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Section Topics Covered Page

Turbulent Laminar
Velocity Velocity
• The Flow Pioneers Flow

1 A Flow Measurement Orientation • Flow Sensor Selection D


• Accuracy vs. Repeatability


Figure 1-3: Faraday's Law is the Basis of the Magnetic Flowmeter

• Primary Element Options Wedge Flow

Element H L

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters • Pitot Tubes D

• Variable Area Flowmeters A) Segmental Wedge B) V-Cone

Figure 2-8: Proprietary Elements For Difficult Fluids

1st Detector Flow Tube 2nd Detector

• Positive Displacement Flowmeters

Mechanical Flowmeters • Turbine Flowmeters 34

3 Flow

• Other Rotary Flowmeters Calibrated


Figure 3-7:

K = 1 Asymptote

• Magnetic Flowmeters 0.95

For Flat Profile

4 Electronic Flowmeters • Vortex Flowmeters K


• Ultrasonic Flowmeters 0.75

K = 0.75 For Laminar Flow
1 10 100 1,000 10

Figure 4-6:

Mass Flowtube (Typical)
Mass Tube Enclosure

• Coriolis Mass Flowmeters

Flanges Flow
Pipe/Flowtube Junction Direction
Distance Between

Mass Flowmeters

5 • Thermal Mass Flowmeters A)

Direction Arrow
Junction and
Must Not
Exceed 15 Inches
NOTE: Distance Between
Pipe/Flowtube Junction and
Support Must Not
Exceed 15 Inches

• Hot-Wire Anemometers
'U' Rest 'V' Rest 'V' Bolt Inverted Pipe 'V' Block Clamp
C) Clamp Hanger Clamp (Can Be Inverted)

Figure 5-5:

Editorial 06 106 Information Resources
About OMEGA 07 110 Glossary


Section Topics Covered Page

Level %
• Level Sensor Selection Vertical

6 A Level Measurement Orientation • Boiling & Cryogenic Fluids 50

• Sludge, Foam, & Molten Metals 0
50 100 Volume %

Figure 6-3:

Bimetallic Pneumatic
Range Nozzle & Flapper Relay

• Dry & Wet Leg Designs

Temperature Liquid
Compensator Spring
Fill Feedback Bellows

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation • Bubbler Tubes Fulcrum & Seal

Force Bar
Low Pressure High Pressure

• Floats & Displacers High Pressure

Low Pressure

Liquid Filled

A) B)

Figure 7-3:

Level Kv
#1 #2 C= KA
• Theory of Operation - --
- --
Kl C=Capacitance
K=Dieletric Constant
A=Area of Plates
- -- -
-- + ++ D=Dist. Between Plates
8 RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation • Probe Designs
- --
- --

+ ++
Voltmeter Electron
Flow 87
-- ++ A
+ ++ RF
- +
+ ++ +
• Installation Considerations ++

A) B)

Figure 8-2:


• Radar & Microwave Microwave

Detector Microwave
Transmitter Reflected Transmitted

9 Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation • Ultrasonic Level Gages Microwave

Beam Microwave
Microwave Window Window

• Nuclear Level Gages Window

A) B)

Figure 9-6:

• Thermal Switches Receiver

10 Specialty Level Switches • Vibrating Switches Prism
LED Prism
Lost in

• Optical Switches Liquid

Liquid Below the Liquid Immersing

Sensing Prism. the Sensing Prism.

Figure 10-4:



A Flow Measurement Orientation
The Flow Pioneers
Flow Sensor Selection
Accuracy vs. Repeatability
A Flow Measurement Orientation
ur interest in the measure- dynamics, pneumatics, aerodynam- that Newton’s third law of motion
ment of air and water flow ics) is based on the works of the applies not only to stationary bodies,
is timeless. Knowledge of ancient Greek scientists Aristotle but also to objects in motion.
the direction and velocity and Archimedes. In the Aristotelian
of air flow was essential informa- view, motion involves a medium that The Flow Pioneers
tion for all ancient navigators, and rushes in behind a body to prevent a
A major milestone in the understand-
the ability to measure water flow vacuum. In the sixth century A.D., John
ing of flow was reached in 1783 when
was necessary for the fair distribu- Philoponos suggested that a body in
the Swiss physicist Daniel Bernoulli
tion of water through the aque- motion acquired a property called
published his Hydrodynamica. In it, he
ducts of such early communities as impetus, and that the body came to
introduced the concept of the con-
servation of energy for fluid flows.
90 10
Bernoulli determined that an
increase in the velocity of a flowing
fluid increases its kinetic energy
Unrecovered Pressure Loss—Percent of Differential

80 20
Orifice Plate while decreasing its static energy. It is
for this reason that a flow restriction
70 30
Recovery—Percent of Differential

ASME Flow causes an increase in the flowing

Nozzle velocity and also causes a drop in the
60 40 static pressure of the flowing fluid.
The permanent pressure loss
50 50 through a flowmeter is expressed
either as a percentage of the total
40 60 pressure drop or in units of velocity
heads, calculated as V2/2g, where V
30 70
is the flowing velocity and g is the
gravitational acceleration (32.2
Venturi feet/second2 or 9.8 meters/second2
20 Long Form 80
at 60° latitude). For example, if the
velocity of a flowing fluid is 10 ft/s,
10 Low Loss 90 the velocity head is 100/64.4 = 1.55 ft.
Venturi If the fluid is water, the velocity head
Proprietary Flow Tube
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9
corresponds to 1.55 ft of water (or
Beta (Diameter) Ratio 0.67 psi). If the fluid is air, then the
velocity head corresponds to the
Figure 1-1: Pressure Loss-Venturi vs. Orifice
weight of a 1.55-ft column of air.
the Sumerian cities of Ur, Kish, and rest when its impetus died out. The permanent pressure loss
Mari near the Tigris and Euphrates In 1687, the English mathematician through various flow elements can
Rivers around 5,000 B.C. Even today, Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law be expressed as a percentage of the
the distribution of water among the of universal gravitation. The opera- total pressure drop (Figure 1-1), or it
rice patties of Bali is the sacred tion of angular momentum-type can be expressed in terms of veloc-
duty of authorities designated the mass flowmeters is based directly on ity heads. The permanent pressure
“Water Priests.” Newton’s second law of angular loss through an orifice is four veloc-
Our understanding of the behavior motion. In 1742, the French mathe- ity heads; through a vortex shedding
of liquids and gases (including hydro- matician Rond d’Alembert proved sensor, it is two; through positive

1 A Flow Measurement Orientation

displacement and turbine meters, where C is the constant for units single, dimensionless ratio to describe
about one; and, through flow venturis, conversion. the velocity profile of flowing fluids:
less than 0.5 heads. Therefore, if an ori- Over the past several years, the
fice plate (Figure 1-2) with a beta ratio performance of magnetic flowmeters Re = DVρ/µ

Where D is the pipe diameter, V is

Static Pressure
the fluid velocity, ρ is the fluid den-
sity, and µ is the fluid viscosity.
∆PPT He noted that, at low Reynolds
∆PRT=∆PVC numbers (below 2,000) (Figure 1-5),
∆PFT ∆PCT Unstable Region, No Pressure flow is dominated by viscous forces
Tap Can Be Located Here
and the velocity profile is (elongated)
(0.35-0.85)D Pressure at Vena Contracta (PVC) parabolic. At high Reynolds numbers
(above 20,000), the flow is dominated
Minimum Diameter by inertial forces, resulting in a more
uniform axial velocity across the flow-
2.5D D D/2 8D ing stream and a flat velocity profile.
Corner Taps (CT), D ‹ 2" Until 1970 or so, it was believed
Flange Taps (FT), D › 2" that the transition between laminar
D Radius Taps (RT), D › 6" Flow and turbulent flows is gradual, but
Pipe Taps (PT)
increased understanding of turbu-
lence through supercomputer mod-
Orifice eling has shown that the onset of
Figure 1-2: Conversion of Static Pressure Into Kinetic Energy turbulence is abrupt.
When flow is turbulent, the pres-
of 0.3 (diameter of the orifice to that has improved significantly. Among the sure drop through a restriction is
of the pipe) has an unrecovered advances are probe and ceramic insert proportional to the square of the
pressure loss of 100 in H2O, a venturi designs and the use of pulsed mag- flowrate. Therefore, flow can be
flow tube could reduce that pres- netic fields (Figure 1-4), but the basic measured by taking the square root
sure loss to about 12 in H2O for the operating principle of Faraday’s law of of a differential pressure cell output.
same measurement. electric induction has not changed. When the flow is laminar, a linear
In 1831, the English scientist Michael In 1883, the British mechanical engi- relationship exists between flow and
Faraday discovered the dynamo when neer Osborne Reynolds proposed a pressure drop. Laminar flowmeters
he noted that, if a copper disk is rotat-
ed between the poles of a permanent Turbulent Laminar
magnet, electric current is generated. Velocity Velocity
Flow Flow
Faraday’s law of electromagnetic
Profile Profile
induction is the basis for the operation
of the magnetic flowmeter. As shown E
in Figure 1-3, when a liquid conductor D
moves in a pipe having a diameter (D)
and travels with an average velocity (V) E
through a magnetic field of B intensity,
it will induce a voltage (E) according to
the relationship: Magnetic
Figure 1-3: Faraday's Law Is the Basis of the Magnetic Flowmeter

A Flow Measurement Orientation 1

are used at very low flowrates (capil- flowmeter is similar. The French civil vortex flowmeter, which determines
lary flowmeters) or when the viscos- engineer Gaspard Coriolis discovered flow velocity by counting the num-
ity of the process fluid is high. in 1843 that the wind, the ocean cur- ber of vortices passing a sensor. Von
In the case of some flowmeter rents, and even airborne artillery Karman published his findings in
technologies, more than a century shells will all drift sideways because 1954, and because by that time the
elapsed between the discovery of a of the earth’s rotation. In the northern sensors and electronics required to
hemisphere, the deflection is to the count vortices were already in exis-
Conventional right of the motion; in the southern tence, the first edition of the
Magnetic Flowmeters hemisphere, it is to the left. Similarly, Instrument Engineers’ Handbook in
Performance of Pulsed a body traveling toward either pole 1968 was able to report the availabil-
DC Magnetic Flowmeters will veer eastward, because it retains ity of the first swirlmeter.
4.0 the greater eastward rotational speed The computer has opened new
3.0 of the lower altitudes as it passes frontiers in all fields of engineering,
% Rate Accuracy

2.0 over the more slowly rotating earth and flow measurement is no excep-
1.0 surface near the poles. Again, it was tion. It was only as long ago as 1954
0 the slow evolution of sensors and that another Hungarian-American
-1.0 electronics that delayed creation of mathematician, John Von Neumann,
-2.0 the first commercial Coriolis mass built Uniac—and even more recently
-3.0 flowmeter until the 1970’s. that yet another Hungarian-
-4.0 It was the Hungarian-American American, Andy Grove of Intel,
10 50 100 aeronautical engineer Theodore developed the integrated circuit. Yet
% Full Scale von Karman who, as a child growing these events are already changing
Figure 1-4: Magmeter Accuracy
up in Transylvania (now Romania), the field of flowmetering. Intelligent
noticed that stationary rocks caused differential pressure cells, for exam-
scientific principle and its use in vortices in flowing water, and that ple, can automatically switch their
building a flowmeter. This is the case the distances between these travel- range between two calibrated spans
with both the Doppler ultrasonic and ing vortices are constant, no matter (one for 1-10%, the other for 10-100%
the Coriolis meter. how fast or slow the water runs. of D/P), extending orifice accuracy
In 1842, the Austrian physicist Later in life, he also observed that, to within 1% over a 10:1 flow range.
Christian Doppler discovered that, if a when a flag flutters in the wind, the Furthermore, it is possible to include
sound source is approaching a receiver wavelength of the flutter is indepen- in this accuracy statement not only
(such as a train moving toward a sta- dent of wind velocity and depends hysteresis, rangeability, and linearity
tionary listener), the frequency of the
sound will appear higher. If the source
and the recipient are moving away
from each other, the pitch will drop
(the wavelength of the sound will
appear to decrease). Yet it was more
than a century later that the first ultra-
sonic Doppler flowmeter came on the
market. It projected a 0.5-MHz beam
into a flowing stream containing reflec-
tors such as bubbles or particles. The
shift in the reflected frequency was a Flow measurement options run the gamut from simple, economical paddle wheels (shown) to
function of the average traveling veloc- sophisticated high-accuracy devices.
ity of the reflectors. This speed, in turn,
could be used to calculate a flowrate. solely on the diameter of the flag effects, but also drift, temperature,
The history of the Coriolis pole. This is the theory behind the humidity, vibration, over-range, and

1 A Flow Measurement Orientation

power supply variation effects. Those “inexpensive” purchases can be data be filled in for each application:
With the development of super- the most costly installations. • Fluid and flow characteristics: In
chips, the design of the universal The basis of good flowmeter this section of the table, the name
flowmeter also has become feasible. selection is a clear understanding of of the fluid is given and its pressure,
It is now possible to replace dye- the requirements of the particular temperature, allowable pressure
tagging or chemical-tracing meters application. Therefore, time should drop, density (or specific gravity),
(which measured flow velocity by be invested in fully evaluating the conductivity, viscosity (Newtonian
dividing the distance between two nature of the process fluid and of the or not?) and vapor pressure at
points by the transit time of the overall installation. The development maximum operating temperature
trace), with traceless cross-correla- of specifications that state the appli- are listed, together with an indica-
tion flowmeters (Figure 1-6). This is
an elegant flowmeter because it
Coefficient of Discharge
requires no physical change in the
process—not even penetration of Concentric
the pipe. The measurement is based Orifice Magnetic
on memorizing the noise pattern in Flowmeter
any externally detectable process Eccentric
variable, and, as the fluid travels
from point A to point B, noting its
transit time. Target Meter Orifice
(Best Case) Flow Venturi Tube
Flow Sensor Selection Target Meter
The purpose of this section is to (Worst Case) Quadrant-Edged Pipeline
Orifice Reynolds
provide information to assist the Number
reader in making an informed selec- 10 102 103 104 105 106
tion of flowmeter for a particular
application. Selection and orienta-
Figure 1-5: Effect of Reynolds Numbers on Various Flowmeters
tion tables are used to quickly focus
on the most likely candidates for cation requirements should be a sys- tion of how these properties
measurement. Tables 1-I and 1-II tematic, step-by-step process. might vary or interact. In addition,
have been prepared to make avail- The first step in the flow sensor all safety or toxicity information
able a large amount of information selection process is to determine if should be provided, together with
for this selection process. the flowrate information should be detailed data on the fluid’s compo-
At this point, one should consider continuous or totalized, and whether sition, presence of bubbles, solids
such intangible factors as familiarity of this information is needed locally or (abrasive or soft, size of particles,
plant personnel, their experience with remotely. If remotely, should the fibers), tendency to coat, and light
calibration and maintenance, spare transmission be analog, digital, or transmission qualities (opaque,
parts availability, mean time between shared? And, if shared, what is the translucent or transparent?).
failure history, etc., at the particular required (minimum) data-update fre- • Expected minimum and maximum
plant site. It is also recommended that quency? Once these questions are pressure and temperature values
the cost of the installation be comput- answered, an evaluation of the prop- should be given in addition to the
ed only after taking these steps. One erties and flow characteristics of the normal operating values. Whether
of the most common flow measure- process fluid, and of the piping that flow can reverse, whether it does
ment mistakes is the reversal of this will accommodate the flowmeter, not always fill the pipe, whether
sequence: instead of selecting a sensor should take place (Table 1-I). In order slug flow can develop (air-solids-liq-
which will perform properly, an to approach this task in a systematic uid), whether aeration or pulsation
attempt is made to justify the use of a manner, forms have been developed, is likely, whether sudden tempera-
device because it is less expensive. requiring that the following types of ture changes can occur, or whether

A Flow Measurement Orientation 1

special precautions are needed dur- with sanitary or clean-in-place sold or purchased on the basis of a
ing cleaning and maintenance, these (CIP) regulations. meter reading, absolute accuracy is
facts, too, should be stated. The next step is to determine the critical. In other applications,
• Concerning the piping and the area required meter range by identifying repeatability may be more important
where the flowmeter is to be locat- minimum and maximum flows (mass than absolute accuracy. Therefore, it
ed, the following information or volumetric) that will be measured. is advisable to establish separately
the accuracy and repeatability
nB e requirements of each application and
s i tio rt Pip to state both in the specifications.
Po p o
Tra When a flowmeter’s accuracy is
e De stated in % CS or % FS units, its
A Tim absolute error will rise as the mea-
sit sured flow rate drops. If meter error is
stated in % AR, the error in absolute
w terms stays the same at high or low
m(t) flows. Because full scale (FS) is always
A a larger quantity than the calibrated
span (CS), a sensor with a % FS perfor-
Upstream mance will always have a larger error
m(t) Transducer Signal than one with the same % CS specifi-
cation. Therefore, in order to compare
all bids fairly, it is advisable to convert
Time. t
all quoted error statements into the
Transit same % AR units.
It is also recommended that the
user compare installations on the
Downstream basis of the total error of the loop. For
n(t) Transducer Signal
B example, the inaccuracy of an orifice
plate is stated in % AR, while the error
of the associated d/p cell is in % CS
Time. t or % FS. Similarly, the inaccuracy of a
Figure 1-6: The Ultrasonic Transit-Time Flowmeter Coriolis meter is the sum of two
errors, one given in % AR, the other as
should be specified: For the piping, After that, the required flow mea- a % FS value. Total inaccuracy is calcu-
its direction (avoid downward flow surement accuracy is determined. lated by taking the root of the sum of
in liquid applications), size, material, Typically accuracy is specified in per- the squares of the component inaccu-
schedule, flange-pressure rating, centage of actual reading (AR), in racies at the desired flow rates.
accessibility, up or downstream percentage of calibrated span (CS), or In well-prepared flowmeter specifi-
turns, valves, regulators, and avail- in percentage of full scale (FS) units. cations, all accuracy statements are
able straight-pipe run lengths. The accuracy requirements should be converted into uniform % AR units and
• In connection with the area, the separately stated at minimum, nor- these % AR requirements are specified
specifying engineer must know if mal, and maximum flowrates. Unless separately for minimum, normal, and
vibration or magnetic fields are pre- you know these requirements, your maximum flows. All flowmeter specifi-
sent or possible, if electric or pneu- meter’s performance may not be cations and bids should clearly state
matic power is available, if the area acceptable over its full range. both the accuracy and the repeatabili-
is classified for explosion hazards, ty of the meter at minimum, normal,
or if there are other special Accuracy vs. Repeatability and maximum flows.
requirements such as compliance In applications where products are Table 1 provides data on the range

1 A Flow Measurement Orientation

of Reynolds numbers (Re or RD) with- when flow and density are at their no moving parts, select the one
in which the various flowmeter maximum and viscosity at its mini- without moving parts. Moving parts
designs can operate. In selecting the mum. Conversely, the minimum RD is are a potential source of problems,
right flowmeter, one of the first steps obtained by using minimum flow and not only for the obvious reasons of
is to determine both the minimum density and maximum viscosity. wear, lubrication, and sensitivity to
and the maximum Reynolds numbers If acceptable metering performance coating, but also because moving
for the application. Maximum RD is can be obtained from two different parts require clearance spaces that
obtained by making the calculation flowmeter categories and one has sometimes introduce “slippage” into

Table 1: Flowmeter Evaluation Table














Accuracy, uncalibrated Reynolds number ‡ TEMPERATURE PRESSURE




FLOWMETER PIPE SIZE, in. (mm) (Including transmitter) or viscosity °F (°C) psig (kPa)


to -30-250°F (-30-120°C)

Process temperature

Transmitter limited
to 1000°F (540°C):
√ √ X √ √ √ X ?
? X X X X SD ? √ √ X ? X ±1-4% URV

Square-Edged >1.5 (40) RD > 10,000

(41,000 kPa)

Honed Meter Run 0.5-1.5 (12-40) √ √ X √ √ √ ? ?
? X X X X SD ? √ √ X ? X ±1% URV R > 10,000

To 4,000

X ±2-5% URV

? √ X √ √ √ X ?
? X ? X X SD ? ? X X ?
Integrated <0.5 (12) RD > 10,000

Segmental Wedge <12 (300) √ √ √ √ √ √ ? ?
√ ? X ? ? SD ? √ √ X ? X ±0.5% URV RD > 500
Eccentric >2 (50) ? ? √ √ √ ? X ?
? ? X ? X SD ? √ √ X ? X ±2-4% URV RD > 10,000
Segmental >4 (100) ? ? √ √ √ ? X ?
? ? X ? X SD ? √ √ X ? X ±2-4% URV RD > 10,000
V-Cone 0.5-72 (12-1800) √ √ ? √ √ √ ? ?
√ ? X ? ? X ? ? ? X ? X ±0.5-1% of rate RD : 8,000-5,000,000 700 (370) ≤600 (4,100)
Target*** <0.5(12) ? √ √ √ √ √ ? ?
√ √ X X X ? X ? ? X ? X ±0.5-5% URV RD > 100

to -30-250°F (-30-120°C)

Process temperature

Transmitter limited
X ±0.5-2% URV

to 1000°F (540°C):
Venturi >2 (50) √ √ ? √ √ √ ? ?
√ ? X √ ? X ? ? ? X ? RD > 75,000Ł

(41,000 kPa)
Flow Nozzle >2 (50) ? √ ? √ √ √ X ?
? ? X X X X ? ? ? X ? X ±1-2% URV RD > 50,000Ł

To 4,000
X ±1.25% URV

√ √ X √ √ √ X √
? X X X X X ? ? ? X ?

Low Loss Venturi >3 (75) RD > 12,800Ł

Pitot >3 (75) X √ X √ √ √ X ?
? X X X X X X ? ? X X X ±3-5% URV RD > 100,000Ł
Averaging Pitot >1 (25) √ √ SD √ √ √ X ?
? SD X X X SD X ? ? X X X ±1-2% URV RD > 40,000Ł
Elbow >2 (50) X √ ? √ √ √ X ?
? ? X X X √ X ? ? X ? X ±5-10% URV RD > 10,000Ł
Laminar 0.25-16.6 (6-400) ? √ X √ √ √ √ ?
? X X X X X √ X X X X X ±1% of rate RD < 500 150 (66) ≤30 (225)
Magnetic* 0.1-72 (2.5-1800) X X X X X √ ? √
√ √ √ √ √ √ √ ? X ? ? ? ±0.5% of rate RD > 4,500 360 (180) ≤ 1,500 (10,800)
Positive Displacement
Gas <12 (300) X √ X ? √ X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X ±1% of rate - 250 (120) ≤ 1,400 (10,000)
Liquid <12 (300) X X X X X √ √ ? X ? X X X X X X ? X X X ±0.5% of rate No RD limit ≤ 8,000 cS 600 (315) ≤ 1,400 (10,000)
Gas 0.25-24 (6-600) SD √ X √ √ X X X X X X X X SD SD ? ? X X ? ±0.5% of rate - -450-500 (268-260) ≤ 3,000 (21,000)
Liquid 0.25-24 (6-600) X X X X X √ X ? X ? X X SD SD SD ? ? X X ? ±0.5% of rate Rp > 5,000, ≤15 cS -450-500 (268-260) ≤ 3,000 (21,000)
Time of Flight >0.5 (12) X SD SD SD SD √ ? ? X √ √ ? ? √ √ X ? X X ? ±1% of rate to ±5% URV RD > 10,000 -300-500 (-180-260) Pipe rating
Doppler >0.5 (12) X X X X X X ? ? √ √ √ √ √ √ √ X X X ? X ±1% of rate to ±5% URV RD > 4,000 -300-500 (-180-260) Pipe rating
Variable-Area (Rotameter) ≤3 (75) ? √ X X √ √ X ? X ? ? X X X ? ? ? X X X ±1% of rate to ±10% URV No RD limit, < 100 cS Glass: 400 (200) Glass: 350 (2,400)
Metal: 1,000 (540) Metal: 720 (5,000)
Vortex Shedding 1.5-16 (40-400) √ √ ? √ √ √ X ? ? ? X X X X X ? ? X X X ±0.75-1.5% of rate RD > 10,000, < 30 cP 400 (200) ≤ 1,500 (10,500)
X ±0.5% of rate

Vortex Precession (Swirl) <16 (400) √ √ ? √ √ √ X ? X ? X X X X X ? X X X RD > 10,000, < 5 cP 536 (280) Pipe rating
Fluidic Oscillation (Coanda) >1.5 (40) X X X X X √ X X ? ? X X X X ? ? ? X X X ±2% of rate RD > 2,000, < 80 cS 350

(175) ≤ 720 (5,000)


Coriolis 0.25-6 (6-150) ? ? ? √ √ √ √ √ √ ? ? ? √ ? ? ? ? X √ X ±0.15-10% of rate No RD limit -400-800 (-224-427) ≤ 5,700 (39,900)
Thermal Probe <72 (1800) X √ ? √ √ √ ? √ √ ? ? ? ? X ? ? X X ? X ±1-2% URV No RD limit 1,500 (816) Pipe rating
Solids Flowmeter <24 (600) X X X X X X SD X ? X X SD SD X SD SD X √ X X ±0.5% of rate to ±4% URV - 750 (400) ≤ 580 (4,000)
X No data available
Capacitance <8 (200) X X X X X X √ √ √ √ √ √ √ X ? ? X ? ? No data available 300 (149) ≤ 580 (4,000)
Ultrasonic >0.5 (12) X X X X X X ? √ √ √ √ √ √ X ? X X X

? X ±6% of ?? No data available -300-250 (-180-120) Pipe rating

cP = centi Poise ? = Normally applicable (worth consideration) URV = Upper Range Value ‡ According to other sources, the minimum * Liquid must be electrically conductive

cS = centi Stokes √ = Designed for this application (generally suitable) X = Not applicable Reynolds number should be much higher ** Range 10:1 for laminar, and 15:1 for target

SD = Some designs *** Newer designs linearize the signal

A Flow Measurement Orientation 1

the flow being measured. Even also change the internal dimensions of generally advisable to use the
with well maintained and calibrated the meter and require compensation. flowmeter. Because point sensors do
meters, this unmeasured flow varies Furthermore, if one can obtain the not look at the full flow, they read
with changes in fluid viscosity and same performance from both a full accurately only if they are inserted to
temperature. Changes in temperature flowmeter and a point sensor, it is a depth where the flow velocity is

Table 2: Orientation Table For Flow Sensors

0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104kgm/hr

0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104 105 106 Units


0.05 0.3 2.8 28.3 Sm /hr or Am /hr
3 3

10 -6 -5
10 10 -4 10-3 10-2 0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104 Flow




10 -6
10 -5
10 -4
10 -3
10 0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104 105


.004 0.04 0.4 3.8 38 379


10-6 10-5 10-4 10-3 10-2 0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104 m3/hr Flow
-4 -3 -2
10-6 10-5 10 10 10 0.1 1.0 10 102 103 104 105 106 gpm

gpm—m3/hr ➂

Orifice (plate or integral cell) √ H √ SR 3:1 ➁ H 20/5

M √ SR 3:1 ➁

Segmental Wedge √ A 20/5 gpm—m /hr

➁ gpm—m 3/hr

V-Cone Flowmeter √ √ SR 3:1 to 15:1 M 2/5 ACFM—Sm 3/hr
gpm—m3/hr ➃
Target Meters √ A √ SR 15:1 M 20/5 SCFM—Sm /hr

Venturi Tubes √ H √ SR 3:1 ➁ M 15/5 3/hr

Flow Nozzles √ H √ SR 3:1 ➁ A 20/5
gpm—m3/hr ➃
Pitot Tubes √ M √ SR 3:1 ➁ M 30/5 3
3/hr ➂
M √ SR 3:1 ➁
Elbow Taps √ N 25/10 SCFM—Sm 3/hr
gpm—m /hr
Laminar Flowmeters √ √ √ 10:1 ➁ H 15/5 SCFM—Sm3/hr

√ N √ √ 30:1 ➆
Magnetic Flowmeters N 5/3 gpm—m /hr

Positive Displacement √ SD √ 10:1 to M N 3

SCFM—Sm /hr
Gas Meters 200:1

Positive Displacement √ M SD √ 10:1 A N gpm—m
Liquid Meters
Turbine Flowmeters √ √ H √ √ 10:1 ➇ A 15/5 SCFM—Sm3/hr

Ultrasonic Flowmeters

Time of Flight √ √ N √ √ 20:1 N 20/5 gpm—m3/hr ➂
Doppler √ √ N √ √ 10:1 N 20/5 SCFM—Sm3/hr

Variable Area (Rotamater) A √ √ 10:1 M N

Vortex Shedding SD √ A √ √ 10/1 ➅ A 20/5 gpm—m /hr 3

Fluidic Oscillation (Coanda) √ A √ √ 12/1 ➅ H 20/5
Mass Flowmeters Coriolis √ N √ √ 20:1 M/H N
Mass Flowmeters √ SD N √ √ 20:1 ➆ M 20/5 gpm—m /hr 3

Thermal Probe
Solids Flowmeters SD √ √ 5:1 to 80:1 - 5/3

gpm—m3/hr ➂
Weirs, Flumes M √ SD 100:1 M 4/1

= Non-standard Range ➀ = The data in this column is for general guidance only. ➄ = Varies with upstream disturbance.
L = Limited ➁ = Inherent rangeability
of primary device is substantially greater than shown. Value used reflects ➅ = Can be more with high Reynolds number services.
SD = Some Designs limitations
pressure sensing device when 1% of rate accuracy is desired. With ➆ = Up to 100:1.
multiple-range intelligent transmitters, rangeability can reach 10:1.
H = High ➇ = More for gas turbine meters.
➂ = Pipe size establishes the upper limit.
A = Average ➈ = Higher and lower flow ranges may be available.
➃ = Practically unlimited with probe type design. Check several manufacturers.
M = Minimal

N = None

SR = Square Root

1 A Flow Measurement Orientation

the average of the velocity profile

across the pipe. Even if this point is References & Further Reading
carefully determined at the time of • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
calibration, it is not likely to remain Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
unaltered, since velocity profiles • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
change with flowrate, viscosity, tem- Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
perature, and other factors. • “Advanced Process Control for Two-Phase Mixtures,” David Day,
If all other considerations are the Christopher Reiner and Michael Pepe, Measurements & Control, June, 1997.
same, but one design offers less pres- • Applied Fluid Flow Measurement, N.P. Cheremisinoff, Marcel Decker, 1979.
sure loss, it is advisable to select that • “Characteristics and Applications of Industrial Thermal Mass Flow
design. Part of the reason is that the Transmitters,” Jerome L. Kurz, Proceedings 47th Annual Symposium on
pressure loss will have to be paid for Instrumentation for the Process Industries, ISA, 1992.
in higher pump or compressor operat- • Developments in Thermal Flow Sensors, Jerome L. Kurz, Ph.D., Kurz
ing costs over the life of the plant. Instruments Inc., 1987.
Another reason is that a pressure drop • “Differential Flow Measurement of Meter-Conditioned Flow,” Stephen A.
is caused by any restriction in the flow Ifft and Andrew J. Zacharias, Measurements & Control, September, 1993.
path, and wherever a pipe is restricted • Dry Solids Flow Update, Auburn International Inc.
becomes a potential site for material • Flow Measurement Engineering Handbook, R.W. Miller, McGraw-Hill, 1983.
build-up, plugging, or cavitation. • Flow Measurement for Engineers and Scientists, N.P. Cheremisinoff,
Before specifying a flowmeter, it is Marcel Dekker, 1988.
also advisable to determine whether • Flow Measurement, Bela Liptak, CRC Press, 1993.
the flow information will be more use- • “Flowmeter Geometry Improves Measurement Accuracy,” Stephen A.
ful if presented in mass or volumetric Ifft, Measurements & Control, October, 1995.
units. When measuring the flow of • Flowmeters, F. Cascetta, P. Vigo, ISA, 1990.
compressible materials, volumetric • Fluidic Flowmeter, Bulletin 1400 MX, Moore Products Co., June, 1988.
flow is not very meaningful unless • Fundamentals of Flow Metering, Technical Data Sheet 3031, Rosemount
density (and sometimes also viscosity) Inc., 1982.
is constant. When the velocity (volu- • Guide to Variable Area Flowmeters, Application No.: T-022 Issue I,
metric flow) of incompressible liquids Brooks Instrument Co., 1986.
is measured, the presence of suspend- • Incompressible Flow, Donald Panton, Wiley, 1996.
ed bubbles will cause error; therefore, • Industrial Flow Measurement, D.W. Spitzer, ISA, 1984.
air and gas must be removed before • “Installation Effects on Venturi Tube Flowmeters”, G. Kochen, D.J.M.
the fluid reaches the meter. In other Smith, and H. Umbach, Intech, October, 1989.
velocity sensors, pipe liners can cause • Instrument Engineers’ Handbook, Bela Liptak, ed., CRC Press, 1995.
problems (ultrasonic), or the meter • “Is a Turbine Flowmeter Right for Your Application?” Michael Hammond,
may stop functioning if the Reynolds Flow Control, April, 1998.
number is too low (in vortex shedding • “Mass Flowmeters,” Measurements & Control, September, 1991.
meters, RD > 20,000 is required). • Microprocessor-Based 2-Wire Swirlmeter, Bailey-Fischer & Porter Co., 1995.
In view of these considerations, • “Process Gas Mass Flow Controllers: An Overview,” J. G. Olin, Solid State
mass flowmeters, which are insensitive Technology, April, 1988.
to density, pressure and viscosity vari- • “Target Flowmeters,” George W. Anderson, Measurements & Control,
ations and are not affected by changes June, 1982.
in the Reynolds number, should be • Thermal Approach to Flow Measurement, Joseph W. Harpster and
kept in mind. Also underutilized in the Robert Curry, Intek, Inc. 1991.
chemical industry are the various • “Ultrasonic Flowmeter Basics,” Gabor Vass, Sensors, October, 1997.
flumes that can measure flow in par- • “Ultrasonic Flowmeters Pick Up Speed,” Murry Magness, Control, April, 1996.
tially full pipes and can pass large • “User Tips for Mass, Volume Flowmeters,” Donald Ginesi and Carl
floating or settlable solids. T Annarummo, Intech, April, 1994.



