In today’s competitive world, any opportunity to make operations more efficient is valuable for companies. This includes accurate measurement and tracking of the raw materials, as entire operations, from planning to manufacturing and delivery, depend on it. One key component of this process is volume measurements, which are needed to track inventory or measure material stockpiles.
Traditional and manual volume measurement tools and methods include eyeballing, walking wheel, or bucket, or truckload counting, which are not only inefficient but also costly and inaccurate. Therefore, many process industries, such as food, feed, and pharmaceutical, are shifting towards automated, high-tech, and no contact sensors.
Sensor technologies such as LiDAR can improve volume measurement by enabling data-driven decisions.
With the integration of complementing software, a real-time volume measurement is made possible, enabling complete digitization of the supply chain.
Why volume measurements using LiDAR make sense
Accurate 3D shape reconstruction and volume estimation are essential in many applications, such as terrain assessment for construction and the amount of material removed from a mine or stored in a depot.
Many non-contact sensors, such as single-point lasers, are helpful in some conditions and are generally used for level measurement or object counting. But for volume measurement, the scan of the entire surface is usually necessary to take the variations in the material surface level into account. In contrast, a single-point laser can only measure one point and requires several measurements to derive the same information.
This is where 3D-LiDAR comes into play, as it can scan the entire environment, in this case, the material’s surface, and produces an accurate 3D point cloud comprising millions of points. It generates spatial data of the object surface, accurate to millimeters, in real-time and can account for all the variations on the material surface.
LiDAR also can operate in the dark, whereas most optical reconstruction methods require ambient light. And due to its extensive range, the data can be collected from a safe distance without endangering the safety of the workers.
An accurate volume measurement installed in the inventory management system can help reduce inventory errors and ensure on-demand delivery verification and timely shipments. LiDAR-based volume measurement can also enable accurate production and material level tracking to prevent stockouts and overstock situations. Supply and demand could be easily tracked, and complete inventory across multiple locations can be managed along with stockpile history tracking and inventory level thresholds.
LiDAR Volume Measurements and Point-Cloud Data
LiDAR sensors generate a dense cloud of measurements, with the data points distributed evenly throughout the scene at spacing determined by the scanning parameters.
The data measured for most LiDAR applications, including volume measurement, can be exported as point data with intensity (XYZI). This allows the detection of the XYZ coordinates of the material relative to the LiDAR scanner and the intensity value directly related to the reflectivity of a scanned object, which increases the visibility of the point cloud depth and perspective.
These values can then be utilized to calculate the volume of the stored material. The XYZ values can generate the minimum and maximum coordinate values on all three axes, thereby giving a right rectangular parallelepiped volume enclosing all points. And the intensity values can be used to detect and account for the irregularities on the surface of the material, which makes the volume readings very accurate.
Examples of LiDAR in Volume Measurement Applications
Bulk Volume Measurement Using LiDAR
Measurement and surveillance of powder and bulk solid stockpiles is a challenge for many industries. The sensors employed are generally mechanical or overly simplistic and fail to provide the complete information required for real-time and accurate level monitoring and inventory management. Single-point lasers and Radars cannot create a complete 3D picture of the surface, and ultrasound sensors are marred by problems like signal absorption by the stored material, signal noise and reflection, limited range, and high-power requirements. This results in inaccurate data and costly installations.
3D LiDAR, in comparison, is not limited by any of these issues. For instance, a LiDAR-based volume measurement system can be implemented at a wood chips factory to measure the volume of the wood chips produced. The sensor can be installed either on a pole, a tall machine such as a crane, or even drones.
The multiple point scanning ability makes LiDAR perfect for volume measurement in the irregular topography of the wood chips piles and will provide an average, the highest, and the lowest level detected. And since no ambient light is required for operations, it can provide continuous and instantaneous (real-time) measurements even during the night, meaning the manufacturer can continue operations 24/7.
This application can be extended to construction sites as well, where the earth is excavated to create building foundations. LiDAR can be used to measure the volume of the excavated material. This data helps in efficiently running the construction site as the volume of the excavated material determines how many truckloads will be needed and goes a long way in making the supply chain more efficient and dependable.
Log Deck Volume Measurements Using LiDAR
Getting an accurate measurement of an ever-changing mountain of log stacks with extremely narrow spaces in between is a herculean task. Measuring log volumes has been an outdated science, and old methods have not been “cutting it.”
Traditionally, a scaling method has been used by experts, which not only depends on the type of trees, e.g., pine, cedar, or fir, and the quality (knots vs. clear wood) but also requires manual measurement of the length and diameter of the logs.
This cumbersome and outdated method can be easily replaced by LiDAR, as it can instantly generate the deck length and area.
Since LiDAR can get real-time, accurate, and repeatable results, its integration can help track the “just in time” inventory and offer streamlined, cost-effective, efficient, and safer laser measurements. It also ensures the safety of the operators as the device can be installed and used from a safe distance, courtesy of the measuring range of up to 250m.
LiDAR Pushing the Boundaries of Industrial Innovation
LiDAR has the potential to make industrial processes more efficient and cost-effective. Using LiDAR in volume measurement and inventory tracking can unlock unprecedented operational efficiency for businesses through real-time and accurate volume measurement.