Introduction to Industrial Instrumentation

industrial control
Engineer adjusting a
process controller measuring 
the refractive index of a process.
Instrumentation is the science of automated measurement and control. Applications of this science abound in modern research, industry, and everyday living. From automobile engine control systems to home thermostats to aircraft autopilots to the manufacture of pharmaceutical drugs, automation surrounds us. This chapter explains some of the fundamental principles of industrial instrumentation.

The first step, naturally, is measurement. If we can’t measure something, it is really pointless to try to control it. This “something” usually takes one of the following forms in industry:
  • Fluid pressure
  • Fluid flow rate
  • The temperature of an object
  • Fluid volume stored in a vessel
  • Chemical concentration
  • Machine position, motion, or acceleration
  • Physical dimension(s) of an object
  • Count (inventory) of objects
  • Electrical voltage, current, or resistance
  • Refractive Index
Once we measure the quantity we are interested in, we usually transmit a signal representing this quantity to an indicating or computing device where either human or automated action then takes place. If the controlling action is automated, the computer sends a signal to a final controlling device which then influences the quantity being measured.

This final control device usually takes one of the following forms:
  • Control valve (for throttling the flow rate of a fluid)
  • Electric motor
  • Electric heater
Both the measurement device and the final control device connect to some physical system which we call the process. To show this as a general block diagram:

Process control loop
Process control loop
The common home thermostat is an example of a measurement and control system, with the home’s internal air temperature being the “process” under control. In this example, the thermostat usually serves two functions: sensing and control, while the home’s heater adds heat to the home to increase temperature, and/or the home’s air conditioner extracts heat from the home to decrease temperature. The job of this control system is to maintain air temperature at some comfortable level, with the heater or air conditioner taking action to correct temperature if it strays too far from the desired value (called the setpoint).

Industrial measurement and control systems have their own unique terms and standards. Here are some common instrumentation terms and their definitions:

Process: The physical system we are attempting to control or measure. Examples: water filtration system, molten metal casting system, steam boiler, oil refinery unit, power generation unit.

Process Variable, or PV: The specific quantity we are measuring in a process. Examples: pressure, level, temperature, flow, electrical conductivity, pH, position, speed, vibration.

Setpoint, or SP: The value at which we desire the process variable to be maintained at. In other words, the “target” value for the process variable.

Primary Sensing Element, or PSE: A device directly sensing the process variable and translating that sensed quantity into an analog representation (electrical voltage, current, resistance; mechanical force, motion, etc.). Examples: thermocouple, thermistor, bourdon tube, microphone, potentiometer, electrochemical cell, accelerometer.

Refractive Index Transducer
Example of a transducer.
In this case, a
Refractive Index transducer.
Transducer: A device converting one standardized instrumentation signal into another standardized
instrumentation signal, and/or performing some sort of processing on that signal. Often referred to as a converter and sometimes as a “relay.” Examples: I/P converter (converts 4- 20 mA electric signal into 3-15 PSI pneumatic signal), P/I converter (converts 3-15 PSI pneumatic signal into 4-20 mA electric signal), square-root extractor (calculates the square root of the input signal).
Note: in general science parlance, a “transducer” is any device converting one form of energy into another, such as a microphone or a thermocouple. In industrial instrumentation, however, we generally use “primary sensing element” to describe this concept and reserve the word “transducer” to specifically refer to a conversion device for standardized instrumentation signals.

Transmitter: A device translating the signal produced by a primary sensing element (PSE) into a standardized instrumentation signal such as 3-15 PSI air pressure, 4-20 mA DC electric current, Fieldbus digital signal packet, etc., which may then be conveyed to an indicating device, a controlling device, or both.

Refractive Index Transmitter/Controller
Example of a transmitter and/or
controller. In this case, refractive
index signal conditioning electronics
to modify the transducer signal,
and optionally, provide a control
output to a final control element.
Lower- and Upper-range values, abbreviated LRV and URV, respectively: the values of process oC and its URV would be 500 oC.
measurement deemed to be 0% and 100% of a transmitter’s calibrated range. For example, if a temperature transmitter is calibrated to measure a range of temperature starting at 300 degrees Celsius and ending at 500 degrees Celsius, its LRV would be 300

Zero and Span: alternative descriptions to LRV and URV for the 0% and 100% points of an instrument’s calibrated range. “Zero” refers to the beginning-point of an instrument’s range (equivalent to LRV), while “span” refers to the width of its range (URV − LRV). For example, if a temperature transmitter is calibrated to measure a range of temperature starting at 300 degrees Celsius and ending at 500 degrees Celsius, its zero would be 300 oC and its span would be 200 oC.

Controller: A device receiving a process variable (PV) signal from a primary sensing element (PSE) or transmitter, comparing that signal to the desired value (called the setpoint) for that process variable, and calculating an appropriate output signal value to be sent to a final control element (FCE) such as an electric motor or control valve.

Final Control Element, or FCE: A device receiving the signal output by a controller to directly influence the process. Examples: variable-speed electric motor, control valve, electric heater.

