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Ultrasonic Flowmeter

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When pressure waves are released into the flowing fluid, their velocity and amplitude are affected by the fluid velocity. Ultrasonic flowmeters help in measuring these pressure wave changes, especially in the ones having frequencies greater than 20KiloHertz using specialized techniques. There are two types of ultrasonic flowmeters. One of them is based on the measurement of phase shift between the waves directed downstream and upstream alternately. The other one is based on the measurement of separation of frequency of oscillation directed downstream and upstream simultaneously.

The working of Ultrasonic flow measurement system by measuring phase difference is shown in the figure below. The two peizo-crystals p1 and p2 working both as transmitter and receiver of signals alternatively are mounted conveniently, so that the ultrasonic signals are transmitted between them as well as through the liquid. Switch ‘sw’ is utilized to supply p1 and p2 alternately from an oscillator simultaneously connecting the detector to p2 and p1 respectively. The detector is designed to measure the transit time from upstream to downstream and vice versa via phase shift measurement. If C is the velocity of the ultrasonic wave and v is the fluid velocity, then for a distance b between the crystals pa and p2, the phase shifts between the two cases are

Pd1 = wb/(C + v) and

Pd2 = wb/(C – v)

Phase shift difference is proportional to the liquid flow rate.

Pd2 – Pd1 = 2wvb/ {(C-v)(C+v)} = 2wvb/C2

Ultrasonic Flow Measurement using Phase Difference

Ultrasonic Flow Measurement using Phase Difference

The measurement through this method using the phase shift method provides the instrument good linearity. The dynamic response is limited by the switching frequency. Material of the flow channel should be chosen not to allow acoustic transmission. Plastic is often chosen for the purpose.

The phase measurement flow system has also been used with interdigital transducers. Acoustic wave is transmitted and received across the flow line by two output transducers, one upstream and anther downstream equidistant from the transmitter. The transmitter has uniformly spaced metallic fingers for radiating the sound wave into the liquid from a solid-liquid boundary without focusing on either direction. Some transducers can act as receivers as well.

The working of Ultrasonic flow measurement system by measuring frequency difference is shown in the figure below. t/2 is the time over which the signal is received and is also the time over which the signal is not received by the receiver when the trigger works. Two sets of piezo-crystals, with the set consisting of a transmitter and a receiver, are mounted as shown in the figure and wave trains are sent at an angle a with the liquid flow direction The systems are in part, closed loop so that the receiver picks up the wave train, detects and sends it to the computing part of the amplifier. The amplified signal is used to retrigger the generator to send the second train of pulses. The repetition frequency will depend on the transmit time of the wave train across the length l. Thus, the frequencies can be written by the equations,

f1 = (C + vCosa)/2l

f2 = (C – vCosa)/2l

The frequency difference, f1 – f2 = vCosa/l 

Ultrasonic Flow Measurement using Frequency-Difference

Ultrasonic Flow Measurement using Frequency-Difference

Electromagnetic Flowmeter

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It is difficult to measure and meter flowing fluids with accuracy. A category of flowmeter such as induction flowmeter or magnetic flowmeter can be used to measure the flow of the liquid, if the liquid has a conducting property to a certain extent. An electromagnetic flowmeter can be used to measure the flow of fluids like corrosive acids, acid slurries, paper pulp, detergents, beer, and so on.

The parameter used for the measurement of flow is the speed of flow, and is measured in terms of the potential difference induced when the moves in a tubing/pipe with a transverse magnetic field impressed. The working of an electromagnetic flowmeter can be understood from the figure below.

Electromagnetic Flowmeter, Principle, Working

Electromagnetic Flowmeter

Suppose the flow of liquid whose conductivity is atleast about 10-5 S/cm and is flowing through an insulating tube of diameter‘d’ and is placed in a magnetic field of flux density ‘B’, then to a pair of electrodes mounted perpendicular both to the magnetic field and fluid, as shown in the figure above, a voltage ‘e’ is induced which is dependent on the flux density and liquid flowing velocity v, according to Faraday’s law.


