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Feature Report

Advanced Thermal
Dispersion Mass Flowmeters Transmitter
A look at the principles
Flow sensor probe
of operation, installation Flow body

and calibration
qm qm
John G. Olin
Sierra Instruments, Inc.

hermal dispersion (TD) mass Flow conditioner Flow sensor conduit
flowmeters measure the mass (a) In-line configuration
flowrate of fluids (primarily
Flow sensor
gases) flowing through a closed
conduit, such as a pipe. This article
describes the operation and instal- Shoulder
lation of TD mass flowmeters, and
gives the reader information about Flow
what applications these meters are sensor
Fluid Open-ended
most suited for. Proccess temperature probe
fluid sensor
Background conduit
The first general description of TD
mass flowmeters is attributed to L.V. Flow sensor
King who, in 1914 [1], published his
famous King’s Law revealing how (b) Insertion configuration,
a heated wire immersed in a fluid
flow measures the mass velocity at
a point in the flow. He called his in- Fluid
strument a “hot-wire anemometer.” temperature
The first application of this tech-
nology was hot-wire and hot-film Velocity
anemometers and other light-duty
Figure 1. This diagram shows the
TD flow sensors used in fluid me- major components of in-line (a) and (c) Detail of flow sensor,
chanics research and as light-duty insertion (b) meter configurations of insertion meter shown
mass flowmeters and point velocity thermal dispersion mass flowmeters
instruments. This class of TD mass
flowmeters is described in Ref. 2. the surface of a heated velocity Engineers (ASME) has published
It was not until the 1960s and sensor immersed in the flow. Since separate national standards for
1970s when industrial-grade TD it is the molecules of the gas, which each type [3, 4].
mass flowmeters emerged that bear its mass, that carry away the Typical gases monitored by indus-
could solve the wide range of general heat, TD mass flowmeters directly trial TD mass flowmeters include:
industry’s more rugged needs for di- measure mass flowrate. Capillary- air, methane, natural gas, carbon
rectly measuring the mass flowrate tube thermal mass flowmeters con- dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, argon,
of air, natural gas and other gases stitute a second type of thermal helium, hydrogen, propane and
in pipes and ducts. That is the class mass flow technology, but their stack gases, as well as mixtures of
of instruments described here. principle of operation and their ap- these gases and mixtures of hydro-
TD mass flowmeters measure plications are sufficiently different carbon gases. Common applications
the heat convected into the bound- from TD mass flowmeters that the are: combustion air; preheated air;
ary layer of the gas flowing over American Society of Mechanical compressed air; fluid power; boilers;
44 Chemical Engineering february 2014
through the entire conduit is the
D temp
average mass velocity of the several
points multiplied by the total cross-
sectional area and the standard
Tubular mass density of the gas [6].
sheaths T2 T4
Types of flow sensors
Potting The flow sensor for the insertion
γ flowmeter shown in Figure 1c has
temp L temp a unique design incorporating an
T1 x open-ended probe with a shoulder.
T1 T3 T3
No Traditional insertion meters have
potting a shield with a closed end that can
material cause the flow over the velocity sen-
sor to be non-uniform and turbu-
Velocity Temperature Velocity Temperature lent. The open-ended probe shown
sensor sensor sensor sensor in Figure 1c protects the sensors
but does not have this problem. Ad-
(a) Two-temperature (b) Four-temperature
flow sensor flow sensor
ditionally, the probe in traditional
insertion meters has a constant di-
Figure 2. Two kinds of thermal-dispersion mass flow sensors are shown here ameter and no shoulder.