Manipulated Variable, or MV: The quantity in a process we adjust or otherwise manipulate in order to influence the process variable (PV). Also used to describe the output signal generated by a controller; i.e. the signal commanding (“manipulating”) the final control element to influence the process.

Reprinted from Lessons In Industrial Instrumentation by Tony R. Kuphaldt under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

Chemical Recovery in Black Liquor Processing for Pulp and Paper Production

Pulp and paper mill
Pulp and paper mill.
For economic and environmental reasons, pulp mills employ chemical recovery processes to reclaim spent cooking chemicals from the pulping process. At kraft and soda pulp mills, spent cooking liquor (referred to as weak black liquor), from the brown stock washers is routed to the chemical recovery area.

The chemical recovery process involves concentrating weak black liquor, combusting organic compounds, reducing inorganic compounds, and reconstituting the cooking liquor.

Residual weak black liquor from the pulping process is a dilute solution (approximately 12 to 15 percent solids) of wood lignin, organic materials, oxidized inorganic compounds (Na2SO4, Na2CO3), and white liquor (Na2S and NaOH). The weak black liquor is first directed through a series of multiple-effect evaporators to increase the solids content to about 50 percent to form “strong black liquor.”

black liquor
Monitoring percent solids in black liquor
is an important part of chemical recovery.
The strong black liquor from the multiple-effect evaporator system is either oxidized in the black liquor oxidation system, or routed directly to a non-direct contact evaporator (also called a concentrator). Oxidation of the black liquor prior to evaporation in a direct contact evaporator reduces emissions of odorous total reduced sulfur compounds. 

The solids content of the black liquor following the final evaporator/ concentrator typically averages 65 to 68 percent. The soda chemical recovery process is similar to the kraft process, except that the soda process does not require black liquor oxidation systems, since it is a non-sulfur process that does not result in total reduced sulfur emissions.

The concentrated black liquor is then sprayed into the recovery furnace, where organic compounds are combusted, and the Na2SO4 is reduced to Na2S. The black liquor burned in the recovery furnace has a high energy content which is recovered as steam for process requirements, such as cooking wood chips, heating and evaporating black liquor, preheating combustion air, and drying the pulp or paper products. 

The process steam from the recovery furnace is often supplemented with fossil fuel-fired and/or wood-fired power boilers. Particulate matter (primarily Na2SO4) exiting the furnace with the hot flue gases is collected in an electrostatic precipitator and added to the black liquor to be fired in the recovery furnace.
Refractometer for black liquor
Refractometer for black liquor measurement.

The process of chemical recovery must be carefully managed. Process variables such as temperature, pressure, flow and level require robust instruments to ensure safety and accuracy. The measurement of black liquor solids content has relied upon the use of industrial inline refractometers for many decades. The Electron Machine Corporation, with it's ruggedly designed MPR E-Scan,  has established itself as the leader in this process. Incorporating a ruggedly designed sensing head with a 2205 S/S prism holder, sapphire prism, LED light source, and very sturdy electronics, the Electron Machine device delivers on it's claim as the "world's most rugged process refractometer".  Since the refractometer is specifically designed for the very harsh environment of a pulp mill, it promises years of low-maintenance and very reliable operation. 

Happy Fourth of July from Electron Machine

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THOMAS JEFFERSON, Declaration of Independence

Inline Refractometers for the Production of Jams and Jellies

Refractometers for the Production of Jams and Jellies
Refractometers are used to maintain
standards of jams and jellies.
The quality and uniformity of a food product is paramount to the sales of that product. Assuring that standards are maintained is key to quality and consistency.  Jams, jellies, marmalades, conserves and fruit butters are characterized by concentration of fruit components and sugars. Attention to solids content, pH, and sweetness is essential, and controlling these variables in a production environment requires the proper systems, instruments, and automation.

Jams, jellies, marmalades, conserves and fruit butters are made by boiling fruit and sugar together to give a high solids product, and are characterized by concentration of their fruit components and sugars.

inline refractometer for jam and jelly production
Inline refractometer for jam and jelly production.
Accordingly, standards of identity have been enacted to require specific amounts of the comparatively expensive fruit ingredient. Without these guides, producers could substitute flavored and colored pectin and sugars in place of real fruit.

  • Jam – a product containing both soluble and insoluble fruit constituents.
  • Conserve or preserve – large pieces of fruit are present.
  • Butter - a smooth, semisolid fruit mixture with no fruit pieces or peel. May be spiced
  • Marmalade – are made from citrus fruits and contain some peel.
  • Jelly – is made from filtered fruit juice, no pieces of fruit or insoluble solids present.
In the U.S. jams and jelly products are graded as follows:
  • Fancy  - 50 parts fruit to 50 parts sugar 
  • Standard  - 45 parts fruit to 55 parts sugar 
  • Imitation - 35 parts fruit to 65 parts sugar
  • Fruit butters - At least 5 parts fruit to 2 parts sugar
Standards of identity can be easily formulated with the aid of a refractometer - and instrument that the sugar/solids content by the angle that the solution refracts or bends light. Refractometers are the preferred method of determining of measuring soluble solids and sugars in many food products.