Differential Pressure Flowmeters
Primary Element Options
Pitot Tubes
Variable Area Flowmeters
Differential Pressure Flowmeters
he calculation of fluid flow unrestricted pipe. The pressure differ- Engineers (ASME), and the American
rate by reading the pressure ential (h) developed by the flow ele- Gas Association (AGA), and are includ-
loss across a pipe restriction is ment is measured, and the velocity (V), ed in many of the works listed as ref-
perhaps the most commonly the volumetric flow (Q) and the mass erences at the end of this chapter.
used flow measurement technique in flow (W) can all be calculated using The discharge coefficients of prima-
industrial applications (Figure 2-1). The the following generalized formulas: ry elements are determined by labora-
pressure drops generated by a wide tory tests that reproduce the geome-
variety of geometrical restrictions V = k (h/D)0.5 try of the installation. Published values
have been well characterized over the or Q =kA(h/D)0.5 generally represent the average value
years, and, as compared in Table 2, or W= kA(hD)0.5 for that geometry over a minimum of
these primary or “head” flow ele- 30 calibration runs. The uncertainties
ments come in a wide variety of con- k is the discharge coefficient of the of these published values vary from
figurations, each with specific applica- element (which also reflects the 0.5% to 3%. By using such published
tion strengths and weaknesses. units of measurement), A is the cross- discharge coefficients, it is possible to
Variations on the theme of differen- sectional area of the pipe’s opening, obtain reasonably accurate flow mea-
tial pressure (d/p) flow measurement and D is the density of the flowing surements without in-place calibra-
tion. In-place calibration is required if
testing laboratories are not available
or if better accuracy is desired than

Laminar that provided by the uncertainty range

Vena Contracta Flow
noted above. The relationship
between flow and pressure drop varies
with the velocity profile, which can be
Turbulent laminar or turbulent (Figure 2-1) as a
function of the Reynolds number (Re),
which for liquid flows can be calcu-
lated using the relationship:
Figure 2-1: Orifice Plate Pressure Drop Recovery

include the use of pitot tubes and fluid. The discharge coefficient k is Re = 3160(SG)(Q)/(ID)m
variable-area meters (rotameters), and influenced by the Reynolds number
are discussed later in this chapter. (see Figure 1-5) and by the “beta where ID is the inside diameter of
ratio,” the ratio between the bore the pipe in inches, Q is the volumet-
Primary Element Options diameter of the flow restriction and ric liquid flow in gallons/minute, SG
In the 18th century, Bernoulli first the inside diameter of the pipe. is the fluid specific gravity at 60°F,
established the relationship between Additional parameters or correc- and m is the viscosity in centipoises.
static and kinetic energy in a flowing tion factors can be used in the deriva- At low Reynolds numbers (gener-
stream. As a fluid passes through a tion of k, depending on the type of ally under Re = 2,000), the flow is
restriction, it accelerates, and the flow element used. These parameters laminar and the velocity profile is
energy for this acceleration is can be computed from equations or parabolic. At high Reynolds num-
obtained from the fluid’s static pres- read from graphs and tables available bers (well over Re = 3,000), the flow
sure. Consequently, the line pressure from the American National becomes fully turbulent, and the
drops at the point of constriction Standards Institute (ANSI), the resulting mixing action produces a
(Figure 2-1). Part of the pressure drop American Petroleum Institute (API), uniform axial velocity across the
is recovered as the flow returns to the the American Society of Mechanical pipe. As shown in Figure 1-5, the

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

transition between laminar and tur- find the recommended size, although ential pressure range of 100:1, the
bulent flows can cover a wide range these results should be checked for flowmeter would have an error of
of Reynolds numbers; the relation- reasonableness by hand calculation. ±20% AR. For this reason, differential
ship with the discharge coefficient is producing flowmeters have histori-
a function of the particular primary • Accuracy & Rangeability cally been limited to use within a 3:1
element. The performance of a head-type or 4:1 range.
Today, many engineering societies flowmeter installation is a function Flowmeter rangeability can be fur-
and organizations and most primary of the precision of the flow element ther increased without adverse effect

Table 3: Primary or "Head Flow" Element Comparisons

Square edge concentric Clean liquids, gases, steam ≥ 2000 ≥ 1/2 in Easy to install Relaxation piping requirements
orifice plate Low cost High head loss
Easy to replace Accuracy affected by installation
and orifice condition
Conical/quadrant edge Viscous liquids ≥500 1 to 6 in Easy to install Relaxation piping requirements
concentric orifice plate Low cost High head loss
Easy to replace Accuracy affected by installation
and orifice condition

Eccentric/segmental Liquids and gases containing >10,000 4 to 14 in Easy to install Relaxation piping requirements
orifice plate secondary fluid phases Low cost High head loss
Easy to replace Accuracy affected by installation
and orifice condition
Higher uncertainties of discharge
coefficient data
Integral orifice Clean liquids, gases, steam >10,000 1/2 to 2 in Easy to install Relaxation piping requirements
No lead lines Proprietary design requires calibration
Low cost High head loss
More prone to clogging than standard
orifice plate

Venturi/flowtube Clean & dirty liquids, gases, >75,000 1/2 to 72 in Low head loss High initial cost
steam; slurries 2 to 9 times less relaxation piping
than orifice
Higher flow capacity than orifice for
the same differential pressure
Accuracy less affected by wear and
installation conditions than orifice
Nozzle Clean liquids, gases, steam >50,000 >2 in Higher flow capacity than orifice for Harder to replace than orifice
the same differential pressure High head loss
Accuracy less affected by wear and
installation conditions than orifice
Good for high temperature and high
velocity applications
Mass transfer standard for gases
Segmental wedge Dirty liquids, gases, steam; >500 ≥1/2 in No lead lines Proprietary design needs calibration
slurries; viscous liquids Minimal clogging potential High initial cost
40% less head loss than orifice Requires remote seal differential
Minimal relaxation piping pressure transmitter, harder to zero
Venturi cone Clean & dirty liquids, gases, None cited 1 to 16 in Minimal relaxation piping Proprietary design
steam; viscous liquids Low flow capability

element manufacturers offer software and of the accuracy of the d/p cell. on accuracy by operating several d/p
packages for sizing d/p flow ele- Flow element precision is typically flowmeters in parallel runs. Only as
ments. These programs include the reported in percentage of actual many runs are opened at a time as
required data from graphs, charts, and reading (AR) terms, whereas d/p cell are needed to keep the flow in the
tables as well as empirical equations accuracy is a percentage of calibrat- active ones at around 75-90% of
for flow coefficients and correction ed span (CS). A d/p cell usually pro- range. Another option is to stack two
factors. Some include data on the vides accuracy of ±0.2% of the cali- or more transmitters in parallel onto
physical properties of many common brated span (CS). This means that, at the same element, one for 1-10%,
fluids. The user can simply enter the the low end of a 10:1 flow range (at the other for 10-100% of full scale
application data and automatically 10% flow), corresponding to a differ- (FS) d/p produced. Both of these

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

techniques are cumbersome and compressible fluids, the ratio of dif- inverse derivative algorithm, which
expensive. Intelligent transmitters ferential pressure (h) divided by blocks any rate of change occurring
offer a better option. upstream pressure (P) should not more quickly than the rate at which
The accuracy of intelligent trans- exceed 0.25 (measured in the same the process flow can change.
mitters is usually stated as ±0.1% CS, engineering units).
which includes only errors due to Metering errors due to incorrect • Piping, Installation, & Maintenance
hysteresis, rangeability and linearity. installation of the primary element Installation guidelines are published
Potential errors due to drift, temper- can be substantial (up to 10%). by various professional organizations
ature, humidity, vibration, overrange, Causes of such errors can be the (ISA, ANSI, API, ASME, AGA) and
radio frequency interference and condition of the mating pipe sec- by manufacturers of proprietary
power supply variation are all tions, insufficient straight pipe runs, designs. These guidelines include
excluded. If one includes them, inac- and pressure tap and lead line such recommendations as:
curacy is about 0.2% CS. Because design errors. • When, in addition to measuring

7 Pipe Diameters
Swirl Reducer


Profile Concentrator Settling Distance

(4 Pipe Diameters)

Figure 2-2: Flow Straighteners Installed Upstream of Primary Element

intelligent d/p transmitters can— Under turbulent flow conditions, the flow, the process temperature
based on their own measurements— as much as 10% of the d/p signal can or pressure is also to be measured,
automatically switch ranges between be noise caused by disturbances the pressure transmitter should
two calibrated spans (one for 1-10%, from valves and fittings, both up- and not be installed in the process
the other for 10-100% of FS d/p), it downstream of the element, and by pipe, but should be connected to
should be possible to obtain orifice the element itself. In the majority of the appropriate lead line of the
installations with 1% AR inaccuracy applications, the damping provided flow element via a tee.
over a 10:1 flow range. in d/p cells is sufficient to filter out • Similarly, the thermowell used for
In most flowmetering applications, the noise. Severe noise can be temperature measurement should
density is not measured directly. reduced by the use of two or more be installed at least 10 diameters
Rather, it is assumed to have some pressure taps connected in parallel downstream of the flow element, to
normal value. If density deviates from on both sides of the d/p cell. prevent velocity profile distortions.
this assumed value, error results. Pulsating flow can be caused by • Welds should be ground smooth
Density error can be corrected if it is reciprocating pumps or compressors. and gaskets trimmed so that no
measured directly or indirectly by This pulsation can be reduced by protrusion can be detected by
measuring pressure in gases or temper- moving the flowmeter away from the physical inspection.
ature in liquids. Flow computing pack- source of the pulse, or downstream In order for the velocity profile to
ages are also available that accept the of filters or other dampening fully develop (and the pressure drop
inputs of the d/p transmitter and the devices. Pulsation dampening hard- to be predictable), straight pipe runs
other sensors and can simultaneously ware can also be installed at the are required both up- and down-
calculate mass and volumetric flow. pressure taps, or dampening soft- stream of the d/p element. The
To minimize error (and the need for ware can applied to the d/p cell out- amount of straight run required
density correction) when dealing with put signal. One such filter is the depends on both the beta ratio of

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

the installation and on the nature of located as close to the primary ele- out the difference, as long as that
the upstream components in the ment as possible. Lead lines should difference does not change.
pipeline. For example, when a single be as short as possible and of the If the process temperature exceeds
90° elbow precedes an orifice plate, the same diameter. In clean liquid ser- the maximum temperature limitation
straight-pipe requirement ranges from vice, the minimum diameter is G", of the d/p cell, either chemical seals
6 to 20 pipe diameters as the diameter while in condensable vapor service, have to be used or the lead lines need
ratio is increased from 0.2 to 0.8. the minimum diameter is 0.4". In to be long enough to cool the fluid. If
In order to reduce the straight run steam service, the horizontal lead a large temperature drop is required, a
requirement, flow straighteners lines should be kept as short as pos- coiled section of tubing (pigtail) can
(Figure 2-2) such as tube bundles, sible and be tilted (with a minimum be installed in the lead lines to cool
perforated plates, or internal tabs gradient of 1 in/ft with respect to the process fluids.
can be installed upstream of the pri- the piping) towards the tap, so that The frequency of inspection or
mary element. condensate can drain back into the replacement of a primary element
The size and orientation of the pipe. Again, both lead lines should be depends on the erosive and corro-
pressure taps are a function of both exposed to the same ambient condi- sive nature of the process and on the
the pipe size and the type of process tions and be shielded from sunlight. overall accuracy required. If there is
fluid. The recommended maximum In clean liquid or gas service, the lead no previous experience, the orifice
diameter of pressure tap holes lines can be purged through the d/p plate can be removed for inspection
through the pipe or flange is G" for
pipes under 2" in diameter, K" for 2"
and 3" pipes, H" for 4 to 8" and I" for Pipe Taps
larger pipes. Both taps should be of 2 21 D 8D
Flange Taps
the same diameter, and, where the
hole breaks through the inside pipe 1 in. 1 in.
surface, it should be square with no
roughness, burrs, or wire edges.
Connections to pressure holes Flow
should be made by nipples, cou- Corner Taps
plings, or adaptors welded to the
outside surface of the pipe.
On services where the process D D/2
fluid can plug the pressure taps or Figure 2-3: Differential Pressure Tap Location Alternatives
might gel or freeze in the lead lines,
chemical seal protectors can be cell vent or drain connections, and during the first three, six, and 12
used. Connection sizes are usually they should be flushed for several months of its operation. Based on
larger (seal elements can also be minutes to remove all air from the visual inspection of the plate, a rea-
provided with diaphragm exten- lines. Entrapped air can offset the sonable maintenance cycle can be
sions), and, because of the space zero calibration. extrapolated from the findings.
requirement, they are usually Seal pots are on the wet leg in d/p Orifices used for material balance
installed at “radius tap” or “pipe cell installations with small ranges calculations should be on the same
tap” locations, as shown in Figure 2- (under 10 in H2O) in order to mini- maintenance cycle.
3. When chemical seals are used, it mize the level variation in the legs. In
is important that the two connect- steam applications, filling tees are • Sizing the Orifice Plate
ing capillaries, as they are routed to recommended to ensure equal The orifice plate is commonly used
the d/p cell, experience the same height condensate legs on both sides in clean liquid, gas, and steam ser-
temperature and are kept shielded of the d/p cell. If for some reason vice. It is available for all pipe sizes,
from sunlight. the two legs are not of equal height, and if the pressure drop it requires is
The d/p transmitter should be the d/p cell can be biased to zero free, it is very cost-effective for

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

measuring flows in larger pipes (over process without depressurizing the (Figure 2-3). With corner taps, the
6" diameter). The orifice plate is also line and shutting down flow. In such relatively small clearances represent
approved by many standards organi- fittings, the universal orifice plate, a a potential maintenance problem.
zations for the custody transfer of circular plate with no tab, is used. Vena contracta taps (which are
liquids and gases. The concentric orifice plate close to the radius taps, Figure 2-4)
The orifice flow equations used (Figure 2-4A) has a sharp (square- are located one pipe diameter
today still differ from one another, edged) concentric bore that provides upstream from the plate, and down-
although the various standards orga- an almost pure line contact between stream at the point of vena contrac-
nizations are working to adopt a sin- the plate and the fluid, with negligi- ta. This location varies (with beta
gle, universally accepted orifice flow ble friction drag at the boundary. The ratio and Reynolds number) from
equation. Orifice sizing programs beta (or diameter) ratios of concen- 0.35D to 0.8D.
usually allow the user to select the tric orifice plates range from 0.25 to The vena contracta taps provide
flow equation desired from among 0.75. The maximum velocity and min- the maximum pressure differential,
several. imum static pressure occurs at some but also the most noise. Additionally,
The orifice plate can be made of 0.35 to 0.85 pipe diameters down- if the plate is changed, it may require
any material, although stainless steel stream from the orifice plate. That a change in the tap location. Also, in
is the most common. The thickness point is called the vena contracta. small pipes, the vena contracta might
of the plate used (J-H") is a func- Measuring the differential pressure at lie under a flange. Therefore, vena
tion of the line size, the process tem- a location close to the orifice plate contracta taps normally are used
perature, the pressure, and the differ- minimizes the effect of pipe rough- only in pipe sizes exceeding six inches.
ential pressure. The traditional ori- ness, since friction has an effect on Radius taps are similar to vena
fice is a thin circular plate (with a tab the fluid and the pipe wall. contracta taps, except the down-
for handling and for data), inserted Flange taps are predominantly stream tap is fixed at 0.5D from the

Bevel Where
Vent Hole Thickness Is
Location Greater Than
(Liquid 1/8 in (3.175 mm)
Service) or the Orifice
45° Diameter Is Less
Than 1 in (25 mm)
Flow Orifice
Sharp Edge

Pipe 1/8 in (3.175 mm)

Drain Hole Internal Maximum
Location Diameter
(Vapor 1/8 in - 1/2 in
Service) (3.175-12.70 mm)
A) Concentric B) Eccentric C) Segmental

Figure 2-4: Orifice Plate Openings

into the pipeline between the two used in the United States and are orifice plate (Figure 2-3). Pipe taps are
flanges of an orifice union. This located 1 inch from the orifice plate’s located 2.5 pipe diameters upstream
method of installation is cost-effec- surfaces (Figure 2-3). They are not and 8 diameters downstream from
tive, but it calls for a process shut- recommended for use on pipelines the orifice (Figure 2-3). They detect
down whenever the plate is removed under 2 inches in diameter. Corner the smallest pressure difference and,
for maintenance or inspection. In taps are predominant in Europe for because of the tap distance from the
contrast, an orifice fitting allows the all sizes of pipe, and are used in the orifice, the effects of pipe rough-
orifice to be removed from the United States for pipes under 2 inches ness, dimensional inconsistencies,

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

and, therefore, measurement errors around the upstream edge of the These plates are usually used in pipe
are the greatest. plate. In extreme cases, this can sizes exceeding four inches in diame-
clog the opening, or it can change ter, and must be carefully installed to
• Orifice Types & Selection the flow pattern, creating measure- make sure that no portion of the
The concentric orifice plate is rec- ment error. Eccentric and segmental flange or gasket interferes with the
ommended for clean liquids, gases, orifice plates are better suited for opening. Flange taps are used with
and steam flows when Reynolds such applications. Concentric ori- both types of plates, and are located
numbers range from 20,000 to 107 in fices are still preferred for multi- in the quadrant opposite the opening
pipes under six inches. Because the phase flows in vertical lines for the eccentric orifice, in line with
basic orifice flow equations assume because accumulation of material is the maximum dam height for the
that flow velocities are well below less likely and the sizing data for segmental orifice.
sonic, a different theoretical and these plates is more reliable. For the measurement of low flow
computational approach is required The eccentric orifice (Figure 2-4B) rates, a d/p cell with an integral
if sonic velocities are expected. The
minimum recommended Reynolds
number for flow through an orifice
(Figure 1-5) varies with the beta ratio
of the orifice and with the pipe size.
In larger size pipes, the minimum
Reynolds number also rises.
Because of this minimum Reynolds
number consideration, square-edged
orifices are seldom used on viscous Flow Flow
fluids. Quadrant-edged and conical
orifice plates (Figure 2-5) are recom- 45°
mended when the Reynolds number
is under 10,000. Flange taps, corner,
and radius taps can all be used with
quadrant-edged orifices, but only
corner taps should be used with a A) Quadrant-Edged B) Conical
conical orifice.
Concentric orifice plates can be Figure 2-5: Orifices for Viscous Flows
provided with drain holes to pre- is similar to the concentric except orifice may be the best choice. In this
vent buildup of entrained liquids in that the opening is offset from the design, the total process flow passes
gas streams, or with vent holes for pipe’s centerline. The opening of the through the d/p cell, eliminating the
venting entrained gases from liquids segmental orifice (Figure 2-4C) is a need for lead lines. These are propri-
(Figure 2-4A). The unmeasured flow segment of a circle. If the secondary etary devices with little published
passing through the vent or drain phase is a gas, the opening of an data on their performance; their flow
hole is usually less than 1% of the eccentric orifice will be located coefficients are based on actual lab-
total flow if the hole diameter is towards the top of the pipe. If the oratory calibrations. They are recom-
less than 10% of the orifice bore. secondary phase is a liquid in a gas or mended for clean, single-phase fluids
The effectiveness of vent/drain a slurry in a liquid stream, the opening only because even small amounts of
holes is limited, however, because should be at the bottom of the pipe. build-up will create significant mea-
they often plug up. The drainage area of the segmental surement errors or will clog the unit.
Concentric orifice plates are not orifice is greater than that of the Restriction orifices are installed to
recommended for multi-phase flu- eccentric orifice, and, therefore, it is remove excess pressure and usually
ids in horizontal lines because the preferred in applications with high operate at sonic velocities with very
secondary phase can build up proportions of the secondary phase. small beta ratios. The pressure drop

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

across a single restriction orifice process pipe, adequacy of straight laboratory and is provided with honed
should not exceed 500 psid because pipe runs, gasket interference, mis- pipe sections, flow straighteners,
of plugging or galling. In multi-ele- alignment of pipe and orifice bores, senior orifice fittings, and tempera-
ment restriction orifice installations, and lead line design. Other adverse ture controlled enclosures.
the plates are placed approximately conditions include the dulling of the
one pipe diameter from one another sharp edge or nicks caused by corro- • Venturi & Flowtubes
in order to prevent pressure recovery sion or erosion, warpage of the plate Venturi tubes are available in sizes
between the plates. due to waterhammer and dirt, and up to 72", and can pass 25 to 50%
grease or secondary phase deposits more flow than an orifice with the
• Orifice Performance on either orifice surface. Any of the same pressure drop. Furthermore,
Although it is a simple device, the above conditions can change the ori- the total unrecovered head loss
orifice plate is, in principle, a preci- fice discharge coefficient by as much rarely exceeds 10% of measured d/p
sion instrument. Under ideal condi- as 10%. In combination, these prob- (Figure 2-6). The initial cost of ven-
tions, the inaccuracy of an orifice lems can be even more worrisome turi tubes is high, so they are pri-
plate can be in the range of 0.75-1.5% and the net effect unpredictable. marily used on larger flows or on
AR. Orifice plates are, however, quite Therefore, under average operating more difficult or demanding flow
applications. Venturis are insensitive
90 10
to velocity profile effects and
therefore require less straight pipe
run than an orifice. Their contoured
Unrecovered Pressure Loss—Percent of Differential

80 20
Orifice Plate nature, combined with the self-
scouring action of the flow through
70 30
Recovery—Percent of Differential

ASME Flow the tube, makes the device immune

Nozzle to corrosion, erosion, and internal
60 40 scale build up. In spite of its high ini-
tial cost, the total cost of owner-
50 50 ship can still be favorable because
of savings in installation and operat-
40 60 ing and maintenance costs.
The classical Herschel venturi has a
very long flow element characterized
30 70
by a tapered inlet and a diverging out-
Venturi let. Inlet pressure is measured at the
20 Long Form 80
entrance, and static pressure in the
throat section. The pressure taps feed
10 Low Loss 90 into a common annular chamber, pro-
Venturi viding an average pressure reading
Proprietary Flow Tube
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9
over the entire circumference of the
Beta (Diameter) Ratio element. The classical venturi is limit-
ed in its application to clean, non-cor-
Figure 2-6: Pressure Loss-Venturi vs Orifice
rosive liquids and gases.
sensitive to a variety of error-induc- conditions, a typical orifice installa- In the short form venturi, the
ing conditions. Precision in the bore tion can be expected to have an entrance angle is increased and the
calculations, the quality of the instal- overall inaccuracy in the range of 2 to annular chambers are replaced by
lation, and the condition of the plate 5% AR. pipe taps (Figure 2-7A). The short-
itself determine total performance. The typical custody-transfer grade form venturi maintains many of the
Installation factors include tap loca- orifice meter is more accurate because advantages of the classical venturi,
tion and condition, condition of the it can be calibrated in a testing but at a reduced initial cost, shorter

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

length and reduced weight. Pressure Re > 200,000 is between 0.7 and 1.5%. cally coupled to the d/p transmitter
taps are located G to H pipe diame- Flowtubes are often supplied with using filled capillaries. Overall mea-
ter upstream of the inlet cone, and in discharge coefficient graphs because surement accuracy can drop if the

High Pressure Tap D±.1D .5D±.1D

Low Pressure Tap

D d
Throat Outlet
Inlet Inlet Cone

A) Short-Form Venturi Tube B) Universal Venturi C) Flow Nozzle

Figure 2-7: Gradual Flow Elements

the middle of the throat section. the discharge coefficient changes as chemical seal is small, its diaphragm
Piezometer rings can be used with the Reynolds number drops. The is stiff, or if the capillary system is
large venturi tubes to compensate variation in the discharge coefficient not temperature-compensated or
for velocity profile distortions. In of a venturi caused by pipe rough- not shielded from direct sunlight.
slurry service, the pipe taps can be ness is less than 1% because there is
purged or replaced with chemical continuous contact between the • Flow Nozzles
seals, which can eliminate all dead- fluid and the internal pipe surface. The flow nozzle is dimensionally
ended cavities. The high turbulence and the lack of more stable than the orifice plate,
There are several proprietary flow- cavities in which material can accu- particularly in high temperature and
tube designs which provide even mulate make flow tubes well suited high velocity services. It has often
better pressure recovery than the for slurry and sludge services. been used to measure high
classical venturi. The best known of However, maintenance costs can be flowrates of superheated steam.
these proprietary designs is the uni- high if air purging cannot prevent The flow nozzle, like the venturi,
versal venturi (Figure 2-7B). The vari- plugging of the pressure taps and lead has a greater flow capacity than the
ous flowtube designs vary in their lines. Plunger-like devices (vent clean- orifice plate and requires a lower
contours, tap locations, generated ers) can be installed to periodically initial investment than a venturi
d/p and in their unrecovered head
loss. They all have short lay lengths,
typically varying between 2 and 4
Wedge Flow
pipe diameters. These proprietary Element H L
flowtubes usually cost less than the
classical and short-form venturis
because of their short lay length. D
However, they may also require more
straight pipe run to condition their
A) Segmental Wedge B) V-Cone
flow velocity profiles.
Flowtube performance is much
Figure 2-8: Proprietary Elements for Difficult Fluids
affected by calibration. The inaccuracy
of the discharge coefficient in a remove buildup from interior open- tube, but also provides less pressure
universal venturi, at Reynolds num- ings, even while the meter is online. recovery (Figure 2-6). A major disad-
bers exceeding 75,000, is 0.5%. The Lead lines can also be replaced with vantage of the nozzle is that it is
inaccuracy of a classical venturi at button-type seal elements hydrauli- more difficult to replace than the

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

orifice unless it can be removed as accurate way to measure gas flows. dead-ended cavities. The seals attach
part of a spool section. When the gas velocity reaches the to the meter body immediately
The ASME pipe tap flow nozzle is speed of sound in the throat, the upstream and downstream of the
predominant in the United States velocity cannot increase any more restriction. They rarely require clean-
(Figure 2-7C). The downstream end (even if downstream pressure is ing, even in services like dewatered
of a nozzle is a short tube having the reduced), and a choked flow condi- sludge, black liquor, coal slurry, fly
same diameter as the vena contrac- tion is reached. Such “critical flow ash slurry, taconite, and crude oil.
ta of an equivalent orifice plate. The nozzles” are very accurate and often The minimum Reynolds number is
low-beta designs range in diameter are used in flow laboratories as stan- only 500, and the meter requires
ratios from 0.2 to 0.5, while the high dards for calibrating other gas only five diameters of upstream
beta-ratio designs vary between flowmetering devices. straight pipe run.
0.45 and 0.8. The nozzle should Nozzles can be installed in any The segmental wedge has a
always be centered in the pipe, and position, although horizontal orien- V-shaped restriction characterized
the downstream pressure tap tation is preferred. Vertical down- by the H/D ratio, where H is the
should be inside the nozzle exit. The flow is preferred for wet steam, height of the opening below the
throat taper should always decrease gases, or liquids containing solids. restriction and D is the diameter. The
the diameter toward the exit. Flow The straight pipe run requirements H/D ratio can be varied to match the
nozzles are not recommended for are similar to those of orifice plates. flow range and to produce the
slurries or dirty fluids. The most desired d/p. The oncoming flow cre-
common flow nozzle is the flange • Segmental Wedge Elements ates a sweeping action through the
type. Taps are commonly located The segmental wedge element (Figure meter. This provides a scouring effect
one pipe diameter upstream and H 2-8A) is a proprietary device designed on both faces of the restriction,
pipe diameter downstream from for use in slurry, corrosive, erosive, helping to keep it clean and free of
the inlet face. viscous, or high-temperature applica- buildup. Segmental wedges can mea-
Flow nozzle accuracy is typically tions. It is relatively expensive and is sure flow in both directions, but the
d/p transmitter must be calibrated
Impact Pressure Connection for a split range, or the flow element
must be provided with two sets of
connections for two d/p transmit-
Stainless Steel Tubing
Tubing Adaptor ters (one for forward and one for
reverse flow).
P Pt An uncalibrated wedge element
Static Pressure
Static Pressure Holes Connection can be expected to have a 2% to 5%
Outer Pipe Only
(P) AR inaccuracy over a 3:1 range. A cal-
Vp Vp ~ Pt - P ibrated wedge element can reduce
that to 0.5% AR if the fluid density is
Impact Pressure Opening (Pt) constant. If slurry density is variable
Figure 2-9: Pitot Tubes Measure Two Pressures and/or unmeasured, error rises.

1% AR, with a potential for 0.25% AR used mostly on difficult fluids, where • Venturi-Cone Element
if calibrated. While discharge coeffi- the dramatic savings in maintenance The venturi-cone (V-cone) element
cient data is available for Reynolds can justify the initial cost. The unique (Figure 2-8B) is another proprietary
numbers as low as 5,000, it is advis- flow restriction is designed to last the design that promises consistent per-
able to use flow nozzles only when life of the installation without deteri- formance at low Reynolds numbers
the Reynolds number exceeds 50,000. oration. and is insensitive to velocity profile
Flow nozzles maintain their accuracy Wedge elements are used with distortion or swirl effects. Again, how-
for long periods, even in difficult ser- 3-in diameter chemical seals, elimi- ever, it is relatively expensive. The V-
vice. Flow nozzles can be a highly nating both the lead lines and any cone restriction has a unique geometry

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

while an orifice measures the full

Pt flowstream, the pitot tube detects
(High Pressure) the flow velocity at only one point in
the flowstream. An advantage of the
slender pitot tube is that it can be
Packing Nut Static inserted into existing and pressurized
(Low Pressure)
Connection pipelines (called hot-tapping) with-
Stuffing Box out requiring a shutdown.
Corporation Cock
• Theory of Operation
Pitot tubes were invented by Henri
Pitot in 1732 to measure the flowing
velocity of fluids. Basically a differ-
Static ential pressure (d/p) flowmeter, a
pitot tube measures two pressures:
the static and the total impact pres-
sure. The static pressure is the oper-
ating pressure in the pipe, duct, or
Impact the environment, upstream to the
pitot tube. It is measured at right
angles to the flow direction, prefer-
ably in a low turbulence location
Figure 2-10: Pipeline Installation of Pitot Tube (Figure 2-9).
The total impact pressure (PT) is
that minimizes accuracy degradation Pitot Tubes the sum of the static and kinetic
due to wear, making it a good choice Although the pitot tube is one of the pressures and is detected as the
for high velocity flows and ero- simplest flow sensors, it is used in a flowing stream impacts on the pitot
sive/corrosive applications. wide range of flow measurement opening. To measure impact pres-
The V-cone creates a controlled applications such as air speed in rac- sure, most pitot tubes use a small,
turbulence region that flattens the ing cars and Air Force fighter jets. In
incoming irregular velocity profile industrial applications, pitot tubes
and induces a stable differential are used to measure air flow in pipes,
pressure that is sensed by a down- ducts, and stacks, and liquid flow in
stream tap. The beta ratio of a pipes, weirs, and open channels.
V-cone is so defined that an orifice While accuracy and rangeability are
and a V-cone with equal beta ratios relatively low, pitot tubes are simple, Rectangular Stack
(Measure at Center of at
will have equal opening areas. reliable, inexpensive, and suited for a Least 9 Equal Areas)
variety of environmental conditions,
Beta ratio = (D2 - d2).05 / D including extremely high tempera-
tures and a wide range of pressures.
where d is the cone diameter and D The pitot tube is an inexpensive R
is the inside diameter of the pipe. alternative to an orifice plate.
0.916 R
With this design, the beta ratio can Accuracy ranges from 0.5% to 5% FS, 0.837 R
exceed 0.75. For example, a 3-in meter which is comparable to that of an 0.707 R
0.548 R
with a beta ratio of 0.3 can have a 0 to orifice. Its flow rangeability of 3:1 Circular Stack 0.316 R
75 gpm range. Published test results on (some operate at 4:1) is also similar (10-Point Traverse)
liquid and gas flows place the system to the capability of the orifice
accuracy between 0.25 and 1.2% AR. plate. The main difference is that, Figure 2-11: Traverse Point Locations

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

faces forward into the flow, while

Pt = PH PL = P static ports do not, but are, instead,
spaced around the outer tube. Both
pressure signals (PT and P) are routed
A = 83", 78", 1 41", or 2"
by tubing to a d/p indicator or
(9.5, 22, 32, or 51 mm)
transmitter. In industrial applica-
tions, the static pressure (P) can be
measured in three ways: 1) through
taps in the pipe wall; 2) by static
probes inserted in the process
Velocity High Low stream; or 3) by small openings
Profile Pressure Pressure
Profile Profile located on the pitot tube itself or on
a separate aerodynamic element.
Wall taps can measure static pres-
sures at flow velocities up to 200
ft/sec. A static probe (resembling an
L-shaped pitot tube) can have four
Average PH PL holes of 0.04 inches in diameter,
DP spaced 90° apart. Aerodynamic bod-
Average High Average Low ies can be cylinders or wedges, with
(Impact) Pressure (Static) Pressure two or more sensing ports.
Errors in detecting static pressure
Figure 2-12: Multiple-Opening Averaging Pitot Tube arise from fluid viscosity, velocity, and
fluid compressibility. The key to accu-
sometimes L-shaped tube, with the requires an adjustment of the inser- rate static pressure detection is to
opening directly facing the oncom- tion depth. Pitot tubes are recom- minimize the kinetic component in
ing flowstream. The point velocity mended only for highly turbulent the pressure measurement.
of approach (VP) can be calculated flows (Reynolds Numbers > 20,000)
by taking the square root of the dif- and, under these conditions, the
ference between the total pressure velocity profile tends to be flat
(PT) and the static pressure (P) and enough so that the insertion depth is
multiplying that by the C/D ratio, not critical.
where C is a dimensional constant In 1797, G.B. Venturi developed a
and D is density: short tube with a throat-like pas-
sage that increases flow velocity
VP = C(PT - P)H /D and reduces the permanent pressure
drop. Special pitot designs are avail-
When the flowrate is obtained by able that, instead of providing just
multiplying the point velocity (VP) by an impact hole for opening, add a
the cross-sectional area of the pipe single or double venturi to the
or duct, it is critical that the velocity impact opening of the pitot tube.
measurement be made at an inser- The venturi version generates a
tion depth which corresponds to the higher differential pressure than
average velocity. As the flow velocity does a regular pitot tube.
rises, the velocity profile in the pipe
changes from elongated (laminar) to • Static Pressure Measurement
more flat (turbulent). This changes In jacketed (dual-walled) pitot-tube Pitot tube shown with associated fittings and
the point of average velocity and designs, the impact pressure port pressure transmitter.

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

• Single-Port Pitot Tubes averaging medium. measure water velocity in open

A single-port pitot tube can measure Pitot tubes also can be used in channels, at drops, chutes, or over
the flow velocity at only a single square, rectangular or circular air fall crests. At the low flow velocities
point in the cross-section of a flow- ducts. Typically, the pitot tube fits typical of laminar conditions, pitot
ing stream (Figure 2-10). The probe through a 5/16-in diameter hole in tubes are not recommended
must be inserted to a point in the the duct. Mounting can be by a because it is difficult to find the
flowing stream where the flow flange or gland. The tube is usually insertion depth corresponding to
velocity is the average of the veloci- provided with an external indicator, the average velocity and because
ties across the cross-section, and its
impact port must face directly into
the fluid flow. The pitot tube can be
made less sensitive to flow direction
if the impact port has an internal
bevel of about 15°, extending about 1.5
diameters into the tube.
If the pressure differential gener-
ated by the venturi is too low for
accurate detection, the convention-
al pitot tube can be replaced by a
pitot venturi or a double venturi
sensor. This will produce a higher
pressure differential.
A calibrated, clean and properly
inserted single-port pitot tube can
provide ±1% of full scale flow accura-
cy over a flow range of 3:1; and, with
some loss of accuracy, it can even Figure 2-13: Area Averaging Pitot Station
measure over a range of 4:1. Its advan-
tages are low cost, no moving parts, so that its impact port can be accu- the pitot element produces such a
simplicity, and the fact that it causes rately rotated to face directly into small pressure differential. The use of
very little pressure loss in the flowing the flow. In addition, the tube can be a pitot venturi does improve on this
stream. Its main limitations include designed for detecting the full veloc- situation by increasing the pressure
the errors resulting from velocity ity profile by making rapid and con- differential, but cannot help the
profile changes or from plugging of sistent traverses across the duct. problem caused by the elongated
the pressure ports. Pitot tubes are In some applications, such as EPA- velocity profile.
generally used for flow measure- mandated stack particulate sampling,
ments of secondary importance, it is necessary to traverse a pitot • Averaging Pitot Tubes
where cost is a major concern, sampler across a stack or duct. In Averaging pitot tubes been introduced
and/or when the pipe or duct diam- these applications, at each point to overcome the problem of finding
eter is large (up to 72 inches or more). noted in Figure 2-11, a temperature the average velocity point. An averag-
Specially designed pitot probes and flow measurement is made in ing pitot tube is provided with multi-
have been developed for use with addition to taking a gas sample, ple impact and static pressure ports
pulsating flows. One design uses a which data are then combined and and is designed to extend across the
pitot probe filled with silicone oil to taken to a laboratory for analysis. In entire diameter of the pipe. The pres-
transmit the process pressures to such applications, a single probe sures detected by all the impact (and
the d/p cell. At high frequency pul- contains a pitot tube, a thermocou- separately by all the static) pressure
sating applications, the oil serves as ple, and a sampling nozzle. ports are combined and the square
a pulsation dampening and pressure- A pitot tube also can be used to root of their difference is measured as

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

an indication of the average flow in same advantages and disadvantages the manifolds can be purged to keep
the pipe (Figure 2-12). The port closer as do single-port tubes. They are the ports clean.
to the outlet of the combined signal slightly more expensive and a little Because area-averaging pitot sta-
has a slightly greater influence, than more accurate, especially if the flow tions generate very small pressure dif-
the port that is farthest away, but, for is not fully formed. Some averaging ferentials, it may be necessary to use
secondary applications where pitot pitot sensors can be inserted through low differential d/p cells with spans
tubes are commonly used, this error the same opening (or hot tap) which as low as 0-0.01 in water column. To
is acceptable. accommodates a single-port tube. improve accuracy, a hexagonal cell-
The number of impact ports, the type flow straightener and a flow
distance between ports, and the • Area Averaging nozzle can be installed upstream of
diameter of the averaging pitot tube Area-averaging pitot stations are the area-averaging pitot flow sensor.
all can be modified to match the used to measure the large flows of The flow straightener removes local
needs of a particular application. low pressure air in boilers, dryers, or turbulence, while the nozzle ampli-
Sensing ports in averaging pitot tubes HVAC systems. These units are avail- fies the differential pressure pro-
are often too large to allow the tube able for the various standard sizes of duced by the sensor.
to behave as a true averaging cham- circular or rectangular ducts (Figure
ber. This is because the oversized 2-13) and for pipes. They are so • Installation
Pitot tubes can be used as permanently
installed flow sensors or as portable
monitoring devices providing periodic
Drill data. Permanently installed carbon
Thru steel or stainless steel units can oper-
ate at up to 1400 PSIG pressures and
Inserted are inserted into the pipe through
flanged or screw connections. Their
installation usually occurs prior to
plant start-up, but they can be hot-
tapped into an operating process.
In a hot-tap installation (Figure
2-14), one first welds a fitting to the
pipe. Then a drill-through valve is
attached to the fitting and a hole is
drilled through the pipe. Then, after
partially withdrawing the drill, the
valve is closed, the drill is removed
and the pitot tube is inserted. Finally,
the valve is opened and the pitot
tube is fully inserted.
The velocity profile of the flowing
stream inside the pipe is affected by
Figure 2-14: Hot Tap Installation of a Pitot Tube the Reynolds number of the flowing
port openings are optimized not for designed that each segment of the fluid, pipe surface roughness, and by
averaging, but to prevent plugging. In cross-section is provided with both upstream disturbances, such as
some installations, purging with an an impact and a static pressure port. valves, elbows, and other fittings.
inert gas is used to keep the ports Each set of ports is connected to its Pitot tubes should be used only if the
clean, allowing the sensor to use own manifold, which combines the minimum Reynolds number exceeds
smaller ports. average static and average impact 20,000 and if either a straight run of
Averaging pitot tubes offer the pressure signals. If plugging is likely, about 25 diameters can be provided

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

upstream to the pitot tube or if plus: 1.25 in for K-in diameter probes; spring is used to return the flow ele-
straightening vanes can be installed. 1.5 in for H-in; 1.56 in for I-in; and ment to its resting position when the
1.94 in for 1-in diameter probes. flow lessens. Gravity-operated meters
• Vibration Damage Once the velocity limits have been (rotameters) must be installed in a ver-
Natural frequency resonant vibra- calculated, make sure that they do tical position, whereas spring operated
tions can cause pitot tube failure. not fall within the range of operating ones can be mounted in any position.