Whereas the largest portion of the
electric power plants; cooling, heat- line meters the flow sensor may not flow around such traditional inser-
ing, and mixing; drying of materi- have a shield. tion probes flows circumferentially
als; food and beverage industries; In-line. In-line flowmeters are ap- around the probe, a smaller frac-
natural gas distribution; aeration plied to pipes and ducts with pipe- tion flows axially down the probe,
and digester gas monitoring in size diameters typically ranging enters the window in the shield,
wastewater-treatment plants; co- from about 10 to 100 mm (0.25 to and passes over the velocity sen-
generation with biogas; fuel gas; 4.0 in.), but some manufacturers sor, causing it to measure a velocity
flare gas; semiconductor manufac- offer pipe sizes up to 300 mm (12.0 higher than the actual velocity in
turing; heating, ventilation and air in.) dia. Process connections include the flow conduit. Since the amount
conditioning; single and multipoint flanges, pipe threads and compres- of this secondary flow varies with
stack-gas monitoring; and chemical sion fittings. The built-in flow con- the depth of insertion into the flow
reactors. ditioner, described later, reduces the stream, its magnitude during flow
length of upstream straight pipe re- calibration may be different than
General description quired to achieve independence of that of the actual field application.
TD mass flowmeters directly mea- upstream flow disturbances. This can impair the accuracy of ve-
sure the mass flowrate of single- Insertion. Insertion flowmeters [5] locity measurement. The probe in
phase pure gases and gas mix- usually are applied to larger pipes, Figure 1c has a length of reduced
tures of known composition flowing ducts and other flow conduits hav- diameter and a shoulder just above
through pipes or other flow conduits. ing equivalent diameters typically the flow sensor that redirects this
As discussed in a later subsection, ranging from approximately 75 mm axial downwash so that it flows
they also have limited application to 5 m. Because insertion meters circumferentially around the probe
to single-phase liquids of known are more economical than in-line before it can pass over the veloc-
composition. In most of the follow- meters, they also have found wide ity sensor, thereby minimizing this
ing, we shall assume that the fluid use as flow switches. Compression source of inaccuracy.
is a gas, without the loss of applica- fittings and flanges are commonly Traditional sensors. Figure 2a
bility to liquids. Multivariable ver- used process connections. Insertion shows a traditional TD flow sensor
sions additionaly provide an output meters measure the mass velocity used in in-line and insertion mass
for gas temperature and also, but at a point in the conduit’s cross- flowmeters intended for industrial-
less commonly, of gas pressure. sectional area, but for applications grade applications. This flow sensor
TD mass flowmeters have two with smaller conduits, they may be has a velocity sensor and a separate
primary configurations: in-line flow calibrated to measure the total temperature sensor immersed in
and insertion. Figures 1a and 1b, mass flowrate through the conduit. the flow stream. For that reason,
respectively, show these two con- Multipoint insertion meters TD mass flowmeters are also named
figurations and their major com- measure the mass velocities at “immersible” thermal mass flowme-
ponents. Figure 1c shows the flow the centroids of equal areas in the ters. The velocity sensor has a single
sensor that is common to both con- cross-section of large pipes, ducts electrically self-heated temperature
figurations, although in smaller in- and stacks. The total mass flowrate sensor element located in its tip
Chemical Engineering february 2014 45
Feature Report qm and T outputs