In large scale commercial food production environments, inline process refractometers provide real-time sugar and solids measurement allowing plant operators tight control of product variables so that product uniformity and quality is maintained.

Refractometers for Pulp and Paper Processing

The Electron Machine MPR E-Scan has numerous applications in the paper industry. The most common applications are on black liquor and green liquor. Electron Machine Corporation pioneered the use of refractometers to accurately measure black liquor dissolved solids nearly 50 years ago.

Black Liquor is the waste product from the process of digesting pulpwood into paper pulp by removing various elements to free the cellulose fibers. Electron Machine's long history with this application has resulted in numerous design features that specifically address problems associated with this harsh process measurement.

Green liquor is the dissolved concentration of sodium sulfide, sodium carbonate, and other compounds from the recovery boiler in the paper making process.  Electron Machine Corporation has been actively refining the use of refractometers for measuring green liquor density for over 30 years. The current system uses the MPR E-Scan refractometer combined with heated high-pressure water for cleaning. The resulting combination provides an effective removal of optical coatings by reducing thermal changes, minimizing maintenance to allow for a reliable measurement source for on-line automatic control.

The MDS Monitor Divert System is a BLRBAC compliant Black Liquor solids monitoring system designed specifically for Black Liquor recovery boilers. The MDS Monitor Divert System consists of two completely independent MPR E-Scan Hybrid-Digital refractometers with a separate monitor console that supervises the proper operation of each refractometer. The monitor constantly insures that all parameters remain within operational limits and applies the proper divert or alarm actions should a fault or low solids liquor be detected. A built-in printer records all actions with a date and time stamp. The entire system is designed to be user friendly with large daylight-readable color displays and an intuitive menu-driven interface.

The MPR E-Scan also gives paper companies the ability to accurately control the washing line, by detecting changes in the total dissolved solids coming off the washers. This precise measurement allows effective control of the fresh water flow to the washers, reducing excessive water usage. Combining the measurement with data- analysis tools, a company can monitor inefficiencies in the washing line and evaluate the washing results. Allowing improvements in washing efficiency and overall reduction in water. The MPR E- Scan will reduce the overall time needed to meet target dilution. With near instant readings of black liquor concentration and temperature, the instrument removes the reliance on offline testing. 

For more information, visit or call 352-669-3101.

Industrial Refractometers in Brownstock Washing

Pulp and paper mill
Pulp and paper mill.
In pulp and paper production, brown stock washers are used to recover cooking chemicals from pulp production and are critical for maximizing chemical recovery which impacts the financial success and environmental compliance of a pulp mill.

The purpose of brownstock washing is to remove soluble matter from the pulp while using the least amount of water. Efficient washing improves the recovery of cooking chemicals, reduces the use of chemicals during bleaching, increase pulp quality and helps reduce deposit buildup. By utilizing a refractometer to measure the black liquor solids in the feed and outlet stock lines, and the incoming and outgoing filtrate lines, a paper company can experience increased control and cost savings.

The Electron Machine MPR E-Scan gives paper companies the ability to accurately control the washing line, by detecting changes in the total dissolved solids coming off the washers. This precise measurement allows effective control of the fresh water flow to the washers, reducing excessive water usage.

Combining the measurement with data analysis tools, a company can monitor inefficiencies in the washing line and evaluate the washing results. Allowing improvements in washing efficiency and overall reduction in water. The MPR E- Scan will reduce the overall time needed to meet target dilution. With near instant readings of black liquor concentration and temperature, the instrument removes the reliance on offline testing.

The MPR E-Scan is constructed of various alloys to ensure a long service life in a harsh chemical environment. With our customer pipeline adapters, the instruments can be implemented into any process. Due to the unique measurement principle, the instrument's readings are unaffected by bubbles, particles, fibers, color, flow, pressure or vibration. By utilizing the instrument to control and monitor the brownstock washing, paper companies can guarantee that proper dilution was met and maintained.

Electron Machine MPR E-Scan
Electron Machine MPR E-Scan
  • Increased washing efficiency
  • Continuous accurate control of dilution factor
  • Consistent pulp quality Increased evaporator efficiency
  • Reduced wash loss and decrease wash water
  • Error and Warning light indications Reduced time for correct wash concentration
  • Continuous temperature readings 
Learn more about industrial refractometers and their application in the pulp and paper process by visiting the Electron Machine website at or by calling 352-669-3101.

DCR E-Scan Hybrid-Digital Refractometer

DCR E-Scan
The DCR E-Scan is a hybrid-digital critical angle refractometer. It is used to measure the refractive index of process fluids and may be used as an integral part of a complete process control system.

With an extremely durable Sapphire prism as the foundation, the hybrid-digital design provides digital accuracy with rugged components in the sensing head. This combination produces the essential dependability required for years of use when installed in harsh industrial environments.

The DCR E-Scan is the cost-effective refractometer for an accurate and dependable reading. Electron Machine Corporation calibrates each DCR E-Scan specifically for the intended application. The digital display coupled with the 4-20mA output provides the complete control desired at an affordable cost without sacrificing the rugged reliability desired for today's industrial applications.