Piston in
Tapered Tube Perforated Flexing Vane,
Tapered Metering Tube (Rotameter) Tapered Plug Cylinder Disc, or Flapper

Figure 2-15: A Number of Variable Area Flowmeter Designs

Natural frequency vibration is caused velocities. If they do, change the All variable area flowmeters are avail-
by forces created as vortices are shed probe diameter, or its mounting, or able with local indicators. Most can
by the pitot tube. The pitot tube is do both, until there is no overlap. also be provided with position sensors
expected to experience such vibra- and transmitters (pneumatic, electronic,
tion if the process fluid velocity (in Variable Area Flowmeters digital, or fiberoptic) for connecting to
feet per second) is between a lower Variable area flowmeters (Figure 2-15) remote displays or controls.
limit (VL) and an upper limit (VH). The are simple and versatile devices that
values of VL and VH can be calculated operate at a relatively constant pres- • Purge-Flow Regulators
(for the products of a given manufac- sure drop and measure the flow of liq- If a needle valve is placed at the
turer) using the equations below. uids, gases, and steam. The position of inlet or outlet of a rotameter, and a
their float, piston or vane is changed d/p regulator controls the pressure
VL = 5253(M x Pr x D)/L2 as the increasing flow rate opens a difference across this combination,
VH = 7879(M x Pr x D)/L2 larger flow area to pass the flowing the result is a purge-flow regulator.
fluid. The position of the float, piston Such instrumentation packages are
Where M = mounting factor (3.52 for or vane provides a direct visual indica- used as self-contained purge
single mount); Pr = probe factor (0.185 tion of flow rate. Design variations flowmeters (Figure 2-16). These are
for K-in diameter probes; 0.269 for include the rotameter (a float in a among the least expensive and most
H-in; 0.372 for I-in; and 0.552 for 1-in); tapered tube), orifice/rotameter widely used flowmeters. Their main
D = probe diameter (inches); L = combination (bypass rotameter), application is to control small gas or
unsupported probe length in inches, open-channel variable gate, tapered liquid purge streams. They are used
which is calculated as the sum of the plug, and vane or piston designs. to protect instruments from con-
pipe I.D. plus the pipe wall thickness Either the force of gravity or a tacting hot and corrosive fluids, to

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

protect pressure taps from plugging, and the inlet pressure (P1) is variable. combination of the buoyancy of the
to protect the cleanliness of optical They can handle extremely small liquid and the velocity head of the
devices, and to protect electrical flow rates from 0.01 cc/min for liq- fluid. With gases, buoyancy is negligi-
devices from igniting upon contact uids and from 0.5 cc/min for gases. ble, and the float responds mostly to
with combustibles. The most common size is a glass the velocity head.
Purge meters are quite useful in tube rotameter with G-in (6 mm) In a rotameter (Figure 2-15), the
adding nitrogen gas to the vapor connections, a range of 0.05-0.5 gpm metering tube is mounted vertically,
with the small end at the bottom. The
fluid to be measured enters at the
Flow at bottom of the tube, passes upward
P0 Outlet Pressure around the float, and exits the top.
When no flow exists, the float rests at
the bottom. When fluid enters, the
metering float begins to rise.
The float moves up and down in
proportion to the fluid flow rate and
Tube the annular area between the float
and the tube wall. As the float rises,
Spring #1
Float the size of the annular opening
Diaphragm increases. As this area increases, the
differential pressure across the float
P2 decreases. The float reaches a stable
position when the upward force
Regulator exerted by the flowing fluid equals
Valve Flow Control
Valve (V) the weight of the float. Every float
Spring #2 position corresponds to a particular
flowrate for a particular fluid’s densi-
Flow at
P1 Inlet Pressure ty and viscosity. For this reason, it is
necessary to size the rotameter for
Figure 2-16: Purge Flowmeter Design each application. When sized cor-
rectly, the flow rate can be deter-
spaces of tanks and other equip- (0.2-2.0 lpm) on water or 0.2-2.0 scfm mined by matching the float position
ment. Purging with nitrogen gas (0.3-3.0 cmph) in air service. Typical to a calibrated scale on the outside
reduces the possibility of developing accuracy is ±5% FS over a 10:1 range, of the rotameter. Many rotameters
a flammable mixture because it dis- and the most common pressure rat- come with a built-in valve for adjust-
places flammable gases. The purge- ing is 150 psig (1 MPa). ing flow manually.
flow regulator is reliable, intrinsically Several shapes of float are avail-
safe, and inexpensive. • Rotameters able for various applications. One
As shown in Figure 2-16, purge The rotameter is the most widely early design had slots, which caused
meters can operate in the constant used variable area flowmeter the float to spin for stabilizing and
flow mode, where P2 - P0 is held con- because of its low cost, simplicity, centering purposes. Because this
stant at about 60 to 80 in H2O low pressure drop, relatively wide float rotated, the term rotameter
differential. In bubbler and purge rangeability, and linear output. Its was coined.
applications, the inlet pressure (P1) is operation is simple: in order to pass Rotameters are typically provided
held constant and the outlet pres- through the tapered tube, the fluid with calibration data and a direct
sure (P0) is variable. Figure 2-16 flow raises the float. The greater the reading scale for air or water (or
describes a configuration where the flow, the higher the float is lifted. In both). To size a rotameter for other
outlet pressure (P0) is held constant liquid service, the float rises due to a service, one must first convert the

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

actual flow to a standard flow. For liq- tic. Some fluids attack the glass Glass-tube rotameters are often
uids, this standard flow is the water metering tube, such as wet steam or used in applications where several
equivalent in gpm; for gases, the stan- high-pH water over 194°F (which can streams of gases or liquids are being
dard flow is the air flow equivalent in soften glass); caustic soda (which dis- metered at the same time or mixed in
standard cubic feet per minute (scfm). solves glass); and hydrofluoric acid a manifold, or where a single fluid is
Tables listing standard water equiva- (which etches glass). being exhausted through several
lent gpm and/or air scfm values are Floats have a sharp edge at the channels (Figure 2-17). Multiple tube
provided by rotameter manufacturers. point where the reading should be flowmeters allow up to six rotameters
Manufacturers also often provide observed on the tube-mounted to be mounted in the same frame.
slide rules, nomographs, or computer scale. For improved reading accuracy, It also is possible to operate a
software for rotameter sizing. a glass-tube rotameter should be
installed at eye level. The scale can
• Design Variations be calibrated for direct reading of air
A wide choice of materials is available or water, or can read percentage of
for floats, packing, O-rings, and end range. In general, glass tube rotame-
fittings. Rotameter tubes for such ters can measure flows up to about
safe applications as air or water can 60 gpm water and 200 scfh air.
be made of glass, whereas if breakage A correlation rotameter has a
would create an unsafe condition, scale from which a reading is taken
they are provided with metal tubes. (Figure 2-15). This reading is then
Glass tubes are most common, being compared to a correlation table for a
precision formed of safety shielded given gas or liquid to get the actual
flow in engineering units. Correlation
Figure 2-17: Multi-Tube Rotameter Station
charts are readily available for nitro-
gen, oxygen, hydrogen, helium, argon, rotameter in a vacuum. If the
and carbon dioxide. While not nearly rotameter has a valve, it must be
as convenient as a direct reading placed at the outlet at the top of the
device, a correlation meter is more meter. For applications requiring a
accurate. This is because a direct- wide measurement range, a dual-ball
reading device is accurate for only rotameter can be used. This instru-
one specific gas or liquid at a partic- ment has two ball floats: a light ball
ular temperature and pressure. A cor- (typically black) for indicating low
relation flowmeter can be used with flows and a heavy ball (usually white)
a wide variety of fluids and gases for indicating high flows. The black
under various conditions. In the same ball is read until it goes off scale, and
tube, different flow rates can be han- then the white ball is read. One such
dled by using different floats. instrument has a black measuring
Small glass tube rotameters are suit- range from 235-2,350 ml/min and a
able for working with pressures up to white to 5,000 ml/min.
Rotameters can be specified in a wide range of 500 psig, but the maximum operating For higher pressures and tempera-
sizes and materials. pressure of a large (2-in diameter) tube tures beyond the practical range of
may be as low as 100 psig. The practi- glass, metal tube rotameters can be
borosilicate glass. Floats typically are cal temperature limit is about 400°F, used. These tubes are usually made
machined from glass, plastic, metal, but such high-temperature operation of stainless steel, and the position of
or stainless steel for corrosion resis- substantially reduces the operating the float is detected by magnetic fol-
tance. Other float materials include pressure of the tube. In general, there lowers with readouts outside the
carboloy, sapphire, and tantalum. End is a linear relationship between oper- metering tube.
fittings are available in metal or plas- ating temperature and pressure. Metal-tube rotameters can be

Differential Pressure Flowmeters 2

remain unaltered, rotameters can be

repeatable to within 0.25% of the
actual flow rate.
50 Most rotameters are relatively

insensitive to viscosity variations.


The most sensitive are very small

Viscosity of Metered Liquid, Centistokes X

rotameters with ball floats, while

larger rotameters are less sensitive
to viscosity effects. The limitations
of each design are published by the
10 manufacturer (Figure 2-18). The float
shape does affect the viscosity
limit. If the viscosity limit is exceed-
ed, the indicated flow must be cor-
rected for viscosity.
Because the float is sensitive to
changes in fluid density, a rotameter
can be furnished with two floats (one
sensitive to density, the other to
1 5 10 50 100 velocity) and used to approximate
Water Equivalent Flow (GPM) the mass flow rate. The more closely
rm = Density of metered liquid rc = Density of calibrating liquid (water) the float density matches the fluid
density, the greater the effect of a
Figure 2-18: Rotameter Maximum Velocity
fluid density change will be on the
used for hot and strong alkalis, fluo- ed with alarms and a pulse output float position. Mass-flow rotameters
rine, hydrofluoric acid, hot water, for totalization. work best with low viscosity fluids
steam, slurries, sour gas, additives, Plastic-tube rotameters are rela- such as raw sugar juice, gasoline, jet
and molten metals. They also can be tively low cost rotameters that are fuel, and light hydrocarbons.
used in applications where high ideal for applications involving corro- Rotameter accuracy is not affect-
operating pressures, water hammer, sive fluids or deionized water. The ed by the upstream piping configura-
or other forces could damage glass tube itself can be made from Teflon® tion. The meter also can be installed
tubes. Metal-tube rotameters are PFA, polysulfone, or polyamide. The directly after a pipe elbow without
available in diameter sizes from K in wetted parts can be made from stain- adverse effect on metering accuracy.
to 4 in, can operate at pressures up to less steel, PVDF, or Teflon® PFA, PTFE, Rotameters are inherently self clean-
750 psig, temperatures to 540°C PCTFE, with Viton® or Kalrez® O-rings. ing because, as the fluid flows
(1,000°F), and can measure flows up between the tube wall and the float,
to 4,000 gpm of water or 1,300 scfm • Accuracy it produces a scouring action that
of air. Metal-tube rotameters are Laboratory rotameters can be calibrat- tends to prevent the buildup of for-
readily available as flow transmitters ed to an accuracy of 0.50% AR over a eign matter. Nevertheless, rotame-
for integration with remote analog or 4:1 range, while the inaccuracy of ters should be used only on clean
digital controls. Transmitters usually industrial rotameters is typically 1-2% fluids which do not coat the float or
detect the float position through FS over a 10:1 range. Purge and bypass the tube. Liquids with fibrous materi-
magnetic coupling and are often pro- rotameter errors are in the 5% range. als, abrasives, and large particles
vided with external indication Rotameters can be used to manu- should also be avoided.
through a rotatable magnetic helix ally set flow rates by adjusting the
that moves the pointer. The transmit- valve opening while observing the • Other Variable-Area Flowmeters
ter can be intrinsically safe, micro- scale to establish the required process Major disadvantages of the rotameter
processor-based, and can be provid- flow rate. If operating conditions are its relatively high cost in larger

2 Differential Pressure Flowmeters

sizes and the requirement that it be One gate-type variable-area tion. The inaccuracy of such meters
installed vertically (there may not be flow-meter resembles a butterfly is 2-5% FS. The meter can be used
enough head room). The cost of a valve. Flow through the meter on oil, water and air, and is available
large rotameter installation can be forces a spring-loaded vane to in sizes up to 4 inches. It also is used
reduced by using an orifice bypass or rotate, and a mechanical connec- as an indicating flow switch in safe-
a pitot tube in combination with a tion provides local flow rate indica- ty interlock systems. T
smaller rotameter. The same-size
bypass rotameter can be used to
measure a variety of flows, with the References & Further Reading
only difference between applications • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
being the orifice plate and the differ- Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
ential it produces. • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
Advantages of a bypass rotameter Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
include low cost; its major disadvan- • “Choices Abound in Flow Measurement”, D. Ginesi, Chemical Engineering,
tage is inaccuracy and sensitivity to April 1991.
material build-up. Bypass rotameters • “Developments in DP Flowmeters,” Jesse Yoder, Control, April 1998.
are often provided with isolation • Differential Producers - Orifice, Nozzle, Venturi, ANSI/ASME MFC,
valves so that they can be removed December 1983.
for maintenance without shutting • Flow Measurement Engineers’ Handbook, R.W. Miller, McGraw-Hill, 1996.
down the process line. • Flow Measurement, D.W. Spitzer, Instrument Society of America, 1991.
Tapered plug flowmeters are vari- • Flow of Water Through Orifices, AGA/ASME, Ohio State Univ. Bulletin
able-area flowmeters with a station- 89, Vol. IV, No. 3.
ary core and a piston that moves as • Fluid Meters, H.S. Bean , American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 1971.
the flow varies. In one design, the • Fundamentals of Flow Measurement, J. P. DeCarlo, Instrument Society of
piston movement mechanically America, 1984.
moves a pointer, while in another it • Instrument Engineers Handbook, 3rd edition, Bela Liptak, CRC Press, 1995.
magnetically moves an external • “Orifice Metering of Natural Gas”, AGA Report 3, 1985.
flow rate indicator. The second • “Primary Element Solves Difficult Flow Metering Problems at Water
design has a metallic meter body for Waste Treatment Plant,” D. Ginesi, L. Keefe, and P. Miller, Proceedings of
applications up to 1,000 psig. ISA 1989, Instrument Society of America, 1989.



Mechanical Flowmeters
Positive Displacement Flowmeters
Turbine Flowmeters
Other Rotary Flowmeters
Mechanical Flowmeters
iscussed in this chapter are angles to the flow, suspended in the is reduced and metering accuracy is
various types of mechanical fluid stream on a free-running bearing. therefore increased as the viscosity of
flowmeters that measure The diameter of the rotor is very close the process fluid increases.
flow using an arrangement to the inside diameter of the metering The process fluid must be clean.
of moving parts, either by passing chamber, and its speed of rotation is Particles greater than 100 microns in
isolated, known volumes of a fluid proportional to the volumetric flow size must be removed by filtering. PD
through a series of gears or chambers rate. Turbine rotation can be detected meters operate with small clearances
(positive displacement, or PD) or by by solid state devices or by mechani- between their precision-machined
means of a spinning turbine or rotor. cal sensors. Other types of rotary ele- parts; wear rapidly destroys their
All positive displacement flowme- ment flowmeters include the pro- accuracy. For this reason, PD meters
ters operate by isolating and count- peller (impeller), shunt, and paddle- are generally not recommended for
ing known volumes of a fluid (gas or wheel designs. measuring slurries or abrasive fluids.
liquid) while feeding it through the In clean fluid services, however, their
meter. By counting the number of Positive Displacement Flowmeters precision and wide rangeability make
passed isolated volumes, a flow Positive displacement meters provide them ideal for custody transfer and
measurement is obtained. Each PD high accuracy (±0.1% of actual flow batch charging. They are most widely
design uses a different means of iso- rate in some cases) and good repeata- used as household water meters.
lating and counting these volumes. bility (as high as 0.05% of reading). Millions of such units are produced
The frequency of the resulting pulse Accuracy is not affected by pulsating annually at a unit cost of less than
train is a measure of flow rate, while flow unless it entrains air or gas in the $50 U.S. In industrial and petrochem-
the total number of pulses gives the fluid. PD meters do not require a ical applications, PD meters are com-
size of the batch. While PD meters power supply for their operation and monly used for batch charging of
are operated by the kinetic energy do not require straight upstream and both liquids and gases.
of the flowing fluid, metering downstream pipe runs for their instal- Although slippage through the PD
pumps (described only briefly in this lation. PD meters are available in sizes meter decreases (that is, accuracy
article) determine the flow rate from G in to 12 in and can operate increases) as fluid viscosity increases,

Disc Vane
Housing Vane Slot

Inlet Outlet Inlet Outlet

A) Nutating Disc B) Rotating Valve

Figure 3-1: Positive Displacement Flowmeter Designs

while also adding kinetic energy to with turndowns as high as 100:1, pressure drop through the meter also
the fluid. although ranges of 15:1 or lower are rises. Consequently, the maximum
The turbine flowmeter consists of a much more common. Slippage (and minimum) flow capacity of the
multi-bladed rotor mounted at right between the flowmeter components flowmeter is decreased as viscosity

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

increases. The higher the viscosity, Because it must be nonmagnetic, of these meters is required to be
the less slippage and the lower the the meter housing is usually made of ±2% of actual flow rate. Higher vis-
measurable flow rate becomes. As bronze but can be made from plastic cosity can produce higher accuracy,
viscosity decreases, the low flow for corrosion resistance or cost while lower viscosity and wear over

Measuring Chamber
Abutment Control Roller
Piston Valve

Inlet Port Outlet Port Piston


Follower Magnet Magnet Assembly

Chamber Inlet

Cylindrical Abutment Cover

A) Oscillating Control Roller B) Single-Piston Reciprocating

Figure 3-2: Piston Meter Designs

performance of the meter deterio- savings. The wetted parts such as the time will reduce accuracy. The AWWA
rates. The maximum allowable pres- disc and spindle are usually bronze, requires that residential water meters
sure drop across the meter con- rubber, aluminum, neoprene, Buna-N, be re-calibrated every 10 years.
strains the maximum operating flow or a fluoroelastomer such as Viton®. Because of the intermittent use
in high viscosity services. Nutating disc meters are designed patterns of residential users, this cor-
for water service and the materials of responds to recalibrating L x I in
• Liquid PD Meters which they are made must be residential water meters after they
Nutating disc meters are the most checked for compatibility with other have metered 5 million gallons. In
common PD meters. They are used as fluids. Meters with rubber discs give industrial applications, however, these
residential water meters around the better accuracy than metal discs due meters are likely to pass this threshold
world. As water flows through the to the better sealing they provide. much sooner. The maximum continu-
metering chamber, it causes a disc to Nutating disc meters are available ous flow of a nutating disc meter is
wobble (nutate), turning a spindle, in L-in to 2-in sizes. They are suited usually about 60-80% of the maxi-
which rotates a magnet. This magnet for 150-psig operating pressures with mum flow in intermittent service.
is coupled to a mechanical register overpressure to a maximum of 300 Rotating vane meters (Figure 3-1B)
or a pulse transmitter. Because the psig. Cold water service units are have spring-loaded vanes that entrap
flowmeter entraps a fixed quantity temperature-limited to 120°F. Hot increments of liquid between the
of fluid each time the spindle is water units are available up to 250°F. eccentrically mounted rotor and the
rotated, the rate of flow is propor- These meters must meet American casing. The rotation of the vanes
tional to the rotational velocity of Water Works Association (AWWA) moves the flow increment from inlet
the spindle (Figure 3-1A). standards for accuracy. The accuracy to outlet and discharge. Accuracy of

Mechanical Flowmeters 3

±0.1% of actual rate (AR) is normal, large particle size or abrasive solids. are rated to 1,500 psig. They can meter
and larger size meters on higher vis- The measurement chamber is flow rates from 1 gpm to 65 gpm in
cosity services can achieve accuracy cylindrical with a partition plate sep- continuous service with intermittent
to within 0.05% of rate. arating its inlet port from its outlet. excursions to 100 gpm. Meters are
Rotating vane meters are regularly The piston is also cylindrical and is sized so that pressure drop is below

A) Oval-Gear B) Rotating Lobe C) Rotating Impeller

Figure 3-3: Rotating Positive Displacement Meters

used in the petroleum industry and punctured by numerous openings to 35 psid at maximum flow rate.
are capable of metering solids-laden allow free flow on both sides of the Accuracy ranges from ±0.5 % AR for
crude oils at flow rates as high as piston and the post (Figure 3-2A). The viscous fluids to ±2% AR for nonvis-
17,500 gpm. Pressure and temperature piston is guided by a control roller cous applications. Upper limit on
limits depend on the materials of within the measuring chamber, and viscosity is 10,000 centipoise.
construction and can be as high as the motion of the piston is trans- Reciprocating piston meters are
350°F and 1,000 psig. Viscosity limits ferred to a follower magnet which is probably the oldest PD meter designs.
are 1 to 25,000 centipoise. external to the flowstream. The fol- They are available with multiple pis-
In the rotary displacement meter, lower magnet can be used to drive tons, double-acting pistons, or rotary
a fluted central rotor operates in either a transmitter, a register, or pistons. As in a reciprocating piston
constant relationship with two wiper both. The motion of the piston is engine, fluid is drawn into one piston
rotors in a six-phase cycle. Its appli- oscillatory (not rotary) since it is con- chamber as it is discharged from the
cations and features are similar to strained to move in one plane. The opposed piston in the meter.
those of the rotary vane meter. rate of flow is proportional to the Typically, either a crankshaft or a hor-
rate of oscillation of the piston. izontal slide is used to control the
• Piston Meters The internals of this flowmeter can opening and closing of the proper ori-
Oscillating piston flowmeters typical- be removed without disconnection of fices in the meter. These meters are
ly are used in viscous fluid services the meter from the pipeline. Because usually smaller (available in sizes
such as oil metering on engine test of the close tolerances required to down to 1/10-in diameter) and are
stands where turndown is not critical seal the piston and to reduce slippage, used for measuring very low flows of
(Figure 3-2). These meters also can be these meters require regular mainte- viscous liquids.
used on residential water service and nance. Oscillating piston flow meters
can pass limited quantities of dirt, are available in H-in to 3-in sizes, and • Gear & Lobe Meters
such as pipe scale and fine (viz,-200 can generally be used between 100 The oval gear PD meter uses two
mesh or -74 micron) sand, but not and 150 psig. Some industrial versions fine-toothed gears, one mounted

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

horizontally, the other vertically, at high flows and can be used at high rotating impellers is sensed by prox-
with gears meshing at the tip of the operating pressures (to 1,200 psig) imity switches (usually Hall-effect
vertical gear and the center of the and temperatures (to 400°F). detectors) mounted external to the
horizontal gear (Figure 3-3A). The two The lobe gear meter is available in flow chamber. The sensor transmits a
rotors rotate opposite to each other, a wide range of materials of con- pulse train to a counter or flow con-
creating an entrapment in the cres- struction, from thermoplastics to troller. These meters are available in
cent-shaped gap between the hous- highly corrosion-resistant metals. 1/10-in to 6-in sizes and can handle
ing and the gear. These meters can be Disadvantages of this design include a pressures to 3,000 psig and tempera-
very accurate if slippage between the loss of accuracy at low flows. Also, tures to 400°F.
housing and the gears is kept small. If the maximum flow through this meter
the process fluid viscosity is greater is less than for the same size oscillato- • Helix Meters
than 10 centipoise and the flowrate is ry piston or nutating disc meter. The helix meter is a positive dis-
above 20% of rated capacity, accura- In the rotating impeller meter, placement device that uses two radi-
cy of 0.1% AR can be obtained. At very coarse gears entrap the fluid ally pitched helical gears to continu-
lower flows and at lower viscosity, and pass a fixed volume of fluid ously entrap the process fluid as it
slippage increases and accuracy with each rotation (Figure 3-3C). flows. The flow forces the helical
decreases to 0.5% AR or less. These meters are accurate to 0.5% gears to rotate in the plane of the
The lubricating characteristics of of rate if the viscosity of the pipeline. Optical or magnetic sensors
the process fluid also affect the turn- process fluid is both high and con- are used to encode a pulse train pro-
down of an oval gear meter. With liq- stant, or varies only within a narrow portional to the rotational speed of
uids that do not lubricate well, maxi- band. These meters can be made the helical gears. The forces required
mum rotor speed must be derated to out of a variety of metals, including to make the helices rotate are rela-
limit wear. Another way to limit wear stainless steel, and corrosion-resis- tively small and therefore, in com-
is to keep the pressure drop across tant plastics such as PVDF (Kynar). parison to other PD meters, the
the meter below 15 psid. Therefore, These meters are used to meter pressure drop is relatively low. The
the pressure drop across the meter paints and, because they are avail- best attainable accuracy is about
limits the allowable maximum flow able in 3A or sanitary designs, also ±0.2% or rate.
in high viscosity service.
Rotating lobe and impeller type
PD meters are variations of the oval
gear flowmeter that do not share its
precise gearing. In the rotating lobe
design, two impellers rotate in oppo- +1.0
site directions within the ovoid
housing (Figure 3-3B). As they rotate,

0.1 >1000cP
a fixed volume of liquid is entrapped 300cP
and then transported toward the 100cP
outlet. Because the lobe gears
remain in a fixed relative position, it 30cP 10cP 3cP
is only necessary to measure the -10
rotational velocity of one of them. 0.1 1.0 10 100
The impeller is either geared to a reg- Maximum Rated Flow, %
ister or is magnetically coupled to a
transmitter. Lobe meters can be fur- Figure 3-4: Effect of Viscosity on Low-Flow Accuracy
nished in 2-in to 24-in line sizes. Flow
capacity is 8-10 gpm to 18,000 gpm in milk, juices, and chocolate. As shown in Figure 3-4, measure-
the larger sizes. They provide good In these units, the passage of mag- ment error rises as either the operat-
repeatability (better than 0.015% AR) nets embedded in the lobes of the ing flowrate or the viscosity of the

Mechanical Flowmeters 3

process fluid drops. Helical gear which also serves to position the tub- and the required flow rate and dis-
meters can measure the flow of highly ing. This type of metering pump is used charge pressure. Check valves (or, on
viscous fluids (from 3 to 300,000 cP), in laboratories, in a variety of medical critical applications, double check
making them ideal for extremely applications, in the majority of envi- valves) are selected to protect

Discharge Discharge

Outlet Valve



Packing Gland Plates
(Stuffing Box)

Suction Oil Inlet Valve
Check Valve

A) Piston Inlet B) Diaphragm Suction

Figure 3-5: Metering Pump Designs

thick fluids such as glues and very ronmental sampling systems, and also against backflow.
viscous polymers. Because at maxi- in dispensing hypochlorite solutions. Diaphragm pumps are the most
mum flow the pressure drop through The tubing can be silicone-rubber or, if common industrial PD pumps (Figure
the meter should not exceed 30 psid, a more corrosion-resistant material is 3-5B). A typical configuration consists
the maximum rated flow through the desired, PTFE tubing. of a single diaphragm, a chamber, and
meter is reduced as the fluid viscosi- Piston pumps deliver a fixed vol- suction and discharge check valves
ty increases. If the process fluid has ume of liquid with each “out” stroke to prevent backflow. The piston can
good lubricating characteristics, the and a fixed volume enters the cham- either be directly coupled to the
meter turndown can be as high as ber on each “in” stroke (Figure 3-5A). diaphragm or can force a hydraulic
100:1, but lower (10:1) turndowns are Check valves keep the fluid flow oil to drive the diaphragm. Maximum
more typical. from reversing. As with all positive output pressure is about 125 psig.
displacement pumps, piston pumps Variations include bellows-type
• Metering Pumps generate a pulsating flow. To mini- diaphragms, hydraulically actuated
Metering pumps are PD meters that mize the pulsation, multiple pistons double diaphragms, and air-operat-
also impart kinetic energy to the or pulsation-dampening reservoirs ed, reciprocating double-diaphragms.
process fluid. There are three basic are installed. Because of the close
designs: peristaltic, piston, and tolerances of the piston and cylinder • Gas PD Meters
diaphragm. sleeve, a flushing mechanism must be PD gas meters operate by counting
Peristaltic pumps operate by having provided in abrasive applications. the number of entrapped volumes
fingers or a cam systematically squeeze Piston pumps are sized on the basis of gas passed, similar to the way PD
a plastic tubing against the housing, of the displacement of the piston meters operate on liquids. The

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

primary difference is that gases are calibrated for natural gas, which has a operate with little or no maintenance
compressible. specific gravity of 0.6 (relative to air). indefinitely.
Diaphragm gas meters most often Therefore, it is necessary to re-cali- Lobe gear meters (or lobed
are used to measure the flow of nat- brate the flow rating of the meter impeller meters, as they are also
ural gas, especially in metering con- when it is used to meter other gases. known), also are used for gas service.
sumption by households. The meter The calibration for the new flow rat- Accuracy in gas service is ±1% of rate
is constructed from aluminum cast- ing (QN) is obtained by multiplying over a 10:1 turndown, and typical
ings with cloth-backed rubber the meter’s flow rating for natural gas pressure drop is 0.1 psid. Because of
diaphragms. The meter consists of (QC) by the square root of the ratio the close tolerances, upstream filtra-
four chambers: the two diaphragm of the specific gravities of natural gas tion is required for dirty lines.
chambers on the inlet and outlet (0.6) and the new gas (SGN): Rotating vane meters measure the
sides and the inlet and outlet cham- flow of gas in the same ranges as do
bers of the meter body. The passage QN= QC(0.6/SGN)0.5 lobe gear meters (up to 100,000
of gas through the meter creates a ft3/hr) but can be used over a wider
differential pressure between the two Diaphragm meters are usually rated 25:1 turndown. They also incur a lower
diaphragm chambers by compressing in units of cubic feet per hour and pressure drop of 0.05 in H2O for sim-
the one on the inlet side and expand- sized for a pressure drop of 0.5-2 in ilar accuracy, and, because the clear-
ing the one on the outlet side. This H2O. Accuracy is roughly ±1% of read- ances are somewhat more forgiving,
action alternately empties and fills ing over a 200:1 range. They maintain upstream filtration is not as critical.
the four chambers. The slide valves at their accuracy for long periods of
the top of the meter alternate the time, which makes them good choices • High-Precision PD Systems
roles of the chambers and synchro- for retail revenue metering applica- High-precision gas meters are usually
nize the action of the diaphragms, as tions. Unless the gas is unusually dirty a hybrid combining a standard PD

Displacement DC Motor Flowmeter

Gas Flow M

Zeroing Solenoids Detection Piston
A) Gas Service B) Liquid Service

Figure 3-6: High-Precision PD Meters Equalize Inlet and Outlet Pressures

well as operating the crank mecha- (producer gas, or recycled methane meter and a motor drive that elimi-
nism for the meter register. from composting or digesting, for nates the pressure drop across the
Diaphragm meters generally are example), the diaphragm meter will meter. Equalizing the inlet and outlet

Mechanical Flowmeters 3

pressures eliminates slip flows, leak- Vapor separators are usually includ- Therefore, field-mounted and in-line
age, and blow-by. In high-precision ed, to prevent vapor lock. provers have been developed. This
gas flowmeter installations, high- type of prover consists of a calibrat-
sensitivity leaves are used to detect • Testing, Calibration & Provers ed chamber equipped with a barrier
the pressure differential, and dis- All meters with moving parts require piston (Figure 3-7). Two detectors are
placement transducers are used to periodic testing, recalibration and mounted a known distance (and
measure the deflection of the leaves repair, because wear increases the therefore a known volume) apart. As
(Figure 3-6A). Designed to operate at clearances. Recalibration can be the flow passes through the cham-
ber, the displacer piston is moved
downstream. Dividing the volume of
the chamber by the time it takes for
1st Detector Flow Tube 2nd Detector the displacer to move from one
detector to the other gives the cali-
brated flow rate. This rate is then
compared to the reading of the

flowmeter under test.

Provers are repeatable on the
order of 0.02%, and can operate at
up to 3,000 psig and 165°F/75°C. Their
operating flow range is from as low
Calibrated as 0.001 gpm to as high as 20,000
gpm. Provers are available for bench-
top use, for mounting in truck-beds,
Figure 3-7: Field-Mounted, In-Line Flow Prover on trailers, or in-line.

ambient temperatures and at up to done either in a laboratory or on line • PD Meter Accessories

30 psig pressures, this meter is using a prover. PD meter accessories include strain-
claimed to provide accuracy to with- Gas systems are recalibrated ers, filters, air/vapor release assem-
in 0.25% of reading over a 50:1 range against a bell-jar prover—a calibrated blies, pulsation dampeners, tempera-
and 0.5% over a 100:1 range. Flow cylindrical bell, liquid sealed in a tank. ture compensation systems, and a
capacity ranges from 0.3-1,500 scfm. As the bell is lowered, it discharges a variety of valves to permit dribble
For liquid service, a servomotor- known volume of gas through the cut-off in batching systems.
driven oval-gear meter equalizes the meter being tested. The volumetric Mechanical registers can be
pressure across the meter. This accuracy of bell-jar provers is on the equipped with mechanical or elec-
increases accuracy at low flows and order of 0.1% by volume, and provers tronic ticket-printers for inventory
under varying viscosity conditions are available in discharge volumes of control and point-of-use sales.
(Figure 3-6B). This flowmeter uses a 2, 5, 10 ft3 and larger. Batching flow computers are readily
very sensitive piston to detect the Liquid systems can be calibrated in available, as are analog and intelli-
meter differential and drives a vari- the laboratory against either a cali- gent digital transmitters. Automatic
able speed servomotor to keep it brated secondary standard or a gravi- meter reading (AMR) devices permit
near zero. This design is claimed to metric flow loop. This approach can the remote retrieval of readings by
provide 0.25% of rate accuracy over a provide high accuracy (up to ±0.01% utility personnel.
50:1 range at operating pressures of of rate) but requires removing the
up to 150 psig. High precision flowmeter from service. Turbine Flowmeters
flowmeters are used on engine test In many operations, especially in Invented by Reinhard Woltman in the
stands for fuel flow measurement the petroleum industry, it is difficult 18th century, the turbine flowmeter
(gasoline, diesel, alcohol, etc.). Flow or impossible to remove a flow- is an accurate and reliable flowmeter
ranges from 0.04-40 gph are typical. meter from service for calibration. for both liquids and gases. It consists

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

of a multi-bladed rotor mounted at are made of permanently magnetized they are in the presence of a very low
right angles to the flow and suspend- material (Figure 3-8B). As each blade strength (on the order of 25 gauss)
ed in the fluid stream on a free-run- passes the coil, it generates a voltage magnetic field.
ning bearing. The diameter of the pulse. In some designs, only one blade In these turbine flowmeters, very
rotor is very slightly less than the is magnetic and the pulse represents a small magnets are embedded in the
inside diameter of the metering complete revolution of the rotor. tips of the rotor blades. Rotors are typ-
chamber, and its speed of rotation is The outputs of reluctance and ically made of a non-magnetic materi-
proportional to the volumetric flow inductive pick-up coils are continu- al, like polypropylene, Ryton, or PVDF
rate. Turbine rotation can be detect- ous sine waves with the pulse train’s (Kynar). The signal output from a Hall-
ed by solid state devices (reluctance, frequency proportional to the flow effect sensor is a square wave pulse
inductance, capacitive and Hall- rate. At low flow, the output (the train, at a frequency proportional to
effect pick-ups) or by mechanical height of the voltage pulse) may be the volumetric flowrate.
sensors (gear or magnetic drives). on the order of 20 mV peak-to-peak. Because Hall-effect sensors have no
In the reluctance pick-up, the coil It is not advisable to transport such a magnetic drag, they can operate at
is a permanent magnet and the tur- weak signal over long distances. lower flow velocities (0.2 ft/sec) than
bine blades are made of a material Therefore, the distance between the magnetic pick-up designs (0.5-1.0
attracted to magnets. As each blade pickup and associated display elec- ft/sec). In addition, the Hall-effect sen-
passes the coil, a voltage is generated tronics or preamplifier must be short. sor provides a signal of high amplitude

One Pulse One Unit Per

Per Blade Volume Revolution

Magnet Coil

Meter Body Meter Body

N Permanent
Reluctance Pickup Coil

A) B) Inductance Pickup Coil

Figure 3-8: Generation of Turbine Flow Signal

in the coil (Figure 3-8A). Each pulse Capacitive sensors produce a sine (typically a 10.8-V square wave), per-
represents a discrete volume of liq- wave by generating an RF signal that mitting distances up to 3,000 ft.
uid. The number of pulses per unit is amplitude-modulated by the between the sensor and the electron-
volume is called the meter’s K-factor. movement of the rotor blades. ics without amplification.
In the inductance pick-up, the Instead of pick-up coils, Hall-effect In the water distribution industry,
permanent magnet is embedded in transistors also can be used. These mechanical-drive Woltman-type tur-
the rotor, or the blades of the rotor transistors change their state when bine flowmeters continue to be the

Mechanical Flowmeters 3

standard. These turbine meters use a turbine meters must register whereas turbine meters intended for
gear train to convert the rotation of between 98-102% of actual rate at municipal water service are bronze or
the rotor into the rotation of a verti- maximum flow when tested. Class II cast iron. The rotor and bearing
cal shaft. The shaft passes between turbine meters must register materials are selected to match the
the metering tube and the register between 98.5-101.5% of actual rate. process fluid and the service. Rotors
section through a mechanical stuff- Both Class I and Class II meters must are often made from stainless steel,
and bearings of graphite, tungsten
carbide, ceramics, or in special cases
100 of synthetic ruby or sapphire com-
±0.15% Linearity Flow Rate
bined with tungsten carbide. In all
Nominal K Factor
98.50 cases, bearings and shafts are
Meter Coefficient K - Pulses/Gal.