E = -B.d.v * 10-8 V

The equation written above can also be obtained in a generalized way through Lorentz force which deflects the charge carriers in the fluid as the conductor in the magnetic field. The force F is given as

F = c. (v*B)                                                                                          c – Charge

 An insulating pipe is usually chosen to avoid short-circuiting and a non-magnetic pipe is selected for allowing the magnetic field to penetrate through the liquid. A plastic tube or a metal tube lined with neoprene is well suited. Some other materials that are used for lining are Teflon (PTFE), polyurethane, ceramic (99.5% Al2O3) base, and polysulphate. These are chosen also on the basis of process fluids, their corrosivity, temperature, and so on. The electrodes are usually of stainless steel mounted flush with the inside face of the tube. Titanium, tantalum, hastelloy have also been used.

The plane of the measuring electrodes is generally chosen to be vertical such that the formation of air bubbles or deposition of non-conducting solids does not break the electrical circuit.

As the measured quantity is in volts and since its magnitude is small, parasitic effects are to be carefully considered. Suitable amplifiers are necessary to amplify the signal. The input impedance of the amplifiers are to be properly selected since the liquid resistance between the electrodes for small conductivity liquids are larger than usual.

Flow Measurement

in Flow Measurement / 1 Comment

Flow measurement can be defined as the quantification of movement of a fluid. The flow measurement is assumed as the oldest recorded work in the instrumentation field. In industrial field, flow measurement is of great importance as from physiological processes to rocket science, the characteristic of flow is required. Its applications also extends to measurements in day to day processes like gas stations, water service, and so on

Generally flow is measured in two ways , volumetric basis and on the basis of weight .The flow of solids are usually measured in terms of mass per unit time or weight per unit time. Liquid flow is measured volumetrically or in the basis of weight. Gaseous flow is normally measured volumetrically.

When we are dealing with flow meters there are two terms called ‘turn down’ and ‘rangeability’. Turn down is defined as the ratio of full-scale flow to the minimum flow, which can be measured within a stated accuracy. If the turn down is in the ratio of 20:1, it means that the flow meter can measure from 20 per cent to 100 percent of the scale. This gives the accuracy of the meter. Rangeablity is the ratio of maximum to minimum range to which the meter can be calibrated (Refer: Calibration of flow meters ) 

There are many techniques used for flow measurement (Refer: How to Select a Flow meter).  Let us now look at some of the flow meters used in the industry.

1) Mechanical type flow meters

  • Piston Meters

Piston meters  or the rotary piston is semi positive displacement meter  consists of a rotating piston in a chamber whose volume is known. They are used for domestic water measurement

  • Variable area meter

The variable area meter or the rotameter  is available for a wide range of liquids but are commonly used for measurement of air and water

  • Turbine flow meter

The turbine flow meter converts the rotating of the turbine into a human readable scale and to the display

  • Single jet meter

It consists of an impeller with radial vanes which is impinged with a single jet

  • Woltmann meter

A rotor and helical blades are inserted axially into the flow   in a Woltmann meter . it is considered as a turbine flow meter

  • Paddle wheel meter

Similar to single jet meter except the fact that the impeller will be small .

  • Current meter

It is used to determine the flow though a large structure like a penstock in a hydro electric plant . the measurement is done by averaging the flow velocity over a large area

  • Nutating disc meter

Here a nutating disc which is ergonomically mounted is used to determine the fluid flow. Nutating disc meter is usually used in the measurement of water supply

  • Pelton wheel

A pelton wheel turbine which is also known as the radial turbine converts the mechanical action of the pelton wheel rotating in a liquid to user readable form

  • Multiple jet meter

Multiple jet meter is a velocity type meter which works similar to a single jet meter except the fact that here the flow is directed equally to the impeller by the ports

