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Flowmetering
Fluids and Flow Principles of Flow metering Types of Steam Flow m eter Instrumentation Installation

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Flow metering

Types of Steam Flowmeter
The operation, advantages and limitations of different types of steam flowmeter, including orifice plate, variable area and vortex shedding devices. Use the quick links below to take you to the main sections of this tutorial:

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Orifice Plate Flowmeters
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There are many types of flowmeter available, those suitable for steam applications include: Orifice plate flowmeters Turbine flowmeters (including shunt or bypass types) Variable area flowmeters Spring loaded variable area flowmeters Direct in-line variable area (DIVA) flowmeter Pitot tubes Vortex shedding flowmeters Each of these flowmeter types has its own advantages and limitations. To ensure accurate and consistent performance from a steam flowmeter, it is essential to match the flowmeter to the application. This Tutorial will review the above flowmeter types, and discuss their characteristics, their advantages and disadvantages, typical applications and typical installations.

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Orifice plate flowmeters
The orifice plate is one in a group known as head loss devices or differential pressure flowmeters. In simple terms the pipeline fluid is passed through a restriction, and the pressure differential is measured across that restriction. Based on the work of Daniel Bernoulli in 1738 (see Tutorial 4.2), the relationship between the velocity of fluid passing through the orifice is proportional to the square root of the pressure loss across it. Other flowmeters in the differential pressure group include venturis and nozzles. With an orifice plate flowmeter, the restriction is in the form of a plate which has a hole concentric with the pipeline. This is referred to as the primary element. To measure the differential pressure when the fluid is flowing, connections are made from the upstream and downstream pressure tappings, to a secondary device known as a DP (Differential Pressure) cell.

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Fig. 4.3.1

a drain hole may be drilled in the plate at the bottom of the pipe. 4. the effect of this must be taken into account when the orifice plate dimensions are determined.Orifice plate Fig. Clearly.3. Fig. the information may be fed to a simple flow indicator.2 Orifice plate flowmeter From the DP cell.3. or to a flow computer along with temperature and/or pressure data. which enables the system to compensate for changes in fluid density. 4. and is well documented in the International Standard ISO 5167. Correct sizing and installation of orifice plates is absolutely essential. In horizontal lines carrying vapours. To prevent this.3 Orifice plate flowmeter installation . water (or condensate) can build up against the upstream face of the orifice.

5. affected by a number of factors including: The ß ratio.4 Orifice plate installations Table 4. This is covenient. but care needs to be taken with tappings at the bottom of the pipe. and would typically be a value of 0. to reduce the effects of disturbance caused by the pipework.These are generally used on smaller orifice plates where space restrictions mean flanged tappings are difficult to manufacture.3. One pipe diameter on the upstream side and 0. Equation 4. or to a flow computer along with temperature and/or pressure data. In particularly arduous situations.4.3. The most common locations are: From the flanges (or carrier) containing the orifice plate as shown in Figure 4. flow straighteners may be used. which occurs at this position.3.1). The amount of straight pipework required upstream of the orifice plate is. The positioning of the pressure tappings can be varied. A few obstruction examples are shown in Figure 4. Pipework . because they may become clogged. From the DP cell. this is the relationship between the orifice diameter and the pipe diaameter (see Equation 4. 4. Usually on pipe diameters including or below DN50.5 x pipe diameter on the downstream side.7. to provide density compensation. the information may be fed to a flow indicator. Corner tappings .Small bore pipes (referred to as impulse lines) connect the upstream and downstream pressure tappings of the orifice plate to a Differential Pressure or DP cell. however. .4: Fig.This is less convenient.3. but potentially more accurate as the differential pressure measured is at its greatest at the vena contracta.There is a requirement for a minimum of five straight pipe diameters downstream of the orifice plate.Installation A few of the most important points from ISO 5167 are discussed below: Pressure tappings .1 The nature and geometry of the preceding obstruction.3.3.1 brings the ß ratio and the pipework geometry together to recommend the number of straight diameters of pipework required for the configurations shown in Figure 4. These are discussed in more detail in Tutorial 4.3.3.