that both heats the velocity sensor The outside tempera-

and measures its own average tem- ture external to the flow A/D
perature T1. The gas temperature sensor may be different
sensor has a single non-self-heated than the gas tempera-
Analog layer
temperature sensor element T3 lo- ture in the flow conduit.
cated in its tip that measures the For that reason, heat Voltage
gas temperature T. Because it has a can be conducted into sensing
R1 R2 R3 R4 wires
total of two temperature sensing el- or out of the stems of
ements, the flow sensor in Figure 2a the velocity sensor and
I1 I2
is called a “two-temperature” flow the temperature sensor.
sensor. The velocity sensor and the In the field, the heat
temperature sensor are mounted conducted in this man- Velocity Temperature
side-by-side. Each is enclosed in a ner through each stem sensor sensor
rugged, sealed, single-ended, cor- may be different from Figure 3. In the four-temperature microprocessor-
rosion-resistant metallic tube, usu- its value at the time of based system, the flowmeter drives the velocity sen-
ally composed of 316 stainless steel flow calibration if the sor so that the temperature difference ΔT = T1 – T is
or a nickel alloy. The introduction of outside temperatures maintained constant. The system automatically cor-
rects for changes in gas selection, gas temperature
this kind of rugged construction in are different. Addition- and gas pressure
the 1960s and 1970s is responsible ally, heat can be con-
for transforming thermal anemom- ducted from the hot velocity sensor ducted down the stem of the veloc-
eters into industrial-grade instru- to the cooler temperature sensor ity sensor. The T3 and T4 elements
ments. In traditional velocity sen- via their stems. Both effects are perform the same function for the
sors of the kind shown in Figure 2a, further complicated because they temperature sensor. The addition
the T1 sensor is potted into the tip depend on the mass flowrate. These of the T2 and T4 temperature sens-
of the tubular sheath. Typically, the phenomena are collectively called ing elements in the four-tempera-
potting, or filler material is ceramic “stem conduction.” Stem conduc- ture flow sensor facilitates correc-
cement or epoxy. Heat sink grease tion is a large fraction of the total tion for stem conduction, whatever
also has been used for this purpose. heat supplied to the velocity sensor the cause.
For higher accuracy and higher and is an unwanted quantity. Left The use of the potting material
stability applications, the tempera- uncorrected, stem conduction con- between the T1 element in Figure
ture sensing elements in the veloc- stitutes a major source of error in 2a and the internal surface of the
ity sensor and the temperature sen- measuring mass flowrate. Flow sen- sheath has potential long-term sta-
sor in Figures 2a and 2b are either sors with long stems have less stem bility problems because the potting
wire-wound or thin-film platinum conduction than those with short, material can crack or otherwise de-
resistance temperature detectors stubby stems. grade due to differences in the ther-
(RTDs) protected by a thin insula- Four-temperature sensor. Fig- mal expansion coefficients of the
tion layer of glass or ceramic. The ure 2b shows a TD flow sensor that potting material and the sheath ma-
electrical resistance of RTDs in- solves the stem conduction problem terial when exposed to gas tempera-
creases as temperature increases, by employing a total of four plati- tures that cycle, change frequently,
providing the means for transduc- num RTD temperature-sensing el- or are elevated. Any change in the
ing their electrical output into tem- ements. The velocity sensor in this potting material causes a change
perature. The platinum RTD sen- “four-temperature” flow sensor has in the “skin resistance” of the veloc-
sor element in the velocity sensor a T1 element as before, but now has ity sensor and thereby its stability.
is called the T1 element and has a a second T2 element in its stem that As discussed in the following, skin
relatively low electrical resistance is separated from the T1 element. resistance, along with stem conduc-
in the range of about 10 to 30 Ohms. The temperature sensor has a T3 tion, are the two major factors that
The platinum RTD element in the element as before, but now has a can degrade measurement accuracy
temperature sensor is called the T3 second T4 element in its stem that if not managed properly.
element and has a relatively high is separated a distance from the T3 The construction and assembly of
electrical resistance in the range of element. the T1 element of the four-tempera-
300 to 1,000 Ohms. Other types of The T1 element is a wire-wound ture flow sensor in Figure 2b elimi-
temperature sensing elements, such platinum RTD with a resistance nates the skin resistance problem
as thermistors, thermocouples and ranging from 10 to 30 Ohms. The by: (1) avoiding altogether the use
micro-electronic machined devices, T2, T3 and T4 sensors are thin-film of any potting materials between
have been used for applications RTDs with a resistance ranging the T1 element and the internal
with lower accuracy requirements. from 500 to 1,000 Ohms. In opera- surface of the sheath and (2) using
In the following, we shall assume tion, the T1 and T2 elements to- mating materials that have the
that the T1 and T3 elements are gether act as a heat-flux gage that same coefficient of thermal expan-
platinum RTDs. measures the fraction of heat con- sion. Filler materials are avoided
46 Chemical Engineering february 2014
4.5 4 600 K 4 16 bara
4 Methane 400 K 8 bara
3.5 300 K 3.5
Electrical power, W (watts)

Electrical power, W (watts)

Electrical power, W (watts)

Air 1 bara
3 3
3 Argon 2.5 2.5
2 2
1.5 1.5 1.5 Air
T = 300 K Air
1 1 1 T = 300 K
P = 1 bara P = 1 bara
0.5 0.5 0.5
0 0 0
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Mass velocity, Vs (standard m/s) Mass velocity, Vs (standard m/s) Mass velocity, Vs (standard m/s)

(a) Gas selection (b) Gas temperature, T (c) Gas pressure, P

Figure 4. These plots show the management of changes in gas selection, gas temperature, and gas pressure with the four-tem-
perature microprocessor-based system. ΔT = 50K. In all figures the “standard” conditions for Vs (standard m/s) are 70°F and 1 atm

60 Mass velocity, Vs (standard m/s) 60 60

Mass velocity, Vs (standard m/s)

50 50 50
Axial temperature,
T (x/L) -- T (K)

40 40 40
0 std. m/s
30 1 std. m/s 30 30

20 Air 100 std. 20 20

T = 300 K m/s
10 P = 1 bara 10 10

0 0 0
0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5
Relative distance from tip of sensor, x/L Electrical power, W (watts) Electrical power, W (watts)
(a) Axial temperature distribution
(b) Air (c) Methane
of velocity sensor (L = active length)