99 +0.25%
designed to provide minimum fric-

Maximum Linear Flow Rate

-0.25% tion and maximum resistance to
wear. Some corrosion-resistant
Calibration Curve
designs are made from plastic mate-
97 rials such as PVC.
Small turbine meters often are
96 Minimum Flow Rate for ±0.25% Linearity called barstock turbines because in
A B sizes of I in to 3 in. they are
machined from stainless steel hexag-
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800
Flow Rate - Gal./Min.
onal barstock. The turbine is sus-
pended by a bearing between two
hanger assemblies that also serve to
Figure 3-9: Typical Turbine Flowmeter Calibration Curve
condition the flow. This design is
ing box, turning a geared mechanical have mechanical registers. suited for high operating pressures
register assembly to indicate flow Solid state pickup designs are less (up to 5,000 psig).
rate and actuate a mechanical total- susceptible to mechanical wear than Similar to a pitot tube differential
izer counter. AWWA Class I and Class II meters. pressure flowmeter, the insertion tur-
More recently, the water distribu- bine meter is a point-velocity device.
tion industry has adopted a magnet- • Design & Construction Variations It is designed to be inserted into
ic drive as an improvement over high Most industrial turbine flowmeters either a liquid or a gas line to a depth
maintenance mechanical-drive tur- are manufactured from austenitic at which the small-diameter rotor will
bine meters. This type of meter has a stainless steel (301, 303, 304SS), read the average velocity in the line.
sealing disc between the measuring
chamber and the register. On the
measuring chamber side, the vertical
shaft turns a magnet instead of a
gear. On the register side, an oppos-
ing magnet is mounted to turn the
gear. This permits a completely
sealed register to be used with a
mechanical drive mechanism.
In the United States, the AWWA
sets the standards for turbine
flowmeters used in water distribu-
tion systems. Standard C701 pro-
vides for two classes (Class I and
Class II) of turbine flowmeters. Class I This innovative turbine meter trades out a transmitted signal for local LCD indication.

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

Because they are very sensitive to the bility is from ±0.2% to ±0.02% over downs if accuracy is de-rated to 1%
velocity profile of the flowing stream, the linear range. of full scale (FS).
they must be profiled at several Because there are minor inconsis-
points across the flow path. tencies in the manufacturing • Sizing & Selection
Insertion turbine meters can be process, all turbine flowmeters are Turbine meters should be sized so
designed for gas applications (small, calibrated prior to shipment. The that the expected average flow is
lightweight rotor) or for liquid (larger resulting K-factor in pulses per vol- between 60% and 75% of the maxi-
rotor, water-lubricated bearings). ume unit will vary within the stated mum capacity of the meter. If the pipe
They are often used in large diame- linearity specification. It is possible, is oversized (with flow velocity under
ter pipelines where it would be cost- however, to register several K-factors 1 ft/sec), one should select a Hall-
prohibitive to install a full size meter. for different portions of the flow effect pick-up and use a meter small-
They can be hot-tapped into existing range and to electronically switch er than the line size. Flow velocities

Flow Nominal Size

Concentric Straightener D Inches Coil Protection Box Concentric
Cone 10 X D Cone
2.5 D 5XD 5XD

D Bore Flow
Alternative Flow Dia.
Meter and Straightener
Straightening Vanes Connections

Bundle of Tubes Radial Vane

Element Element

Figure 3-10: Flow Straighteners Reduce Straight Pipe Runs

pipelines (6 in or larger) through a from one to the other as the mea- under 1 ft/sec can be insufficient,
valving system without shutting sured flow changes. Naturally, the K- while velocities in excess of 10 ft/sec
down the process. Typical accuracy factor is applicable only to the fluid can result in excessive wear. Most tur-
of an insertion turbine meter is 1% FS, for which the meter was calibrated. bine meters are designed for maxi-
and the minimum flow velocity is Barstock turbine meters typically mum velocities of 30 ft/sec.
about 0.2 ft/sec. are linear to ±0.25% AR over a 10:1 Turbine flowmeters should be
flow range. The linearity of larger sized for between 3 and 5 psid pres-
• Turbine Meter Accuracy meters is ±0.5% AR over a 10:1 flow sure drop at maximum flow. Because
Figure 3-9 shows a typical turbine- range. Turbine meters have a typical pressure drop increases with the
meter calibration curve describing nonlinearity (the turbine meter square of flow rate, reducing the
the relationship between flow and hump, shown in Figure 3-9) in the meter to the next smaller size will
K-factor (pulses/gallon). The accu- lower 25-30% of their range. Keeping raise the pressure drop considerably.
racy of turbine meters is typically the minimum flow reading above this Viscosity affects the accuracy and
given in percentage of actual rate (% region will permit linearity to within linearity of turbine meters. It is there-
AR). This particular meter has a lin- 0.15% on small and 0.25% on larger fore important to calibrate the meter
earity tolerance band of ±0.25% turbine meters. If the range of 10:1 is for the specific fluid it is intended to
over a 10:1 flow range and a ±0.15% insufficient, some turbine flow- measure. Repeatability is generally not
linearity in a 6:1 range. The repeata- meters can provide up to 100:1 turn- greatly affected by changes in viscosity,

Mechanical Flowmeters 3

and turbine meters often are used to upstream straight-pipe runs Turbine meters also can be dam-
control the flow of viscous fluids. • 20 diameters for 90° elbow, tee, aged by solids entrained in the fluid.
Generally, turbine meters perform well filter, strainer, or thermowell; If the amount of suspended solids
if the Reynolds Number is greater than • 25 diameters for a partially open exceeds 100 mg/l of +75 micron
4,000 and less than or equal to 20,000. valve; and size, a flushing y-strainer or a




Pipe Tee
A) Impeller B) Paddlewheel

Figure 3-11: Rotary Flowmeter Designs

Because it affects viscosity, tempera- • 50 or more diameters if there are motorized cartridge filter must be
ture variation can also adversely affect two elbows in different planes or installed at least 20 diameters of
accuracy and must be compensated if the flow is spiraling or straight run upstream of the
for or controlled. The turbine meter’s corkscrewing. flowmeter.
operating temperature ranges from - In order to reduce this straight-
200 to 450°C (-328 to 840°F). run requirement, straightening vanes • New Developments
Density changes do not greatly are installed. Tube bundles or radial Dual-rotor liquid turbines increase
affect turbine meters. On low density vane elements are used as external the operating range in small line size
fluids (SG < 0.7), the minimum flow flow straighteners located at least 5 (under 2 in) applications. The two
rate is increased due to the reduced diameters upstream of the meter rotors turn in opposite directions.
torque, but the meter’s accuracy usu- (Figure 3-10). The front one acts as a conditioner,
ally is not affected. Under certain conditions, the pres- directing the flow to the back rotor.
sure drop across the turbine can cause The rotors lock hydraulically and
• Installation & Accessories flashing or cavitation. The first causes continue to turn as the flow decreases
Turbine meters are sensitive to the meter to read high, the second even to very low rates.
upstream piping geometry that can results in rotor damage. In order to The linearity of a turbine meter is
cause vortices and swirling flow. protect against this, the downstream affected by the velocity profile (often
Specifications call for 10-15 diameters pressure must be held at a value dictated by the installation), viscosity,
of straight run upstream and five equaling 1.25 times the vapor pressure and temperature. It is now possible to
diameters of straight run downstream plus twice the pressure drop. Small include complex linearization func-
of the meter. However, the presence amounts of air entrainment (100 mg/l tions in the preamplifier of a turbine
of any of the following obstructions or less) will make the meter read only flowmeter to reduce these nonlin-
upstream would necessitate that a bit high, while large quantities can earities. In addition, advances in
there be more than 15 diameters of destroy the rotor. fieldbus technology make it possible

3 Mechanical Flowmeters

to recalibrate turbine flowmeters Other Rotary Flowmeters the forward direction. For smaller
continuously, thereby correcting for Other types of rotary element pipes (H" to 3"), these meters are
changes in temperature and viscosity. flowmeters include propeller available only with a fixed insertion
Flow computers are capable of lin- (impeller), shunt, and paddlewheel depth, while for larger pipe sizes (4"
earization, automatic temperature designs. to 48") adjustable insertion depths
compensation, batching, calculation Propeller meters are commonly are available. The use of capacitive-
of BTU content, datalogging, and used in large diameter (over 4 in) irri- ly coupled pick-ups or Hall-effect
storage of multiple K-factors. The gation and water distribution sys- sensors extends the range of pad-
batching controller is set with the tems. Their primary trade-off is low dlewheel meters into the low-flow
desired target volume and, when its cost and low accuracy (Figure 3-11A). velocity region of 0.3 ft/sec.
totalizer has counted down to zero, AWWA Standard C-704 sets the Low-flow meters (usually smaller
it terminates the batch. Such pack- accuracy criterion for propeller than 1 in.) have a small jet orifice
ages are equipped with dribble flow, meters at 2% of reading. Propeller that projects the fluid onto a
pre-warn, or trickle-cut-off circuits. meters have a rangeability of about Pelton wheel. Varying the diameter
Whether functioning through a 4:1 and exhibit very poor perfor- and the shape of the jet orifice
relay contact or a ramp function, mance if the velocity drops below matches the required flow range
these features serve to minimize 1.5 ft/sec. Most propeller meters are and provides a flowmeter that is
splashing or overfill and to accu- equipped with mechanical registers. accurate to 1% FS and has a range-
rately terminate the batch. Mechanical wear, straightening, and ability of 100:1. Higher accuracy
conditioning requirements are the can be achieved by calibrating
• Gas Turbine & Shunt Meters same as for turbine meters. the meter and by lowering its
Gas meters compensate for the Paddlewheel flowmeters use a range. Because of the small size of
lower driving torque produced by rotor whose axis of rotation is par- the jet orifice, these meters can
the relatively low density of gases. allel to the direction of flow (Figure only be used on clean fluids and
This compensation is obtained by 3-11B). Most paddlewheel meters they incur a pressure drop of about
very large rotor hubs, very light rotor have flat-bladed rotors and are 20 psid. Materials of construction
assemblies, and larger numbers of inherently bi-directional. Several include polypropylene, PVDF, TFE
rotor blades. Gas turbine meters are manufacturers, however, use and PFA, brass, aluminum, and
available from 2" to 12" and with flow crooked rotors that only rotate in stainless steel. T
ratings up to 150,000 ft3/hr. When
operating at elevated gas pressures
(1,400 psig), a rangeability of 100:1 can References & Further Reading
be obtained in larger size meters. • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
Under lower pressure conditions, Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
typical rangeability is 20:1 with ±1% • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
linearity. The minimum upstream Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
straight pipe-run requirement is 20 • Flow Measurement Engineering Handbook, Miller, McGraw-Hill, 1982.
pipe diameters. • Flow Measurement, D. W. Spitzer, ISA, 1991.
Shunt flowmeters are used in gas • Flowmeters in Water Supply, Manual M33, AWWA, 1989.
and steam service. They consist of • Industrial Flow Measurement, D. W. Spitzer, ISA 1984.
an orifice in the main line and a • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela Liptak, editor, CRC Press, 1995.
rotor assembly in the bypass. These • “Turbine Flowmeter Extends Flow Range”, E. Piechota, Flow Control,
meters are available is sizes 2 in. and February, 1997.
larger and are accurate to ±2% over • Water Meters—Selection, Installation, Testing and Maintenance, Manual
a range of 10:1. M6, AWWA, 1986.



Electronic Flowmeters
Magnetic Flowmeters
Vortex Flowmeters
Ultrasonic Flowmeters
Electronic Flowmeters
hile the flow measure- (B) generated by the coils, the amount the magnitude of the signal.
ment technologies dis- of voltage (E) developed across the The K value obtained by water
cussed in this chapter— electrodes—as predicted by Faraday’s testing might not be valid for non-
magnetic, vortex, and law—will be proportional to the Newtonian fluids (with velocity-
ultrasonic—are neither exclusively velocity (V) of the liquid. Because the dependent viscosity) or magnetic
nor exhaustively electronic in nature, magnetic field density and the pipe slurries (those containing magnetic
they do represent a logical grouping diameter are fixed values, they can be particles). These types of fluids can
of flow measurement technologies. combined into a calibration factor (K) affect the density of the magnetic
All have no moving parts (well, and the equation reduces to: field in the tube. In-line calibration
maybe vibrating), are relatively non- and special compensating designs
intrusive, and are made possible by E = KV should be considered for both of
today’s sophisticated electronics these fluids.
technology. The velocity differences at differ-
Magnetic flowmeters, for example, ent points of the flow profile are • Magmeter Excitation
are the most directly electrical in compensated for by a signal-weigh- The voltage that develops at the
nature, deriving their first principles of ing factor. Compensation is also pro- electrodes is a millivolt signal. This
operation from Faraday’s law. Vortex vided by shaping the magnetic coils signal is typically converted into a
meters depend on piezoelectric sen- such that the magnetic flux will be standard current (4-20 mA) or fre-
sors to detect vortices shed from a greatest where the signal weighing quency output (0-10,000 Hz) at or
stationary shedder bar. And today’s factor is lowest, and vice versa. near the flowtube. Intelligent mag-
ultrasonic flowmeters owe their suc- Manufacturers determine each netic transmitters with digital out-
cessful application to sophisticated magmeter’s K factor by water calibra- puts allow direct connection to a
digital signal processing. tion of each flowtube. The K value thus distributed control system. Because
obtained is valid for any other conduc- the magmeter signal is a weak one,
Magnetic Flowmeters tive liquid and is linear over the entire the lead wire should be shielded and
The operation of magnetic flowme- flowmeter range. For this reason, flow- twisted if the transmitter is remote.
ters is based on Faraday’s law of elec- tubes are usually calibrated at only one The magmeter’s coils can be pow-
tromagnetic induction. Magmeters velocity. Magmeters can measure flow ered by either alternating or direct
can detect the flow of conductive in both directions, as reversing direc- current (Figure 4-2). When ac excita-
fluids only. Early magmeter designs tion will change the polarity but not tion is used, line voltage is applied to
required a minimum fluidic conduc-
tivity of 1-5 microsiemens per cen-
timeter for their operation. The
newer designs have reduced that ES
requirement a hundredfold to
between 0.05 and 0.1.
The magnetic flowmeter consists

of a non-magnetic pipe lined with an


insulating material. A pair of magnetic
coils is situated as shown in Figure 4-1,
and a pair of electrodes penetrates ES
the pipe and its lining. If a conductive
fluid flows through a pipe of diameter Magnetic Coil
(D) through a magnetic field density Figure 4-1: The Magmeter and Its Components

4 Electronic Flowmeters

the magnetic coils. As a result, the zero stability problems of traditional meet these guidelines as well.
flow signal (at constant flow) will ac designs. These devices contain cir- Magnetic flowtubes and liners are
also look like a sine wave. The ampli- cuitry that periodically disrupts the available in many materials and are
tude of the wave is proportional to ac power, automatically zeroing out widely used in all the process indus-
velocity. In addition to the flow signal, the effects of process noise on the tries, including food, pharmaceutical,
noise voltages can be induced in the output signal. mining, and metals.
electrode loop. Out-of-phase noise is Today, dc excitation is used in Some liner materials (particularly
easily filtered, but in-phase noise about 85% of installations and ac Teflon®) can be damaged when pry
requires that the flow be stopped magmeters claim the other 15% when bars are used while installing it or
(with the pipe full) and the transmitter removing it from process piping.
output set to zero. The main problem They can also be damaged by over-
Varying Flux Non-Varying
with ac magmeter designs is that Flux torquing the flange bolts. Liner pro-
noise can vary with process condi- tectors are available to help prevent
tions and frequent re-zeroing is such damage.
required to maintain accuracy. Any flowtube can generally be
In dc excitation designs, a low fre- used with any transmitter offered by
quency (7-30 Hz) dc pulse is used to the same manufacturer. Depending
ac Excitation Pulsed dc
excite the magnetic coils. When the Excitation on its construction and features, the
coils are pulsed on (Figure 4-2), the cost of a 2-in. magnetic flowmeter
Figure 4-2: Excitation Methods
transmitter reads both the flow and can range from $1,500 to $5,000. This
noise signals. In between pulses, the justified by the following conditions: cost has been coming down, but is
transmitter sees only the noise signal. • When air is entrained in large still higher than that of the least
Therefore, the noise can be continu- quantities in the process stream; expensive flow sensors.
ously eliminated after each cycle. • When the process stream is a slurry Magnetic flowmeters also can be
This provides a stable zero and and the solid particle sizes are not packaged as probes and inserted into
eliminates zero drift. In addition to uniform and/or the solid phase is process pipes through taps. These
being more accurate and able to not homogeneously mixed within probes contain both the electrodes
measure lower flows, dc meters are the liquid; or and magnetic coils. The flowing
less bulky, easier to install, use less • When the flow is pulsating at a process fluid induces a voltage at the
energy, and have a lower cost of frequency under 15 Hz. electrodes, which reflects the velocity
ownership than ac meters. One new When any of the above three con- at the probe tip and not the average
dc design uses significantly more ditions exist, the output of a pulsed fluid velocity across the pipe. These
power than the earlier generations dc meter is likely to be noisy. In some magmeters are inexpensive and
and thereby creates a stronger flow- cases, one can minimize the noise retractable. Therefore, the process
tube signal. problem (hold the fluctuations with- does not have to be shut down to
Another new design uses a unique in 1% of setpoint) by filtering and install or remove them. Metering accu-
dual excitation scheme that pulses damping the output signal. If more racy is highly dependent on the rela-
the coils at 7 Hz for zero stability and than 1 to 3 seconds of damping is tionship between the measured veloc-
also at 70 Hz to obtain a stronger sig- required to eliminate the noise, it is ity and the average velocity in the pipe.
nal. Magmeter transmitters can be always better to use an ac meter.
supplied with either ac or dc power. • Electrodes
A two-wire, loop-powered dc mag- • Flowtubes, Liners, & Probes In conventional flowtubes, the elec-
netic flowmeter is also available in an The face-to-face dimensions of trodes are in contact with the process
intrinsically safe design, but its per- flanged flowtubes (lay lengths) usual- fluid. They can be removable or per-
formance is reduced because of ly meet the recommendations of the manent if produced by a droplet of
power limitations. International Organization for liquid platinum as it sinters through a
Pulsed ac meters have also been Standardization (ISO). The dimensions ceramic liner and fuses with the alu-
introduced recently, eliminating the of short-form magmeters usually minum oxide to form a perfect seal.

Electronic Flowmeters 4

This design is preferred due to its the pipe diameter) in order to remain It is important that the conductivi-
low cost, its resistance to abrasion covered by the fluid. Compensation ty of the process fluid be uniform. If
and wear, its insensitivity to nuclear is provided for wave action and cali- two fluids are mixed and the conduc-
radiation, and its suitability for sani- bration is provided for full pipe, no tivity of one additive is significantly
tary applications because there are flow (static level), and partially filled different from that of the other
no cavities in which bacteria can pipe operation. process fluid, it is important that they
grow. On the other hand, the ceram- Another recent development is a be completely intermixed before the
ic tube cannot tolerate bending, ten- magnetic flowmeter with an unlined blend reaches the magmeter. If the
sion, or sudden cooling and cannot carbon steel flowtube. In this design, blend is not uniform, the output sig-
handle oxidizing acids or hot and the measuring electrodes mount nal will be noisy. To prevent that,
concentrated caustic. externally to the unlined flowtube pockets of varying conductivity can


Feet per second (m/s)


(2 m)





10 0 m



32 " (4


2 " (15

10 " (2
















42 36

78 6" 60 "
6 " 48
54 "

" 8 72"
95 4"

90 "
0.01 0.1 (0.023) 1 (0.23) 10 (2.3) 100 (22.7) 1,000 (227) 10,000 (2,273) 100,000
Gallons per minute (m3/hr)

Figure 4-3: Capacity Nomograph for Magnetic Flowmeters

In a more recent capacitively- and the magnetic coils generate a be eliminated by installing a static
coupled design, non-contacting field 15 times stronger than in a con- mixer upstream of the magmeter.
electrodes are used. These designs ventional tube. This magnetic field Magmeter size is determined by
use areas of metal sandwiched penetrates deep into the process capacity tables or charts published
between layers of liner material. fluid (not just around the electrode by the manufacturer. Figure 4-3 pro-
They are available in sizes under eight as with standard magmeter probes). vides a flow capacity nomograph
inches in diameter and with ceramic The main advantage is low initial and for line sizes from 0.1 in. to 96 in. For
liners. Magmeters using these non- replacement costs, since only the most applications, flow velocities
contacting electrodes can “read” flu- sensors need be replaced. should fall between 3 ft/sec and
ids having 100 times less conductivi- 15 ft/sec. For corrosive fluids, the
ty than required to actuate conven- • Selection & Sizing normal velocity range should be
tional flowtubes. Because the elec- Magnetic flowmeters can detect the 3-6 ft/sec. If the flowtube is contin-
trode is behind the liner, these flow of clean, multi-phase, dirty, cor- uously operated below 3 ft/sec,
designs are also better suited for rosive, erosive, or viscous liquids and metering accuracy will deteriorate,
severe coating applications. slurries as long as their conductivity while continuous operation exceed-
exceeds the minimum required for the ing the upper limit of the normal
• Recent Developments particular design. The expected inac- velocity range will shorten the life
When a magnetic flowmeter is pro- curacy and rangeability of the better of the meter.
vided with a capacitance level sensor designs are from 0.2-1% of rate, over a The obstructionless nature of the
embedded in the liner, it can also range of 10:1 to 30:1, if the flow veloc- magmeter lowers the likelihood of
measure the flow in partially full ity exceeds 1 ft/sec. At slower flow plugging and limits the unrecovered
pipes. In this design, the magmeter velocities (even below 0.1 ft/s), mea- head loss to that of an equivalent
electrodes are located at the bottom surement error increases, but the length of straight pipe. The low
of the tube (at approximately 1/10 readings remain repeatable. pressure drop is desirable because it

4 Electronic Flowmeters

lowers pumping costs and aids Installation in horizontal lines is liner wear. Liner protectors are avail-
gravity feed systems. acceptable if the pipe section is at a able to protect the leading edge of
low point and if the electrodes are the liners from the abrasive effects of
• Problem Applications not at the top of the pipe. This pre- process fluids. If the magmeter is
The magmeter cannot distinguish vents air from coming into contact installed in a horizontal pipe exceed-
entrained air from the process fluid; with the electrodes. When the ing 30 ft in length, the pipe should be
therefore, air bubbles will cause the process fluid is a slurry and the mag- supported on both sides of the meter.
magmeter to read high. If the meter is installed at a low point, it The magnetic flowmeter must be
trapped air is not homogeneously should be removed during long peri- electrically grounded to the process
dispersed, but takes the form of air ods of shutdown, so that solids will liquid. This is because the magmeter
slugs or large air bubbles (the size of not settle and coat the internals. is part of the path for any stray cur-
the electrode), this will make the If it is essential to drain the mag- rent traveling down the pipeline or
output signal noisy or even disrupt it. meter periodically, it should be pro- through the process liquid. Bonding,
Therefore, in applications where air vided with an empty tube zero by grounding the meter at both ends
entrainment is likely, the meter option. When this option is activat- to the process fluid, provides a short
should be sized so that the flow ed, the output of the transmitter will circuit for stray currents, routing
velocity under normal flow condi- be clamped to zero. Detection of them around the flowtube instead of
tions is 6-12 ft/sec. empty tube conditions is by circuitry through it. If the system is not prop-
Coating of the electrodes is anoth- connected to extra sets of elec- erly grounded, these currents can
er common magmeter problem. trodes in the flowtube. The empty create a zero shift in the magnetic
Material build-up on the inner sur- tube zero feature can also be acti- flowmeter output.
faces of the meter can electrically iso- vated by an external contact, such as Electrical bonding to the process
late the electrodes from the process
fluid. This can cause a loss of signal or High Velocity Fluid
a measurement error, either by chang-
ing the diameter of the flowtube or
by causing span and zero shifts.
Naturally, the best solution is preven-
tion. One preventive step is to size the Flow
meter such that, under normal flow
conditions, the flowing velocity will Still Fluid Vortices
be relatively high: at least 6-12 ft/sec,
or as high as practical considering the Shear Layer
possibility of erosion and corrosion.
Another method of prevention is
to use electrodes that protrude into d
the flow stream to take advantage of 1D
the turbulence and washing effect. In
more severe service, a mechanical
cleaning system can be installed and
used intermittently or continuously
to eliminate coating and build-ups.
Figure 4-4: Vortex Meter Calculation of Flow Velocity

• Installation a pump status contact. fluid can be achieved by metal

The magnetic flowmeter must Magmeters require five diameters ground straps. These straps connect
always be full of liquid. Therefore, of straight pipe upstream and two each end of the flowtube to the
the preferred location for magme- diameters downstream in order to adjacent pipeline flanges, which, in
ters is in vertical upward flow lines. maintain their accuracy and minimize turn, are in contact with the process

Electronic Flowmeters 4

liquid. Straps are used when the pip- Theodor von Karman discovered a flagpole (which acts as a bluff
ing is electrically conductive. When that, when a non-streamlined object body); this is what causes the regular
the pipe is non-conductive or lined, (also called a bluff body) is placed in rippling one sees in a flag. Vortices
grounding rings are used. The ground- the path of a fast-flowing stream, the are also shed from bridge piers, pil-
ing ring is like an orifice plate with a fluid will alternately separate from ings, offshore drilling platform sup-
bore equal to the nominal size (inside the object on its two downstream ports, and tall buildings. The forces
diameter) of the flowtube. It is sides, and, as the boundary layer caused by the vortex-shedding phe-
installed between the flanges of the becomes detached and curls back on nomenon must be taken into
flowtube and adjacent process piping itself, the fluid forms vortices (also account when designing these struc-
on the upstream and downstream called whirlpools or eddies). He also tures. In a closed piping system, the
sides. The flowtube is bonded to the noted that the distance between the vortex effect is dissipated within a
process fluid by being connected to vortices was constant and depended few pipe diameters downstream of
the metallic grounding rings, and is solely on the size of the rock that the bluff body and causes no harm.
grounded by being wired to a good formed it.
conductor, such as a cold water pipe. On the side of the bluff body • Vortex Meter Design
In larger sizes and in exotic materi- where the vortex is being formed, A vortex flowmeter is typically
als, grounding rings can become the fluid velocity is higher and the made of 316 stainless steel or
expensive; grounding electrodes (a pressure is lower. As the vortex Hastelloy and includes a bluff body,
a vortex sensor assembly and the
transmitter electronics, although
the latter can also be mounted
remotely (Figure 4-5). They are typi-
cally available in flange sizes from
H in. to 12 in. The installed cost of
vortex meters is competitive with
that of orifice meters in sizes under
six inches. Wafer body meters (flan-
Force on Sensor geless) have the lowest cost, while
flanged meters are preferred if the
Flow process fluid is hazardous or is at a
high temperature.
Vortex Shedder Force
Bluff body shapes (square, rectan-
Pivoting Axis gular, t-shaped, trapezoidal) and
dimensions have been experimented
with to achieve the desired charac-
Shedder Bar
teristics. Testing has shown that lin-
earity, low Reynolds number limita-
tion, and sensitivity to velocity pro-
Figure 4-5: Vortex Detecting Sensor
file distortion vary only slightly with
third electrode placed in the flowtube moves downstream, it grows in bluff body shape. In size, the bluff
for bonding with the process fluid) can strength and size, and eventually body must have a width that is a
be used instead. Another cost-saving detaches or sheds itself. This is fol- large enough fraction of the pipe
option is to use a plastic grounding ring lowed by a vortex's being formed on diameter that the entire flow partic-
with a metal electrode insert. the other side of the bluff body ipates in the shedding. Second, the
(Figure 4-4). The alternating vortices bluff body must have protruding
Vortex Flowmeters are spaced at equal distances. edges on the upstream face to fix the
As a young person fishing in the moun- The vortex-shedding phenomenon lines of flow separation, regardless of
tain streams of the Transylvanian Alps, can be observed as wind is shed from the flow rate. Third, the bluff body

4 Electronic Flowmeters

length in the direction of the flow to occur. The relationship between area available for flow (A):
must be a certain multiple of the vortex frequency and fluid velocity is:
bluff body width. Q = AV = (A f d B)/St
Today, the majority of vortex St = f(d/V)
meters use piezoelectric or capaci- where B is the blockage factor,
tance-type sensors to detect the Where St is the Strouhal number, f is defined as the open area left by the
pressure oscillation around the the vortex shedding frequency, d is bluff body divided by the full bore
bluff body. These detectors
respond to the pressure oscillation
with a low voltage output signal
which has the same frequency as
the oscillation. Such sensors are mod-
ular, inexpensive, easily replaced, and
can operate over a wide range of
temperature ranges—from cryo-
genic liquids to superheated steam. Concentric Upstream
Meter Straight
Sensors can be located inside the Pipe Run Pipe Run
meter body or outside. Wetted sen- Concentric
sors are stressed directly by the vor- A) Length = Size of Meter
tex pressure fluctuations and are
enclosed in hardened cases to with-
stand corrosion and erosion effects. h
External sensors, typically piezo- h>0
electric strain gages, sense the vortex h>0
shedding indirectly through the force Flow
exerted on the shedder bar. External
B) Upward C) Downward D) Horizontal
sensors are preferred on highly ero-
sive/corrosive applications to reduce Figure 4-6: Installation Recommendations
maintenance costs, while internal sen-
sors provide better rangeability (bet- the width of the bluff body, and V is area of the pipe. This equation, in
ter low flow sensitivity). They are also the average fluid velocity. The value turn, can be rewritten as:
less sensitive to pipe vibrations. The of the Strouhal number is deter-
electronics housing usually is rated mined experimentally, and is generally Q=fK
explosion- and weatherproof, and found to be constant over a wide
contains the electronic transmitter range of Reynolds numbers. The where K is the meter coefficient,
module, termination connections, and Strouhal number represents the ratio equal to the product (A f d B). As with
optionally a flow-rate indicator of the interval between vortex shed- turbine and other frequency-produc-
and/or totalizer. ding (l) and bluff body width (d), ing flowmeters, the K factor can be
which is about six (Figure 4-4). The defined as pulses per unit volume
• Sizing & Rangeability Strouhal number is a dimensionless (pulses per gallon, pulses per cubic
Vortex shedding frequency is directly calibration factor used to character- foot, etc.). Therefore, one can deter-
proportional to the velocity of the ize various bluff bodies. If their mine flowrate by counting the pulses
fluid in the pipe, and therefore to vol- Strouhal number is the same, then per unit time. Vortex frequencies
umetric flow rate. The shedding fre- two different bluff bodies will per- range from one to thousands of puls-
quency is independent of fluid prop- form and behave similarly. es per second, depending upon the
erties such as density, viscosity, con- Because the volumetric flowrate flow velocity, the character of the
ductivity, etc., except that the flow Q is the product of the average fluid process fluid, and the size of the
must be turbulent for vortex shedding velocity and of the cross-sectional meter. In gas service, frequencies are

Electronic Flowmeters 4

about 10 times higher than in liquid the density or viscosity of the fluid than 10,000, error can reach 10% of
applications. differs from that of water, the meter actual flow.
The K factor is determined by the range will change. While most flowmeters continue
manufacturer, usually by water cali- In order to minimize measurement to give some indication at near zero
bration in a flow lab. Because the K noise, it is important to select a flows, the vortex meter is provided
factor is the same for liquid, gas and meter that will adequately handle with a cut-off point. Below this level,
vapor applications, the value deter- both the minimum and maximum the meter output is automatically
mined from a water calibration is valid process flows that will be measured. clamped at zero (4 mA for analog

Particles in Upstream
Flowstream Transducer (T1)
Transmit Transducer
fo a
Direction a Flow
fl a Profile

Receive Transducer
(Typical) a = Refraction Angle
A) Doppler Shift B) Transit Time Transducer (T2)

Figure 4-7: Ultrasonic Flowmeter Designs

for any other fluid. The calibration It is recommended that the minimum transmitters). This cut-off point cor-
factor (K) at moderate Reynolds num- flow rate to be measured be at least responds to a Reynolds number at or
bers is not sensitive to edge sharpness twice the minimum flow rate below 10,000. If the minimum flow
or other dimensional changes that detectable by the meter. The maxi- that one needs to measure is at least
affect square-edged orifice meters. mum capacity of the meter should twice the cut-off flow, this does not
Although vortex meter equations be at least five times the anticipated pose a problem. On the other hand,
are relatively simple compared to maximum flowrate. it can still be a drawback if low
those for orifice plates, there are flowrate information is desired dur-
many rules and considerations to • Accuracy & Rangeability ing start-up, shutdown, or other
keep in mind. Manufacturers offer Because the Reynolds number drops upset conditions.
free computer software for sizing, as viscosity rises, vortex flowmeter
wherewith the user enters the fluid's rangeability suffers as the viscosity • Recent Developments
properties (density, viscosity, and rises. The maximum viscosity limit, Smart vortex meters provide a digi-
desired flow range) and the program as a function of allowable accuracy tal output signal containing more
automatically sizes the meter. and rangeability, is between 8 and information than just flow rate. The
The force generated by the vortex 30 centipoises. One can expect a microprocessor in the flowmeter
pressure pulse is a function of fluid better than 20:1 rangeability for gas can automatically correct for insuf-
density multiplied by the square of and steam service and over 10:1 for ficient straight pipe conditions, for
fluid velocity. The requirement that low-viscosity liquid applications if differences between the bore diam-
there be turbulent flow and force suf- the vortex meter has been sized eter and that of the mating pipe, for
ficient to actuate the sensor deter- properly for the application. thermal expansion of the bluff
mines the meter’s rangeability. This The inaccuracy of most vortex body, and for K-factor changes
force has to be high enough to be dis- meters is 0.5-1% of rate for Reynolds when the Reynolds number drops
tinguishable from noise. For example, numbers over 30,000. As the Reynolds below 10,000.
a typical 2-in. vortex meter has a number drops, metering error Intelligent transmitters are also
water flow range of 12 to 230 gpm. If increases. At Reynolds numbers less provided with diagnostic subroutines

4 Electronic Flowmeters

to signal component or other failures. measurable. On the other hand, if liquid phase is likely to travel on the
Smart transmitters can initiate testing reduced rangeability is acceptable bottom of the pipe, and therefore
routines to identify problems with and the meter is correctly sized for the inner area of the pipe should be
both the meter and with the applica- normal flow, the vortex flowmeter kept open at the bottom. This can
tion. These on-demand tests can also can still be considered. be achieved by installing the bluff
assist in ISO 9000 verification. If the process fluid tends to coat body horizontally. Measurement
Some recently introduced vortex or build-up on the bluff body, as in inaccuracy in such applications is
flowmeters can detect mass flow. sludge and slurry service, this will about 5% of actual flow, but with
One such design measures both the eventually change the meter’s K fac- good repeatability.
vortex frequency and the vortex tor. Vortex-shedding flowmeters are The permanent pressure loss
pulse strength simultaneously. From not recommended for such applica- through a vortex meter is about half
these readings, the density of the tions. If, however, a dirty fluid has that of an orifice plate, roughly two
process fluid can be determined and only moderate amounts of non- velocity heads. (A velocity head is
the mass flow calculated to within coating solids, the application is defined as V2/g, where V is the flow
2% of span. likely to be acceptable. This was velocity and g is the gravitational
Another newer design is provided demonstrated by a 2-year test on a constant in consistent units.) If the
with multiple sensors to detect not limestone slurry. At the end of the pipe and meter are properly sized
only the vortex frequency, but also test, the K factor was found to have and of the same size, the pressure
the temperature and pressure of the changed only 0.3% from the original drop is likely to be only a few psi.
process fluid. Based on that data, it factory calibration, although the However, downsizing (installing a
determines both the density and the bluff body and flowtube were badly smaller-than-line-size meter) in order
mass flow rate. This meter offers a scarred and pitted. to increase the Reynolds can
1.25% of rate accuracy when measur- When measuring multi-phase flow increase the head loss to more than
ing the mass flow of liquids and a 2% (solid particles in gas or liquid; gas 10 psi. One should also make sure
of rate accuracy for gases and steam. bubbles in liquid; liquid droplets in that the vena contracta pressure
If knowledge of process pressure and gas), vortex meter accuracy will drop does not drop below the vapor pres-
temperature is of value for other rea-
sons, this meter provides a conve-
nient, less costly alternative to Transmitting Receiving
Element Element
installing separate transmitters.