The orifice plate can buckle due to waterhammer and can block in a system that is poorly designed or installed. The diameter of the rotor is slightly less than the inside diameter of the flowmetering chamber.5 m = 4. No calibration or recalibration is required provided calculations. Turbine flowmeters The primary element consists of a multi-bladed rotor which is mounted at right angles to the flow and suspended in the fluid stream on a free-running bearing. The installed length of an orifice plate flowmetering system may be substantial.5 m The total straight pipework required would be = 3.5.6 + 0. tolerances and installation comply with ISO 5167. Low cost. particularly if the steam is wet or dirty. which counts the pulses. but the overall flowrate is within the range. and accuracy will be affected. and its speed of rotation is proportional to the volumetric flowrate. This can be difficult to achieve in compact plants. the ß ratio is 0.3. Disadvantages of orifice plate steam flowmeters: Turndown is limited to between 4:1 and 5:1 because of the square root relationship between flow and pressure drop. Consider a system which uses 100 mm pipework. This can include the boiler house and applications where steam is supplied to many plants. a minimum of 10 upstream and 5 downstream straight unobstructed pipe diameters may be needed for accuracy.3.4(b): The upstream pipework length required would be = 36 x 0. This will alter the characteristics of the orifice. . Regular inspection and replacement is therefore necessary to ensure reliability and accuracy. Good accuracy. and the layout is similar to that shown in Figure 4.1 m = 0.Table 4. some off-line.3.6 m The downstream pipework length required would be = 5 x 0. some on-line.1 m Typical applications for orifice plate steam flowmeters: Anywhere the flowrate remains within the limited turndown ratio of between 4:1 and 5:1. The square edge of the orifice can erode over time.1 m = 3. as shown in Figure 4. The speed of rotation of the turbine may be determined using an electronic proximity switch mounted on the outside of the pipework.1 Recommended straight pipe diameters upstream of an orifice plate for various ß ratios and preceding obstruction Advantages of orifice plate steam flowmeters: Simple and rugged.7.

The bearing wear and friction. The conditional and dimensional changes of the blades. or even for the flowmeter body to incorporate a bypass or shunt. the turbine element can be installed in a pipework bypass. The inlet velocity profile and the effects of swirl. The lubricating qualities of the fluid.6. as shown in Figure 4. which is sized to provide sufficient restriction for a sample of the main flow to pass through a parallel circuit. calibration of turbine flowmeters must be carried out under operational conditions. there are many older units still in existence which have a mechanical output as shown in Figure 4.Fig. to minimise cost.3.3. there are several influencing factors that need to be considered: The temperature. Whilst the speed of rotation of the turbine may still be determined as explained previously. 4.6.5 Turbine flowmeter Since a turbine flowmeter consists of a number of moving parts. In larger pipelines. . Clearly. Bypass flowmeters comprise an orifice plate. pressure and viscosity of the fluid being measured. friction between the turbine shaft and the gland sealing can be significant with this mechanical arrangement. The pressure drop through the flowmeter.3. Because of these factors.

aluminium or PVC are used for specific applications. flow readings are taken by observation of the float against a scale. but on larger flowmeters special shaped floats are used to improve stability. Disadvantages of turbine flowmeters: Generally calibrated for a specific line pressure. often referred to as a rotameter. care must be taken to remove air and gases prior to them being metered. Entrained debris can damage the turbine wheel and alter its performance.3. . if failure of the tube could present a hazard. As with all liquids. 4.5). and chemical resistance to the fluid. For higher temperature applications where the tube material is opaque. However. leading to inaccuracies due to lag time. A tapered tube. Viscosity sensitive: if the viscosity of the fluid increases. the response at low flowrates deteriorates giving a non-linear relationship between flow and rotational speed.Fig. this type of flowmeter will be a mix of: A float selected to provide a certain weight. Software may be available to reduce this effect. consists of a vertical. and a float that is allowed to freely move in the fluid. however. Any steam pressure variations will lead to inaccuracies in readout unless a density compensation package is included.6 Bypass or shunt turbine flowmeter Advantages of turbine flowmeters: A turndown of 10:1 is achievable in a good installation with the turbine bearings in good condition. the turbine will tend to over or under run. the differential pressure remains almost constant. particularly at low flowrates. If the flow oscillates. Flow straighteners are essential (see Tutorial 4. Because the annular area around the float increases with flow. is an indication of the flowrate. The position of the float.5% of actual value). the float is simply a ball. The fluid must be very clean (particle size not more than 100 μm) because: Clearances between the turbine wheel and the inside of the pipe are very small. Variable area flowmeters The variable area flowmeter (Figure 4. then either a protective shroud may be fitted around the glass. which will provide a measuring scale of typically between 40 mm and 250 mm over the design flow range. Low flowrates can be lost because there is insufficient energy to turn the turbine wheel.3. In practice. therefore. other materials such as Hastalloy C. or a metal tube may be used. a magnetic device is used to indicate the position of the float. Typical applications for turbine flowmeters: Superheated steam. Accuracy is reasonable (± 0. the float's position is in equilibrium with: The dynamic upward force of the fluid. Entrained debris will accelerate bearing wear and affect accuracy. When fluid is passing through the tube. Wet steam can damage the turbine wheel and affect accuracy. Bypass flowmeters are relatively low cost.7). Liquid flowmetering. On small flowmeters. particularly fluids with lubricating properties. The most common float material is grade 316 stainless steel. tapered bore tube with the small bore at the lower end. The downward force resulting from the mass of the float. Usually the tube will be made from glass or plastic. With a transparent tube.

