ABB level transmitters help the new Panama canal double its capacity and improve global shipping 

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ABB installed 192 guided wave radar level transmitters to help open and close the 16 gates on the newly enlarged Panama Canal efficiently and accurately.


The Panama Canal expansion project, also called the Third Set of Locks Project, doubled the capacity of the Panama Canal by adding a new lane of traffic allowing for a larger number of ships and increasing the width and depth of the lanes and locks allowing larger ships to pass. The new larger size of ships, called New Panamax, are about one and a half times the previous Panamax size and can carry over twice as much cargo.

The project has built two new sets of locks, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and excavated new channels to the new locks while widening and deepening existing channels. The original canal has two lanes, each with its own set of locks. The expansion project added a third lane through the construction of lock complexes at each end of the canal. The other is located east of the existing Gatun Locks. Each of these new lock complexes have three consecutive chambers designed to move vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake, which part of the journey across Panama, and back down again.

Each chamber has three lateral water-saving basins, for a total of nine basins per lock and 18 basins in total. Just like the original locks, the new locks and their basins will be filled and emptied by gravity, without the use of pumps. ABB’s MT5000 series guided wave radar level transmitters
are used inside the new gates to measure water levels for efficient opening and closing.

The new locks are connected to the existing channel system through new navigational channels. The new lock chambers are 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. They use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the original locks.
MT5200 guided wave radar
ABB’s MT5000 series guided wave radar level transmitters are used inside the new gates to measure water levels for efficient opening and closing.

The ABB MT5000 guided wave radar level measurement technology features no moving parts, is easy to install and is unaffected by temperature and pressure changes – Measurement made easy.

ABB systems and sensors

ABB’s MT5000 Series Guided Wave Radar transmitters were selected for the project with each featuring an ABB 695FI Field Signal Indicator for local reference data. Each gate in the new locks of the Panama Canal slide open and closed using air chambers inside each gate. Water is pumped in to reduce buoyancy and close the gates and pumped out to increase buoyancy and open the gates. The MT5000 measures the precise level of the water in the chamber to ensure that the optimum
amount is pumped in and out to efficiently and accurately open and close the gates. Each gate has 12 chambers to be monitored and there are 16 gates, so ABB was asked to supply 192 MT5000s and 695FIs.

ABB’s MT5000 series of guided wave radar feature the latest technology, including a self-monitoring capability that continually checks for any faults that could cause device failures or false indications. The device has an easy to use graphic display with menus that can be changed to many different languages for easy commissioning throughout the world. Pulses of microwave energy are directed to the surface being measured using a rigid rod or flexible cable type probe. This assembly has no moving parts and no loss of energy due to beam divergence.

Customer benefits

– Microwaves are unaffected by temperature, pressure,
specific gravity and vapors
– Easy to install
– No moving parts
– Ignores light continuous coatings
– Good for vacuum service
– No beam angle to be concerned about like through-air
radar or ultrasonic transmitters
– More direct energy return – more consistent signal
– No complicated setup, no computer or programmer
– Built-in waveform screen (Scope Trace)
Control screen_level
Control screen showing water level in gate chambers.


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