  • Oval gear meter

it is a positive displacement meter which is used to measure the flow

  • Inferential meter

Inferential meter reduces the volumetric flow by measuring some properties of the  liquid

2) Pressure based flow meters

  • Orifice plate
  • Venturi meter
  • Dall tube
  • Pitot tube
  • Multi hole pressure probe
  • Differential pressure transmitters

3) Optical flow meters

4) Open channel flow measurement

  • Level to flow measurement
  • Area/velocity measurement
  • Dye testing
  • Acoustic  Doppler velocimetry

5) Thermal flow meters

6) Vortex flow meters
7) Electromagnetic flow meters
8) Ultrasonic flow meters
9) Mass flow meters

  • Angular momentum mass flow meter –
  • Corioles mass flow meters
  • Thermal mass flow

10) Laser Doppler flow measurement

Calibration of flow meters

Flow meters are considered to be pretty accurate and in ideal case they are not affected by its environmental conditions.  But in practical case we have to consider various environmental factors too. We can see that due to improper installation and other factors industrial flow measurements are often prone to errors for avoiding these errors we have to calibrate the flow meters. Usually in situ methods are employed for calibrating flow meters.

How to Select a Flow meter

You know a flow meter is an instrument used by measure the linear or non linear mass flow rate in gases or liquids. Flow meters are classified into different basis according to the method used to measure the rate of flow.  All these types of flow meters have their own merits and demerits. For selecting the  best flow meter we must  consider many aspects like the process conditions, turndown requirements, accuracy, installation requirement and so on.  We are giving some guide lines which will help you to select the best flow meter for your requirement

  1. First enquire about the type of flowmeter  which has been  used in similar application before. This is the simple and most popular method. There are many manufactures around the planet making flow meters are they will be having websites. In the product specifications they will be mentioning its applications.
  2.  Another option is using the most familiar type of flow meter such as the differential pressure flow meter.  We will not recommend this as it’s not a much accurate option.  You should do further check before finalizing the flow meter.
  3.  Some other factors according to which flow meters are chosen are based on service, rangeability, pressure loss, accuracy, installation requirements, cost.
  4. Special attention should be taken for flowmeter intended to be used on sour service applications. NACE requirements, testing requirements etc should be  carefully considered.
  5. When choosing flow meters employed in hazardous area requirements, winterization requirements etc all requirements should be full filled .
  6. Special service applications such as custody transfer metering , multiphase flow metering etc. needs specific types of flowmeters  in order to  suit their requirements and hence the same shall be carefully considered.
  7. The installation requirements of the corresponding flow meter should be satisfied, as the piping layouts can be affected by straight run requirements of flowmeters.


Difference between Accuracy and Precision

in Basic Instrumentation / 1 Comment

To most people, accuracy and precision mean the same thing: to someone involved in the field of instrumentation and measurement, the two terms should be considered as different. In basic mathematics, we are taught to count, but not taught to measure. One way in which this distinction is known is through the difference between a poll (a measurement) and a vote (a count). The result obtained from counting will be an exact result (barring blunder), while the result obtained from a measurement will only approach the truth. We are taught how to deal with exact numbers, but are sometimes not aware of the nature of results we obtain from approximated or measured values.
Measurement, by its nature, is not exact; the magnitude of that “inexactness” is the error. This is distinguished from a blunder, which is the introduction of an error that can be traced back to its source, and therefore an error that may be detected, quantified and corrected. A blunder is an actual mistake in the application of a measurement, such as misreading a scale or mis-adjustment of an instrument. Error is inherent in measurement, and incorporates such things as the precision of the measuring tools, their proper adjustment, and competent application. The analysis of the magnitude of probable error is appropriate in examining the suitability of methods or equipment used to obtain, portray and utilize an acceptable result.
The best way to show the difference between both the parameters is through the eyes of a marksman, to whom the “truth” represents the bullseye.
The degree of refinement in the performance of an operation, or the degree of perfection in the instruments and methods used to obtain a result is called precision. It mainly refers to an indication of the uniformity or reproducibility of a result. Precision relates to the quality of an operation by which a result is obtained, and is distinguished from accuracy, which relates to the quality of the result.