and the float tends to move about. Small bore airflow metering . Typical applications for variable area flowmeters: Metering of gases.In these applications.3. Because readings are usually taken visually.3. with calibrations marked on the outside. 4. Laboratory applications.8 Variable area flowmeter installed in a vertical plane . because the float is some distance away from the scale. Pressure drop is minimal and fairly constant. accuracy is only moderate. Transparent taper tubes limit pressure and temperature.8). Turndown is approximately 10:1. 4. This is made worst by parallax error at higher flowrates. Simple and robust. Rotameters are sometimes used as a flow indicating device rather than a flow measuring device. Fig.3. Readings are taken visually.Fig. the tube is manufactured from glass. Disadvantages of variable area flowmeters: The tube must be mounted vertically (see Figure 4.7 Variable area flowmeter Advantages of variable area flowmeters: Linear output.

allowing it to be used in any plane. another important feature is also revealed: if the pass area (the area between the float and the tube) increases at an appropriate rate. the size of the hole in the orifice plate) remains constant.10 compares these two principles.9 Spring loaded variable area flowmeters However. The pass area (the area between the float and the tube) through which the flow passes increases with increasing flow. . With any type of variable area flowmeter The differential pressure remains almost constant as the flowrate varies. The pass area (for example. even upside-down. 4. Fig.3.Spring loaded variable area flowmeters The spring loaded variable area flowmeter (an extension of the variable area flowmeter) uses a spring as the balancing force.3. However.3. so does the differential pressure. and the limits of the spring deformation. Figure 4. Flowrate is determine from the position of the float. there is also a limitation: the range of movement is constrained by the linear range of the spring. To recap a few earlier statements With orifice plates flowmeters: As the rate of flow increases. in its fundamental configuration (as shown in Figure 4.9). By measuring this pressure difference it is possible to calculate the flowrate through the flowmeter. then the differential pressure across the spring loaded variable area flowmeter can be directly proportional to flow. This makes the meter independent of gravity.

10 Comparing the fixed area and variable area flowmeters The spring loaded variable area principle is a hybrid between these two devices.. . This may be further tailored for saturated steam applications by incorporating a temperature sensor and programming steam tables into the computer unit.3. In Option 1 (determining the displacement of the float or 'flap').11 for an example of a flowmeter of this type.Fig.3. 4. and either: The displacement of the float .may be used to determine the flowrate through the flowmeter.Option 1 or The differential pressure . This will result in a very compact flowmeter. See Figure 4.Option 2 . Using a system of coils to accurately determine the position of the float. This can be developed for steam systems by: Using a torsion spring to give a better operating range..

10). Turndowns of 25:1 are achievable with normal steam velocities (25 m/s). Typical applications for spring loaded variable area flowmeters: Flowetering of steam to individual plants.3.13 for an example of a spring loaded variable area flowmeter measuring differential pressure. .12 Typical installation of a spring loaded variable area flowmeter measuring steam flow In Option 2 (Figure 4. although high velocities can be tolerated on an intermittent basis. Small boiler houses.3.Fig. this concept can be developed further by shaping of the float to give a linear relationship between differential pressure and flowrate. The float is referred to as a cone due to its shape. Fig.3. determining the differential pressure. at prolonged high velocity (>30 m/s). Can be tailored for saturated steam systems with temperature and pressure sensors to provide pressure compensation.11 Spring loaded variable area flowmeter monitoring the position of the float Advantages of spring loaded variable area flowmeters: Robust. namely.3. Disadvantages of spring loaded variable area flowmeters: Size limited to DN100. 4. Relatively low cost. offering turndowns of up to 40:1. Can be damaged over a long period by poor quality (wet and dirty) steam. 4. See Figure 4. Short installation length. Accuracy is ±2% of actual value.

