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Top Tips for Flowmeter Selection

Top Tips for Flowmeter Selection



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Published by: api-3764135 on Oct 17, 2008
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Top Tips for flowmeter selection
Dr. Bryan Franklin, ABB

The huge array of flow technology options on offer can make selecting the correct flowmeter for an application a bewildering task. A broad range of factors can influence flowmeter selection, of which cost is just one. Dr Bryan Franklin, Flow Products Manager, ABB Limited recommends a list of top tips for selecting the best all round flow system for an application.

1. Do you even need a flowmeter?

Many users often just want to know the rate at which a liquid or gas is moving
through a pipeline. In such cases, a simple flow indicator, available from any
flowmeter vendor at a fraction of the cost of the simplest flowmeter, will usually
suffice. Simple and easy to install and requiring no external power, these
instruments can be used to provide local indication of flow.

Even where there is a demand for something more sophisticated, such as an
indication of flow to within 10%, there may still be no need to purchase a
flowmeter. Many installations typically feature bends or joints that can be readily
converted into a crude flowmeter by purchasing a differential pressure transmitter
and installing sensors to measure the difference in pressure between two or
more points. Provided that calibration can be correctly achieved, these simplified
flowmeters can achieve an accuracy of around 5%.

2. Don\u2019t choose on cost alone

When it comes to selecting a flowmeter, cheapest is by no means best. Although it might seem the best way to save money in the short term, opting for the lowest cost solution may potentially result in problems later down the line.

Be particularly careful where reductions in the purchase price have been

achieved by cuts in supplier back-up and expertise. Ultimately, the most cost-
effective installation will be the one where the supplier can offer good technical
back-up, independently traceable test facilities, an established track record and a
reputation for high-reliability products based on sound research and

3. Know your flow

A key thing to remember when selecting a flowmeter is that every fluid or gas
behaves differently when flowing through the pipeline. The main cause of this is
viscosity - how much the fluid resists flow, which in turn affects the velocity of
flow through the pipeline.

By profiling the flow of a fluid or gas through the pipeline, it is possible to find out
how it behaves and from there to narrow down the choice of flowmeters to those
best able to cope with the conditions of the application.

The flow profile of a fluid will vary according to whether it is Newtonian or non-
Newtonian. Newtonian fluids include milk, water, sugar solutions and mineral oils
and have a tendency to \u2018stick\u2019 to the pipe walls, resulting in the liquid moving
more slowly at the sides of the pipe than in the middle. Newtonian liquids have a
directly proportional relationship between the pressure of the liquid flowing
through and the resistance, or shear force, caused by the fluid sticking to the
pipe walls.

The behaviour of Non-Newtonian fluids, such as paints, shampoos and yogurt is
harder to predict, as there is no relationship between pressure and resistance.
Instead, the flow of these fluids tends to vary as viscosity changes either with
time or due to increased resistance caused by the collision of two different
velocities as the fluid sticks to the pipe walls.

To select the best flowmeter, it is necessary to calculate the Reynolds number of
the application. This figure is basically the ratio of momentum against viscosity
and can be calculated by using the minimum and maximum fluid flow and
viscosity figures of the application. Once the Reynolds values are known, they
can then be matched against a flowmeter\u2019s Reynolds range to help pick the one
that is best able to meet the demands of the application.

4. Opt for the widest turndown

Put simply, turndown is the ratio of the maximum and minimum flow rates a
flowmeter can measure within its specified accuracy range. The turndown of a
flowmeter is particularly important because it is virtually impossible to know in
advance the exact range of flows to be measured. Selecting a flowmeter that
offers the widest possible turndown will ensure that it can cover all anticipated
flow variations.

5. Pay attention to installation

When selecting a flowmeter, it is important to consider exactly where and how
the device will be installed, as this can significantly affect both accuracy and

Obstructions in the pipeline such as joints, bends or valves in close proximity to
the meter can all cause distortions in flow, affecting flowmeter accuracy and
repeatability. To ensure best results, flowmeters should be installed in locations
where there are several straight-lengths of unobstructed pipeline both upstream
and downstream of the meter.

It is therefore important to find out the manufacturer\u2019s installation
recommendations before buying a flowmeter, particularly where installation
space is limited.

6. Pick the flowmeter that will offer the best accuracy for the application

When selecting a flowmeter, it is important to find out which types are most
suited to the application. For the lowest uncertainty of measurement, positive
displacement meters are generally the best option. Electromagnetic meters
provide for the widest flow range, turbine meters are usually the best choice for
the highest short-term repeatability while orifice plate meters are the most
commonly used metering device. Despite their high initial cost, Coriolis mass
flowmeters are ideal for measuring particularly viscous substances and anywhere
that the measurement of mass rather than volume is required.

The following table groups the various types of flowmeter according to their
suitability for liquid, gas, steam and slurry applications.
Variable Area
Variable Area
Variable Area

Variable Differential
Pressure (Wedge,
eccentric, segmental,






Where accuracy is concerned, it is important to remember that all flowmeters are

affected to some extent by the medium they are metering and by the way they are installed. Consequently, flowmeter performance in real life conditions will often be different from the reference conditions under which the flowmeter was calibrated.

It is also important to beware of manufacturers\u2019 calibration accuracy claims. Even
under stable reference conditions, the best accuracy that manufacturers can
hope to achieve is 0.1%.

7. Use the same supplier for all your flowmetering equipment
A flowmeter is often only as good as the equipment that sits alongside it. For
example, a flow computer or other form of display is needed to process data from

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