In the figure above, the marksman has achieved a uniformity, although it is inaccurate.This uniformity may have been achieved by using a sighting scope, or some sort of stabilizing device. With the knowledge gained by observation of the results, the marksman can apply a systematic adjustment (aim lower and to the left of his intended target, or have his bow and arrow to achieve more accurate results in addition to the precision that his methodology and equipment have already attained.
The degree of conformity with a standard or the truth is called accuracy. Accuracy relates to the quality of a result, and is distinguished from precision, which relates to the quality of the operation by which the result is obtained. In the figur below, the marksman has approached the truth, although without great precision. It may be that the marksman will need to change the bow and arrow or skills used to obtain the result if a greater degree of precision is required, as he has reached the limitations associated with his bow and arrow and current skills.


Th figure above represents results indicating both accuracy and precision. It differs from the first figure in that the marksman has probably made one of the systematic adjustments that was indicated by his attainment of precision without accuracy. The degree of precision has not changed greatly, but its conformity with the truth has improved over the results obtained in first figure.
If the marksman from the second figure determines that his results are not enough for the task at hand, he has no other choice than to change his current method or his bow and arrow. He has already performed to the limitations of these.
An additional benefit can be obtained by using a methodology that brings great precision. The analysis of results obtained from techniques yielding a high degree of precision will make the detection of blunders easier.

Accuracy with Precision
Accuracy with Precision

In the figures shown below, we have introduced a blunder into the results associated with accuracy and with precision. Given the degree of precision represented in the first figure below, it is easy to detect the blunder. It would be easy to analyze the results represented in the second figure shown below, and overlook the blunder. Without a high degree of precision, the blunder may go undetected and uncorrected, thereby affecting the total accuracy.

Accuracy with Blunder
Accuracy with Blunder
Precision with Blunder
Precision with Blunder

The analysis of precision can be misleading if a certain degree of precision is implied but not actually attained. To overstate an example, suppose someone were to use a vehicle odometer to measure the distance from one town to another, but measure from the last even mile (as indicated on the odometer) with a tape measure. The result could be represented with an implied precision expressed in feet, but the underlying accuracy is no better than the measurement obtained by the least precise method. It is a misleading sense of comfort that is provided when the implied precision expressed is not in agreement with actual methodology used.
In surveying, the need for greater precision usually leads to greater costs. To obtain a higher degree of precision, it may be necessary to use a more complicated/costly equipment or a more time-consuming methodology. The surveyor must determine what methodology and resultant precision is needed to achieve the accuracy required for a task at hand.

Ionization Gauge – Cold Cathode Type

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The cold cathode type ionization gauge is used to replace the hot cathode type, as it produces errors at very high temperatures of the cathode. To overcome this problem, the electrodes must be roperly treated before use. All these problems can be nullified by vacuum measurement using cold cathode ionization gauge.

A Philips and Penning cold cathode gauge is shown below. The device consists of two cathodes and a hollow anode in between. An input voltage greater than 2 Kilovolt is applied between them. A strong magnetic field is produced due to the applied voltage and thus the electrons are ejected. This causes the gauge to operate. At pressures below 10-2 Torr, the mean free path of the gas is so large that a collision may not occur at all so that discharge is not sustained or ionization may not be initiated. This problem can be eliminated by a collimating magnetic field. This is shown in the figure below.

Ionization Gauge - Cold Cathode Type
                              Ionization Gauge – Cold Cathode Type

The collimating magnetic field increases the path length for the electrons, enabling discharges possible at pressures down to about 10-5 Torr. It is difficult to obtain linearity between the meter reading and pressure as there occurs interactions between the positive ions and electrons at high electric and magnetic fields.