Figure 5. These plots compare flow calibration data and the output of the four-temperature microprocessor-based system. ΔT
= 50K, and T and P are at room (ambient) conditions. “Standard” conditions for Vs (standard m/s) are 70°F and 1 atm

by means of tightly fitting, as in velocity sensor in this manner de- outputs of the primary dependent
swaging or press fitting, the wire- pends on the properties of the gas, variable, mass flowrate qm, and, in
wound T1 element into the sheath. and therefore the composition of the case of multivariable versions,
Such velocity sensors are known as the gas must be known. the gas temperature T. Transmit-
“dry” sensors, as opposed to velocity In yet another thermal flow sen- ters can be housed in an enclosure
sensors fabricated with potting ce- sor construction for in-line me- that conforms with relevant U.S.
ments or epoxies that are wet when ters, the flow sensor is embedded and international codes, such as
mixed. In contrast with the velocity in wall of the flow body and is not hazardous area codes or area clas-
sensor, any degradation of potting immersed in the flow. This flow sifications. Digital transmitters
materials in the temperature sen- sensor consists of a heater ele- with digital displays in engineering
sor changes only its time response, ment with adjacent upstream and units facilitate additional functions,
a relatively minor effect. downstream temperature sensing including flowmeter diagnostics,
In operation, the gas tempera- elements. The difference in the two validation, calibration adjustment
ture sensor in the TD mass flow- temperatures increases as flow in- and reconfiguration. Later, this
meter measures the gas tempera- creases, providing the output. This article describes an advanced sys-
ture T. The sensor drive in the construction is used primarily for tem consisting of a microprocessor-
transmitter electronics delivers an low-flow liquid applications. based digital transmitter and a
electrical current I1 to the velocity four-temperature flow sensor that
sensor, such that it is self-heated Transmitter provides gas selection and auto-
to an average temperature T1 that The transmitter shown in Figure matic correction for changes in gas
is elevated above the gas tempera- 1 is the electronic system that pro- temperature, gas pressure and out-
ture. Since it is the molecules of vides the flow sensor drive and side temperature.
the gas, which bear its mass, that many other functions for the flow- Many transport properties of the
flow over the heated velocity sen- meter. It accepts the inputs from gas that are involved in convec-
sor and carry away its heat, TD the two or four temperature sensing tive heat transfer, such as thermal
flowmeters directly measure the elements as well as the heating cur- conductivity, viscosity and Prandtl
mass flowrate qm of the gas or gas rent I1 input and transforms these number, depend on temperature.
mixture. Heat convected from the independent variables into linear Likewise, the thermal conductivity
Chemical Engineering february 2014 47
(249.1); 100

Inches of water(b); (millibars)(b)

Permanent pressure loss(a)
Feature Report 0.75 in. 8.0 in.

(24.9); 10 0.25 in. 1.0 in. 2.0 in. 4.0 in.