a DN100 wafer unit requires only 60 mm between flanges. Compact . up to 100:1.3. unlike other SLVA flowmeters.Fig. . such as the DP cell and flow computer.13 Spring Loaded Variable Area flowmeter (SLVA) monitoring differential pressure Advantages of a spring loaded variable area (SLVA) flowmeter: High turndown.14 Typical installation of a SVLA flowmeter monitoring differential pressure Direct In-Line Variable Area (DIVA) flowmeter The DIVA flowmeter operates on the well established spring loaded variable area (SLVA) principle. measuring instead the force caused by the deflection of the cone via a series of extremely high quality strain gauges. However. Flowmetering of large plants. The higher the flow of steam the greater the force.15). Good accuracy ±1% of reading for pipeline unit. Suitable for many fluids. where the area of an annular orifice is continuously varied by a precision shaped moving cone. Disadvantages of a variable area spring load flowmeter: Can be expensive due to the required accessories.3. This cone is free to move axially against the resistance of a spring. 4. 4. This removes the need for expensive differential pressure transmitters. the DIVA does not rely on the measurement of differential pressure drop across the flowmeter to calculate flow. Fig. Typical applications for a variable area spring load flowmeter: Boiler house flowmetering. reducing installation costs and potential problems (Figure 4.3.

The DIVA has an internal temperature sensor. 4. ± 0. giving an operational range of up to 98% of its maximum flow. or its operational range. of: ± 2% of actual flow to a confidence of 95% (2 standard deviations) over a range of 10% to 100% of maximum rated flow. Enable efficiencies to be calculated for processes or power generation.3. As the DIVA is a self-contained unit the uncertainty quoted is for the complete system.15 Traditional flowmetering system versus a DIVA flowmetering system The DIVA steam flowmeter (Figure 4.2% FSD to a confidence of 95% (2 standard deviations) from 2% to 10% of the maximum rated flow. such as DP cells.16) has a system uncertainty in accordance with EN ISO/IEC 17025. Flowmetering systems will: Check on the energy cost of any part of the plant. for the whole system. the individual uncertainty values of any associated equipment. need to be taken into account.3. which provides full density compensation for saturated steam applications. Cost energy as a raw material. Fig. Many flowmeters claim a pipeline unit uncertainty but. The turndown of a flowmeter is the ratio of the maximum to minimum flowrate over which it will meet its specified performance. The DIVA flowmeter has a high turndown ratio of up to 50:1. . Identify priority areas for energy savings.

Fig.3.17 Flow orientation Pitot tubes In large steam mains. and the turndown ratio will be affected if the flow is vertically upwards. if the DIVA is installed with a vertical flow direction then the pressure limit is reduced. 4.3. .16 The DIVA flowmeter Flow orientations The orientation of the DIVA flowmeter can have an effect on the operating performance.3. and a 50:1 turndown.17. the DIVA has a steam pressure limit of 32 bar g.Fig. As shown in Figure 4. Installed in horizontal pipe. the cost of providing a full bore flowmeter can become extremely high both in terms of the cost of the flowmeter itself. 4. and the installation work required.

A Piot tube flowmeter can be an inexpensive method of metering. These sensing tubes sense various velocity pressures across the pipe. it is cheap to install. Note that a square root relationship exists between velocity and pressure drop (see Equation 4.2. 4.Static pressure ρ = Density . where a pressure is generated in a tube facing the flow. 4. and. the hole measuring the velocity pressure and the holes measuring the reference or static pressure are incorporated in the same device.13 Where: The averaging Pitot tube The averaging Pitot tube (Figure 4.3. by the velocity of the fluid. are a common type of insertion flowmeter. Pitot tubes.19. u1 = The fluid velocity in the pipe Δp = Dynamic pressure . two tubes inserted into a pipe would be cumbersome. Fig. Here.19) only samples a single point. and a simple Pitot tube will consist of one unit as shown in Figure 4.19 A simple pitot tube Because the simple Pitot tube (Figure 4. Fig. The flowmeter itself is cheap.18 shows the basis for a Pitot tube. as introduced in Tutorial 4. and the velocity can be determined by applying a simple equation.20) was developed with a number of upstream sensing tubes to overcome the problems associated with correctly siting the simple type of Pitot tube.13).3.2. Equation 4.18 A diagrammatic pitot tube In practice.3. accurate placement of the nozzle is critical. which are then averaged within the tube assembly to give a representative flowrate of the whole cross section. This limits the accuracy to a small turndown range.3. because the flow profile of the fluid (and hence velocity profile) varies across the pipe. and one flowmeter may be used in several applications. This 'velocity' pressure is compared against the reference pressure (or static pressure) in the pipe. Figure 4.3.2.3.

