~earch activities in the field of
versity of Asunci6n, from 1992 until 1994. Currently, he 's automation of processes and especially on the study of sen-
working towards the Ph.D. degree 111 computer systems and sors (focused on ultrasonic sensors) and their processing and
sciences at the Umversldad Complutense de Madrid, and apphcation. As a consequence of this activity, Dr. Calderon
is carrying out work in the IAI. HIS current research inter- has published many scientific papers and IS author ofdifferent
ests are ultrasonics, signal-processing techniques, object patents. He has also participated in different national and
recognition and classification international scientific programmes and congresses.