of some of the materials in the flow
sensor depends on temperature. 0.5 in. 1.5 in. 3.0 in. 6.0 in.
For this reason, TD mass flowme-
ters must correct for changes in
(2.49); 1
gas temperature. In traditional 1; 10; 100; 1,000; 10,000;
flowmeters, this is done by means (1.6) (16) (160) (1,600) (16,000)
of an analog Wheatstone bridge
Mass flowrate, qm
at the front end of the flow sensor
scfm(c); (normal m3/h)(d)
drive. The velocity sensor and the
temperature sensor are located at
opposite legs of the bridge. This Figure 6. This graph shows the permanent pressure loss for in-line flowmeters
with a built-in flow conditioner consisting of two upsteam separated perforated
provides compensation for changes plates. Notes: (a) for air and nitrogen at 21.1°C and 1 atm; (b) 1 in. of water = 0.0361
in fluid temperature by adjusting psi; (c) at standard conditions of 21.1°C and 1 atm; and (d) at standard (normal) con-
the overheat of the velocity sen- ditions of 0°C and 1 atm
sor. The bridge voltage is a high-
level output signal on the order of Liquid flow applications sensor shown in Figure 2b. It has a
several volts that provides a high The vast majority of applications dry velocity sensor and is operated
signal-to-noise ratio. The Wheat- are gas flow applications because in the constant temperature differ-
stone bridge and its temperature- they benefit from the exceptional ential mode. As before, we call this
compensation capabilities are thor- low-flow sensitivity and wide configuration the four-temperature
oughly described in the literature rangeabililty of measurement. microprocessor-based system. The
[2, 6–9]. Modern flowmeters with a Thermal dispersion technology is voltage sensing wires in Figure
microprocessor-based flow sensor not well suited for liquid flow ap- 3 make the measurement of the
drive digitally correct for changes plications because at the zero-flow RTD resistances independent of
in temperature without requiring a condition, a majority of the heat the length of the flow sensor cable,
Wheatstone bridge. budget is carried away by the liq- facilitating remote location of the
The flow sensor drive in TD uid via conduction, instead of the transmitter. The heating current I1
mass flowmeters has two modes desired convection. This is caused depends on the electrical resistance
of operation: the constant-temper- by the high thermal conductivity of R1 and the electrical power input
ature-differential mode and the liquids relative to gases. The result W required to maintain constant
constant-current mode. In the con- is reduced measurement sensitiv- ΔT. W ranges from about 0.2 to 5 W
stant-temperature-differential mode ity for liquid flows. depending on the overheat ΔT, the
of operation, the flow sensor drive Additionally, for liquid flows, the mass flowrate, and the size of the
maintains at a constant value the temperature differential ΔT = T1 – velocity sensor. The temperature
difference ΔT = T1 – T between the T must not exceed an upper critical sensing current I2 is held constant
heated velocity sensor T1 and the gas limit, or else at higher flowrates and is less than 1 mA to avoid self-
temperature T. The output signal is the liquid may flash to the vapor heating the T2 sensor. The analog
the electrical power W supplied to phase and subsequent cavitation layer shown in Figure 4 includes
the heated velocity sensor that is re- may occur, creating unwanted er- precision resistors for measuring
quired to keep ΔT constant. ratic readings. For water flows, this the currents I1 and I2 but has no
In the constant-current mode upper critical limit in ΔT is approx- bridge circuit.
of operation, the flow sensor drive imately 10 to 20°C. The constant- The four-temperature micropro-
maintains at a constant value the differential-temperature mode of cessor-based system shown in Fig-
current I1 supplied to the heated operation is preferred for liquid ure 3 digitally linearizes the qm
velocity sensor. In this case, the out- flows because ΔT is controlled, output and, optionally, the T and P
put signal is ΔT. Measuring mass whereas in the constant-current outputs and provides analog outputs
flowrate with constant current mode ΔT varies and may exceed for these variables. The system has
operation is slower than constant the upper critical limit. Application algorithms based on the principle of
temperature differential operation of thermal dispersion technology operation that manage changes in
because the temperature of the to liquid flows has been limited to gas selection, gas temperature and
entire mass of the velocity sensor cases, such as ultra-low flow appli- gas pressure.
must change when velocity changes cations, where it offers advantages Figures 4 a–c show how the four-
and also because the masses of the over other technologies. temperature microprocessor-based
velocity and temperature sensors system manages changes in gas
may be imbalanced. In the follow- Advanced system selection, gas temperature, and
ing, we assume constant tempera- Figure 3 shows a simplified block di- gas pressure for air, methane, and
ture differential operation and that agram of the microprocessor-based argon. These figures are plotted
therefore ΔT is a constant, usually thermal dispersion mass flowme- in the conventional manner with
in the range of 20 to 100K. ter with the four-temperature flow the mass velocity, Vs, shown as the
48 Chemical Engineering february 2014
Table 1. Typical specifications for
thermal dispersion mass flowmeters
Specification Two-temperature system Four-temperature system
Gases Most clean gases, includ- Most clean gases, includ-
ing air, methane, Ar, CO2, ing air, methane, Ar, CO2,
