In today’s competitive world, any opportunity to make operations more efficient is valuable for companies. This includes accurate measurement and tracking of any stored materials, as entire operations, from planning to manufacturing and delivery, depend on it. One key component of this process is volume monitoring, which is 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 monitoring by enabling data-driven decisions and process optimization.
With the integration of complementing software, a real-time volume monitoring is made possible, enabling complete digitization of the supply chain.
Why volume monitoring using LiDAR makes 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 and monitoring, 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 monitoring solution that feeds into any inventory management system can help reduce inventory errors and ensure on-demand delivery verification and timely shipments. LiDAR-based volume monitoring 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 can be managed across multiple locations along with stockpile history tracking and inventory level thresholds.
LiDAR Volume Monitoring 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 monitoring, can be exported as point data, which allows the detection of the XYZ coordinates of the material relative to the LiDAR scanner.
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.
Examples of LiDAR in Volume Monitoring Applications
Bulk Volume Monitoring Using LiDAR
Monitoring 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 monitoring 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 monitoring 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) measurement even during the night, meaning the manufacturer can continue operations 24/7.
This application can be extended to construction sites as well, where soil 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.
Monitoring of Cargo in Warehouses Using LiDAR
However, the applications are not limited to bulk materials. Cargos such as pallets can also be measured by LiDAR sensors. Warehouses often rely on manual processes for measuring cargo or stored goods due to the absence of automated systems. This leads to difficulties in efficiently and accurately recording dimensions, resulting in errors, inefficiencies, and, eventually, higher costs.
LiDAR-based volume monitoring overcomes this issue by reliably providing accurate data on the cargo’s dimensions. Thanks to the three-dimensional character of the data, the length, width, and height of pallets or wrapped boxes can be automatically scanned in real-time, even in low-light conditions. This prevents not only human failure but also ensures smooth logistics planning to leverage more storage capacity and improved processes.
LiDAR Pushing the Boundaries of Industrial Innovation
LiDAR has the potential to make industrial processes more efficient and cost-effective. Using LiDAR in volume monitoring and inventory tracking can unlock unprecedented operational efficiency for businesses through real-time and accurate volume monitoring.