• Applications & Limitations

Vortex meters are not usually recom-
mended for batching or other inter-
mittent flow applications. This is Direction
because the dribble flow-rate setting
of the batching station can fall below
the meter’s minimum Reynolds num-
ber limit. The smaller the total batch,
Figure 4-8: Clamp-On Ultrasonic Flowmeter
the more significant the resulting
error is likely to be. because of the meter’s inability to sure of the process fluid, because that
Low pressure (low density) gases differentiate between the phases. would cause cavitation. Naturally, if
do not produce a strong enough Wet, low-quality steam is one such the back-pressure on the meter is
pressure pulse, especially if fluid application: the liquid phase should below the vapor pressure, the process
velocities are low. Therefore, it is be homogeneously dispersed within fluid will flash and the meter reading
likely that in such services the the steam, and vertical flow lines will not be meaningful.
rangeability of the meter will be should be avoided to prevent slug- The main advantages of vortex
poor and low flows will not be ging. When the pipe is horizontal, the meters are their low sensitivity to

Electronic Flowmeters 4

variations in process conditions and About half of all vortex meter meter. The bores of the meter, the
low wear relative to orifices or tur- installations require the “necking gaskets and the adjacent piping must
bine meters. Also, initial and mainte- down” of oversized process piping by be carefully aligned to eliminate any
nance costs are low. For these rea- concentric reducers and expanders. obstructions or steps.
sons, they have been gaining wider Even if flow straighteners are Excessive pipe vibration can be
acceptance among users. installed, some straight (relaxation) eliminated by supporting the piping
piping will still be required. on both sides of the meter, or by
• Installation Recommendations Vortex meters can be installed rotating the meter so that the sensor
When installing a vortex flowmeter in vertically, horizontally, or at any is moved out of the plane of the
an existing process where the flow angle, as long as they are kept flood- vibration. Process noise due to valve
range is not known, it is recommended ed. The meter can be kept flooded chattering, steam traps, or pumps can

Transducer B

Flanged Flanged
End End

Chordal Diametric
A) Transducer A B)

Figure 4-9: Spool-Piece Designs for High Accuracy Ultrasonic Flowmetering

to first make some approximate by installing it in a vertical upward result in high readings or non-zero
measurements (using portable pitot flow line (Figure 4-6B). When readings under zero-flow conditions.
or clamp-on ultrasonic devices). installing the flowmeter in a down- Most meter electronics allow for
Otherwise, there is no guarantee that ward (Figure 4-6C) or horizontal increasing the noise filter settings,
a line-size vortex meter will work at all. (Figure 4-6D) flow, the downstream but increased noise reduction usually
The vortex meter requires a well- piping should be kept elevated. also decreases the low-flow sensitiv-
developed and symmetrical flow Check valves can be used to keep the ity of the meter. One option is to
velocity profile, free from any distor- piping full of liquid when there is no relocate the meter to a less noisy
tions or swirls. This necessitates the flow. Block and bypass valves are part of the process.
use of straight up- and downstream required if the replacement of the
piping to condition the flow. The sensor in the particular design Ultrasonic Flowmeters
straight length of pipe must be the requires the stopping of the flow and The speed at which sound propa-
same size as the meter (Figure 4-6) and the opening up of the process. gates in a fluid is dependent on the
its length should be about the same as Mating flanges (on the schedule fluid’s density. If the density is con-
required for an orifice installation 40 or schedule 80 mating piping) stant, however, one can use the time
with a beta ratio of 0.7 (see Chapter 2). must have the same diameter and of ultrasonic passage (or reflection)
Most vortex flowmeter manufactur- smooth bore as the flowmeter. Weld to determine the velocity of a
ers recommend a minimum of 30 pipe neck flanges are preferred, and flowing fluid.
diameters downstream of control reducing flanges should not be used. Some manufacturers produce
valves, and 3 to 4 pipe diameters The inner surface of the mating pipe transducer systems that operate in
between the meter and downstream should be free from mill scale, pits, the shear-mode, sending a single
pressure taps. Temperature elements holes, reaming scores and bumps for pulse and receiving a single pulse in
should be small and located 5 to 6 a distance of 4 diameters upstream return. Narrow-beam systems are
diameters downstream. and 2 diameters downstream of the commonly subject to walk-away (the

4 Electronic Flowmeters

signal completely missing the down- Because Ct /2f0cos(a) is a constant will attenuate the reflected Doppler
stream transducer). Wide-beam sys- (K), the relationship can be simpli- signal to the point where it cannot
tems overcome beam refraction and fied to: be distinguished from the back-
work better in changing liquid densi- ground noise in the pipe.
ty and temperature. With the advent V = (f0 - f1)K The reflected Doppler signal
of digital signal processing, it has is shifted from the transmitted
become possible to apply digital sig- Thus, flow velocity V (ft/sec) is frequency by approximately 6 Hz
nal coding to the transmitted signal. directly proportional to the change for every foot per second of velocity.
This can eliminate many of the prob- in frequency. The flow (Q in gpm) in a Therefore, if the flow velocity is less
lems associated with noise and varia- pipe having a certain inside diameter than 1 ft/sec, ultrasonic flowmeter-
tions in liquid chemistry. (ID in inches) can be obtained by: ing is not practical. There seems to
be no upper limit to detectable flow
• The Doppler Shift Q = 2.45V(ID)2 = 2.45[(f0 - f1)K](ID)2 velocity, as successful installations at
In 1842, Christian Doppler discovered velocities in the 40-50 ft/sec range
that the wavelength of sound per- The presence of acoustical dis- are well documented.
ceived by a stationary observer appears continuities is essential for the
shorter when the source is approach- proper operation of the Doppler • Transit Time Measurement
ing and longer when the source is mov- flowmeter. The generally accepted In this design, the time of flight of the
ing away. This shift in frequency is the rule of thumb is that for proper sig- ultrasonic signal is measured between
basis upon which all Doppler-shift nal reflection there be a minimum two transducers—one upstream and
ultrasonic flowmeters work. of 80-100 mg/l of solids with a par- one downstream (Figure 4-7B). The
Doppler flowmeter transducers ticle size of +200 mesh (+75 micron). difference in elapsed time going with
operate at 0.640 MHz (in clamp-on In the case of bubbles, 100-200 or against the flow determines the
designs) and at 1.2 MHz in wetted mg/l with diameters between +75 fluid velocity.
sensor designs. The transducer and +150 microns is desirable. If When the flow is zero, the time for
sends an ultrasonic pulse or beam either the size or the concentration the signal T1 to get to T2 is the same as
into the flowing stream. The sound of the discontinuities changes, the that required to get from T2 to T1.
waves are reflected back by such amplitude of the reflected signal When there is flow, the effect is to
acoustical discontinuities as parti- will shift, introducing errors. boost the speed of the signal in the
cles, entrained gas bubbles, or even Doppler flowmeters are often used downstream direction, while decreas-
by turbulence vortices (Figure 4-7A). to measure the flow of such fluids as ing it in the upstream direction. The
For clamp-on designs, measurement
inaccuracy ranges from ±1% to ±5%
full scale (FS).
The meter detects the velocity of
the discontinuities, rather than the
velocity of the fluid, in calculating
the flow rate. The flow velocity (V)
can be determined by:

V = (f0 - f1)Ct /2f0 cos(a) Small Pipe Configuration

Where Ct is the velocity of sound Figure 4-10: Axial Flowmeter

inside the transducer, f0 is the trans- slurries. If the solids concentration flowing velocity (Vf) can be deter-
mission frequency, f1 is the reflected is too high (in excess of 45% by mined by the following equation:
frequency, and a is the angle of the weight), or if too much air or gas is
transmitter and receiver crystals entrained (especially if the bubbles Vf = Kdt/TL
with respect to the pipe axis. are very fine), these discontinuities

Electronic Flowmeters 4

where K is a calibration factor for the In the single-sensor version, the transmitted signal or attenuate the
volume and time units used, dt is the transmit and receive crystals are pot- return signal. This dramatically
time differential between upstream ted into the same sensor body, which decreases flowmeter accuracy (to
and downstream transit times, and TL is clamped onto a single point of the within only ±20%), and, in most
is the zero-flow transit time. pipe surface (Figure 4-8). In the dual- cases, clamp-on meters will not work
Theoretically, transit-time ultra- sensor version, the transmit crystal is at all if the pipe is lined.
sonic meters can be very accurate in one sensor body, while the receive Wetted transducer designs—both
Doppler and transit time are avail-
able—overcome many of these signal
1.00 attenuation limitations. The full-pipe
transit-time meter originally consisted
K = 1 Asymptote
For Flat Profile of a flanged spool section with wet-
ted transducers mounted in the pipe
wall in transducer wells opposite to
one another but at 45-degree angles
K to the flow (Figure 4-9A). Transit-time
flowmeters can be either single-path
or multiple-path designs (Figure 4-9B).
Single-path flowmeters are pro-
vided with a single pair of transduc-
0.75 ers that make a single-line velocity
K = 0.75 For Laminar Flow
measurement. They use a meter fac-
tor that is pre-determined by calibra-
104 105 106 107
1 10 100 1,000
Re tion to compensate for variations in
velocity profile and for flow section
Figure 4-11: K-Factor Variation with Reynolds Number
construction irregularities.
(inaccuracy of ±0.1% of reading is crystal is in another. In the design of multi-path
sometimes claimed). Yet the error in Clamp-on transit time meters have flowmeters, several sets of transduc-
these measurements is limited by been available since the early 1970s. ers are placed in different paths
both the ability of the signal process- Their aim is to rival the performance across the flow section, thereby
ing electronics to determine the tran- of wetted spool-piece designs, but attempting to measure the velocity
sit time and by the degree to which without the need to break the pipe or profile across the entire cross-sec-
the sonic velocity (C) is constant. The stop the process to install the meter. tion of the pipe. Multi-path instru-
speed of sound in the fluid is a func- This goal has not yet been reached. ments are used in large-diameter
tion of both density and temperature. Clamp-on Doppler flowmeters are conduits, such as utility stacks, and in
Therefore, both have to be compen- subject to interference from the pipe other applications where non-uni-
sated for. In addition, the change in wall itself, as well as from any air form flow velocity profiles exist.
sonic velocity can change the refrac- space between the sensor and the Transit-time meters can also be
tion angle (“a” in Figure 4-7B), which in wall. If the pipe wall is made of stain- used to measure both very hot (e.g.,
turn will affect the distance the signal less steel, it might conduct the trans- liquid sulfur) and very cold (liquid
has to travel. In extreme cases, the sig- mit signal far enough so that the nitrogen) fluids, and also to detect
nal might completely miss the down- returning echo will be shifted very low flows. Wetted-transducer
stream receiver. Again, this type of enough to interfere with the reading. designs for small pipes (down to H in.)
failure is known as walk-away. There are also built-in acoustic dis- are called axial or co-axial designs
continuities in concrete-lined, plas- (Figure 4-10). These devices permit
• Design Variations tic-lined, and fiberglass-reinforced transit-time measurement along a
Clamp-on ultrasonic meters come in pipes. These are significant enough path length significantly greater than
either single or dual-sensor versions. to either completely scatter the the diameter of the pipe, increasing

4 Electronic Flowmeters

low-flow sensitivity. the other hand, raw wastewater is not are those in HDPE pipe, because the
Originally, ultrasonic flowmeters clean enough all the time for transit- pipe wall flexes enough to change
were divided into those using the time measurement. Other waste- the diameter of the measurement
Doppler-shift principle and those water-related applications are equally area. This affects the accuracy of the
using the transit-time principle. More problematic, as the solids concentra- meter. In addition, the flexure of the
recently, flowmeters are capable of tion can be too high for either transit- pipe wall can often break the
measuring the flow of both clean flu- time or Doppler flowmeters to work acoustic coupling of the transducer
ids and of slurries with entrained properly. In still other wastewater to the outside of the pipe, causing
solids or other acoustical discontinu- applications, the problem is that the failure. Another problem area is the
ities. Microprocessors have made it acoustical absorbency of the mostly measurement of slurries that are
possible to switch automatically organic solids in wastewater attenu- acoustically absorbent, such as lime
from clean fluid mode to particulate ates the ultrasonic signals. or kaolin slurries. These applications
mode based on the "correlation fac- The use of multi-path flowmeters fail because the highly absorbent
tor". This figure of merit dramatically in raw wastewater and storm water solids attenuate the signal below
improves the accuracy of overall applications is common, while usable strength. Lower frequency
performance. In some carefully engi- Doppler or cross-correlation hybrid (0.45 MHz) sensors have been tried
neered applications, installed accu- designs are most often used to mea- for these applications, but success
racy to within 0.5% of reading has sure activated sludge and digested has been limited.
been reported. sludge flows. Multi-path, transit-time flowme-
For mining slurries, Doppler ters also measure stack gas flows in
• Applications & Performance flowmeters typically work well. power-plant scrubbers, even in very
Doppler flowmeters are not recom- Among the few problem applications large diameter stacks. T
mended for clean fluid applications.
Transit-time flowmeters, on the
other hand, are often used to mea- References & Further Reading
sure the flow of crude oils and sim- • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
ple fractions in the petroleum indus- Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
try. They also work well with viscous • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
liquids, provided that the Reynolds Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
number at minimum flow is either • “An Intelligent Vortex Flowmeter,” T. Kamano and others, ISA/92
less than 4,000 (laminar flow) or Proceedings, Instrument Society of America, 1992.
above 10,000 (turbulent flow). • “Application and Installation Guidelines for Volumetric and Mass
Serious non-linearities are present in Flowmeters,” D. Ginesi and C. Annarummo, ISA Transactions, 1994.
the transition region (Figure 4-11). • “Clamp-On Leak Detectors Protect Mid-Valley Line,” S. Douglas and J.
Transit-time flowmeters are the Baumoel, Pipeline & Gas Journal, April 1993.
standard for measuring cryogenic liq- • “Committee Report: Transit Time Ultrasonic Flowmeters,” AWWA
uids down to -300°C and are also Subcommittee on Ultrasonic Devices, AWWA Journal, July 1997.
used in molten metal flowmetering. • Flow Measurement Engineering Handbook, R.W. Miller, McGraw Hill, 1996.
Measurement of liquid argon, liquid • Flow Measurement, D.W. Spitzer, editor, Instrument Society of America, 1991.
nitrogen, liquid helium and molten • “Flow Sensing: The Next Generation,” D. Ginesi, Control Engineering,
sulfur have often been reported. November 1997.
Spool-section type flowmeters are • Flowmeters in Water Supply, Manual M33, AWWA, 1989.
most often used for these applica- • Industrial Flow Measurement, D.W. Spitzer, ISA, 1984
tions, especially the axial and co- • Instrument Engineers’ Handbook, Bela Liptak, editor, CRC Press, 1995.
axial designs. • Ultrasonic Clamp-On Flowmeters: Have They Finally Arrived?,” P. Espina,
Raw wastewater applications usu- Flow Control, January 1997.
ally have too few acoustic disconti- • Water Meters - Selection, Installation, Testing and Maintenance, Manual
nuities for Doppler flowmeters. On M6, AWWA, 1986.



Mass Flowmeters
Coriolis Mass Flowmeters
Thermal Mass Flowmeters
Hot-Wire Anemometers
Mass Flowmeters
ass flow measurement is using angular momentum (Figure 5-1B). output of the top d/p cell will vary
the basis of most recipe It had a motor-driven impeller that with the level in the tank, while the
formulations, material bal- imparted angular momentum (rotary lower one will measure the hydrosta-
ance determinations, and motion) by accelerating the fluid to a tic head over a fixed elevational dis-
billing and custody transfer opera- constant angular velocity. The higher tance. This pressure differential
tions throughout industry. With these the density, the more angular yields the density of the material in
being the most critical flow measure- momentum was required to obtain the tank. Such systems have been
ments in a processing plant, the relia- this angular velocity. Downstream of used to measure the total mass flow
bility and accuracy of mass flow the driven impeller, a spring-held sta- of slurries.
detection is very important. tionary turbine was exposed to this
In the past, mass flow was often angular momentum. The resulting Coriolis Mass Flowmeters
calculated from the outputs of a vol- torque (spring torsion) was an indica- It was G.G. Coriolis, a French engi-
umetric flowmeter and a densitome- tion of mass flow. neer, who first noted that all bodies
ter. Density was either directly mea- These meters all had moving parts moving on the surface of the Earth
sured (Figure 5-1A), or was calculated and complex mechanical designs. tend to drift sideways because of the
using the outputs of process temper- First developed for the measurement eastward rotation of the planet. In
ature and pressure transmitters. of aircraft fuel, some are still in use. the Northern Hemisphere the
These measurements were not very However, because of their complex deflection is to the right of the
accurate, because the relationship nature and high maintenance costs, motion; in the Southern, it is to the
between process pressure or temper- they are gradually being replaced by left. This drift plays a principal role in
ature and density are not always pre- more robust and less maintenance- both the tidal activity of the oceans
cisely known—each sensor adds its demanding designs. and the weather of the planet.

Annular Space Spring

Process Field Coil Y

Gamma Detector Y
Source Section YY
Magnetic Constant
Field Coil Impeller Turbine
Field Speed Motor

A) Magnetic Flow and Radiation Density B) Angular Momentum

Figure 5-1: Traditional Mass Flowmeters

own separate error to the overall Mass flow also can be measured Because a point on the equator
measurement error, and the speed of by batch weighing or by combining traces out a larger circle per day
response of such calculations is usu- an accurate level sensor with a den- than a point nearer the poles, a
ally not sufficient to detect step sitometer. Another method is to body traveling towards either pole
changes in flow. mount two d/p transmitters on the will bear eastward, because it retains
One of the early designs of self- lower part of an atmospheric tank at its higher (eastward) rotational
contained mass flowmeters operated different elevations. In this case, the speed as it passes over the more slowly

5 Mass Flowmeters

rotating surface of the earth. This drift centripetal acceleration directed fluid on the rotating tube can pro-
is defined as the Coriolis force. toward P and a Coriolis acceleration vide an indication of mass flowrate.
The first industrial Coriolis patents acting at right angles to ar: Naturally, rotating a tube is not prac-
date back to the 1950s, and the first tical when building a commercial
Coriolis mass flowmeters were built ar (centripetal) = w2r flowmeter, but oscillating or vibrat-
in the 1970s. These flowmeters artifi- at (Coriolis) = 2wv ing the tube can achieve the same
cially introduce a Coriolis accelera- effect. Coriolis flowmeters can mea-
tion into the flowing stream and In order to impart the Coriolis accel- sure flow through the tube in either
measure mass flow by detecting the eration (at) to the fluid particle, a the forward or reverse directions.
resulting angular momentum. force of at (dm) has to generated by In most designs, the tube is
anchored at two points and vibrated
at between these anchors.
This configuration can be envi-
sioned as vibrating a spring and mass
ar assembly. Once placed in motion, a
x spring and mass assembly will vibrate
at its resonant frequency, which is a
p dm v function of the mass of that assem-
bly. This resonant frequency is select-
T ed because the smallest driving force
is needed to keep the filled tube in
constant vibration.

Figure 5-2: The Coriolis Principle

• Tube Designs
A tube can be of a curved or straight
When a fluid is flowing in a pipe the tube. The fluid particle reacts to form, and some designs can also be
and it is subjected to Coriolis accel- this force with an equal and opposite self-draining when mounted vertical-
eration through the mechanical Coriolis force: ly (Figure 5-3). When the design con-
introduction of apparent rotation sists of two parallel tubes, flow is
into the pipe, the amount of Fc = at(dm) = 2wv(dm) divided into two streams by a splitter
deflecting force generated by the near the meter’s inlet and is recom-
Coriolis inertial effect will be a Then, if the process fluid has density D bined at the exit. In the single contin-
function of the mass flow rate of and is flowing at constant speed uous tube design (or in two tubes
the fluid. If a pipe is rotated around inside a rotating tube of cross-sec- joined in series), the flow is not split
a point while liquid is flowing tional area A, a segment of the tube inside the meter.
through it (toward or away from the of length x will experience a Coriolis In either case, drivers vibrate the
center of rotation), that fluid will force of magnitude: tubes. These drivers consist of a coil
generate an inertial force (acting on connected to one tube and a magnet
the pipe) that will be at right angles Fc = 2wvDAx connected to the other. The transmit-
to the direction of the flow. ter applies an alternating current to
With reference to Figure 5-2, a par- Because the mass flowrate is dm = the coil, which causes the magnet to
ticle (dm) travels at a velocity (V) DvA, the Coriolis force Fc = 2w(dm)x be attracted and repelled by turns,
inside a tube (T). The tube is rotating and, finally: thereby forcing the tubes towards and
about a fixed point (P), and the parti- away from one another. The sensor
cle is at a distance of one radius (R) Mass Flow = Fc/(2wx) can detect the position, velocity, or
from the fixed point. The particle acceleration of the tubes. If electro-
moves with angular velocity (w) under This is how measurement of the magnetic sensors are used, the mag-
two components of acceleration, a Coriolis force exerted by the flowing net and coil in the sensor change their

Mass Flowmeters 5

relative positions as the tubes vibrate, output from the meter. the sturdiest tubing will be thinner
causing a change in the magnetic field The natural resonance frequency than the process piping. In addition,
of the coil. Therefore, the sinusoidal of the tube structure is a function of some designs use small bore tubing,
voltage output from the coil repre- its geometry, materials of construc- which drastically increases the flow-
sents the motion of the tubes. tion, and the mass of the tube assem- ing velocity (from 5-10 ft/sec to more
When there is no flow in a two- bly (mass of the tube plus the mass than 25 ft/sec). Designs with thin
tube design (Figure 5-3A), the vibra- of the fluid inside the tube). The walls and high fluid velocities (that is,
tion caused by the coil and magnet mass of the tube is fixed. Since mass small bore tubing), may require the
drive results in identical displace- of the fluid is its density (D) multi- use of exotic materials because of
ments at the two sensing points (B1 plied by its volume (which is also erosion concerns. One will obtain the
and B2). When flow is present, fixed), the frequency of vibration can longest meter life by selecting the
Coriolis forces act to produce a sec- be related to the density of the design with the thickest wall and the
ondary twisting vibration, resulting in process fluid (D). Therefore, the slowest flow velocity that can provide

Flow Inner Counter

Detector Frame Exciter Pendulum Measurng
(B2) Tube

Drive (A)

Flow Electrodynamic Nitrogen

Sensors Secondary
Fi = Inertial Force Detector Containment
Fd = Drive Force (B1) Flow Tube

No Flow No Flow
Fd v=0

Fd Fd

Flow Flow
Fi Fi v>0 Fe
Fd Fd
Fi Fi v

Fi Fd Fd Fi Fe
A) Fi Fi B)

Figure 5-3: Two-Tube and Straight-Tube Coriolis Meter Operation

a small phase difference in the rela- density of the fluid can be determined the required accuracy and range.
tive motions. This is detected at the by measuring the resonant frequency The Coriolis meter may need to be
sensing points. The deflection of the of oscillation of the tubes. (Note that made out of exotic materials because
tubes caused by the Coriolis force density can be measured at zero of corrosion considerations or to pre-
only exists when both axial fluid flow flow, as long as the tubes are filled vent pitting. Carbon or stainless steel
and tube vibration are present. with fluid and vibrating.) can often be used in process piping,
Vibration at zero flow, or flow with- Wall thickness varies considerably because a small amount of pitting
out vibration, does not produce an from design to design; however, even can be tolerated. In case of the

5 Mass Flowmeters

Coriolis meter, even a small amount also are available. When viscosity reference to a fixed point or plane.
of pitting cannot be tolerated information is desired, the meter pres- The tubes were excited in such a way
because the walls are thin, and pitting sure drop needs to be measured. that localized high amplitude bend-
induces stress concentrations within Other features may require informa- ing forces were created at the anchor
the tube structure. Therefore, stan- tion to be pre-programmed into the points. This resulted in severe vibra-
dard corrosion tables (based on transmitter memory. In addition, tion problems, which were alleviated
weight loss criteria) are not suitable
for selecting Coriolis tube materials,
and the stricter guidelines of the
manufacturers must be used.
• Mass Flow Rate F1 F2 F3 F4 • Mass, Volume,
• Transmitter Designs • Mass Flow Total
• Volumetric Flow Rate
Timebase Units
• Meter Constants
Transmitters can operate on either ac • Volumetric Flow Total • Configure Outputs
• Density + 1 2 3 • Scale Outputs
or dc power and require separate • Temperature - 4 5 6 • Configure Inputs
• % Solids
wiring for the power supply and for • Dry Solids Mass
8 9
their output signals. The Coriolis Flow Rate
• Dry Solids Total DIAGNOSTICS &
flowmeter transmitter can be integrally SIMULATION
or remotely mounted (Figure 5-4). The CONFIGURABLE
transmitter controls the operation of INPUTS/OUTPUTS
the driver and processes and trans- ANALOG & FREQUENCY
mits the sensor signals. The calibra- OUTPUTS

tion factor (K) in the transmitter’s FUNCTION COMMANDS

memory matches the transmitter to • Reset Total
RS-485/422 • Zero Flow Calibration
the particular flow tube. This calibra- • Display Mode
• Clear Alarm
tion factor defines the constant of • Stop Measurement
• Start Measurement
proportionality between the Coriolis CONTACT INPUTS
force and the mass flow rate for the OUTPUT ALARMS
dynamic spring constant of the par- • Batch Control
ticular vibrating tubes. • High/Low Limit DISCRETE OUTPUTS
The transmitter does more than • Flow Rate
convert sensor inputs into standard- • Flow Total
• Density
ized output signals. Most transmit- • Temperature
• % Solids
ters also offer multiple outputs, • Flow Direction
including mass flow rate, total mass • Malfunction Alarm

flow, density, and temperature.

Figure 5-4: Coriolis Transmitter with Keyboard and Display
Analog and/or pulse outputs are
both available, and intelligent trans- transmitters have other hardware and by two-tube designs (Figure 5-3A).
mitters can generate digital outputs software options which allow the user These designs reduced external
for integration into DCS systems. to customize them to the application. vibration interference, decreased the
Transmitters are often provided power needed to vibrate the tubes,
with a local displays and keypads to • Coriolis Evolution and minimized the vibrational energy
allow easy access to process data. The first generation of Coriolis leaving the tube structure. One driver
Coriolis transmitters provide more meters consisted of a single curved was used to initiate tube vibration,
than just flow information and ancil- and a thin-walled tube, in which high and two sensors were used to detect
lary functions. Batch control func- fluid velocities were created by the Coriolis deflections. While this
tions, percent Brix or percent HFCS reducing the tube cross-sectional design greatly improved performance,
monitoring, viscosity, percent solids, area in relation to the process pipe. the combination of reduced bore,
PID, API gravity, and specific gravity The tube distortion was measured in thin-walled tubing, and high fluid

Mass Flowmeters 5

velocities (up to 50 ft/sec) still result- the number of suppliers and con- tube temperature is continuously
ed in premature meter failure, includ- tributed to the development of a measured by an RTD element and is
ing potentially catastrophic spills new generation of Coriolis meters used to continuously compensate

A) Torsional Bending B) Support Block and Multiple Sensors

Figure 5-5: Coriolis Design Improvements

when the meter was used on corro- that are as reliable and rugged as tra- for variations in tube elasticity.
sive and erosive services. In addition, ditional volumetric flowmeters. The Coriolis mass flowmeters usually
the unrecovered head losses were new designs operate at lower fluid are calibrated on water, because the
high (sometimes over 50 psid), and velocities (below 10 ft/sec) and at constants are valid for all other liq-
accuracy was not high enough to lower pressure drops (under 12 psid), uids. Calibration for density is usually
allow users to convert batch processes can be installed in any orientation, done by filling the tubes with two or
into continuous ones. and provide longer service life on more (stagnant) calibration fluids of
More recent design improve- slurry, viscous, corrosive, or erosive known densities.
ments include the introduction of a services. The tubes are vibrated well
variety of new tube shapes, includ- below their endurance limits, and • Accuracy & Rangeability
ing ones that do not split the flow typically are made of stainless steel, Coriolis meters provide 0.1-2% of
(Figure 5-3B) and the use of multiple Hastelloy, and titanium. rate inaccuracy over a mass flow
drivers (Figure 5-5A). Thick-walled range of up to 100:1. In general,
tubing (five times thicker than early • Interferences curved tube designs provide wider
designs), the use of full bore diame- The effect of the Coriolis force on rangeability (100:1 to 200:1), while
ters and heavy manifolds to isolate the vibrating tube is small. Full-scale straight-tube meters are limited to
the tube structure from stresses flow might cause a deflection of 30:1 to 50:1 and their accuracy is
induced from piping connections, only 0.001 inch. To obtain a flow lower. Overall meter error is the sum
and flowtube housings that double rangeability of 100:1, sensors must of base inaccuracy and zero-shift
as secondary containment vessels be able to detect deflections to an error, the error attributable to the
have all contributed to improved accuracy of 0.000001 inch in indus- irregular output signal generated at
performance. trial environments where the zero flow conditions. Zero-shift
In some designs, torsional stresses process pressure, temperature, and error becomes the dominant portion
replaced bending, in order to prevent fluid density are all changing, and of total error at the lower end of the
the concentration of stresses that where pipe vibration interferes with flow range, where the error is
can lead to tube cracking (Figure 5- measurement. between 1% and 2% of rate. Some
5B). In other designs, the effects of The elasticity of metal tubes manufacturers state the overall
pipeline vibration have been mini- changes with temperature; they accuracy as a percentage of rate for
mized by mounting the tube struc- become more elastic as they get the upper portion of the flow range
tures transverse to the pipeline. warmer. To eliminate the corre- and as a percentage of span for the
These improvements increased sponding measurement error, the lower portion, while others state it

5 Mass Flowmeters

as a percentage of rate plus a zero- ambient temperature and pressure Downsizing (using a meter that is
shift error. There is a fair amount of fluctuations alter these forces, perfor- smaller than the pipe) is acceptable
“specmanship,” and one must read mance may be affected and re-zeroing when the pipe is oversized and the
sales literature carefully when com- of the meter may be required. process fluid is clean with a low vis-
paring different devices. Variations in the density of the cosity. On corrosive, viscous, or abra-
When used for density measure- process fluid can affect the frequency sive slurry services, downsizing is not
ment, the typical error range of a transfer function of mechanical sys- recommended. A list of acceptable
Coriolis measurement is 0.002- tems, necessitating the re-zeroing of flow tube sizes and corresponding
0.0005 g/cc. older designs to protect them from pressure drops, inaccuracies, and flow
Errors are caused by air or gas degraded performance. Because of velocities can be obtained from soft-
pockets in the process fluid. In the their tube configurations, newer ware provided by the manufacturer.
case of homogeneously dispersed designs are unaffected by density Different Coriolis meters incur dif-
small bubbles, more power is changes over wide ranges of specific ferent pressure drops, but in general
required to vibrate the tubes, where- gravity variations. they require more than traditional
as, if the gas phase separates from volumetric meters, which usually
the liquid, a damping effect on tube • Sizing & Pressure Drop operate at less than 10 psid. (The
vibration (and, consequently, error) Because of the wide rangeability of yearly electricity cost of pumping
develops. Small voids also cause Coriolis flowmeters (30:1 to as high as 1 gpm across a differential of 10 psid
noise because of the sloshing of the 200:1), the same flow can be mea- is about $5 U.S.). This higher head loss
process liquid in the tubes. Larger sured by two or three different sized is due to the reduced tubing diameter

Mass Flowtube (Typical)
Mass Tube Enclosure
Flanges Flow
Pipe/Flowtube Junction Direction
Distance Between
Junction and
Support NOTE: Distance Between
Flow Must Not Pipe/Flowtube Junction and
Direction Arrow Exceed 15 Inches Support Must Not
Exceed 15 Inches
A) Horizontal B) Vertical

'U' Rest 'V' Rest 'V' Bolt Inverted Pipe 'V' Block Clamp
C) Pipe Supports Clamp Hanger Clamp (Can Be Inverted)

Figure 5-6: Installation Variations of the Coriolis Meter

voids will raise the energy required flow tubes. By using the smallest and the circuitous path of flow.
to vibrate the tubes to excessive lev- possible meter, one will lower the Besides pumping costs, head loss can
els and may cause complete failure. initial cost and reduce coating build- be of concern if the meter is installed
Because the flowtube is subjected up, but will increase erosion/corro- in a low-pressure system, or if there is
to axial, bending, and torsional forces sion rates and head loss, increasing a potential for cavitation or flashing,
during meter operation, if process or pumping and operating costs. or if the fluid viscosity is very high.

Mass Flowmeters 5

The viscosity of non-Newtonian intrinsically safe circuits between the still remaining homogeneously dis-
fluids is a function of their flowing flow tube and the transmitter. persed. Gas content in low viscosity
velocity. Dilettante fluids, for exam- Therefore, the amount of driving fluids, like milk, will separate at con-
ple, increase their apparent viscosity power that can be delivered to the centrations as low as 1%.
(resistance to flow) as their velocity flow tube is limited. The cost of an average-sized
is increased. This apparent viscosity When fluid is unloaded from tank (under 2 in.) Coriolis flowmeter is
can be drastically higher than their trucks, drums, or railroad cars, slug between $4,000 and $5,000. These

A) Closed Vent Lines B) Open Vent Lines


Pump Meter Load
Tank Bidirectional
Valve Back Pressure
Flow Valve

C) Typical Installation
Valve Check Valve

Figure 5-7: Air Releases Installed Upstream From the Meter

viscosity when stagnant. In order to flow can occur, making the meter out- mass flowmeters provide short pay-
provide suppliers with data on the put unpredictable. If a slug-flow recov- back periods on applications where
flowing viscosity in a particular pipe, ery feature is provided in the transmit- measurement accuracy lowers pro-
head loss per foot of pipe (used in ter, it will stop the measurement when duction costs (bathing, billing) or
pump sizing calculations) can be slug flow is detected by the excessive where multiple measurements
used as an approximation. drive power drawn or by the drop in (including density, temperature, pres-
process density (reduction in sensor sure) are needed. On the other hand,
• Applications & Limitations output amplitude). they may not be competitive when
Coriolis mass flowmeters can detect The amount of air in the process used in simple flow measurement
the flow of all liquids, including fluid that can be tolerated by a meter applications where volumetric sen-
Newtonian and non-Newtonian, as varies with the viscosity of the fluid. sors are sufficient and where
well as that of moderately dense Liquids with viscosities as high as repeatability is more important than
gases. Self-draining designs are avail- 300,000 centipoise can be metered precision. The ability to extract data
able for sanitary applications that with Coriolis meters. Gas content in on total mass charged, solids rate,
meet clean-in-place requirements. such highly viscous liquids can be as percent solids, and viscosity from a
Most meters are provided with high as 20% with the small bubbles single instrument does lower the

5 Mass Flowmeters

total cost of measurement, improves cleaned by mechanical means, while of tube rupture, particularly if the
process control, and provides redun- curved-tube designs are usually process fluid is likely to vaporize
dancy for other instruments. washed out using cleaning solutions under such conditions. If that is the
Continuous tube designs are gen- at velocities in excess of 10 ft/sec. case, secondary containment hous-
erally preferred for slurry and other Straight-tube designs also are pre- ings can be ordered that enclose the
multi-phase fluid applications. The ferred for sanitary applications due entire flow tube, including its hous-
total flow is divided by splitters in to self-draining requirements. ing. Such secondary containment
split-tube designs, and the resulting Long, bent tubes twist more easily enclosures can be provided with rup-
two streams do not have to be at than do short, straight tubes and ture disks or pressure relief valves,
exactly the same mass flow rate to therefore will generate stronger sig- and with drains or vents.
maintain accuracy (they do, however, nals under the same conditions. In
need to have the same density). general, curved-tube designs provide • Installation Recommendations
Different densities in the two paral- wider rangeability (100:1 to 200:1), There are no Reynolds number limi-
lel tubes imbalance the system and while straight-tube meters are limited tations associated with Coriolis
create measurement errors. to 30:1 to 50:1, with lower accuracy. meters. They are also insensitive to
Therefore, if there is a secondary Straight-tube meters are more velocity profile distortion and swirl.
phase in the stream, a simple flow immune to pipeline stresses and Therefore, there is no requirement
splitter may not evenly distribute vibration, are easy to install, require for straight runs of relaxation piping
the flow between the two tubes. less pressure drop, can be mechani- upstream or downstream of the
Continuous tube designs are also cally cleaned, are more compact, and meter to condition the flow.
preferred for measuring fluids that require less room for installation. The meter should be installed so
can coat and/or clog the meter. They are also preferred on services that it will remain full of liquid and

Mass Flow
Rate Film
Source (q)

Resistance Resistance Resistance Temperature Heater
Thermometer Heater Thermometer Sensor Supplies Downstream
Measures Tf q Temperature Sensor
T1 T2 Measures Tw

A) Immersion Heater B) Externally-Heated Tube

Figure 5-8: Thermal Mass Flowmeter Designs

Continuous tubes, if sized to pass the where the process fluid can solidify so air cannot get trapped inside the
largest solid particles in the process at ambient temperatures. tubes. In sanitary installations, the
fluid, are less likely to clog and are Not all meter housings are meter must also drain completely. The
easier to clean. designed to withstand and contain most desirable installation is in vertical
Straight-tube designs can be the pressurized process fluid in case upward flow pipes (Figure 5-6B), but

Mass Flowmeters 5

installations in horizontal lines (Figure If air bubbles are likely to be present different materials at different
5-6A) are also acceptable. Installations in the process fluid, it is recommended times; and
where the flow is downward in a verti- to install an air release upstream of the • Allowing foam formation by high
cal pipe are not recommended. meter. System design characteristics turbulence in high velocity fluids.
In newer Coriolis designs, normal that can result in the presence of air It is recommended to install
pipe vibration should not affect the (and which can often be eliminated at (upstream of the meter) strainers, fil-
performance of the Coriolis meter if the design stage) include: ters or air/vapor eliminators as
it is properly supported by the • Common piping used for pumping required to remove all undesirable sec-
process piping (Figure 5-6C). No spe- into and out of storage tanks; ondary phases. Figure 5-7C illustrates
cial supports or pads are needed for • Allowing the formation of a vortex an air eliminator installation. Its func-
the flow tube, but standard piping in stirred vessels under low-level tion is to slow the velocity of the liq-
supports should be located on either conditions; uid, thereby allowing time for the
side of the meter. If the installation • Allowing air leakage through pack- entrained air to separate and be
instructions require special hardware ing glands of pumps that develop removed by venting. The rise and fall
or supports, the particular meter high vacuums on the suction side of the liquid level in the eliminator
design is likely to be sensitive to (this can occur when pumping due to the accumulation of free air
vibration, and the pulsation dampen- from underground storage); closes and opens the vent valve and
ers, flexible connectors, and mount- • Vaporization of stagnant process discharges the air (Figure 5-7A&B).
ing/clamping attachments recom- fluid in pipes exposed to the sun; Prior to zeroing the meter, all air
mended by the manufacturer should • High valve pressure drops causing should be removed. This can be
be carefully installed. vaporization and flashing; accomplished by circulating the


Temperature of Tube

Bypass Flow
TC-1 TC-2

L/2 0 L/2
Length of Tube

A) Bypass Uses Small Percent of Stream B) Temperature Profile

Figure 5-9: The Bypass Flowmeter Design

If your application requires that • Allowing the pipe to drain for any process fluid through the meter for
you install two Coriolis flowmeters reason, including lack of check several minutes at a velocity of
in series or mount two Coriolis meters valves; approximately 2-6 ft/sec. On batching
near each other, the manufacturer • Allowing storage tanks, trucks, or or other intermittent flow applica-
should be consulted to prevent railroad cars to drain completely; tions, the meter should stay flooded
crosstalk between the two units. • Using the same pipe for pumping so that it does not need to be

5 Mass Flowmeters

repurged. All meters should be so standard of higher accuracy, such as must be installed by the manufacturer.
installed so they can be zeroed while a dead-weight calibrated weigh tank. When flowmetering is not required,
filled with liquid. Before Coriolis meters, the reference the Coriolis meter can be used solely
When zeroing the meter, any standard was expected to be an as a densitometer. In that case, to min-
associated pumps or other equip- order of magnitude more accurate imize cost, usually a small (H in.) meter
ment should be running so that their than the meter being calibrated; is installed in a by-pass line. Such a

Air Velocity Sensor
Temperature Sensor 0.032" Dia.
0.125" Dia.