He, N2, O2, C3H8, and mix- He, N2, O2, C3H8, and
tures of these components mixtures of these compo- Specifications
nents Table 1 shows specifications for cur-
In-line flow body 0.25, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 4.0 0.25, 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 4.0 rently available TD mass flowme-
sizesa in.; DN6 to DN100 in.; DN6 to DN100 ters. Specifications for the column
labeled “Two-temperature system”
In-line meter mass 0.0001 to 1.5 kg/s; 0.1 to 0 to 1.5 kg/s; 0 to 2,600
flowrate range for air 2,600 scfmb scfmb refer to the flow sensor shown in
Figure 2a and may vary from man-
Insertion meter mass- 1.4 to 140 normal m/s; 300 0 to 140 normal m/s; 0 to
velocity range for air to 30,000 standard ft/minc 30,000 standard ft/minc ufacturer to manufacturer. Speci-
fications for the column labeled
Temperature ranged –40 to 200°C; –40 to 392°F –40 to 200°C; –40 to 392°F “Four-temperature system” refer
Pressure range 0.01 to 16 bara 0.01 to 16 bara to the microprocessor-based sys-
Accuracye 1% of reading plus 0.5% of 1% of reading from 10 to
tem with the four-temperature flow
full scale (FS) 100% of FS; 1% of read- sensor having the dry velocity sen-
ing plus 0.5% FS from 0 to sor shown in Figure 2b. Accuracy
10% FS specifications in Table 1 may apply
Rangeability 100 : 1 100 : 1 to gas temperatures and gas pres-
sures that lie within bands around
Repeatability 0.2 % of full scale 0.15 % of full scale
their respective values at flow cali-
Time responsef 3 s (constant power op- 2s bration. Table 1 is also useful in
eration); 1.2 s (constant selecting and sizing the proper TD
ΔT operation)
mass flowmeter for the application.
Stability 1 year; typical drift 1 to 2% 10 years; typical drift
per year 0.1% per year Installation
Notes to Table 1: (a) Some manufacturers offer sizes up to 12.0 in. (DN300); (b) Based on the point In all cases, specifications and in-
mass-velocity range for insertion flowmeters cited below; (c) “Normal” conditions are 0°C and 1 structions provided by the manu-
atm, and “standard” conditions are 70°F and 1 atm; (d) High-temperature models are available
up to approximately 450°C = 842°F; (e) FS = full scale; and (f) Time response is the time required facturer should be followed in sizing
to reach 63% of the final value (that is, the 1 sigma value).
and installing in-line and insertion
TD mass flowmeters. Ref. 3 is an
independent variable and the elec- rangeabilities are achieved with excellent source for details regard-
trical power, W, shown as the de- multi-range flow calibration. De- ing sizing, installation, safety and
pendent variable, whereas in the tectable minimum-point mass ve- flow calibration.
system they have reversed roles. locities as low as approximately 0.1 Figure 6 is helpful in the flow-
The three figures reflect the strong standard m/s (20 standard ft/min) meter selection process for in-line
direct dependence the electrical are reported by some manufactur- TD mass flowmeters. The perma-
power has on the thermal conduc- ers. In the early days of analog elec- nent pressure loss shown in Figure
tivity of the gases. Thus, Figure 4a tronics, it was difficult to linearize 6 applies to an in-line meter with
results from the fact that kmethane the output of TD mass flowmeters. a built-in flow conditioner consist-
> kair > kargon, and Figures 4b and But now, with microprocessor-based ing of two upstream separated per-
4c result from the fact that thermal electronics, it is not a problem, and forated plates. In sizing TD mass
conductivity increases as gas tem- the non-linear, logarithmic nature of flowmeters, as with all flowmeters
perature and pressure increase, the output bears only advantages. used for gas flow applications, the
respectively. The fact that thermal Figures 5 a–c show further re- Mach number of the gas flow should
conductivity, and therefore W, in- sults of the four-temperature mi- be kept under approximately 0.3 to
creases with gas pressure as shown croprocessor-based system. Figure avoid compressibility effects. At an
in Figure 4c is a phenomenon that 5a reveals how the temperature dis- absolute gas pressure of 1 bara (ap-
has heretofore been ignored, but tribution T1(x) of the heated section proximately 1 atmosphere), the per-
for higher accuracy applications of the velocity sensor undergoes manent pressure loss is about 0.1
should be included. major changes as Vs increases from bar (approximately 2 psi) at all full-
Figures 4 a–c also reveal the 0 to 100 standard m/s. Figures 5a scale mass flowrates. This is one or
non-linear, logarithmic nature of and 5b show, for air and methane, two orders of magnitude less than
the output. A log versus log plot of the excellent comparison between that required by Coriolis mass flow-
these figures will reveal a nearly results calculated via the four- meters for gas flow applications. Al-
straight line over approximately temperature microprocessor-based most all of the permanent pressure
1 to 150 standard m/s. This loga- system and actual flow calibration loss shown in Figure 6 is due to the
rithmic property is responsible for data. Comparisons for other gases built-in flow conditioner.
the exceptional rangeability and are likewise as good. Algorithims Insertion flowmeters have very
low-velocity sensitivity of TD mass exist that make the output of the low permanent pressure loss, espe-
flowmeters. A rangeability as high system match flow calibration data cially for larger line sizes. In-line
as 100:1 is common. Even higher even better. flowmeters without a built-in flow
Chemical Engineering february 2014 49
Feature Report