Ionization Gauge – Hot Cathode Type

in Transducers / 1 Comment

Ionization Gauge is a device that is used to measure vacuum. In the hot cathode type, a column of gas is introduced into which, a potential difference V is applied with free electron in the space. This causes the electron with a charge e to acquire a kinetic energy Ve. If the pressure range of the gas in the column goes below a certain limit, called the critical pressure, then corresponding to a voltage larger than the critical voltage Vc, the energy Ve may be high enough to initiate ionization, and positive ions will be produced when the electrons collide with the gas molecules.

The value of Vc is smallest for cesium (3.88V) and largest for helium (24.58V), among monoatomic gases or vapours. For diatomic gases like N2, H2 and so on, it is roughly about 15V. This is known as the ionization potential and at this potential the pressure is also important.

At very low pressures, during the intervals of time for transit from the cathode to the plate in a vacuum chamber, more than one collision is unlikely for an electron. Then for a fixed accelerating potential V>Vc, the number of positive ions formed would vary linearly with the value of pressure. Thus, a determination of the rate of production of positive ions for a given electron current should give a measure of the pressure.


The construction of a hot cathode type ionization gauge consists of a basic vacuum triode. The figure of an external control type hot cathode gauge is shown below.

External Type Ionisation Gauge
                   External Type Ionisation Gauge

The grid is maintained at a large positive potential with respect to the cathode and the plate. The plate is at a negative potential with respect to the cathode. This method is also known as the external control type ionization gauge as the positive ion collector is external to the electron collector grid with reference to the cathode. The positive ions available between the grid and the cathode will be drawn by the cathode, and those between the grid and the plate will be collected by the plate.

The internal control type is shown below. Here the grid is the positive ion collector and the plate is the electron collector.

Internal Type Ionisation Gauge
Internal Type Ionisation Gauge

One of the most popularly used hot filament gauges for industrial applications is the Bayard – Alpert type filament gauge. It consists of a helical grid with a potential of +150 volts. This huge potential attracts the electrons and thus causes gas ionization. At -30 volts, the gas ions are attracted to the central ion collector, thus producing an ion current of 100mA/Torr. This value is then fed to the electronic systems to be amplified and displayed.

The hot cathode ionization gauge is useful in measuring the total pressure of all the gases present in the system. The biggest advantage of this device is its very small response time. This is because of the devices small inertia. The device is used for pressure measurement between the ranges of 10-8 to 10-3 Torr with an output current varying between 10-9 to 10-4 A.  But this range depends on the gas, other things remaining constant.

Where the pressure is higher than 10-3 Torr, the positive ions make a greater impact on the cathode to heat it up and ultimately destroy it. At pressure ranges below 10-8 Torr, in external control type, the electrons impact over the grid and radiates soft x-rays, which results in the production of electrons from the plates as secondary emission. These electrons produced will be of the same order as that of the positive ion current in the plate circuit and thus neutralizes this current. Thus the internal control type is known to be a better option to measure pressure as low as 10-9 Torr.

When the cathode remains at very temperatures (say 3000 deg C), the gaseous matters present inside may reset with the filament or with themselves particularly at different pressure stages. This may causes the device to produce wrong outputs and may also affect the cathode life. During extreme conditions of high temperatures and low pressures, the presence of any gases inside the device, will be forcefully released, thus causing the pressure to increase. Thus, the electrodes have to be properly treated before use. This can be done only by passing high currents through the electrodes, especially the filament and the grid and by high frequency heating of the plate. To overcome these problems, the cold cathode type ionization gauge is also used by many.

Alphatron Vacuum Gauge

in Transducers / 1 Comment

Alphatron is a type of cold cathode ionization gauge and can also be considered as a radioactive ionization gauge. As the cold cathode and hot cathode types earlier explained, are composition dependent, the transfer characteristics may be obtained relative to air for different gases and the system can be used as a leak detector.

