The processing of copper scrap involves many precisely coordinated processes. This is the only way to ensure that the recycled copper can be used effectively later on.

When it comes to level instrumentation, Montanwerke Brixlegg relies on radar technology from VEGA.

Very few companies can look back on over 550 years of company history. The Brixlegg copper-silver smelter appeared in documents for the first time in 1463. Copper and silver ores were mined there and refined into pure metals up until the 20th century.

Since 1890, secondary materials containing copper have been increasingly used as raw materials instead of ores.

“While the challenges back then were for the most part exclusively mining problems, today they are much broader. We are now responsible for maintaining a positive interplay between people, the environment and the economy,” explains Patrick Oberladstätter, Head of Electrical Engineering at Montanwerke Brixlegg in Tyrol.

Today, Montanwerke Brixlegg AG is a 100 % upcycling company with more than 350 employees and one of the most important industrial operations in western Austria. The plant in Brixlegg is considered a specialist in copper recycling and the associated copper refining.

But there is more to it: The Tyrolean company is also rushing ahead in the area of climate protection – the world’s most climate-friendly copper is produced here.

The plant generates the lowest CO2 emissions of any comparable industry, and uses 100 % recycled raw materials as well as 100% renewable energy for electricity requirements.

“In this way, we are not only doing pioneering work for today’s needs, but as the first in the value chain, we are laying the groundwork for absolutely climate-neutral manufacturing in the future,” says Oberladstätter.

Scrap turns into valuable raw materials

The raw materials used are copper-bearing dust, ash, shredded materials, sludge and return slag with a copper content of between 15 and 60 %, as well as alloy scrap such as brass, bronze and gunmetal with a copper content of between 60 and 80 %.

Refined materials and chopped and sorted electrical cables have a copper content of around 80 – 99 %. High-purity scrap retrieved from semi-finished product manufacturing, on the other hand, is used directly in the foundry without refining.

Beside these solid raw materials, copper chloride solutions from the electronics industry are also processed.

In addition to copper, numerous other metals such as nickel, zinc, tin and precious metals are extracted from the raw materials.

The copper cathodes, round billets, rolled plates and precious metals produced in this way become valuable raw materials for various applications in the electrical and construction industries, in mechanical and plant engineering, in the high-tech sector as well as in electroplating and agriculture.

The sensor withstands harsh ambient conditions

Without reliable and robust measurement technology, the finely tuned production processes would not be possible. VEGA instruments have been in use here for a long time already; however, collaboration between the two companies has intensified greatly since 2016.

“In my opinion, VEGA’s specialisation in pressure and level measurement has brought huge benefits. We’re absolutely thrilled with the quality and handling of the sensors, which is why we rely on VEGAPULS for continuous level measurement,” says Oberladstätter.

“Since the market launch of the VEGAPULS 21 compact sensor series in 2020, we’ve installed almost 50 of the units.”

These are used in various sensitive chemical applications, like the measurement of acids, alkalis, milk of lime, etc. One example is the continuous measurement of acidic liquids in the electrolysis sector, which is of utmost importance for optimal use and control of the pumps.

Numerous VEGASWING 61 and 63 level switches have also been installed as overfill protection. Recently, more NAMUR versions have been installed, as the periodic function test using the test key on VEGATOR makes things significantly easier.

With NAMUR electronics, not only is very simple wiring possible, but also the test of the sensor via the test key on VEGATOR in the control cabinet.

It is therefore no longer necessary to climb up to the top of the vessel; dismounting the instruments for testing is also a thing of the past. This in turn saves a lot of time and increases the safety of personnel.

VEGASWING detects limit levels in the vessel and forwards them to the VEGATOR controller.

The measured value is adapted to the specific conditions of the measuring point through an adjustment in the controller. Readings are shown on the display and outputted via the integrated current outputs.

This means that the point level signals can also be used for simple control tasks. What is more, the signal circuit is monitored for line interruption and short-circuit.

Monitoring the level in the shaft furnace

A very special place of application for continuous level measurement is the shaft furnace. Packages of scrap are fed into this furnace via a conveyor.

Beside the high ambient temperatures, the process heat itself as well as dust and vibration constantly create new challenges for the deployed measurement technology.

Until December 2021, a radiometric measuring system for min/max monitoring was used at this site, but it did not deliver reliable readings. And this method was very limited in scope – it only allowed point level detection.

For this reason, and because of the ever-present danger of the radiation source, the company wanted to replace it with something better.

“We have to monitor the level precisely in order to maintain the optimal filling volume,” explains Oberladstätter further. A steady inflow of product mix is extremely important for the entire process.

The special situation: There must always be product in the combustion chamber, otherwise the fire could flash back and cause great damage. Here, continuous measurement with VEGA sensors makes it possible to feed in the scrap packages evenly.

He goes on to emphasize this point: “Before this measuring system was installed, the shaft furnace was repeatedly emptied too much and it was damaged as a result of the excessive temperatures.”

Now, the VEGAPULS radar sensor keeps the level in the shaft furnace exactly at the optimal point. With the help of a 45° mirror, the level inside the shaft furnace is measured by the externally mounted, and thus well protected, VEGAPULS.

The sensor was installed and commissioned by Oberladstätter and his team at the end of December 2021. Fine adjustment was carried out by a VEGA engineer.

VEGAPULS is hardly affected by the harsh conditions, even the deposits on the shaft walls do not interfere with the measurement. This is due to the sensor’s very small beam angle of 4°.

As a result, the sensor can be used reliably even in narrow shafts with internal installations or buildup on the walls, because the measuring beam simply travels right past such obstacles.

Eliminating false signals

Two aspects played a role in selecting the sensor. The first: VEGAPULS can cope with extremely high temperatures. The process temperature inside the furnace is approx. 200 °C and the ambient temperature outside the furnace, approx. 50 °C, is still quite hot.

And the second: VEGAPULS is optimised for measurement at close range. Special processing of the reflections in the close range makes it possible to reduce the influence of interference signals directly in front of the antenna system.

The tight focusing of the transmitted signal offers further advantages. The most important is that the actual measurement signal can be separated quite well from interference signals, allowing even the smallest reflected signals to be picked up.

And last but not least, the sensor is non-sensitive to buildup on its own surfaces – extremely important in the harsh environment of the furnace.

Beside the advantages in the process and the high measurement accuracy, there were also very practical considerations that convinced Oberladstätter and his engineering team that VEGA technology was the right choice. These included the simple installation and maintenance, the price and the customer service.

VEGA sensors can also be conveniently adjusted via a smartphone with Bluetooth, which makes them ideal for harsh environments, Ex areas or measuring points that are difficult to access.

Thanks to Bluetooth and the intuitive adjustment structure, Oberladstätter’s team was able to install VEGAPULS in the shaft furnace and get it up and running in no time.

What is more, they can now instantly retrieve all relevant information about the VEGA instrument just by entering its serial number. This greatly facilitates maintenance work carried out later.


Miguel Petersen

Vega Controls SA (Pty) Ltd
Tel. +27 11 795 3249

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