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Aquacultural Engineering 6 (1987) 75-77

A Simple Water Flow Sensor for Electronic Alarm Systems

L. G. Ross and J. F. Muir Institute of Aquaculture,Universityof Stirling,StirlingFK9 4LA, UK

ABSTRACT The use of a vertical float switch to indicate water flow is described. The unit can be used to provide 'water on~water off' signals for incorporation into a more general electronic alarm system and may be adapted for use in a research environment or in intensive fish production units. The device is of relatively low cost and is based on easily available components.

It is increasingly common practice in intensive fish farming, particularly in hatchery units, to install some type of alarm system. These systems continuously monitor key features of the installation and provide audible warning of plant failure, often coupled with some form of telephone link, or dialler unit, to allow for unattended operation. The development of low-cost digital logic and of microcomputers has resulted in moderately sophisticated units with high reliability becoming more commonplace in the industry. A number of well-tried sensors are available for such systems, and these are usually deployed according to the specific needs of the operator. The most commonly used device is a horizontal float switch which detects water level and this can be used to signal low or high water levels in stock tanks, header tanks or raceways. Additional sensors may be used indicating water temperature changes or mains power failure. Water flow sensors are not easily incorporated into these systems as most flow detectors are designed to actually measure flow rate rather than provide 'water on/water off' information needed for alarm purposes and thus can be quite costly. It is, however, a major concern in intensive systems that the integrity of the water supply can be monitored. Supply failure can occur for a wide variety of reasons and even short-term cessation of flow can have serious effects in heavily stocked systems. Although suitably placed level switches located in outlets or sumps can indicate the cessation of flow from aquaculture units, these are difficult to install for 75 Aquaculnral Engineering 0144-8609/87/S03.50- Elsevier Applied Science Publishers Ltd. England. 1987. Printedin Great Britain


L. G. Ross, J. F. Muir

reliable operation in single tank units. This short note describes the use of a vertical float switch as a water flow sensor. The switch unit consists of a fully sealed vertical reed switch which has a reversible float, allowing for normally closed or normally open operation (Fig. 1A). The switch unit is mounted through an end cap joined to a tee by a short piece of appropriate piping (Fig. 1B). Should large-bore piping be used, the sensor can. be installed on an appropriate saddle. The tee is installed in the supply line to the tank and is arranged so that the float rises vertically upwards when water is present. A bleed hole is drilled off-centre in the end cap so that, when water ceases to flow, the tee can drain down over a period of a few seconds. In practice it has been found that a bleed hole of about 6 m m is sufficient to prevent constant

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Nylon nut and sealing gasket


Supply line to tank



Tee Sensor

End cap Bleed hole

Fig. 1.

A, Schematic diagram of the vertical float switch used as a water flow sensor. B,
The method of installation of the sensor into a tank supply line.

A simple water flow sensor for electronic alarm systems


blockage. As water is constantly emerging from the bleed hole it is obviously essential to install the sensor as close to the end of the delivery pipe as possible, thereby allowing this water to enter the tank. There is a built-in mechanical delay in operation of the sensor because of the time taken to drain the tee. This has the advantage that an electronic delay at the input of the alarm system need not be provided. These units have been used at cable distances of up to 50 m from the control unit and when powered from a 5 V source can directly provide input to a TTL or microcomputer-based alarm system. The switches are easily available from electronic component distributors (R.S. Components, 331-017; Farnell Electronic Components, 146-301), have an electrical life of > 5 x 105 operations and have a current cost of about 6 (USS9). Taking account of the cost of tees and end caps the total material cost per unit is about 10 (USS 15), which makes it possible to consider installation of these units on individual tanks or in other flow locations for most aquaculture purposes.