conditioner and no shield on the flow Thermal

Figure 7. Shown here is a comparison of
sensor likewise have low pressure the upstream straight pipe requirements for
D three kinds of flowmeters located downstream
drops. These two configurations are
of a single elbow. The thermal dispersion mass
why TD mass flowmeters are con- flowmeter has a built-in flow conditioner con-
sidered to be in the class of flowme- 1xD sisting of two separated perforated plates
ters with low pressure drops. Vortex
As with most kinds of flowme-
ters, the performance of TD mass
flowmeters can be degraded if the Orifice plate,
flowmeter is installed where flow 10 x D beta = 0.7
conditions are different than those
for which it was flow-calibrated. D

Improper installation is the single

biggest cause of measurement in-
28 x D
accuracy for any kind of flowmeter.
Components in the piping system
upstream and, to a far lesser ex-
tent, downstream of the flowmeter
can create non-uniformities in the
flow profile, swirls and turbulence. 3 3
6 8
All of these phenomena degrade 5
4 T P
performance. Such flow-disturbing
components include single and
multiple elbows, expansions, con- 5
tractions, tees, valves and pumps. 4 T P
Fortunately, viscous forces in a suf-
ficiently long length of straight pipe 11
upstream and downstream of the P T 10
flowmeter reduce swirl and drive
the flow toward a fully developed
velocity profile.
Figure 8. A setup for a pressurized closed-loop gas-flow calibration system is
Table 2 shows the straight pipe presented here. The numbered components are as follows: 1 is the gas charging
length requirements for both in- source; 2 is the flow source; 3 is the flow control element; 4 is a flow-conditioning
line and insertion TD mass flow- section for a flow calibration standard (two shown); 5 is an in-line flow calibration
meters and, for purposes of com- standard (two shown); 6 is the pressure relief element; 7 is the vent to the outside
parison, an orifice-plate flowmeter environment or to a scrubber or other gas purifying device; 8 is the vacuum pump
for evacuating the gas charge; 9 is the heating section; 10 is the flow-conditioning
with a 0.7 beta ratio (ratio of the section for the flowmeter under test; and 11 is the flowmeter under test
orifice diameter to the pipe internal
diameter). The in-line flowmeter in
Table 2 has a built-in flow condi- installation advantage in-line TD sors are part of each sensor’s elec-
tioner consisting of two upstream mass flowmeters with the built-in trical circuit, remote location can
separated perforated plates. Fig- flow conditioner have over alterna- cause measurement errors if the
ure 7 shows the upstream straight- tive flowmeters. In essence, in-line cable length is altered in the field
pipe requirements downstream flowmeters with the built-in flow from that for which it was flow cali-
of a single elbow for three kinds conditioner trade the advantage brated. The four-temperature mi-
of flowmeters. This shows the of greater accuracy for a small croprocessor-based system avoids
marked contrast between the one amount of pressure drop. this problem by incorporating high-
pipe diameter length required for Normally, the transmitter is impedance voltage sensing wires in
the TD mass flowmeter with the mounted directly on the flow body the flowmeter’s cable (see Figure
built-in flow conditioner versus or probe. In cases where the ambi- 3) that essentially make remote
the ten and twenty-eight diameter ent temperature at the pipe line transmitter location independent
lengths required for typical vortex exceeds the specified limit for the of cable length.
and orifice-plate flowmeters, re- transmitter (usually, approxi- Some applications require that
spectively. Since piping systems in mately 60°C), then the transmitter the flow in the process line not be
the industrial process-control field must be located remotely. Addition- interrupted. This case is solved by
seldom have suitably long straight ally, in some cases the application employing an insertion flowme-
piping runs preceding the desired requires that the transmitter be ter installed in the pipe with hot-
location for flowmeter installation, located remotely for easier access. tap hardware. The hot-tap method
Table 2 and Figure 7 reveal the Since the wires leading to the sen- and assembly provides an isolation
50 Chemical Engineering february 2014
Table 2. Straight pipe length requirements for
thermal-dispersion mass flowmeters in multiples of pipe diametera
Flow disturbance Thermal dispersion mass flowmeters Orifice plate, β = 0.7c
In-lineb Insertion
Upstream Downstream Upstream Downstream Upstream Downstream
Single elbow 1 0 15 5 28 7
4:1 Reduction 3 0 15 5 14 7
4:1 Expansion 3 0 30 10 30 7
Control valved or P regulator 3 0 40 5 32 7
Two elbows in the same plane 3 0 20 5 36 7
Two elbows in different planese 5 0 40 10 62 7
Notes to Table 1: (a) Requirements for the length of intervening straight pipe in multiples of pipe diameter at 1 bara pressure; consult manufacturer
for pressure effects; specifications may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; (b) For an in-line meter with a built-in flow conditioner consisting of
two upstream separated perforated plates; (c) For comparison purposes only; based on ISO standard 5167 [10]; (d) If the control valve is always wide
open, base the length requirement on the valve’s inlet or outlet fitting size; (e) For three elbows, the required length is doubled.