0.25" Dia.

.125" Inlet Flow Element Temperature
.938 Screens (Heated) Compensator

A) Probe Configuration B) Venturi Insertion

Figure 5-10: Thermal Velocity Sensor

noise can be zeroed out. This can be however, due to the high accuracy of configuration is acceptable only in
achieved in most cases by locating a Coriolis meters, this is rare. clean services that will not clog the
shut-off value downstream of the In less critical installations (where small bore of the meter. In addition, a
meter and either operating the weigh tanks are not used), volumetric restriction must be placed in the main
pump with its discharge blocked, provers or master meters (typically piping (between the by-pass taps) to
which is acceptable with centrifugal another Coriolis or a turbine meter ensure a flow through the meter.
pumps for a short period, or by calibrated at a flow laboratory) are
opening the pump bypass on posi- used. When a volumetric reference is Thermal Mass Flowmeters
tive displacement pumps. Valves used in calibrating a mass flowmeter, Thermal mass flowmeters also mea-
used in zeroing the meter should the fluid density must be very pre- sure the mass flowrate of gases and
provide tight shut-off; double-seat- cisely determined. liquids directly. Volumetric measure-
ed valves are preferred. Control valves should be installed ments are affected by all ambient
Meters that are expected to be downstream of the meter to increase and process conditions that influ-
calibrated in-line must be provided the back-pressure on the meter and ence unit volume or indirectly affect
with block and bypass valves so that lower the probability of cavitation or pressure drop, while mass flow mea-
the reference standard (master) flashing. surement is unaffected by changes in
meter can be installed and discon- When the process fluid must be viscosity, density, temperature, or
nected without interrupting the held at higher temperatures, some pressure.
process. The requirements for in-line Coriolis meters can be supplied with Thermal mass flowmeters are
calibration (for ISO 9000 verifica- steam jackets. As an alternative, elec- often used in monitoring or control-
tion) consist of comparing the out- trical heating tape can be added to ling mass-related processes such as
put of the meter against a reference the housing. Jackets or heating tapes chemical reactions that depend on

Mass Flowmeters 5

the relative masses of unreacted gas flows. They operate either by

ingredients. In detecting the mass introducing a known amount of heat m = Kq/(Cp (T2 - T1))
flow of compressible vapors and into the flowing stream and measuring
gases, the measurement is unaffected an associated temperature change, or
by maintaining a probe at a constant • Heated-Tube Design
temperature and measuring the energy Heated-tube flowmeters were devel-
required to do so. The components of oped to protect the heater and sen-
a basic thermal mass flowmeter sor elements from corrosion and any
Needle include two temperature sensors and coating effects of the process. By
an electric heater between them. The mounting the sensors externally to
heater can protrude into the fluid the piping (Figure 5-8B), the sensing
stream (Figure 5-8A) or can be external elements respond more slowly and
Hot Wire to the pipe (Figure 5-8B). the relationship between mass flow
Gas Stream In the direct-heat version, a fixed and temperature difference becomes
amount of heat (q) is added by an nonlinear. This nonlinearity results
electric heater. As the process fluid from the fact that the heat intro-
Figure 5-11: Hot Wire Anemometer
flows through the pipe, resistance duced is distributed over some por-
by changes in pressure and/or tem- temperature detectors (RTDs) mea- tion of the pipe’s surface and trans-
perature. One of the capabilities of sure the temperature rise, while the ferred to the process fluid at different
thermal mass flowmeters is to accu- amount of electric heat introduced rates along the length of the pipe.
rately measure low gas flowrates or is held constant. The pipe wall temperature is
low gas velocities (under 25 ft. per The mass flow (m) is calculated on highest near the heater (detected as
minute)—much lower than can be
detected with any other device.
Thermal flowmeters provide high
rangeability (10:1 to 100:1) if they are
operated in constant-temperature-dif-
ference mode. On the other hand, if
heat input is constant, the ability to
detect very small temperature differ-
ences is limited and both precision
and rangeability drop off. At normal
flows, measurement errors are usually
in the 1-2% full scale range.
This meter is available in high pres-
sure and high temperature designs,
and in special materials including
glass, Monel, and Teflon®. Flow-
through designs are used to measure
small flows of pure substances (heat
capacity is constant if a gas is pure),
while bypass and probe-type designs All-in-one mass flow controller provides both measurement and control of relatively low mass flow rates.
can detect large flows in ducts, flare
stacks, and dryers. the basis of the measured tempera- Tw in Figure 5-8B), while, some dis-
ture difference (T2 - T1), the meter tance away, there is no difference
• Theory of Operation coefficient (K), the electric heat rate between wall and fluid temperature.
Thermal mass flowmeters are most (q), and the specific heat of the fluid Therefore, the temperature of the
often used for the regulation of low (Cp), as follows: unheated fluid (Tf) can be detected by

5 Mass Flowmeters

measuring the wall temperature at of the process fluid must stay con- the speed of response of the mea-
this location further away from the stant when using this design. surement. On the other hand,
heater. This heat transfer process is because of the small size, filters are
non-linear, and the corresponding • Bypass-Type Design necessary to prevent plugging. One
equation differs from the one above The bypass version of the thermal serious limitation is the high pressure
as follows: mass flowmeter was developed to drop (up to 45 psi) needed to develop
measure larger flow rates. It consists laminar flow. This is typically accept-
m0.8 = Kq/(Cp (Tw - Tf)) of a thin-walled capillary tube able only for high pressure gas appli-
(approximately 0.125 in diameter) and cations where the pressure needs to
This flowmeter has two operating two externally wound self-heating be reduced in any case.
modes: one measures the mass flow resistance temperature detectors This is a low accuracy (2% full
by keeping the electric power input (RTDs) that both heat the tube and scale), low maintenance, and low
constant and detecting the tempera- measure the resulting temperature cost flowmeter. Electronic packages
ture rise. The other mode holds the rise (Figure 5-9A). The meter is placed within the units allow for data acqui-
temperature difference constant and in a bypass around a restriction in the sition, chart recording, and computer
measures the amount of electricity main pipe and is sized to operate in interfacing. These devices are popular

6 6
5 5
60° 4 4 60°
1 2 3 4 5 6
3 3
2 2
1 1
A) B)

Figure 5-12: Circuling and Rectangular Measuring Stations

needed to maintain it. This second the laminar flow region over its full in the semiconductor processing
mode of operation provides for a operating range. industry. Modern day units are also
much higher meter rangeability. When there is no flow, the heaters available as complete control loops,
Heated-tube designs are generally raise the bypass-tube temperature to including a controller and automatic
used for the measurement of clean approximately 160°F above ambient control valve.
(e.g., bottled gases) and homoge- temperature. Under this condition, a
neous (no mixtures) flows at moder- symmetrical temperature distribu- • Air Velocity Probes
ate temperature ranges. They are not tion exists along the length of the Probe-style mass flowmeters are
recommended for applications tube (Figure 5-9B). When flow is tak- used to measure air flows and are
where either the fluid composition ing place, the gas molecules carry the insensitive to the presence of mod-
or its moisture content is variable, heat downstream and the tempera- erate amounts of dust. They maintain
because the specific heat (Cp) would ture profile is shifted in the direction a temperature differential between
change. They are not affected by of the flow. A Wheatstone bridge two RTDs mounted on the sensor
changes in pressure or temperature. connected to the sensor terminals tube. The upper sensor measures the
Advantages include wide rangeability converts the electrical signal into a ambient temperature of the gas
(the ability to measure very low mass flow rate proportional to the (Figure 5-10A) and continuously
flows) and ease of maintenance. The change in temperature. maintains the second RTD (near the
temperature difference (or heater The small size of the bypass tube tip of the probe) at 60°F above ambi-
power), flowmeter geometry, thermal makes it possible to minimize electric ent. The higher the gas velocity, the
capacity, specific heat, and viscosity power consumption and to increase more current is required to maintain

Mass Flowmeters 5

the temperature differential. chemical and petrochemical indus- rate of cooling corresponds to the
Another version of the velocity tries, research and development mass flowrate.
probe is the venturi-type thermal applications, gas chromatography, The circuitry of the heated sensing
mass flowmeter, which places a and filter and leak testing. While hot- element is controlled by one of two
heated mass flow sensor at the mini- wire anemometers are best suited for types of solid-state electronic circuits:
mum diameter of a venturi flow ele- clean gases at low velocities, venturi constant-temperature or constant-
ment and a temperature compensa- meters can also be considered for power. The constant-temperature sen-
tion probe downstream (Figure 5- some liquid (including slurry) flow sor maintains a constant temperature
10B). An inlet screen mixes the flow
to make the temperature uniform.
This design is used for both gas and
liquid measurement (including slur-
ries), with flow range a function of
the size of the venturi. Pressure drop
is relatively low and precision is
dependent upon finding the proper
probe insertion depth.
A flow switch version is also avail-
able that contains two temperature
sensors in the tip. One of the sensors
is heated and the temperature differ-
ence is a measure of velocity. The Air velocity probe provides 1.5% accuracy for local flow rate measurement.
switch can be used to detect high or
low flow within 5%. applications. Thermal mass flowme- differential between a heated sensor
ters are well suited for high range- and a reference sensor; the amount of
• Uses & Limitations ability measurements of very low power required to maintain the differ-
Thermal mass flowmeters can have flows, but also can be used in mea- ential is measured as an indication of
very high rangeability and reasonable suring large flows such as combus- the mass flow rate.
accuracy, but they also have serious tion air, natural gas, or the distribu- Constant-temperature anemome-
limitations. Potential problems include tion of compressed air. ters are popular because of their
the condensation of moisture (in satu- high-frequency response, low elec-
rated gases) on the temperature Hot-Wire Anemometers tronic noise level, immunity from
detector. Such condensation will The term anemometer was derived sensor burnout when airflow sud-
cause the thermometer to read low from the Greek words anemos, denly drops, compatibility with hot-
and can lead to corrosion. Coating or “wind,” and metron, “measure.” film sensors, and their applicability
material build-up on the sensor also Mechanical anemometers were first to liquid or gas flows.
will inhibit heat transfer and cause developed back in the 15th century Constant-power anemometers do
the meter to read low. Additional to measure wind speed. not have a feedback system.
potential sources of error include A hot-wire anemometer consists Temperature is simply proportional
variations in the specific heat caused of an electrically heated, fine-wire to flowrate. They are less popular
by changes in the gas’s composition. element (0.00016 inch in diameter because their zero-flow reading is
Some common gas-flow applica- and 0.05 inch long) supported by not stable, temperature and velocity
tions for thermal mass flowmeters needles at its ends (Figure 5-11). response is slow, and temperature
include combustion air measurement Tungsten is used as the wire materi- compensation is limited.
in large boilers, semiconductor al because of its strength and high
process gas measurement, air sam- temperature coefficient of resis- • Air Duct Traversing
pling in nuclear power plants, tance. When placed in a moving Anemometers are widely used for air
process gas measurements in the stream of gas, the wire cools; the duct balancing. This is accomplished

5 Mass Flowmeters

by placing multiple anemometers in a

cross-section of the duct or gas pipe References & Further Reading
and manually recording the velocity • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
readings at numerous points. The mass Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
flow rate is obtained by calculating the • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
mean velocity and multiplying this by Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
the density and by the cross-sectional • “Air Elimination Techniques for Accurate Liquid Measurement,” J. R.
area measurement of the duct. Chester, Mechanical Engineering, February 1983.
For cylindrical ducts, the log-linear • “Application and Installation Guidelines for Volumetric and Mass
method of traversing provides the Flowmeters,” D. Ginesi and C. Annarummo, ISA Transactions, Instrument
highest accuracy because it takes Society of America, 1994.
into account the effects of friction • Automated Process Control Electronics, John Harrington, Delmar
along the walls of the duct. Because Publishing Inc., 1989.
of the number of measurements • “Coriolis for the Masses,” G. J. Blickley, Control Engineering, June 1995.
(Figure 5-12), air duct traversing is a • “Coriolis Mass Flowmeter is Ready for the Tough Jobs,” W. Chin, I&CS,
time-consuming task. Microprocessor- February 1992.
based anemometers are available to • “Field Proving Coriolis Mass Flowmeter,” R. Harold and C. Strawn, ISA/91
automate this procedure. Proceedings, Instrument Society of America, 1991.
Because of the small size and • Flow Measurement, D.W. Spitzer (editor), Instrument Society of America,
fragility of the wire, hot-wire 1991.
anemometers are susceptible to dirt • “Flow Sensing: The Next Generation,” D. Ginesi, Control Engineering,
build-up and breakage. A positive con- November 1997.
sequence of their small mass is fast • Instrument Engineers’ Handbook, Bela Liptak, CRC Press, 1995.
speed of response. They are widely • Instrumentation for Process Measurement and Control, 3rd edition,
used in HVAC and ventilation applica- Norman A. Anderson, Chilton Co., 1980.
tions. Larger and more rugged • Instruments of Science, Robert Bud and Deborah Jean Warner, Garland
anemometers are also available for Publishing Inc., 1998.
more demanding industrial applica- • “Metering Mass Flow,” H. van der Bent, Process Engineering, May 1993.
tions. To ensure the proper formation • “On-line Viscosity Measurement with Coriolis Mass Flowmeters,” P.
of the velocity profile, a straight duct Kalotry and D. Schaffer, ISA/91 Proceedings, Instrument Society of
section is usually provided upstream America, 1991.
of the anemometer station (usually 10 • Process/Industrial Instruments and Controls Handbook, 4th edition,
diameters long). A conditioning nozzle Douglas M. Considine, McGraw-Hill, 1993.
is used to eliminate boundary layer • “Technical Application Guide to Mass Flow Measurement,” Wayne
effects. If there is no room for the Shannon, Magnetrol International, 1998.
straight pipe section, a honeycomb • The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 8th edition,
flow straightener can be incorporated John H. Zifcak, McGraw-Hill, 1997.
into the sensor assembly. T



A Level Measurement Orientation
Level Sensor Selection
Boiling & Cryogenic Fluids
Sludge, Foam, & Molten Metals
A Level Measurement Orientation
n the 28th of March, 1979, into the tank or should it be com- liquid layers, it is advisable to consult
thousands of people fled pletely external? not only Table 4, but other recom-
from Three Mile Island (near • Should the sensor detect the level mendations, such as Table 5.
Harrisburg, PA) when the continuously or will a point sensor If it is found that a number of level
cooling system of a nuclear reactor be adequate? detector designs can satisfy the
failed. This dangerous situation • Can the sensor come in contact requirements of the application, one
should also consider the traditions
or preferences of the particular plant
or the particular process industry,
Level %
100 because of user familiarity and the
Vertical availability of spare parts. For exam-
ple, the oil industry generally prefers
displacement-type level sensors,
50 while the chemical industry favors
differential pressure (d/p) cells. (The
petroleum industry will use d/p cells
Cylindrical when the span exceeds 60-80 in.)
0 50 100 Volume % If the tank is agitated, there is
often no space in which to insert
probe-type sensors. Plus, because
Figure 6-1: Relationship Between Level and Volume for Different Tanks the liquid surface is not flat, sonic,
ultrasonic, or radar devices typically
developed because the level con- with the process fluid or must it cannot be used, either. Even with dis-
trols turned off the coolant flow to be located in the vapor space? placer or d/p sensors, agitation can
the reactor when they detected the • Is direct measurement of the level cause the level signal to cycle. These
presence of cooling water near the needed or is indirect detection of pulses can be filtered out by first
top of the tank. Unfortunately, the hydrostatic head (which responds determining the maximum rate at
water reached the top of the reac- to changes in both level and den-
tor vessel not because there was sity) acceptable? "Top" Pressure
too much water in the tank, but • Is tank depressurization or process
because there was so little that it shut-down acceptable when sen-
"Middle" Pressure
boiled and swelled to the top. From sor removal or maintenance is
this example, we can see that level required? Temperature PT RTD
measurement is more complex than By evaluating the above choices, "Bottom" Pressure

simply the determination of the one will substantially shorten the list PT
presence or absence of a fluid at a of sensors to consider. The selection
particular elevation. is further narrowed by considering
only those designs that can be pro- Mass ± 0.2%
Density ± 0.3%
Level Sensor Selection vided in the required materials of Volume ± 0.28%
When determining what type of construction and can function at the
Intelligent Multi-Transmitter Package
Figure 6-2:
level sensor should be used for a required accuracy, operating temper-
given application, there are a series ature, etc. (Table 4). When the level which the level can change (due to
of questions that must be answered: to be measured is a solid, slurry, filling or discharging) and disregard-
• Can the level sensor be inserted foam, or the interface between two ing any change that occurs faster

6 A Level Measurement Orientation

Table 4: Orientation Table for Selecting Level Sensors

APPLICATIONS TDR = Time Domain Reflectometry F = Fair
PDS = Phase Difference Sensors G = Good
LIQUIDS SOLIDS AS = in % of actual span L = Limited
E = Excellent P = Poor


(1 in. = 25.4 mm)

FS = in % of full scale UL = Unlimited









Bubblers UL

1-2% FS





Introduces foreign substance into process;
high maintenance

Capacitance 2,000 1-2% FS G F-G F G-L P F F P Interface between conductive layers
and detection of foam is a problem
Conductivity Switch 1,800 1/ in F P F L L L L L Can detect interface only between
conductive and nonconductive liquids.
Field effect design for solids
Diaphragm 350 0.5% FS G F F F F P Switches only for solid service
Only extended diaphragm seals or
Differential Pressure 1,200 0.1% AS E G-E G P
repeaters can eliminate plugging.
Purging and sealing legs are also used

Displacer 850 0.5% FS E P P F-G Not recommended for sludge or
slurry service
Moving parts limit most designs to
Float 500 1% FS G P P F
clean service. Only preset density
floats can follow interfaces

Laser UL X 0.5 in L G G F F F F Limited to cloudy liquids or bright solids in
tanks with transparent vapor spaces

Level Gages 700 0.25 in G F P F Glass is not allowed in some processes

Microwave Switches 400 X 0.5 in G G F G G G F Thick coating is a limitation
Optical Switches 260 X 0.25 in G F E F-G F F P F Refraction-type for clean liquids only;
reflection-type requires clean vapor space
Radar 450 0.12 in G G F P F P Interference from coating, agitator
blades, spray, or excessive turbulence

Radiation UL X 0.25 in G E E G F G E E Requires NRC license
Resistance Tape 225 0.5 in G G G Limited to liquids under near-atmospheric
pressure and temperature conditions

Rotating Paddle Switch 500 1 in G F P Limited to detection of dry, non-corrosive,

low-pressure solids
Slip Tubes 200 0.5 in F P P An unsafe manual device

Tape-Type Level Sensors 300 0.1 in E F P G G F F Only the inductively coupled float is suited
for interface measurement. Float hangup is
a potential problem with most designs
Thermal 850 0.5 in G F F P F Foam and interface detectiom is limited by
the thermal conductives involved
TDR/PDS 221 3 in F F F G G F Limited performance on sticky
process materials

Ultrasonic 300 X 1% FS F-G G G F-G F F F G Presence of dust, foam, dew in vapor
space; sloping or fluffy process material
interferes with performance
Vibrating Switches 300 0.2 in F G G F F G G Excessive material buildup can prevent

than that. multi-transmitter systems when it is Figure 6-2 is capable of simultane-
The relationship between level desirable to: ously measuring volume (level), mass
and tank volume is a function of the • Detect the true level, while either (weight), and density, all with an
cross-sectional shape of the tank. the process temperature or densi- accuracy of 0.3% of full span.
With vertical tanks, this relationship ty varies;
is linear, while with horizontal or • Measure both level and density; Boiling & Cryogenic Fluids
spherical vessels, it is a non-linear and When a d/p cell is used to measure
relationship (Figure 6-1). • Measure the volume and the mass the level in a steam drum, a reverse-
If the level in a tank is to be (weight) in the tank. acting transmitter is usually installed
inferred using hydrostatic pressure By measuring one temperature and (Figure 6-3). An uninsulated condens-
measurement, it is necessary to use three pressures, the system shown in ing chamber is used to connect the

A Level Measurement Orientation 6

reflects the amount of water in the

Condensing drum. Output rises as the mass of Thermal Insulation
Chamber in the "Cold Box"
water in the drum drops (because the
Slope steaming rate and the associated
swelling increase). It is for this reason N2 Vapor
that a reverse acting d/p cell is rec-
Steam Drum N2
ommended for this application.
When the process fluid is liquid
nitrogen (or some other cryogenic
LT material), the tank is usually sur- Boiling LT
(Reverse) rounded by a thermally insulated Liquid
and evacuated cold box. Here, the
Figure 6-3: Wet Leg on a Steam Drum Figure 6-4: Thermally Insulated Cold Box
low pressure (LP) side of a direct
high pressure (HP) side of the d/p acting d/p cell is connected to the from that point on, the connecting
cell to the vapor space on the top of vapor space above the cryogenic line will be filled with nitrogen
the drum. The steam condenses in liquid (Figure 6-4). As the liquid vapor. This can cause noise in the
this chamber and fills the wet leg nitrogen approaches the HP side of level measurement. To protect
with ambient temperature water, the d/p cell (which is at ambient against this, the liquid filled portion
while the low pressure (LP) side of temperature outside the cold box), of the connecting line should be
the d/p cell detects the hydrostatic its temperature rises. When the sloped back towards the tank. The
head of the boiling water inside the temperature reaches the boiling cross-section of the line should be
drum. The output of the d/p cell point of nitrogen, it will boil and, large (about 1 inch in diameter) to

Table 5: The Applicability of Level Sensors for Different Services

Beam Breaker - - - - 2

- -

- - - 1 - 1 -
3 - 1 -

Bubbler 1 1 - - - - 3 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Capacitance 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 - - 2 2 1 2 2 2 1 2

Conductive 1 - 2 - 1 - 1 - - - 3 - 3 - 3 - 1 -
Differential Pressure 2 1 2 2 - - 2 2 - - 3 3 - - - - - -
Diaphragm 1 1 2 - - - 2 2 - - 1 3 1 - 3 - 2 3

Displacer 1 2 2 2 - - 3 2 - - - - - - - - - -
Float 1 - 2 - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - - -
Float/Tape 3 1 - - - - - 3 - - - - - - - - - -
Paddlewheel - - - - - - 3 - - - 2 - 1 - 3 - 2 -
Weight/Cable 3 1 - - - - - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 1
Glass 1 1 2 2 3 3 3 3 - - - - - - - - - -

Magnetic 1 1 - - 3 3 3 3 - - - - - - - - - -
Inductive - - - - - - 2 - - - 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3
Microwave 1 1 - - - - 1 1 - - 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Radiation 1 1 - - - - 1 1 - - 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sonar - - 2 2 - - - 3 1 1 - - - - - - - -
Sonic Echo

Sonic 1 1 3 3 - - 1 1 2 2 - 3 1 1 1 1 2 1
Ultrasonic 1 2 2 2 - - 1 2 1 1 - 3 2 2 1 2 2 2
Thermal 1 - 1 - 2 - 2 - - - - - - - - - - -
Vibration 2 - 3 - - - 2 - 1 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 1 -

6 A Level Measurement Orientation

minimize the turbulence caused by episode, an automatic washing spray period of time, one aims to keep the
the simultaneous boiling and re- is activated. foam level below a maximum. In
condensing occurring at the liquid- When the sludge or slurry level is other processes, it is desirable to sep-
vapor interface. detected continuously, one of the arately control both the liquid level
goals is to eliminate dead-ended cavi- beneath the foam and the thickness
Sludge, Foam, & Molten Metals ties where the sludge might settle. In of the foam. In the paper industry,
Many process fluids are aggressive or addition, all surfaces which are beta radiation detectors are used for
difficult to handle and it’s best to exposed to the process fluid should such applications (Kraft processing),
while other industries detect the
degree of foaming indirectly (by mea-
1:1 Repeater suring related variables, such as heat
input or vapor flow), or they use
capacitance, conductivity, tuning
fork, optical, or thermal switches, all
provided with automatic washers.
To Measuring the level of molten
glass or metals is another special
application. The most expensive
(but also most accurate) technique
available is proximity capacitance-
based level measurement, which
Pressure can provide a resolution of 0.1 mm
Transmitter over a range of 6 in. Laser-based
A) Level Switch B) Continuous Detection systems can provide even better
resolution from distances up to 2 ft.
Figure 6-5: Level-Instrumentation Design For Sludges, Slurries, & High Viscosity If such high resolution is not
required and cost is a concern, one
avoid physical contact with them. be covered with Teflon®. Figure 6-5B can make a float out of refractory
This can be accomplished by placing shows such an installation, employing material and attach a linear variable
the level sensor outside the tank Teflon®-coated extended diaphragms differential transformer (LVDT), or
(weighing, radiation) or locating the to minimize material buildup. make a bubbler tube out of refrac-
sensor in the vapor space (ultrasonic, In strippers, where the goal is to tory material and bubble argon or
radar, microwave) above the process drive off the solvent in the shortest nitrogen through it. T
fluid. When these options are not
available or acceptable, one must aim
to minimize maintenance and physi- References & Further Reading
cal contact with the process fluid. • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
When the process fluid is a sludge, Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
slurry, or a highly viscous polymer, • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
and the goal is to detect the level at Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
one point, the design shown in Figure • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela G. Liptak, editor, CRC Press, 1995.
6-5A is commonly considered. The • Instrumentation for Process Measurement and Control, Third Edition, N.
ultrasonic or optical signal source A. Anderson, Chilton, 1980.
and receiver typically are separated • Measurement and Control of Liquid Level, C. H. Cho, Instrument Society
by more than six inches so that the of America, 1982.
process fluid drains freely from the • Principles of Industrial Measurement for Control Applications, E. Smith,
intervening space. After a high-level Instrument Society of America, 1984.



Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation
Dry & Wet Leg Designs
Bubbler Tubes
Floats & Displacers
Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation
ne of the primary principles level (accurate to better than 1%) leg enables the d/p cell to compen-
underlying industrial level over wide ranges, as long as the den- sate for the pressure pushing down on
measurement is that differ- sity of the liquid is constant. When a the liquid’s surface, in the same way as
ent materials and different d/p cell is used, it will cancel out the the effect of barometric pressure is
phases of the same material have dif- effects of barometric pressure varia- canceled out in open tanks.
ferent densities. This basic law of tions because both the liquid in the It is important to keep this refer-
nature can be utilized to measure tank and the low pressure side of the ence leg dry because accumulation of
level via differential pressure (that at d/p cell are exposed to the pressure condensate or other liquids would
the bottom of the tank relative to of the atmosphere (Figure 7-1B). cause error in the level measurement.
that in the vapor space or to atmos- Therefore, the d/p cell reading will When the process vapors condense at
pheric pressure) or via a float or dis- represent the tank level. normal ambient temperatures or are
placer that depends on the density corrosive, this reference leg can be
differences between phases. Dry & Wet Leg Designs filled to form a wet leg. If the process
Level measurement based on pres- When measuring the level in pressur- condensate is corrosive, unstable, or
sure measurement is also referred to ized tanks, the same d/p cell designs undesirable to use to fill the wet leg,
as hydrostatic tank gaging (HTG). It (motion balance, force balance, or this reference leg can be filled with an
works on the principle that the differ- electronic) are used as on open tanks. inert liquid.
ence between the two pressures (d/p) It is assumed that the weight of the In this case, two factors must be


dp = h (SG)


dp = h (SG)
Pneumatic Pneumatic
A) Local B) Remote Supply C) Compensation Supply

Figure 7-1: Hydrostatic Tank Gage

is equal to the height of the liquid (h, vapor column above the liquid is neg- considered. First, the specific gravity
in inches) multiplied by the specific ligible. On the other hand, the pres- of the inert fluid (SGwl) and the
gravity (SG) of the fluid (see Figure 7-1): sure in the vapor space cannot be height (hwl) of the reference column
neglected, but must be relayed to the must be accurately determined, and
d/p = h (SG) low pressure side of the d/p cell. the d/p cell must be depressed by
Such a connection to the vapor space the equivalent of the hydrostatic
By definition, specific gravity is the is called a dry leg, used when process head of that column [(SGwl)(hwl)].
liquid’s density divided by the densi- vapors are non-corrosive, non-plug- Second, it is desirable to provide a
ty of pure water at 68° F at atmos- ging, and when their condensation sight flow indicator at the top of the
pheric pressure. A pressure gage or rates, at normal operating tempera- wet leg so that the height of that ref-
d/p cell can provide an indication of tures, are very low (Figure 7-1C). A dry erence leg can be visually checked.

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation

Relay To Vacuum Source

Air Supply at 5 psi
More Than Pressure
Vent To Be Repeated Atmospheric Air

20# Air Supply

Low Zero
Side Zero Process

Repeated Repeated
Positive Vacuum
Pressure Pressure

A) Positive Pressure B) Vacuum

Figure 7-2: Extended Diaphragm Pressure Repeaters

Any changes in leg fill level (due to tank. The required piping and valv- cell. If the tank connection is subject
leakage or vaporization) introduce ing must always be provided on to material build-up or plugging,
error into the level measurement. If both the tank and the reference leg extended diaphragm Type 1:1 repeaters
the specific gravity of the filling fluid side of the d/p cell, so that draining can be considered for the service
for the wet leg is greater than that of and flushing operations can easily (Figure 7-2).
the process fluid, the high pressure be performed. When a wet refer- While repeaters eliminate the
side should be connected to the ref- ence leg is used, a low thermal errors caused by wet legs, they do
erence leg and the low to the tank. expansion filling fluid should be introduce their own errors as a func-
If the condensate can be used to selected. Otherwise, the designer tion of the pressure repeated. For
fill the reference leg, a condensate must correct for the density varia- example, at 40 psig, repeater error is
pot can be mounted and piped both tions in the reference leg caused by about 2 in. At 400 psig, it is 20 in. In
to the high level connection of the ambient temperature variations. many applications, the former is
tank and to the top of the vapor If smart transmitters are used and acceptable but the latter is not.
space. The condensate pot must be if the filling fluid data is known, wet-
mounted slightly higher than the leg temperature compensation can • d/p Cells
high level connection (tap) so that it be provided locally. Alternatively, Because the designs of the various
will maintain a constant condensate the host or supervisory control sys- d/p cells are discussed in detail in
level. Excess liquid will drain back tem can perform the compensation another issue of Transactions, only a
into the tank. It is also desirable calculations. brief overview is provided here.
either to install a level gage on the If it is desired to keep the process The motion balance cell is well
condensate pot or to use a sight flow vapors in the tank, a pressure repeater suited for remote locations where
indicator in place of the pot, so that can be used. These devices repeat the instrument air or electric power are
the level in the pot can conveniently vapor pressure (or vacuum) and send not available. If a bellows is used as
be inspected. out an air signal identical to that of the sensing element in a motion bal-
Either method (wet or dry) the vapor space. The measurement ance d/p cell, an increase in the pres-
assures a constant reference leg for side of the repeater is connected to sure on either side causes the corre-
the d/p cell, guaranteeing that the the vapor space and its output signal sponding bellows to contract (Figure
only variable will be the level in the to the low pressure side of the d/p 7-3A). The bellows is connected to a

Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation 7

linkage assembly that converts the lin- a draft range of 0-H inH2O or as can accumulate and affect the
ear motion of the bellows into a wide as 0-1,000 psid. Some elec- performance of the cell. Flat and
rotary indicator motion, which can be tronic d/p cells can operate at line extended diaphragm-type d/p cells,

Bimetallic Pneumatic
Range Nozzle & Flapper Relay
Temperature Liquid
Compensator Spring
Fill Feedback Bellows
Fulcrum & Seal
Force Bar
Low Pressure High Pressure
Side Side

High Pressure Low Pressure Liquid-Filled

Side Side Diaphragm
A) Motion Balance B) Force Balance

Figure 7-3:
Differential Pressure Cell Designs

calibrated to indicate the tank level. pressures up to 4,500 psig at 250°F. pressure repeaters, and chemical
In a force-balance type of d/p The drift and inaccuracy of some of seals are available to protect d/p
cell, the sensing element (often a these units have been tested for cells under these conditions.
diaphragm) does not move. A force periods of up to 30 months, and the Chemical seals, or diaphragm
bar is provided to maintain the errors did not exceed the ±0.5% of pressure seals, are available with fill
forces acting on the diaphragm in span limit. liquids such as water, glycol, alco-
equilibrium (Figure 7-3B). In pneumatic hol, and various oils. These seals are
d/p cells, this is often achieved by • Difficult Process Fluids used when plugging or corrosion
the use of a nozzle and flapper When the process fluid is a sludge, a can occur on both sides of the cell.
arrangement that guarantees that the viscous polymer or is otherwise hard A broad range of corrosion-resistant
pneumatic output signal will always to handle, the goal is to isolate the diaphragm and lining materials is
be proportional to the differential dirty process from the d/p cell. A available. Teflon® lining is often used
pressure across the cell. The output of flat diaphragm can be bolted to a to minimize material build-up and
pneumatic d/p cells is linear and is block valve on the tank nozzle so coating. Level measurement accuracy
usually ranged from 3 to 15 psig. The that the d/p cell can be removed for does suffer when these seals are
levels represented by such transmit- cleaning or replacement without tak- used. Capillary tube lengths should
ted signals (pneumatic, electronic, ing the tank out of service. If it is be as short as possible and the
fiberoptic or digital) can be displayed acceptable to take the tank out of tubes should be shielded from the
on local indicators or remote instru- service when d/p cell removal is sun. In addition, either low thermal
ments. Pneumatic transmitters require needed, an extended diaphragm expansion filling fluids should be
a compressed air (or nitrogen) supply. design can be considered. In this used or ambient temperature com-
Electronic d/p cells provide case, the diaphragm extension fills pensation should be provided, as
±0.5% of span or better precision the tank nozzle so that the discussed in connection with wet
typically conveyed via a 4-20 mA diaphragm is flush with the inside legs. If the seals leak, maintenance
signal. The range of these simple surface of the tank. This eliminates of these systems is usually done
and robust cells can be as narrow as dead ends or pockets where solids at the supplier’s factory due to

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation

the complex evacuation and back- end of the dip pipe should be located a pressure at least 10 psi greater
filling procedures involved. far enough above the tank bottom so than the expected maximum total
that sediment or sludge will not plug pressure required (when the tank is
Bubbler Tubes it. Also, its tip should be notched full and the vapor pressure is at its
Bubbler tubes provide a simple and with a slot or “V” to ensure the for- maximum). An alternative to a con-
inexpensive but less accurate (±1-2%) mation of a uniform and continuous tinuous bubbler is to use a hand
level measurement system for corro- flow of small bubbles. An alternative pump (similar to a bicycle tire
sive or slurry-type applications. to locating the dip pipe in the tank is pump) providing purge air only
Bubblers use compressed air or an to place it in an external chamber when the level is being read.
inert gas (usually nitrogen) intro- connected to the tank. Bubblers do consume inert gases,
duced through a dip pipe (Figure 7-4A). In pressurized tanks, two sets of which can later accumulate and
Gas flow is regulated at a constant dip pipes are needed to measure blanket processing equipment. They
rate (usually at about 500 cc/min). A the level (Figure 7-4B). The two also require maintenance to ensure
differential pressure regulator across back-pressures on the two dip that the purge supply is always avail-
a rotameter maintains constant flow, pipes can be connected to the two able and that the system is properly
while the tank level determines the sides of a u-tube manometer, a dif- adjusted and calibrated. When all
back-pressure. As the level drops, the ferential pressure gage or a d/p factors are considered, d/p cells


F1 Remotely
PCV Components

Spring Tube
Diaphragm #1 Float
Equalizing Line
P2 Transmission Line
Valve L1 Dip Tube
Flow Control Manometer
Spring Valve (V)
Flow @ P1 #2
Inlet Pressure
A) Open Tank B) Closed Tank

Figure 7-4: Bubbler Tube Measurement System

back-pressure is proportionally cell/transmitter. The pneumatic pip- typically are preferred to bubblers in
reduced and is read on a pressure ing or tubing in a bubbler system the majority of applications.
gage calibrated in percent level or on should be sloped toward the tank so
a manometer or transmitter. The dip that condensed process vapors will • Elevation & Suppression
pipe should have a relatively large drain back into the tank if purge pres- If the d/p cell is not located at an ele-
diameter (about 2 in.) so that the pres- sure is lost. The purge gas supply vation that corresponds to 0% level in
sure drop is negligible. The bottom should be clean, dry, and available at the tank, it must be calibrated to

Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation 7

account for the difference in eleva- the high pressure side of the d/p cell saturated liquid layer (0.76) vary not
tion. This calibration adjustment is should be connected to the tank if only with drum pressure but also
called zero elevation when the cell is the specific gravity of the wet leg fill- with steaming rate. This causes the
located above the lower tap, and is ing fluid is close to that of the light swelling of bubbles when the
called zero suppression or zero layer. It should be connected to the steaming rate rises (and SG2 drops),
as well as their collapse when the
steaming rate drops (and SG2 rises).
Steaming Therefore, to make an accurate
determination of both the level and
the mass of the water in the steam
drum, the calculation must consider
not only the d/p cell output, but
also the drum pressure and the pre-
vailing steaming rate.