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The device uses alpha particles in order to ionize the gas in the vacuum chamber. The number of ions formed in the chamber is directly proportional to the gas pressure, if the chamber dimensions are shorter than the range of alpha particles. The figure below shows the schematic diagram of an alphatron.

Alphatron Vacuum Gauge

Alphatron Vacuum Gauge

The ions produced by the alpha particles are collected by the collector electrode and a current between 10-13 and 10-9 Amperes will flow though the resistor R. The output voltage e0 is measured using a high input impedance output meter. The device has a range between 103 to 10-3 Torr.

Quartz Reference Vacuum Gauge

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A quartz reference gauge is a device used to measure vacuum. The working principle is pretty much same to that of a bourdon tube. Here, 2 bourdon tubes are used and a formed into a helix. When a pressure difference between the two occurs, the setup begins to rotate. This rotational deflection is picked up using an optical circuit as show in the figure below.

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Quartz Reference Vacuum Gauge
                                     Quartz Reference Vacuum Gauge

The reason for using quartz is that it has good spring characteristics and if the unit is kept at a constant temperature environment, the angular deflection per unit pressure is repeatable. The main disadvantage with the device is that it cannot be used as a vacuum gauge in gases with fluorine content as this erodes quartz.

The rotational deflection is connected into an electronic signal, after it passes through the optical circuit. This electronic circuit is further amplified and then the output is annulled using a servo-control system. The corresponding output is displayed by analogue techniques or counted digitally, which can be directly in pressure units. With a tachogenerator on the servomotor shaft a damping adjustment facility can be provided, if necessary. The device is known to have a resolution of 1 milliTorr for 100 milliTorr full scale reading.

Thermocouple Vacuum Gauge

in Transducers / 1 Comment

The working of a thermocouple type vacuum gauge is very similar to that of a pirani gauge. The only difference is that the hot wire temperature is measured directly with a thermocouple which is attached to a wire. For different pressures, the temperature is measured by the fine-wire thermocouple, the hating current being initially fixed by the resistance as shown in the figure. This device is usually used for comparison purposes. The sensitivity of such an instrument depends on the pressure and the wire current.

Thermocouple Type Vacuum Gauge
                        Thermocouple Type Vacuum Gauge

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The figure below shows the working of thermocouple gauges for comparison purposes. Two sets of thermocouples are used to measure temperatures of heater wires in the two chambers and oppose each other. When there is a difference in pressures, there occurs an unbalance which is measured by a potentiometer circuit. Instead of a single thermocouple per wire, a thermopile is often chosen to increase sensitivity. The thermocouple gauge is also composition dependent and needs empirical calibration for the high vacuum range.

Vacuum Comparison by Thermocouple Gauges
                   Vacuum Comparison by Thermocouple Gauges

Pirani Gauge

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A basic pirani gauge consists of a fine wire of tungsten or platinum of about 0.002 cm in diameter. This wire is mounted in a tube and then connected to the system whose vacuum is to be measured. The temperature range is around (7-400) degree Celsius and the heating current is between (10-100) mA.  A bridge circuit is also used for greater accuracy. The pirani gauge is connected as one arm of the bridge circuit. The figure is shown below. Vacuum measurement is usually taken in three ways.

  • When the pressure changes, there will be a change in current. For this, the voltage V has to be kept constant.
  • The resistance R2 of the gauge is measured, by keeping the gauge current constant.
  • The null balance of the bridge circuit is maintained by adjusting the voltage or current. This change is made with the help of a potentiometer and the change brought will be a measure of the pressure produced.

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Pirani Gauge
Pirani Gauge

An additional reference gauge can also be used in the adjacent arm of another pirani gauge, in the bridge circuit. The additional gauge is evacuated and sealed, which helps in the compensaton for variation in ambient temperature. For commercial use, the range of the instrument can be extended from 10-3 Torr to 1 Torr.