Fig. These factors are summarised in Equation 4. the rate of vortex shedding is proportional to the flowrate. Simple types can be used on different diameter pipes. the high pressure region moving towards the low pressure region. some models can be installed horizontally. and this allows the velocity to be measured. and the inverse of the bluff body diameter. the pressure regions change places and vortices of different strengths are produced on alternate sides of the body. This also applies to the pressure. increases uncertainty.3.2.3. Vortex shedding flowmeters These flowmeters utilise the fact that when a non-streamlined or 'bluff' body is placed in a fluid flow. Disadvantages of the Pitot tube: Turndown is limited to approximately 4:1 by the square root relationship between pressure and velocity as discussed in Tutorial 4. regular vortices are shed from the rear of the body. 4. The frequency of shedding is proportional to the Strouhal number (Sr). The fluid which is nearest to the body experiences friction from the body surface and slows down. As pressure attempts to redistribute itself. and on the low velocity side the pressure is high.20 The averaging pitot tube Advantages of the Pitot tube Presents little resistance to flow. The low pressure drop measured by the unit. the flow velocity. Over a range of flows. Typical applications for the Pitot tube: Occasional use to provide an indication of flowrate Determining the range over which a more appropriate steam flowmeter may be used. As the velocity increases on one side it decreases on the other. counted and displayed. the bottom holes can become effectively blocked. On the high velocity side the pressure is low. Once the fluid has passed the bluff body. Because of the area reduction between the bluff body and the pipe diameter. which in turn causes a rotational motion in the fluid creating a spinning vortex. Inexpensive to buy.2. To counter this. Placement inside the pipework is critical. Sensitive to changes in turbulence and needs careful installation and maintenance. it strives to fill the space produced behind it. These vortices can be detected. The bluff body causes a blockage around which the fluid has to flow. the body induces a change in the fluid direction and thus velocity. the fluid further away from the body is forced to accelerate to pass the necessary fluid through the reduced space. . especially on steam. If steam is wet. By forcing the fluid to flow around it. The shedding frequency and the fluid velocity have a near-linear relationship when the correct conditions are met. The fluid velocity produced by the restriction is not constant on both sides of the bluff body.

For example: f = k xu Where: k = A constant for all fluids on a given design of flowmeter. Hence: Then the volume flowrate qv in a pipe can be calculated as shown in Equation 4. Disadvantages of vortex shedding flowmeters: At low flows.3.3.3.3.3 Where: A = Area of the flowmeter bore (m²) Advantages of vortex shedding flowmeters: Reasonable turndown (providing high velocities and high pressure drops are acceptable) No moving parts. Maximum flowrates are often quoted at velocities of 80 or 100 m/s. pulses are not generated and the flowmeter can read low or even zero.21 Vortex shedding flowmeter Equation 4.Fig. Little resistance to flow. and that it is directly proportional to the velocity for any given bluff body diameter.2 Where: f = Shedding frequency (Hz) Sr = Strouhal number (dimensionless) u = Mean pipe flow velocity (m/s) d = Bluff body diameter (m) The Strouhal number is determined experimentally and generally remains constant for a wide range of Reynolds numbers.3: Equation 4. which would give severe .which indicates that the shedding frequency will remain unaffected by a change in fluid density. 4.

Fig. Long. leading to inaccuracy. as for orifice plate flowmeters. 4. Vibration can cause errors in accuracy. especially if the steam is wet and/or dirty.22 Vortex shedding flowmeter . clear lengths of upstream pipework must be provided.3. Correct installation is critical as a protruding gasket or weld beads can cause vortices to form.typical installations What do I do now? The printable version of this page has now been replaced by The Steam and Condensate Loop Book View the complete collection of Steam Engineering Tutorials Contact Us . Natural gas measurements for boiler fuel flow. Typical applications for vortex shredding flowmeters: Direct steam measurements at both boiler and point of use locations. Lower velocities found in steam pipes will reduce the capacity of vortex flowmeters.problems in steam systems.