• Tank Farms

Computerized tank farm systems usu-
525°F, 850 psig ally accept level signals from several

Feed LT tanks through field networks. These

systems perform the level monitoring
Steam Drum
tasks using a variety of compensation
and conversion algorithms. The algo-
Figure 7-5: Steam Drum Level Measurement
rithms provide density corrections,
depression when the cell is located reference leg if the wet-leg fluid’s SG volumetric or mass conversions, and
below the lower tap. Most d/p cells is closer to that of the heavy layer. corrections to consider the shapes of
are available with elevation and sup- horizontal, vertical or spherical tanks.
pression ranges of 600% and 500% of • Special Applications These systems can perform safety
calibrated span, respectively, as long When the process fluid is boiling, functions, such as shutting off feed
as the calibrated span does not such as in a steam drum, a wet refer- pumps to prevent overfilling.
exceed 100% of the upper range limit ence leg is maintained by a conden-
of the cell. sate pot, which drains back into the Floats & Displacers
For example, assume that an elec- steam drum so that the level of the It was more than 2,200 years ago that
tronic d/p cell can be calibrated for wet leg is kept constant. Changes in Archimedes first discovered that the
spans between 0-10 psid (which is its ambient temperature (or sun expo- apparent weight of a floating object is
lower range limit, LRL) and 0-100 psid sure) will change the water density in reduced by the weight of the liquid
(which is its upper range limit, URL). the reference leg and, therefore, displaced. Some 2,000 years later, in
The cell is to be used on a 45-ft tall temperature compensation (manual the late 1700s, the first industrial appli-
closed water tank, which requires a or automatic) is needed. cation of the level float appeared,
hydrostatic range of 0-20 psid. The Figure 7-5 describes a typical when James Brindley and Sutton
cell is located about 11 feet (5 psid) power plant steam drum level appli- Thomas Wood in England and I. I.
above the lower tap of the tank; cation. The differential pressure Polzunov in Russia introduced the first
therefore, a zero elevation of 5 psid is detected by the level d/p cell is: float-type level regulators in boilers.
needed. The d/p cell can handle this Floats are motion balance devices
application, because the calibrated d/p = h1SG1 + h2SG2 - h3SG3 that move up and down with liquid
span is 20% of the URL and the eleva- d/p = 0.03h1 + 0.76h2 - 0.99h3 level. Displacers are force balance
tion is 25% of the calibrated span. devices (restrained floats), whose
On interface level measurement Note that the SG of the saturated apparent weight varies in accor-
applications with a wet leg reference, steam layer (0.03) and that of the dance with Archimedes’ principle:

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation

the buoyant force acting on an object to 80°C (-40 to 180° F) and up to 150 (SG) of the process fluid. For clean liq-
equals the weight of the fluid dis- psig for rubber or plastic floats, and - uids a 0.1 SG difference might suffice,
placed. As the level changes around 40 to 260°C (-40 to 500°F) and up to while for viscous or dirty applications,

Switching Element
Bias Spring Float Reed Switch

Float Permanent
1/2 NPT
Level Differential (13 mm)
Rising Level
Falling Level
A) Magnetic Piston B) Reed Switch C) Mecury Switch

Figure 7-6: Float-Based Level Switches

the stationary (and constant diameter) 750 psig for stainless steel floats. a difference of at least 0.3 SG is rec-
displacer float, the buoyant force Standard float sizes are available from ommended. This provides additional
varies in proportion and can be detect- 1 to 5 inches in diameter. Custom float force to overcome the resistance due
ed as an indication of level. Regular sizes, shapes, and materials can be to friction and material build-up. In
and displacer floats are available as ordered from most manufacturers. The dirty applications, floats should also
both continuous level transmitters and float of a side-mounted switch is hor- be accessible for cleaning.
point-sensing level switches. izontal; a permanent magnet actuates Floats can be attached to mechan-
In industrial applications, displacer the reed switch in it (Figure 7-6B). ical arms or levers and can actuate
floats are often favored because they Floats should always be lighter than electrical, pneumatic, or mechanical
do not require motion. Furthermore, the minimum expected specific gravity mechanisms. The switch itself can be
force can often be detected more
accurately than position. However,
regular floats are also used, mostly
for utilities and in other secondary

• Float Level Switches On

The buoyant force available to operate
a float level switch (that is, its net x
buoyancy) is the difference between
85° y
the weight of the displaced fluid (gross
buoyancy) and the weight of the float.
Floats are available in spherical (Figure
7-6A), cylindrical (Figure 7-6B), and a Off
variety of other shapes (Figure 7-6C).
They can be made out of stainless
steel, Teflon®, Hastelloy, Monel, and
various plastic materials. Typical tem-
perature and pressure ratings are -40 Figure 7-7: Tilt Float Control of a Single Pump

Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation 7

mercury (Figures 7-6A and 7-6C), dry duplex sump-pump stations. A sim- and/or visual alarm.
contact (snap-action or reed type, plex (one pump) system will use a Figure 7-8A illustrates how a side-
shown in Figure 7-6B), hermetically single switch wired in series with the mounted float switch might actuate
sealed, or pneumatic. The switch can motor leads so that the switch an adjacent, sealed reed switch. The
main advantage of this design is that
Top Mounted the lever extension tends to amplify
the buoyant force generated by the
C) float. Therefore the float itself can
be rather small. The main disadvan-
A) tage is that the tank must be opened
in order to perform maintenance on
the switch. If the buoyant force of
the float is used mechanically to
Cage actuate a snap-action switch, a force
of only one ounce is needed.
In top (or bottom) mounted mag-
netic float switches (Figure 7-8B), the
magnet is in the cylindrical float that
travels up or down on a short vertical
guide tube containing a reed switch.
The float’s motion is restrained by
clips and can be only H in or less.
Figure 7-8: Typical Level Switch Applications These float and guide tubes are avail-
be used to actuate a visual display, directly starts and stops the pump able with multiple floats that can
annunciator, pump, or valve. The elec- motor (Figure 7-7). detect several levels. The switch
tric contacts can be rated light-duty (10- A duplex (two pump) application assembly itself can be either inserted
100 volt amps, VA) or heavy-duty (up to might use three switches: one at the directly into the tank or side-mount-
15 A @ 120 Vac). If the switch is to oper- tank bottom (LO) to stop both ed in a separate chamber.
ate a circuit with a greater load than the pumps, another in the middle (HI) to A magnetic piston operated
rating of the switch contacts, an inter- start one pump, and the last at the switch also can be mounted in an
posing relay needs to be inserted. If the top (HI-HI) to actuate the second external chamber (Figure 7-8C). As
switch is to be inserted in a 4-20 mA dc pump, as well as perhaps an audible the magnet slides up and down
circuit, gold-plated dry contacts should
be specified to ensure the required very
low contact resistance.

• Applications & Installations

In the tilt switch (Figure 7-6C), a mer-
cury element or relay is mounted
inside a plastic float; the float’s elec-
trical cable is strapped to a pipe
inside the tank or sump. As the level Guard
rises and falls, the float tilts up and Cage
down, thus opening and closing its
electric contact. The free length of
the cable determines the actuation
level. One, two, or three switches
can be used to operate simplex and Figure 7-9: Float Level Switch Configurations

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation

inside a non-magnetic tube, it oper- • Displacer Switches while a displacer switch can be tested
ates the mercury switch outside the Whereas a float usually follows the simply by lifting a suspension (Figure
tube. These switches are complete- liquid level, a displacer remains par- 7-10A). Displacer switches are avail-
ly sealed and well suited for heavy tially or completely submerged. As able with heavy-duty cages and
duty industrial applications up to shown in Figure 7-10A, the apparent flanges for applications up to 5000
900 psig and 400°C (750°F), meeting weight of the displacer is reduced as psig at 150°C (300°F), suitable for use
ASME code requirements. These it becomes covered by more liquid. on hydraulic accumulators, natural

Torque Tube
Torque Flange Torque
Arm Rod
Arm Torque
Block Tube


Edge Nozzle
High Level Flapper
Flexible Displacer
Cable Displacers

Low Level

A) Switch B) Continuous Transmitter

Figure 7-10: Displacement Level Detection

switches can be side, top, or cage When the weight drops below the gas receivers, high pressure scrub-
mounted (Figure 7-9) and can serve spring tension, the switch is actuat- bers, and hydrocarbon flash tanks.
both alarm and control functions on ed. Displacer switches are more reli-
steam drums, feedwater heaters, able than regular floats on turbu- • Continuous Level Displacers
condensate pots, gas/oil separators, lent, surging, frothy, or foamy appli- Displacers are popular as level trans-
receivers, and accumulators. Light- cations. Changing their settings is mitters and as local level controllers,
duty caged float switches are also easy because displacers can be particularly in the oil and petro-
available for service ratings up to moved anywhere along the suspen- chemical industries. However, they
250 psig at 200°C (400°F) and 400 sion cable (up to 50 ft). These switch- are not suited for slurry or sludge
psig at 40°C (100°F)—suitable for es are interchangeable between service because coating of the dis-
many boilers, condensate receivers, tanks because differences in process placer changes its volume and there-
flash tanks, day tanks, holding tanks, density can be accommodated fore its buoyant force. They are most
and dump valve controls. The cages by changing the tension of the sup- accurate and reliable for services
can be provided with level gages. port spring. involving clean liquids of constant
Multiple switches are available for Testing the proper functioning of a density. They should be temperature-
multiple-switching applications such regular float switch may require fill- compensated, particularly if varia-
as boiler level alarms and controls. ing the tank to the actuation level, tions in process temperature cause

Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation 7

significant changes in the density of force is balanced by a spring, there is standpipes with level gages and iso-
the process fluid. some movement, while with a force- lating valves (Figure 7-11). This way it
When used as a level transmitter, balance detector, the displacer stays is possible to recalibrate or maintain
the displacer, which is always heavier in one position and only the level the displacer without interrupting
than the process fluid, is suspended over the displacer varies. the process.
from the torque arm. Its apparent Displacer units are available with
• Interface Applications
When measuring the interface
between a heavy liquid and a light
2" or Larger Nozzle Pressure Vessel liquid (such as oil on water), the top
connection of the displacer is
3/4" Gate Valve (Vent) placed into the light and the bot-
or Plug 2 " Gate Valve
Gate Valve
tom connection into the heavy liq-
2" or 3" Standpipe uid layer. If the output of such a
Automatic Gage Cocks
or Tees transmitter is set to zero when the
3/4" Gate Valve (Vent)
or Plug chamber is full of the light liquid,
1 1/2" or Larger 1 1/2" or Larger Screwed and to 100% when it is full with the
Gate Valve or Flange Connections heavy phase, the output will corre-
spond to the interface level.
3/4" Coupling-6000 LB Naturally, when interface is being
Tapped One End Only
measured, it is essential that the
two connections of the displacer
Overlapping chamber be located in the two differ-
Gage Glasses ent liquid layers and that the chamber
1 1/2" or Larger always be flooded. Displacer diame-
Gate Valve
ter can be changed to match the dif-
Reducer to 3/4" Pipe
ference in liquid densities, and dis-
These Assemblies 3/4" Gate Valve (Drain) placer length can be set to match the
May Be Elbows vertical range of the level interface
Regular floats can also be used
for interface detection if the differ-
Figure 7-11: Installation to API Standards
ence in SG between the two process
weight causes an angular displace- both pneumatic and electronic out- liquids is more than 0.05. In such
ment of the torque tube (a torsion puts and can also be configured as applications, a float density is need-
spring, a frictionless pressure seal). local, self-contained controllers. ed that is greater than the lighter
This angular displacement is linearly When used in water service, a 100 liquid and less than the heavier liq-
proportional to the displacer’s cubic inch displacer will generate a uid. When so selected, the float will
weight (Figure 7-10B). buoyant force of 3.6 pounds. follow the interface level and, in
Standard displacer volume is 100 Therefore, standard torque tubes are clean services, provide acceptable
cubic inches and the most commonly calibrated for a force range of 0-3.6 performance.
used lengths are 14, 32, 48, and 60 in. lbf and thin-walled torque tubes for a
(Lengths up to 60 ft are available in 0-1.8 lbf range. • Continuous Level Floats
special designs.) In addition to For oil refineries and other Of the various float sensor designs
torque tubes, the buoyant force can processes that are operated continu- used for continuous level measure-
also be detected by other force sen- ously, the American Petroleum ment, the oldest and arguably most
sors, including springs and force-bal- Institute recommends (in API RP 550) accurate is the tape level gage (Figure
ance instruments. When the buoyant that displacers be installed in external 7-12A). In this design, a tape or cable

7 Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation

connects the float inside the tank to with a visual indicator, consisting of This tank level sensing method is
a gage board or an indicating take-up G-in triangular wafer elements. highly accurate, to ±0.02 in, and there-
reel mounted on the outside of the These elements flip over (from fore is ideal for precision inventory
tank. The float is guided up and down green to red, or any other color) management operations. The sensor is
the tank by guide wires or travels when the magnet in the float reaches available in lengths of 2-25 ft and can
inside a stilling well. These level indi- their level (Figure 7-12B). Alarm be inserted into the tank from the top
cators are used in remote, unattend- switches and transmitter options of the vessel through flanged,
ed, stand-alone applications, or they are available with similar magnetic screwed, or welded connections. For
can be provided with data transmis- coupling schemes (Figure 7-12C). In a the simultaneous measurement of
sion electronics for integration into similar design, a series of reed both interface and total level, a two-
plant-wide control systems. switches is located inside a stand- float system is available (Figure 7-12D).
To install the tape gage, an open- pipe. The change in output voltage A resistance temperature detector
ing is needed at the top of the tank as the individual reed switches are (RTD) is also available for temperature
and an anchor is required at its bot- closed by the rising magnet is mea- compensation. Like all other float
tom. When properly maintained, sured, giving an indication of level. level instruments, this design too is
tape gages are accurate to ±G in. It is The operation of magnetostrictive for clean liquids. Rating is up to 150°C
important to maintain the guide sensors is based on the Villari effect. (300° F) and 300 psig. The transmitter
wires under tension, clean and free In the magnetic waveguide-type con- output can be 4-20 mA dc analog or
of corrosion, and to make sure that tinuous level detector, the float (or fieldbus-compatible digital.
the tape never touches the protec- floats, when detecting interface) trav-
tive piping in which it travels. If this els concentrically up and down out- • Float Control Valves
is not done, the float can get stuck side a vertical pipe. Inside the pipe is Float-operated control valves com-
on the guide wires or the tape can a concentric waveguide made of a bine level measurement and level
get stuck to the pipe. (This can hap- magnetostrictive material. A low cur- control functions into a single level
pen if the level does not change for rent interrogation pulse is sent down regulator. While simple and inexpen-
long periods or if the tank farm is the waveguide, creating an electro- sive, they are limited to applications

Top Guide Oil Seal

Wire Assembly Indicator
Anchor Magnet
Wafers Follower
Magnet and
Gaging Rod
Float and
Float Magnet
Cross Front
Section View Guide
Crank Tube
Float Assembly D)
A) B) C)

Figure 7-12: Continuous Float Level Detectors

located in a humid region.) magnetic field along the length of the involving small flows and small pres-
Another continuous level indicator waveguide. When this field interacts sure drops across the valve. This is
is the magnetic level gage, consist- with the permanent magnet inside the because the force available to throt-
ing of a magnetic float that travels float, a torsional strain pulse (or wave- tle the valve is limited to that pro-
up and down on the inside of a long, guide twist) is created and detected as vided by the buoyant force acting on
non-magnetic (usually stainless steel) a return pulse. The difference in the the float, multiplied by the lever
pipe. The pipe is connected to interrogation time and the return action of the float arm. This does not
flanged nozzles on the side of the pulse time is proportional to the suffice to close large valves against
tank. The pipe column is provided liquid level in the tank. high pressure differentials.

Pressure/Density Level Instrumentation 7

Yet, for simple and unattended basin) is to first let the level drop so (Kc = Qmax/h), expressed in units of
applications (like controlling the that the sinking of the float will fur- GPM/inch. The offset of a float regu-
make-up water supply into a cooling ther open the valve. The relationship lator is the distance (in inches)
tower basin or draining condensate between the maximum flow through between the center of the float range
from a trap), they are acceptable. It is a linear valve (Qmax) and the range in and the amount of elevation of the
important to understand that float liquid level (h) is called the propor- float required to deliver the flowrate
regulators are simple proportional tional sensitivity of the regulator demanded by the process. T
controllers: they are incapable of
holding level at a single setpoint.
What they can do is open or close a References & Further Reading
valve as the float travels through its • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
control range. Therefore, instead of a Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
setpoint, regulators have a throttling • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
range. If the range is narrow (floats Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
usually fully stroke their valve over a • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela G. Liptak, editor, CRC Press, 1995.
few inches of float travel), it gives the • Instrumentation for Process Measurement and Control, Third Edition, N.
impression of a constant level. A. Anderson, Chilton, 1980.
In fact, level will vary over the • Measurement and Control of Liquid Level, C. H. Cho, Instrument Society
throttling range because the only of America, 1982.
way for the regulator to increase the • Principles of Industrial Measurement for Control Applications, E. Smith,
feed flow (say into a cooling tower Instrument Society of America, 1984.



RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation
Theory of Operation
Probe Designs

RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation Installation Considerations

apacitance level detectors are charge. The storage capability of a material (that is, the less conductive it
also referred to as radio fre- capacitor is measured in farads. As is). Capacitance (C) is calculated as:
quency (RF) or admittance shown in Figure 8-1, the capacitor
level sensors. They operate in plates have an area (A) and are sepa- C = KA/D
the low MHz radio frequency range, rated by a gap (D) filled with a non-
measuring admittance of an alter- conducting material (dielectric) of If the area (A) of and the distance (D)
nating current (ac) circuit that varies dielectric constant (K). The dielectric between the plates of a capacitor
with level. Admittance is a measure constant of a vacuum is 1.0; the remain constant, capacitance will
vary only as a function of the dielec-
Table 6: Applications of Capicitance Level Sensors
tric constant of the substance filling
Chemical/Petrochemical the gap between the plates. If a
Soda Ash, Fuel, Oil , Clay, Liquids & Powders
change in level causes a change in the
Feed & Grain Pellets, Granules, Flakes, Fats, Molasses, Calcium Dust
Food total dielectric of the capacitance
Sugar, Salt, Flour, Powdered Milk, Various Liquids
system, because (as illustrated in
Pet Food Pellets, Rawhides, Grains
Figure 8-1B) the lower part of area (A)
Plastics/Rubber Plastic Pellets, Resin, Regrind, Powders, Rubber
is exposed to a liquid (dielectric Kl)
Foundries Silica Sand, Foundry Sand
while the upper part is in contact with
Beer/Breweries Malt, Barley Liquids
a vapor (dielectric Kv, which is close to
Pharmaceuticals Various Powders & Liquids
1.0), the capacitance measurement
Power/Utilities Coal, Wood, Sawdust, Petro-Coke
will be proportional to level.
Water/Waste Treatment Limestone, Hydrated Lime, Water
In the case of a horizontally
Charcoal Charred Sawdust, Wood
mounted level switch (Figure 8-2), a
Saw Mills/Woodworking Wood Shavings, Sawdust
conductive probe forms one of the
Mining & Miscellaneous Various Minerals, Clay, Metals, Stone, Glass, Bentonite
plates of the capacitor (A1), and the
of the conductivity in an ac circuit, dielectric constants of a variety of vessel wall (assuming it is made from
and is the reciprocal of impedance. materials are listed in Table 7. a conductive material) forms the
Admittance and impedance in an ac The dielectric constant of a sub- other (A2). An insulator with a low
circuit are similar to conductance stance is proportional to its admit- dielectric constant is used to isolate
and resistance in a direct current (dc) tance. The lower the dielectric con- the conductive probe from the hous-
circuit. In this chapter, the term stant, the lower the admittance of the ing, which is connected to the vessel
capacitance level sensor will be used
instead of RF or admittance. Level Kv
Table 6 lists some of the industries D #1 #2 C= KA
and applications where capacitance- - --
- Kl C=Capacitance
type level sensors are used. - -- K=Dieletric Constant
- -- --
- + ++ A=Area of Plates
- A
- -- ++ D=Dist. Between Plates
Theory of Operation --
-- + ++
Voltmeter Electron
A capacitor consists of two conduc- -- ++ A Flow
- ++ ++
++ + RF
tors (plates) that are electrically iso- ++ Ammeter
lated from one another by a non- ++
conductor (dielectric). When the
two conductors are at different A) Capacitor B) Capacitance Circuit
potentials (voltages), the system is
Figure 8-1: Capacitance Theory of Operation
capable of storing an electric

RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation 8

wall. The probe is connected to the longer surrounded by vapors (K1), but detectable change in capacitance
level sensor via the conductive threads by the process material (K2), the result- resulting from a change in dielectric
of the housing. Measurement is made ing capacitance change is directly constant (K2 -K1).
In most level-sensing applications,
the reference material is air (K1 = 1.0).
D K1 Table 7 gives the K2 values of a variety
of process materials. As the dielectric
-- ++
constant of the process material gets
-- ++ A1 close to that of air (K2 for plastic pel-
lets, for example, is 1.1), the measure-
A2 Insulation
ment becomes more difficult.

Probe Designs
-- ++ The most common probe design is a
-- ++ stainless steel rod of G in. or H in.
diameter, suitable for most non-con-
-- ++ ductive and non-corrosive materials.
-- ++
The probe is insulated from the
A = A1 + A2 ∆C = (K2 + K1) A/D housing and bin wall by an low-
dielectric insulator, such as Nylon or
Figure 8-2: Horizontally Mounted Capacitance Switch
Ryton. These polymers have maxi-
by applying an RF signal between the related to the difference in dielectric mum operating temperatures of 175-
conductive probe and the vessel wall. constant between the two media: 230°C (350-450°F). Ceramics can be
The RF signal results in a minute used for higher temperature applica-
current flow through the dielectric Change in C = (K2 - K1)(A/D) tions or if abrasion resistance is
process material in the tank from the required. For applications where the
probe to the vessel wall. When the The sensitivity of a capacitance process material is conductive and
level in the tank drops and the probe sensor is expressed in pico-farads (pF). corrosive, the probe must be coated
is exposed to the even less conduc- The capacitance unit is the farad, with Teflon® or Kynar.
tive vapors, the dielectric constant defined as the potential created when Some point level sensors are avail-
drops. This causes a drop in the a one-volt battery connected to a able with build-up immunity, or coat-
capacitance reading and a minute capacitor causes the storage of one ing rejection functionality. This is
drop in current flow. This change is
detected by the level switch’s inter- Coating Vessel Wall
nal circuitry and translated into a Shield (+5 V)
change in the relay state of the level
switch. In the case of continuous
level detectors (vertical probes), the
output is not a relay state, but a Current Path
Insulation Measuring
scaled analog signal. Through Level
Section (+5 V)
The total area is the combined No Current Flow
area of the level sensor probe and
the area of the conductive vessel
wall (A = A1 + A2), and the distance (D) Figure 8-3: Coating Rejection Design
is the shortest distance between the coulomb of electric energy. A pico- required when the process material is
sensor probe and the vessel wall. farad is one trillionth of that, and the wet or sticky and likely to cause
Both of these values are fixed. sensitivity of an accurate capacitance permanent coating. Build-up immu-
Therefore, when the probe is no detector is 0.5 pF. This is the minimum nity is provided by the addition of a

8 RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation

second active section of probe and a used to suspend the probe up to 15 m • Electronics & Housings
second insulator (Figure 8-3). This sec- (50 ft) (Figure 8-4B). Most capacitance The electronic circuitry of the probe
ond active section (the driven shield) level sensors are provided with I to performs the functions of: 1) rectifying
is driven at the same potential and 1-H in NPT mounting connectors. The and filtering the incoming power, 2)
frequency as the measuring probe. matching female coupling is usually generating the radio frequency signal,
Because current cannot flow between welded to the vessel wall and the 3) measuring the changes in current
equal potentials, the measuring probe capacitance probe is screwed into the flow, and 4) driving and controlling
interface devices such as relays,
analog signal generators and display
meters. The circuitry is usually of solid
state design and provided with poten-
tiometer adjustments for setting sen-
sitivity and time delays.
Because the level sensor will ulti-
mately drive an external device, it is
advisable to evaluate for system
Capacitance probes typically are coated with Teflon® (shown), Kynar, or polyethylene compatibility the number of relays
required, their capacities, or the
does not sense material build-up mating connector. Low profile capac- analog signals required, time delays,
between the probe and vessel wall. itance sensors also are available and power supply requirements.
Typical insertion lengths of stan- (Figure 8-4C) and are flange-mounted. More advanced microprocessor-
dard capacitance probes range from In applications where the vessel is based units are self-calibrating; sen-
7 to 16 in. These probes typically are non-conductive and unable to form sitivity and time delay adjustments
side-mounted (Figure 8-4A). Vertical the return path for the RF signal, a are under pushbutton control.
probes can be extended by solid rods second probe placed parallel to the These units are often supplied with
up to a length of 1.2 to 1.5 m (4 to 5 ft), active one or a conductive strip can self-test capability and built-in tem-
or a steel cable with a weight can be be installed. perature compensation.

Suggested Baffle Types

1-14" NPT
25 mm
Pipe Section Steel Plates 115 mm (4.5")
175 mm
(7") Flexible Cable 15 m (50') Max.
D 95 mm Specified
(3.75") Length 50 mm
(2") Flange
Cable Weight
200 mm (7.8")

1-14" NPT Vessel Wall

A) Horizontal B) Vertical C) Low Profile

Figure 8-4: Design and Installation of Capacitance Level Sensors

RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation 8

The more advanced designs are with time delays for filtering out • The Dielectric Constant
also two-wire, intrinsically safe, and false readings caused by material The dielectric constant of the process
supply your choice of standard 4-20 shifts or splashing liquids. In addition, material is the most important aspect
mA or digitally enhanced output the feature of failsafe selectability of the process data. The higher the
using the HART (Highway provides a predetermined state for difference between the dielectric
constants (of the process material and
Table 7: Dielectric Constants
the vapor space or between the two
DIELECTRIC CONSTANT DIELECTRIC CONSTANT layers in the case of an interface mea-
Acetic Acid
4.1 Phenol 4.3 surement), the easier the measure-
Asbestos 4.8 Polyethylene 4.5
ment. If the difference is low (K2-K1 <
Asphalt 2.7 Polypropylene 1.5
1.0 in Figure 8-2), a high sensitivity
Bakelite 5.0 Porcelain 5.7
Calcium Carbonate 9.1 Quartz 4.3 design (0.5 pF) must be used.
Cellulose 3.9 Rubber (Hard) 3.0 Each sensor has a capacitance
Ferrous Oxide 14.2 Sand 3.5
Glass 3.7 Sulphur 3.4 threshold, defined as the amount of
Lead Oxide 25.9 Sugar 3.0 capacitance change required to
Magnesium Oxide 9.7 Urea 3.5 cause a change in the sensor output.
Naphthalene 2.5 Zinc Sulfide 8.2
Nylon 45.0 Teflon® 2.0 The dielectric constant of a material
Paper 2.0 can change due to variations in tem-
LIQUIDS perature, moisture, humidity, materi-
°F/°C CONSTANT °F/°C CONSTANT al bulk density, and particle size. If
71/22 21.4 Heptane 68/20 1.9 the change in dielectric constant
Ammonia -27/-33 22.4 Hexane 68/20 1.9
results in a greater capacitance
Aniline 32/0 7.8 Hydrogen Chloride 87/28 4.6
change than the calibrated capaci-
Benzene 68/20 2.3 Iodine 224/107 118.0
Benzil 202/94 13.0 Kerosene 70/21 1.8 tance threshold of the sensor, a false
Bromine 68/20 3.1 Methanol 77/25 33.6 reading will result. This condition can
Butane 30/-1 1.4 Methyl Alcohol 68/20 33.1
Carbon Tetrachloride 68/20 2.2 Methyl Ether 78/26 5.0 usually be corrected by reducing the
Castor Oil 60/16 4.7 Mineral Oil 80/27 2.1 sensitivity (increasing the capaci-
Chlorine 32/0 2.0 Naphthalene 68/20 2.5 tance threshold) of the sensor.
Chloroform 32/0 5.5 Octane 68/20 2.0
Cumene 68/20 2.4 Pentane 68/20 1.8 As shown in connection with
Cyclohexane 68/20 2.0 Phenol 118/47 9.9 Figure 8-3, sensitivity can be
Dimethylheptane 68/20 1.9 Phosgene 32/0 4.7 increased by increasing the probe
Dimethylpentane 68/20 1.9 Propane 32/0 1.6
Dowtherm 70/21 3.3 Pyridine 68/20 12.5 length (A) or by decreasing the size
Ethanol 77/25 24.3 Styrene 77/25 2.4 of the gap (D). Either or both changes
Ethyl Acetate 68/20 6.4 Sulphur 752/400 3.4 will minimize the effect of dielectric
Ethyl Benzene 68/20 2.5 Toluene 68/20 2.4
Ethyl Benzene 76/24 3.0 Urethane 74/23 3.2 constant fluctuations or increase
Ethyl Ether 68/20 4.3 Vinyl Ether 68/20 3.9 sensitivity to low dielectrics. It is
Ethylene Chloride 68/20 10.5 Water 32/0 88.0 usually more practical to specify a
Formic Acid 60/16 58.5 Water 68/20 80.0
Freon 12 70/21 2.4 Water 212/100 48.0 longer probe than to decrease the
Glycol 68/20 41.2 Xylene 68/20 2.4 distance (D) from the vessel wall.
When the probe is installed from the
Addressable Remote Transducer) the relay output in the event of a side (Figure 8-4A), D is fixed, whereas if
protocol. Accuracy (including linearity, power failure or malfunction. the probe is inserted from the top of
hysteresis, and repeatability, but Sensor housings are typically the tank, D can be changed (if other
excluding temperature and supply made from cast aluminum, steel, or considerations permit) by moving the
voltage effects) is typically 0.25% of synthetic materials such as glass- probe closer to the wall of the vessel.
range. Minimum span is 4 pF, and the reinforced nylon. Most housings are If the same vessel will hold differ-
upper range limit (URL) is 2,500 pF. suitable for outdoor installations in ent materials at different times, the
Level switches are usually provided dusty or wet environments. capacitance sensor must be

8 RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation

equipped with local or remote recal-

ibration capability.
Recommended Not Recommended Light density materials under 20
A Good Probe Coverage Poor Probe Coverage lb/ft3 and materials with particle
sizes exceeding H in. in diameter can
be a problem due to their very low
dielectric constants (caused by the
large amount of air space between
particles). These applications might
not be suited for capacitance-type
level measurement.
Out of Main Flow In Main Flow

B • Application Considerations
Materials that are conductive (water-
based liquids with a conductivity of
100 micromhos/cm or more) can
cause a short circuit between a bare
Probes Probes
Do Not Touch the stainless steel probe and the vessel
Touch the Vessel Structure wall. As the liquid level drops, the
Vessel Structure
probe remains wetted, providing a
C conductive path between the probe
and the vessel wall. The faster the level
Complete Probe changes, the more likely this false indi-
Protruding into Material
cation is to occur. It is advisable to use
Teflon® or Kynar insulator coating on
the conductive probe surface when
Portion of Probe the process fluid is conductive.
Within Mounting Neck Temperature affects both the sen-
sor components inside the vessel

(active probes and insulators) and the
electronic components and housing
outside. An active probe is typically
made from stainless steel and, as
such (unless it is coated), it is suitable
Material Material Can for most applications. Probe insula-
Will Fall Away Build Up, Creating tors can be Teflon®, Kynar, or ceramic,
A False Signal
and should be selected for the oper-
E ating temperature of the application.
The housing and the electronics are
affected by both the internal and
external vessel temperatures.
Ambient temperature limits usually
are specified by the manufacturer,
but heat conduction from a high-
Sensors Acceptable (> 18") Sensors Too Close (< 18") temperature process is more difficult
to evaluate. Heat conduction can be
reduced by using an extended
Figure 8-5: Capacitance Probe Installation Recommendations
mounting coupling or one made of a

RF/Capacitance Level Instrumentation 8

low thermal conductivity material. If the probe and insulator. When mea- bridge between the active probe and
such methods are insufficient, the suring low-dielectric materials, it's the vessel wall. In addition, the probe
electronics may be mounted up to important that the entire probe be should not be mounted at an upward
20 ft away and connected via coaxial covered, not just the tip (Figure 8- angle (Figure 8-5D), to avoid material
cable. The cable’s inherent capaci- 5C). When rod or cable extensions build-up.
tance, however, reduces the overall are used, allow for 8-12 in. of active If more than one capacitance level
sensitivity of the system. probe coverage. sensor is mounted in the vessel, a min-
Housings must also be compati- Install the probe so that it does imum distance of 18 in. should be pro-
ble with the requirements for haz- not contact the vessel wall (Figure 8- vided between the probes (Figure 8-5E).
ardous, wash-down, wet, and/or 5B) or any structural elements of the Closer than that and their electro-
dusty environments. Explosion- vessel. If a cable extension is used, magnetic fields might interfere. If a
proof environments may require the allow for swinging of the cable as the capacitance probe is installed through
housing to be certified. In addition, material level in the vessel rises, so the side wall of a vessel and the
the active probe might need to be that the plumb bob on the end of weight of the process material acting
intrinsically safe. the cable does not touch the vessel on the probe is sometimes excessive,
If the process material is corrosive wall. The probe should not be a protective baffle should be installed
to stainless steel, the probe should mounted where material can form a above the sensor (Figure 8-4A). T
be coated with Kynar or Teflon® for
protection. Ryton is a good choice
for abrasive materials, and, for food References & Further Reading
grade or sanitary applications, stain- • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
less steel and Teflon® are a good Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
probe-insulator combination. • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
Installation Considerations • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela Liptak, Third Edition, CRC Press, 1995.
The capacitance probe should be • Instrumentation for Process Measurement and Control, Third Edition, N.
mounted in such a way that its A. Anderson, Chilton, 1980.
operation is unaffected by incom- • Measurement and Control of Liquid Level, C. H. Cho, Instrument Society
ing or outgoing material flow of America, 1982.
(Figure 8-5A). Material impacts can • Principles of Industrial Measurement for Control Applications, E. Smith,
cause false readings or damage to Instrument Society of America, 1984.



Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation
Radar & Microwave
Ultrasonic Level Gages

Radiation-Based Level Gages Nuclear Level Gages

n entire class of level instru- microwaves range from 1-300 GHz) and level. Time of flight is the period
mentation devices is based by their power levels (radar is around between the transmission of the
on a material’s tendency to 0.01 mW/cm2, while microwaves range radar pulse and the reception of the
reflect or absorb radiation. from 0.1-5 mW/cm2). Because return echo. It is determined by the
For continuous level gages, the most microwaves operate at a higher energy radar detector, which is simultane-
common types of radiation used are level, they can withstand more coating ously exposed to both the sent and
radar/microwave, ultrasonic, and than can radar-type sensors. the reflected signal. The detector
nuclear. Optical electromagnetic Radar sensors consist of a trans- output is based on the difference. The
radiation also can be used, but this mitter, an antenna, a receiver with frequency-modulated (FM) signal
has found its way primarily into the
point-switch applications discussed
in the next chapter. Large Size Small Size Datum Point
The main advantage of a radia- Parabolic Dish Horn
Antenna Antenna
tion-based level gage is the absence
of moving parts and the ability to
detect level without making physi-
E d
cal contact with the process fluid.
Because they can in effect “see”
through solid tank walls, nuclear
radiation gages are perhaps the ulti-
mate in non-contact sensing. L
Because they require a gamma radi-
ation source and are relatively
expensive, however, nuclear gages A) B)
are often considered the level gage
of last resort. Figure 9-1: Electronics Calculate Time of Flight

Radar & Microwave signal processor, and an operator varies from 0 to 200 Hz as the dis-
In 1925, A. Hoyt Taylor and Leo Young interface. The transmitter is mounted tance to the process fluid surface
of the U.S. Navy used radar (RAdio on top of the vessel. Its solid-state varies between 0 and 200 ft. Because
Detection And Ranging) to measure oscillator sends out an electromag- this measurement takes place in the
the height of the earth’s ionosphere. netic wave (using a selected carrier frequency domain, it is reasonably
By 1934, they were developing radar frequency and waveform) aimed free of noise interference.
for Navy ships. In 1935, Robert downward at the surface of the The depth of the vapor space (the
Watson-Watt of England used radar process fluid in the tank. The fre- distance between the datum point
to detect aircraft. The first radar level quency used is typically 10 GHz. and the level in the tank, identified as
sensors were introduced in 1976, but The signal is radiated by a parabolic “d” in Figure 9-1B) is calculated from
they did not become economically dish or horn-type antenna (Figure 9- the time of flight (t) and the speed of
competitive until a decade later. 1A) toward the surface of the process light (c = 186,000 miles/sec):
Both radar signals and microwaves liquid (Figure 1B). A portion is reflect-
travel at the speed of light, but are ed back to the antenna, where it is d = t/2c
distinguished by their frequencies collected and routed to the receiver.
(FM radio broadcast frequency Here, a microprocessor calculates The level (L in Figure 9-1B) is calculated
is from 88 to 108 MHz, while the time of flight and calculates the by figuring the difference between

Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation 9

the total tank height (E) and the • Contact & Non-Contact Radar to be partially reflected. The time-of-
vapor space depth (d): Non-contact radar gages either use flight is then measured (Figure 9-2B).
pulsed radar waves or frequency- The unreflected portion travels on to
L = E-d modulated continuous waves the end of the probe and provides a
(FMCW). In the first, short-duration zero-level reference signal. Contact
Knowing the signal velocity (c) and the radar pulses are transmitted and the radar technology can be used on liq-
dielectric constant (dc) of the vapor target distance is calculated using uids and on small-grained bulk solids
(that is, the relative ability of the vapor the transit time. The FMCW sensor with up to 20-mm grain size.
to oppose and reflect electromagnetic sends out continuous frequency- Reflection-type microwave switch-
waves), the velocity of the radar wave modulated signals, usually in succes- es measure the change in amplitude
transmission (V) can be calculated: sive (linear) ramps. The frequency of a reflected signal (Figure 9-3A). Air

V = c/(dc)0.5
Cutaway View of Cutaway View of
Parabolic Dish Horn Antenna
• Antenna Designs and Mounting

The two commonly used antennas are
the horn and the parabolic dish anten-
na. When the radar level gage sends
out its signal, the microwaves spread
out. The larger the antenna diameter, Process
the smaller the divergence angle and Seal
Tank Nozzle
the greater the signal strength (Figure
9-1A). The disadvantages of smaller A) Non-Contact Tank Ceiling B) Contact
antennas include higher beam spread-
ing and the correspondingly increased
Figure 9-2: Radar-Based Antenna Installations
possibility of reflection from obsta-
cles within the tank. On the positive difference caused by the time delay and vapors return a small percentage
side, there is a greater chance that the between transmittal and reception of the signal because of their low
emitted beam will be reflected back indicates the distance. dielectric constants, while high
to the detector. Therefore, alignment Radar beams can penetrate plas- dielectric materials such as water
of the sensor is not as critical. tic and fiberglass; therefore, non- return almost all the signal. More sen-
Large antennas generate a more contact radar gages can be isolated sitive switches can distinguish liquid-
focused signal, helping to eliminate from the process vapors by a seal. liquid or liquid-solid interfaces having
noise interference from flat and hor- The seal can be above the parabolic as little as 0.1 difference in dielectric
izontal metal surfaces. On the other disc (Figure 9-1A) or can totally iso- constant. Low dielectric materials like
hand, they are more prone to errors late the sensor (Figure 9-2A). The plastic pellets (dielectric 1.1) can be
caused by unwanted reflections from beam’s low power allows for safe measured if the particle diameter is
turbulent or sloping surfaces. A fully installation in both metallic and less than 0.1 in (larger than that, exces-
isolated antenna mounted outside non-metallic vessels. Radar sensors sive beam scattering occurs).
the tank (Figures 9-2 and 9-4) pro- can be used when the process mate- The beam-breaker switch sends a
vides both sealing and thermal isola- rials are flammable or dirty and microwave beam from a transmitter
tion. If the antenna is positioned when the composition or tempera- to a receiver located on the opposite
below the process seal, it is exposed ture of the vapor space varies. side of the tank. When the beam is
to the process vapors, but gains the Contact radar gages send a pulse blocked, the signal is weakened
advantages of stronger signal ampli- down a wire to the vapor-liquid inter- (Figure 9-3B). Beam-breaker align-
tudes and suitability for higher oper- face. There, a sudden change in the ment is not critical, and separation
ating pressures. dielectric constant causes the signal distance can be up to 100 ft.

9 Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation

Both reflection and beam-breaker advantages. For example, ultrasonic sound in atmospheric air is 340 m/s or
microwave switches are typically used sensors are affected by the composi- 762 mph. At that same temperature, an
in applications where it is desirable tion of the vapor space. On the other ultrasonic pulse travels through water
not to penetrate the tank. These non- hand, ultrasonic sensors perform at 1,496 m/s or 3,353 mph. If the air is
intrusive sensors send electromagnet- better in dirty applications, or with heated to 100°C, the speed of sound
ic radio waves through plastic, ceramic solids when the grain size is larger rises to 386 m/s. Indeed, the speed of
or glass windows, or through fiber- than 20 mm. sound is proportional to the square
glass or plastic tank walls. root of temperature. At near ambient
Ultrasonic Level Gages temperatures, the speed rises by 0.6
• Advantages & Limitations The origin of ultrasonic level instru- m/s per each 1°C increase, correspond-
The reflective properties of the mentation goes back to the echome- ing to an increase of 0.18%/°C.
process material affect the returned ters used in measuring the depth of Ultrasonic level switches (point
radar signal strength. Whereas liquids wells by firing a blank shell and tim- sensors) operate by detecting either
have good reflectivity characteristics, ing the return of the echo. SONAR dampening of ultrasonic oscillation or
solids do not. Radar can detect the detectors used in naval navigation by sensing the absorption or transmis-
liquid level under a layer of light dust also predate industrial applications sion of an ultrasonic pulse. Ultrasonic
or airy foam, but if the dust particle of this principle. level transmitters measure actual dis-
size increases, or if the foam or dust The frequency range of audible tance by issuing an ultrasonic pulse
gets thick, it will no longer detect the sound is 9-10 kHz, slightly below the and measuring the time required for
liquid level. Instead, the level of the 20-45 kHz range used by industrial the reflected echo to be received.
foam or dust will be measured. level gages. The velocity of an ultra-
Internal piping, deposits on the sonic pulse varies with both the sub- • Ultrasonic Transducers
antenna, multiple reflections, or stance through which it travels and The transducer that generates the
reflections from the wall can all inter- with the temperature of that sub- ultrasonic pulse is usually piezoelec-
fere with the proper operation of a stance. This means that if the speed tric, although in the past electrostatic
radar sensor. Other sources of inter- of sound is to be used in measuring a units also were used. An electrostatic
ference are rat-holing and bridging of level (distance or position), the sub- transducer is constructed of a thin,
solids, as well as angled process stance through which it travels must flexible gold-plated plastic foil,

Detector Microwave Microwave
Reflected Transmitted
Transmitter Beam Receiver

Microwave Beam Microwave
Microwave Window Window

A) Reflection B) Beam-Breaker

Figure 9-3: Microwave Switches Send Pulses Through a Window or Tank Wall
material surfaces that can reflect the be well known and its temperature stretched over an aluminum back-
radar beam away from the receiver. variations must be measured and plate and held in place by a leaf
In comparison to other radiation compensated for. spring. This design was used in early
reflection sensors, radar has some At room temperature, the speed of Polaroid auto-focus cameras and is

Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation 9

still utilized in clean environments. receiver elements (Figure 9-4A). Most determine the volume of liquid.
Piezoelectric transducers utilize often, however, a single transducer is If it is desired to measure the

Ground Level


Brine Pipe



A) Returned Echo Timing B) Signal Absorption C) Contact

Figure 9-4: Ultrasonic Level Installation Configurations

ceramic or polymer crystals vibrated cycled on and off at regular intervals height of the liquid column directly,
at their natural frequency. These to listen for the reflected echo (Figure the transducer can be mounted in
units are much more rugged, can 9-4A). When mounted on the top of the bottom of the tank (Figure 9-4A).
withstand wash-down pressures of the tank, the sensor detects the depth However, this configuration exposes
1,200 psig and can conform to of the vapor space. Accurate knowl- the transducer to the process fluid
NEMA-6P (IEC IP67) standards. and limits accessibility for mainte-
Generally, the larger the diameter nance. Alternately, the transducer
of the transducer, the longer the can be mounted on the outside of
range and the lower the frequency. the wall of the vessel bottom, but
This is because, after releasing an the ultrasonic pulse is likely to be
ultrasonic pulse, the transducer needs substantially weakened by the
time for the vibration to settle. The absorbing and dispersing effects of
oscillation frequency is inversely pro- the tank wall (Figure 9-4A).
portional to the element’s diameter, Stagnant, unagitated liquids and
so smaller diameter transducer ele- solids consisting of large and hard
ments generate higher frequencies. particles are good reflectors, and
Standard transducers have a beam therefore good candidates for ultra-
angle of about 8°, require a connec- sonic level measurement. Fluff,
tion size between G in and 2.5 in NPT, foam, and loose dirt are poor reflec-
and are suited for operating tempera- tors, and dust, mist, or humidity in
tures in the range of -20 to 60°C (-30 the vapor space tend to absorb the
to 140°F). Accuracy is typically within ultrasonic pulse. The ultrasonic sig-
0.25-0.5% of full range, up to about 30 nal also is attenuated by distance. If
ft. Output typically is 4-20 mA with a a 44-kHz sound wave is traveling in
12-amp relay output. dry, clean ambient air, its sound
power drops by 1-3 decibels (dB) for
• Level Transmitter Configurations Figure 9-5: Calibration Target each meter of distance traveled.
The ultrasonic level sensor assembly edge of the shape of the tank’s cross- Therefore it is important, particularly
can consist of separate transmitter and section is required in order to when measuring greater depths,

9 Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation

that the transducers generate a time it takes for the echo to return which, through multiplexing, can
strong and well-focused ultrasonic is an indication of the location of reduce the unit costs of obtaining
pulse (Figure 9-4B). the interface (Figure 9-4C). level measurements.
It is also desirable that the surface
be both flat and perpendicular to the • Special Features • Level Switches
sound wave. In liquid-level applica- Most modern ultrasonic instruments When it is sufficient to detect the pres-
tions, the aiming angle must be with- include temperature compensation, ence or absence of level at a particular
in 2 degrees of the vertical. If the sur- filters for data processing and elevation, dampened or absorption-
face is agitated or sloping (as in the response time, and some even pro- type level switches can be considered.
case of solids), the echo is likely to vide self-calibration. Figure 9-5 illus- In the dampened design, a piezoelec-
be dispersed. Therefore, the key to trates a fixed target assembly that tric crystal vibrates the sensor face at

% Transmission

6 Steel
5 SG=7.6 SG=1.5
3 Aluminum SG=2.0
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30
Thickness - Inches

Figure 9-6: Transmission of Gamma Rays Generated by Cesium 137

successful ultrasonic level sensor provides a point reference to auto- its resonant frequency. The vibration is
installations is the careful analysis of matically recalibrate the level sensor. dampened when the probe face is sub-
the reflection, propagation, and Multiple calibration targets can be merged in process fluid. As shown in
absorption characteristics of the provided by calibration ridges in Figure 9-3A, these switches can be
tank’s contents. sounding pipes. This can guarantee mounted outside or inside the tank,
When detecting the interface measurement accuracy of within above or below the liquid level. The
between two liquids, such as the 5 mm over a distance of 30 meters. probe can be horizontal or vertical.
hydrocarbon/brine interface in a Intelligent units can perform These switches are limited to clean liq-
salt dome storage well, the trans- automatic self-calibration or convert uid installations because coating can
ducer is lowered down to the bot- the level in spherical, irregular, or hor- dampen the vibration. Solids may not
tom of the well. The ultrasonic izontal cylindrical tanks into actual provide sufficient dampening effects to
pulse is sent up through the heavy volume. They can also be used in actuate the switch.
brine layer to the interface. The multi-tank or multi-silo installations, In the absorption-type level switch,

Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation 9

one piezoelectric crystal serves as a current outputs are also used. a seemingly solid, impenetrable mass
transmitter and another as the receiver. The presence or absence of an of matter. In the passage, however,
When the gap between them is filled interface between clean liquids can the gamma rays lost some of their
with liquid, the sonic wave passes be measured by inserting an absorp- intensity. The rays were predictably
from one crystal to the other. When tion (gap) probe at a 10° angle below affected by the specific gravity and
vapors fill the gap, however, the ultra- the horizontal. In this configuration, as total thickness of the object, and by
sonic pulse does not reach the long as the probe is immersed in the the distance between the gamma ray
source and the detector.
For example, Figure 9-6 shows
Nonionizing Ionizing that, if radiation from Cesium 137 is
Photon Energy eV passing through an 3-in thick steel
object, 92% of the radiation energy
10-10 10-5 100 105 1010
will be absorbed and only 8% will be
transmitted. Therefore, if the observ-
Ultraviolet er can hold all variables except thick-
Waves Cosmic ness constant, the amount of gamma
Radio Waves Infrared Gamma Rays transmission can be used to measure
Rays the thickness of the object. Assuming
Visible X-Rays that the distance between the source
and detector does not change, one
can make accurate measurements of
either thickness (level), or, if thick-
105 100 10-5 10-10 10-15 ness is fixed, then of the density of a

Wavelength cm process material.

Figure 9-7: Wavelengths and Photon Energies • Radiation Sources

The development of nuclear level
receiver. The crystals can be mounted heavy or light liquid, the ultrasonic sensors began when this technology
on opposite sides of the tank, con- pulse will reach the receiver. When moved from the lab to the industrial
tained in the fingers of a fork-shaped the interface moves into the gap, environment. This necessitated the
sensor, or located on the two sides of however, it is reflected away and does design and manufacture of suitable
one or more 0.5-in gaps in a horizon- not reach the receiver. detectors and the mass production
tal or vertical probe. When the When a sludge or slurry interface is of radioisotopes. Both occurred in
process fluid is a sludge or slurry, it is to be detected or when the thickness the 1950s.
desirable to provide a large gap of the light layer is of interest, an The penetrating power of nuclear
between the transmitter and receiver ultrasonic gap sensor can be attached radiation is identified by its photon
in order to make sure that sticky or to a float. As long as the absorption energy, expressed in electron volts (eV)
coating fluids will drain completely characteristics of the two layers differ, and related to wavelength (Figure 9-7).
from the gap when the level drops. the sensor will signal if the layer is The most common isotope used for
Typical accuracy of these switches thicker or thinner than desired. level measurement is Cesium 137,
is H-in or better. Connection size is which has a photon energy level of
I-in NPT. Operating temperature Nuclear Level Sensors 0.56 MeV. Another isotope that is
range is 40-90°C (100 to 195°F) (with In 1898 Marie Curie discovered radi- occasionally used is Cobalt 60, which
special units capable of readings up um by observing that certain ele- has an energy level of 1.33 MeV. While
to 400°C/750°F) and operating pres- ments naturally emit energy. She the greater penetrating power of this
sure to 1000 psig. Standard output is named these emissions gamma rays. higher energy radiation appears attrac-
a 5 or 10 amp double-pole/double- Gamma rays exhibited mysterious tive at first, the penalty is that it also
throw (DPDT) relay, but voltage and properties—they could pass through has a shorter half-life. As any isotope

9 Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation

decays, it loses strength—the time it above the liquid, as the level rises in the This can be illustrated by an example:
takes to lose half of its strength is tank, the intensity at the detector
called its half-life. drops. When the tank is full, radiation • Source Sizing
The half-life of Cobalt 60 is 5.3 intensity is practically zero. A point source of 10 mCi Cesium 137
years. This means that, in 5.3 years, the When used as a tank level sensor, (source constant for Cesium 137 is
activity of a 100 millicurie (mCi) radiation must pass through several lay- K=0.6) is installed on a high-pressure
Cobalt 60 source will be reduced to ers of material before reaching the water tank having H-in steel walls
50 mCi. (One mCi is defined as the detector. At the detector, the maximum (Figure 9-9). Usually, two criteria need
rate of activity of one milligram of radiation must be less than some safety to be satisfied: First, the radiation
Radium 226.) When used for level limit (such as 5 mr/hr) to avoid the need intensity at the detector must drop by
measurement, the continuous loss of for “posting.” Other criteria can be used, at least 50% as the level rises from 0-
source strength requires not only con- such as keeping a yearly dosage under 5 100%. The second and more important
tinuous compensation, but, eventually rems (roentgen + equivalent + man). If criterion is that the maximum radiation
(in the case of Cobalt 60, in about 5 somebody is exposed to radiation dose at the detector (when the tank is
years), the source must be replaced. throughout the year, such a dosage will empty) must not exceed the safety
This means not only the expense of result from exposure to radiation at an limit (say, 2.4 mr/hr). It must exceed 1.0
purchasing a new source, but also the intensity of 0.57 mr/hr, while if an oper- mr/hr, however, in order to actuate the
cost of disposing of the old one. ator is exposed for only 40 hrs/wk, 5 intended ion chamber detector.
In contrast, the 33-year half-life of rem/yr will correspond to what that First the in air intensity (Da in
Cesium 137 is long enough that the
source may well outlive the process.
Another likelihood is that technologi-
cal advances will increase the sensitiv- 250
ity of the detector faster than the rate
at which the source is decaying. This 200
provides users the option of replacing
or upgrading the detector while keep-
ing the source in place for the future. Yr
Accumulated Rems

Unsafe s/
• Radiation Safety 100 te:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) limits radiation intensity to a 50 Safe
maximum of 5 milliroentgens per hour
(mr/hr) at a distance of 12 in from the 0
nuclear gage. If it is more, the area 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Operator's Age
requires Radiation Area posting. The
distance of 12 in is critical, because radi-
Figure 9-8: Accumulation of Radiation Exposure
ation intensity decreases by the inverse
square of distance. Nuclear level gages person would receive if exposed to 2.4 mr/hr) is calculated at the detector,
are sized to provide radiation intensity mr/hr in the work area. As it is the total for the condition when there is no
at the detector that exceeds the mini- lifetime dosage of radiation exposure tank between the source and receiver.
mum required, but is under the 5 mr/hr that really matters (maximum of 250 Assume distance (d) is 48 in:
maximum. For ion chamber detectors, rems), the acceptability of the 5 rem/yr,
the minimum is 1 mr/hr. For Geiger- or any other limit, is also a function of Da = 1000 K(mCi)/d2 =
Mueller switches, it is 0.5 mr/hr. And age (Figure 9-8). On the other hand, the 1000(0.6)(10)/482 = 2.6 mr/hr
for scintillation detectors, it is 0.1-0.2 radiation at the detector must still be
mr/hr. Because the nuclear gage is sufficient to produce a usable change in Because the source is shielded in all
basically measuring the vapor space detector output when the level changes. directions except towards the tank,

Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation 9

the operator who is working near the very much a function of the accurate trodes is applied. When the tube is
detector will receive the maximum knowledge of the installation details. exposed to gamma radiation, the gas
dosage when the tank is empty. The ionizes and the ionized particles carry
two H-in steel walls will reduce Da • Detector Options the current from one electrode to the
(% transmission of 1-in steel in Figure The simplest and oldest type of radia- other. The more gamma radiation
1 is 49%) to 0.49 x 2.6 = 1.27 mr/hr. tion detector is the Geiger-Muller reaches the gas in the tube, the more
This is below the allowable maxi- tube. This instrument is most often pulses are generated. The resulting
mum but above the minimum need- identified with the Geiger counters pulse rate is counted by the associated
ed by the detector. that make a loud and dramatic clicking electronic circuitry, which makes mea-
When the tank is full, the pres- sound when exposed to radiation. The surements in pulses per second.
ence of 30 in of water in the radia- working component of this detector is This detector can be used as a
tion path will reduce this maximum a metal cylinder that acts as one of the level switch if it is calibrated to
intensity to 0.045 mr/hr (0.035 x 1.9 electrodes and is filled with an inert engage or disengage a relay when
= 0.045). This reduction in intensity gas. A thin wire down the center acts radiation intensity indicates a high or
well exceeds the required 50% drop as the other electrode. Glass caps are low level condition. The G-M tube
needed for sensitive measurement.
Note that the source size could
have been cut in half if a Geiger-
Mueller detector were used. A scin-
tillation detector would reduce Clips and Vessel
source size 5- to 10-fold. Support Clip
The source size can also be
reduced by locating the source in the Radiation
tip of a probe inside the tank and
moving it relatively close to the wall. "U" Bolt
When large level ranges are to be
measured, a strip source can be used
instead of a point source. The accura- Source
and Plan View
cy of most nuclear level gages is Holder Detector
around 1% of range. If accounting
accuracy is desired, the source and Max. Liquid Level
the detector can both be attached to
45 Max
motor driven tapes and positioned at Radiation
the level (or at the interface level, if
the tank contains two liquids).
Fortunately, today’s computers can Min. Liquid Level
easily crunch the numbers and formu-
las of any combination of geometry
and design criteria. The biggest chal- Platform
lenge is not the calculation, but the 30"
obtaining of accurate inputs for the
calculations. Therefore, it is very
important that your vessel’s wall mate-
rials, thicknesses, other tank compo-
Figure 9-9: Radiation Source Sizing
nents such as baffles, agitator blades
or jackets, and all distances be accu- used as insulators, and a high voltage detector can only be used as a single
rately determined. In short, the perfor- (700-1000 vdc) nearly sufficient to point detection device. Its advan-
mance of a nuclear gage installation is cause current flow between the elec- tages include its relatively low cost,


9 Radiation-Based Level Instrumentation

small size, and high reliability. as the intensity of gamma radiation measured by nuclear gages are among
The ion chamber detector is a con- increases. The photons travel through the most dangerous, highly pressur-
tinuous level device. It is a 4 to 6-in the clear plastic scintillator medium ized, toxic, corrosive, explosive, and
diameter tube up to twenty feet long to a photo multiplier tube, which carcinogenic materials around.
filled with inert gas pressurized to converts the light photons into elec- Because the nuclear gage “sees”
several atmospheres. A small bias trons. The output is directly propor- through tank walls, it can be installed
voltage is applied to a large elec- tional to the gamma energy that is and modified while the process is run-
trode inserted down the center of striking the scintillator. ning—without expensive down time
the ion chamber. As gamma energy Scintillators are available in a mul- or chance accidental release.
strikes the chamber, a very small sig- titude of shapes, sizes, and lengths. Because the installation of nuclear
nal (measured in picoamperes) is One of the latest is a fiber optic sensors requires a Nuclear
detected as the inert gas is ionized. cable that allows one to increase Regulatory Commission (NRC)
This current, which is proportional to detector sensitivity by installing license, associated procedures are
the amount of gamma radiation more filaments in the bundle. designed to guarantee that the
received by the detector, is amplified Another advantage of the fiber optic installation will be safe. The best way
and transmitted as the level mea- cable is that it is manufactured in to look at the safety aspects of
surement signal. long lengths flexible enough to radioactive gaging is to compare the
In level measurement applications, form-fit to the geometry of the ves- well defined and understood risk
the ion chamber will receive the most sel. This simplifies the measurement represented by exposing the opera-
radiation and, therefore, its output will of levels in spherical, conical, or tors to radiation against the possibly
be highest when the level is lowest. As other oddly shaped vessels. larger risk of having an unreliable or
the level rises and the greater quantity inaccurate level reading on a danger-
of measurand absorbs more gamma • Nuclear Applications ous process.
radiation, the output current of the Radiation gages typically are consid- As detectors become more sensi-
detector decreases proportionally. ered when nothing else will work, or tive and are aided by computers,
The system is calibrated to read 0% when process penetrations required radiation source sizes and the result-
level when the detector current out- by a traditional level sensor present a ing radiation levels continue to drop.
put is its highest. 100% level is set to risk to human life, to the environ- Therefore, the safety of these instru-
match the lowest value of the output ment, or could do major damage to ments is likely to continue to
current. Non-linearities in between property. The liquids and bulk solids improve with time. T
can usually be corrected with the use
of linearizing software. This software
can correct for the effects of steam References & Further Reading
coils, agitator blades, baffles, stiffening • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
rings, jackets and other components Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
inside or outside the tank. • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
Scintillation counter detectors are Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
five to ten times more sensitive than • Automated Process Control Electronics, John Harrington, Delmar
ion chambers. They also cost more, Publishing Inc., 1989.
yet many users are willing to accept • Fundamentals of Radar Techniques for Level Gauging, Detlef Brumbi,
the added expense because it allows Krohne Metechnik GmbH & Co. KG, 1995.
them either to use a smaller source • Industrial Applications of Radar Technology for Continuous Level
size or to obtain a more sensitive Measurement, W. L. Hendrick, Instrument Society of America, 1992.
gage. When gamma energy hits a scin- • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela Liptak, Third Edition, CRC Press, 1995.
tillator material (a phosphor), it is con- • Process/Industrial Instruments and Controls Handbook, 4th Edition,
verted into visible flashes comprised Douglas M. Considine, McGraw-Hill, 1993.
of light photons (particles of light). • Theoretical Nuclear Physics Volume I: Nuclear Structure, New York, A.
These photons increase in number deShalit, H. Feshback,: John Wiley & Sons, 1974.




Specialty Level Switches
Thermal Switches
Vibrating Switches
Optical Switches
Specialty Level Switches
hermal, vibrating, and optical and can be mounted from the tops or after each high level episode.
level switches are specialty sides of tanks. The low thermal con- Thermal switches can continue to
devices developed to solve ductivity of solids and the dusty work when lightly coated, but build-
specific level detection prob- atmospheres that are likely to exist in up does usually add a thermally insu-
lems. Typically, they are used in appli- the vapor space of solids bins tend to lating layer, ultimately slowing
cations that either cannot be handled exclude the use of optical and ther- response time.
by the more common float and probe- mal switches from most solids level Of the three level-switch designs
type devices, or when ultrasonic, measurement applications. discussed in this chapter, only the
nuclear, radar or microwave designs When solid materials rat-hole or laser-based optical level switch is
would be too sophisticated, expensive, bridge, few level sensors (except load appropriate for use in molten metal
or otherwise unsuited for the task.
All three types can be used to Heater
detect liquid levels or interfaces
between liquids. The optical level
switch is also suited for detecting Unheated
high foam levels, if it is spray washed
after each event. In some specialized
applications, all three of these
switches have been tuned to identify Heated
specific materials or to determine Probe
when a material reaches a particular O + DC Voltage
viscosity, density, opacity, or thermal
conductivity condition. To
All three level switch designs are Switch
Heated Probe
simple, straightforward, and reliable.
Although some can detect other
process properties besides level, Heater
their main purpose is to measure the
presence or absence of material at a Unheated Probe
particular level in a tank.
Figure 10-1: Thermal Conductivity Level Switch
These switches are good candi-
dates for use in multiple purpose cells or radiation devices) work well. level detection. Of the other level
processing equipment where they The performance of vibrating probe sensor technologies, refractory floats,
must be compatible with a variety of and tuning-fork sensors is also ques- refractory bubbler tubes, and proxim-
process materials and process condi- tionable in such services, but their ity-type capacitance detectors also
tions. They do not require recalibra- vibrating nature can help to collapse are used in molten metal service.
tion between batches and can be the bridges or to break up the rat-holes.
cleaned in place. Vibrating and tuning fork probes Thermal Switches
Vibrating probe-type sensors are can tolerate a fair amount of materi- Thermal level switches sense either the
often used to detect solid materials al build-up, or, if coated with Teflon®, difference between the temperatures
such as powders, bulk solids, grain, can be self-cleaning in some less dif- of the vapor space and the liquid or,
flour, plastic granules, cement, and fly ficult services. Optical level switches more commonly, the increase in ther-
ash. They provide excellent perfor- are available with automatic washers mal conductivity as a probe becomes
mance as high or low level switches to remove the build-up of coating submerged in the process liquid.


10 Specialty Level Switches

One of the simplest thermal level typically 0.5 second and accuracy is suddenly increases. This is the level
switch designs consists of a temper- within 2 mm. In general, thermal level inside the mold. Using multiple sen-
ature sensor heated with a constant switches work best with non-coating sors spaced vertically, the system
amount of heat input. As long as the liquids and with slurries having 0.4-1.2 can determine the level of molten
probe is in the vapor space, the specific gravity and 1-300 cP viscosity. metal in the mold to within a frac-
probe remains at a high temperature, A third type of thermal switch tion of an inch.
because low-conductivity vapors do also uses two sensors inside the
not carry much heat away from the same vertical probe. One is mount- Vibrating Switches
probe. When the probe is sub- ed above the other and both are Vibrating level switches detect the
merged, the liquid absorbs more heat connected to a voltage source. dampening that occurs when a
and the probe temperature drops. When both are in the vapor or both vibrating probe is submerged in a
The switch is actuated when this in the liquid phase, the current flow process medium. The three types of
change in temperature occurs. vibrating sensors—reed, probe, and
Another type of thermal sensor tuning fork—are distinguished by
Pickup End Driver End
uses two resistance temperature their configurations and operating
detectors (RTDs), both mounted at frequencies (120, 200-400, and 85 Hz,
the same elevation. One probe is respectively). Their methods of oper-
heated and the other provides an ation and applications are similar.
unheated reference. The outputs of The reed switch consists of a paddle,
both sensors are fed into a a driver and a pickup (Figure 10-2).
Wheatstone bridge (Figure 10-1). The driver coil induces a 120-Hz
While the sensor is in the vapor Paddle Node vibration in the paddle that is
phase, the heated probe will be Figure 10-2: Vibrating Reed Switch damped out when the paddle gets
warmer than the reference probe, covered by a process material. The
and the bridge circuit will be unbal- through the two sensors is the same. switch can detect both rising and
anced. When both probes are sub- If, on the other hand, the lower one falling levels, and only its actuation
merged in the process liquid, their is in liquid and the upper in vapor, depth (the material depth over the
temperatures will approach that of the more current will flow through the paddle) increases as the density of
liquid. Their outputs will be nearly lower sensor. A current comparator the process fluid drops. The variation
equal and the bridge will be in balance. can detect this difference and signal in actuation depth is usually less than
This level switch is actuated when a that the sensor has reached the an inch. A reed switch can detect liq-
change in bridge balance occurs. vapor/liquid interface. uid/liquid, liquid/vapor, and
Since all process materials have a One interesting feature of this solid/vapor interfaces, and can also
characteristic heat transfer coeffi- design is that the sensor capsule can signal density or viscosity variations.
cient, thermal level switches can be be suspended by a cable into a tank or When used on wet powders, the
calibrated to detect the presence or well, and the sensor output can be vibrating paddle has a tendency to
absence of any fluid. Therefore, these used to drive the cable take-up motor. create a cavity in the granular solids.
switches can be used in difficult ser- In this fashion, the level switch can be If this occurs, false readings will
vices, such as interfaces, slurry, and used as a continuous detector of the result, because the sensor will con-
sludge applications. They can also location of the vapor/liquid interface. fuse the cavity with vapor space.
detect thermally conductive foams if Thermometers also can be used to It is best to use a reed switch on
spray-cleaned after each operation. detect level in higher temperature non-coating applications or to pro-
Thermal level and interface switches processes, such as measuring the vide automatic spray washing after
have no mechanical moving parts and level of molten steel in casting molds. each immersion in a sludge or slurry.
are rated for pressures up to 3,000 The thermometers do not actually Probe-type vibrating sensors are less
psig and process temperatures from touch the molten metal; instead, they sensitive to material build-up or coat-
-75 to 175°C (-100 to 350°F). When identify the place where the temper- ing. The vibrating probe is a round
detecting water level, response time is ature on the outside of the mold stainless steel element (resembling a


Specialty Level Switches 10

thermowell) that extends into the PVDF, polypropylene, stainless steel, non-contacting design.
material. If Teflon® coated and insert- carbon steel, and aluminum. They In a non-contacting, reflecting
ed at an angle, these devices tend to are available with Teflon® coatings or optical sensor, a beam of light is
be self-cleaning. Both the drive and in hygienic versions for sanitary aimed down at the surface of the
the sensor are piezoelectric ele- applications. process material. When the level of
ments: one causes the vibration and Vibrating sensors can be used to this surface rises to the setpoint of
the other measures it. When the ascertain liquid, solid, and slurry lev- the switch, the reflected light beam is
probe is buried under the process els. Reed switches can operate at detected by a photocell. Both the
LED light source and photodetector
are housed behind the same lens.
By adjusting the photocell or the
detection electronics, the sensor can
Receiver be calibrated to detect levels at dis-
Light tances 0.25 to 12 in below the sensor.
Prism LED Prism These reflective switches can measure
Light the levels of clear as well as translu-
Lost in
Liquid cent, reflective, and opaque liquids.
Some solids also can be detected. By
Liquid Below the Liquid Immersing using multiple photocells, a sensor
Sensing Prism the Sensing Prism can detect several levels.
Laser light also can be used when
Figure 10-3: Optical Level Switch making difficult level measurements,
material, its vibration is dampened pressures up to 3,000 psig, while tun- such as of molten metals, molten
and this decrease triggers the switch. ing forks and vibrating probes are glass, glass plate, or any other kind of
Vibrating probe sensors can be limited to 150 psig. Operating tem- solid or liquid material that has a
used to monitor powders, bulk peratures range from -100 to 150°C reflecting surface. If the receiver
solids, and granular materials such as (-150 to 300°F) and response time is module is motor driven, it can track
grain, flour, plastic pellets, cement, about 1 second. the reflected laser beam as the level
and fly ash. Their vibrating nature rises and falls, thereby acting as a
tends to minimize the bridging that Optical Switches continuous level transmitter.
occurs in solid materials. Tuning fork Using visible, infrared, or laser light, A refracting sensor relies on the
sensors are vibrated at about 85 Hz optical sensors rely upon the light principle that infrared or visible
by one piezoelectric crystal, while transmitting, reflecting, or refracting light changes direction (refracts)
another piezoelectric crystal detects properties of the process material when it passes through the interface
the vibration. As the process fluid when measuring its level. The optical between two media. When the sen-
rises to cover the tuning forks, the level switch can be of a contacting or sor is in the vapor phase, most of the
vibration frequency changes.
Like vibrating probes, tuning-fork
designs can be self-cleaning if
Teflon® coated and installed at an
angle. They can also be calibrated to
detect a wide range of materials,
including lubricating oils, hydraulic
fluids, water, corrosive materials,
sand, thick and turbulent fluids, pow-
ders, light granules, and pastes.
Tuning-fork sensors can be con-
structed with components made of Ultrasonic liquid level switches provide a 300:1 signal ratio from dry to wetted state.


10 Specialty Level Switches

light from the LED is reflected back encounter the sludge layer. peratures up to 125°C (260°F).
within a prism (Figure 10-3). When the Other transmission sensors rely on Response time is virtually immedi-
prism is submerged, most of the light the refraction principle utilizing an ate, and detection accuracy of most
refracts into the liquid, and the unclad, U-shaped fiber optic cable. A designs is within 1 mm. Optical level
amount of reflected light that reaches light source transmits a pulsed light switches are also designed for spe-
the receiver drops substantially. beam through the fiber cable, and cific or unique applications. For
Therefore, a drop in the reflected the sensor measures the amount of example, Teflon® optical level
light signal indicates contact with light that returns. If liquid covers the switches are available for sensing
the process liquid. cable, it will cause light to refract the level of ultra-pure fluids. Other
A refracting sensor cannot be used away from the cable. The use of fiber- unique designs include a level
with slurries or coating liquids, unless optics makes the system impervious switch that combines an optical
it is spray-washed after each submer- to electrical interference, and some with a conductivity-type level sen-
sion. Even a few drops of liquid on the designs are also intrinsically safe. sor to detect the presence of both
prism will refract light and cause erro- Optical sensors can operate at water (conductive) and hydrocar-
neous readings. Refracting sensors are pressures up to 500 psig and tem- bons (nonconductive). T
designed to be submerged in liquids;
therefore, any number of them can be
installed on a vertical pipe to detect a References & Further Reading
number of level points. • OMEGA Complete Flow and Level Measurement Handbook and
Transmission optical sensors send a Encyclopedia®, OMEGA Press, 1995.
beam of light across the tank. A • OMEGA Volume 29 Handbook & Encyclopedia, Purchasing Agents
sludge level sensor of this design uses Edition, OMEGA Press, 1995.
an LED and a photocell at the end of • Industrial Control Handbook, E.A. Parr, Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd., 1995.
a probe, located at the same eleva- • Instrument Engineer’s Handbook, Bela Liptak, Third Edition, CRC Press, 1995.
tion and separated by a few inches. To • Process/Industrial Instruments and Controls Handbook, 4th Edition,
find the sludge level, a mechanism (or Douglas M. Considine, McGraw-Hill, 1993.
an operator, manually) lowers the • The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 8th Edition,
probe into the tank until the sensors John H. Zifcak, McGraw-Hill, 1997.