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The principle behind magnetic, mechanical, cable, and other float level sensors involves the opening or closing of a mechanical switch, either through direct contact with the switch, or magnetic operation of a reed. With magnetically actuated float sensors, switching occurs when a permanent magnet sealed inside a float rises or falls to the actuation level. With a mechanically actuated float, switching occurs as a result of the movement of a float against a miniature (micro) switch.
Float-type liquid level sensors can be designed so that a shield protects the float itself from turbulence and wave motion. Float sensors operate well in a wide variety of liquids, including corrosives. When used for organic solvents, however, one will need to verify that these liquids are chemically compatible with the materials used to construct the sensor. Float-style sensors should not be used with high viscosity liquids, sludge or liquids that adhere to the stem or floats, or materials that contain contaminants such as metal chips; other sensing technologies are better suited for these applications.
A special application of float type sensors is the determination of interface level in oil-water separation systems. Two floats can be used with each float sized to match the specific gravity of the oil on one hand, and the water on the other. Another special application of a stem type float switch is the installation of temperature or pressure sensors to create a multi-parameter sensor. Magnetic float switches are popular for simplicity, dependability and low cost.