valve facilitating installation, in- tion laboratories and users should cision flow control valve or vari-
sertion, retraction and removal of be capable of: (1) generating a sta- able speed motor drive; (4) flow-
the insertion flowmeter from an ac- ble, steady-state, reproducible gas conditioning section(s) upstream
tive process pipe line without inter- mass flowrate; (2) accommodating of the flow calibration standard(s);
ruption of the flow or the leakage of the entire mass flowrate range (5) the in-line flow calibration
process gas. The retraction mecha- specified; (3) having a flow calibra- standard (more than one may be
nism provides operator safety for tion standard that has an accuracy needed to cover the mass flowrate
pressurized process lines. at least three times better than range); (6) a heating section, such
the flowmeter under test; and (4) as an in-line electric heater; (7) a
Flow calibration reproducing the gas composition, flow-conditioning section upstream
Because the critical dimensions of temperature and pressure to be of the flowmeter under test; and (8)
the flow sensor of TD mass flowme- encountered in the actual appli- the flowmeter under test. Addition-
ters are so small, manufacturing cation. Gas-flow calibration facili- ally, the facility should have: accu-
technology is generally incapable ties are of two types: open loop and rate gas temperature and pressure
of maintaining sufficiently small closed loop. instrumentation at both the flow
tolerances to ensure a high degree Closed-loop facilities are recom- calibration standard and the flow-
of reproducibility from flow sensor mended because they allow flow meter under test; pressure relief
to flow sensor. Additionally, the in- calibration at elevated pressures and venting components; a vacuum
ternal diameters of the pipes used and temperatures, and with gases pump for evacuating the system
in in-line flow bodies have substan- other than air. The preferred pres- prior to charging; and, optionally,
tial variations. For these reasons, surized closed-loop system for a cooling section downstream of
every general-purpose TD mass high-accuracy applications has the flowmeter under test. High-
flowmeter is flow calibrated by the the following major components accuracy in-line flow calibration
manufacturer, just like most other (Figure 8), listed in flow sequence: standards include custody-transfer
kinds of flowmeters. Exceptions (1) a gas charging source, such as grade multi-path ultrasonic flow-
may include flow switches and low- a compressed gas tank; (2) a flow meters; turbine flowmeters; flow
accuracy flowmeters. source, such as a high-pressure nozzles; and positive-displacement
The gas-flow calibration facili- axial or centrifugal in-line pump; flowmeters. ■
ties of manufacturers, flow calibra- (3) a flow controller, such as a pre- Edited by Gerald Ondrey

References John G. Olin is the founder
1. King, L. V., On the convection of heat from 6. Olin, J. G., A thermal mass flow monitor for and CEO of Sierra Instru-
small cylinders in a stream of fluid: Determi- continuous emissions monitoring systems ments, Inc. (5 Harris Court,
nation of the convection constants of small (CEMS), Proc. ISA/93 International Confer- Building L, Monterey, Cali-
platinum wires with application to hot-wire ence, Exhibition and Training Program, 93- fornia 93940; Phone: 831-
anemometry, Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc., A214, pp. 404, pp.1,635–1,653, 1993. 373-0200; Fax: 831-373-4402;
373–432, 1914. Email: j_olin@sierrainstru-
7. Bruun, H. H., “Hot-Wire Anemometry: Prin- Olin received his
ciples and Signal Analysis,” Oxford Univ. B.S degree from Illinois In-
2. Olin, J. G., Thermal anemometry, in “The Press, Oxford, U.K., 1995.
Measurements, Instrumentation, and Sen- stitute of Technology and his
sors Handbook,” ed. Webster, J. G., pp. 29-18 8. Olin, J. G., Industrial thermal mass flowme- M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford
to 29-37, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1999. ters — Part 1: Principles of operation, Mea- University, all in mechani-
surements and Control, 193, pp. 83–90, Feb. cal engineering. At Stanford, Olin specialized
3. ASME MFC-21.2-2010. Measurement of 1999. in fluid mechanics and heat transfer and used
fluid flow by means of thermal dispersion hot-wire anemometers in research pursuant to
mass flowmeters. 9. Olin, J. G., Industrial thermal mass flowme- his doctoral dissertation. He founded Sierra In-
ters — Part 2: Applications, Measurements struments in 1973 with the purpose of offering
4. ASME MFC-21.1M. Measurement of fluid and Control, 194, pp. 1–6, April, 1999. industrial-grade thermal dispersion mass flow-
flow by means of capillary tube thermal meters to solve industry’s need for rugged, reli-
mass flowmeters and controllers. 10. Miller, R.W., “Flow Measurement Engineer- able flowmeters based on the thermal principle.
ing Handbook,” 3rd ed., McGraw Hill, N.Y., Olin has a dozen patents and over 60 publica-
5. ASME MFC-15M. Insertion metering. 1996. tions in the field.

Chemical Engineering february 2014 51