Types of Steam Flowmeter

The operation, advantages and limitations of different types of steam flowmeter,
including orifice plate, variable area and vortex shedding devices.
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
This Tutorial will review the above flowmeter types, and discuss their characteristics, their
advantages and disadvantages, typical applications and typical installations.

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.

Fig. 4.3.1
Orifice plate

Fig. 4.3.2
Orifice plate flowmeter
From the DP cell, the information may be fed to a simple flow indicator, or to a flow
computer along with temperature and/or pressure data, which enables the system to
compensate for changes in fluid density.
In horizontal lines carrying vapours, water (or condensate) can build up against the upstream
face of the orifice. To prevent this, a drain hole may be drilled in the plate at the bottom of the
pipe. Clearly, the effect of this must be taken into account when the orifice plate dimensions
are determined.
Correct sizing and installation of orifice plates is absolutely essential, and is well documented
in the International Standard ISO 5167.

 One pipe diameter on the upstream side and 0.This is less convenient.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. which occurs at this position.Fig. The most common locations are:  From the flanges (or carrier) containing the orifice plate as shown in Figure 4.3 Orifice plate flowmeter installation Installation A few of the most important points from ISO 5167 are discussed below: Pressure tappings .3. The positioning of the pressure tappings can be varied. .3. because they may become clogged.5 x pipe diameter on the downstream side. but potentially more accurate as the differential pressure measured is at its greatest at the vena contracta.3. but care needs to be taken with tappings at the bottom of the pipe. This is covenient. 4.

A few obstruction examples are shown in Figure 4.7. From the DP cell.3.5.Corner tappings . to provide density compensation.3. this is the relationship between the orifice diameter and the pipe diaameter (see Equation 4. The amount of straight pipework required upstream of the orifice plate is.4 Orifice plate installations Table 4. Pipework .These are generally used on smaller orifice plates where space restrictions mean flanged tappings are difficult to manufacture. the information may be fed to a flow indicator. and would typically be a value of 0.4: Fig. or to a flow computer along with temperature and/or pressure data. Usually on pipe diameters including or below DN50.4. 4.1). These are discussed in more detail in Tutorial 4.1 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. Equation 4. however.3. affected by a number of factors including:  The ß ratio. to reduce the effects of disturbance caused by the pipework.3.1  The nature and geometry of the preceding obstruction. In particularly arduous situations.There is a requirement for a minimum of five straight pipe diameters downstream of the orifice plate.3. flow straighteners may be used.3. .

5 m = 4. tolerances and installation comply with ISO 5167.Table 4. This can be difficult to achieve in compact plants. Consider a system which uses 100 mm pipework. a minimum of 10 upstream and 5 downstream straight unobstructed pipe diameters may be needed for accuracy. and accuracy will be affected.  The square edge of the orifice can erode over time.1 m Typical applications for orifice plate steam flowmeters: .6 m The downstream pipework length required would be = 5 x 0.  Good accuracy. 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.3.6 + 0.1 m = 0.3.5 m The total straight pipework required would be = 3.  The installed length of an orifice plate flowmetering system may be substantial. and the layout is similar to that shown in Figure 4.1 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.1 m = 3. Regular inspection and replacement is therefore necessary to ensure reliability and accuracy. the ß ratio is 0.  Low cost. particularly if the steam is wet or dirty.7.  The orifice plate can buckle due to waterhammer and can block in a system that is poorly designed or installed.  No calibration or recalibration is required provided calculations. This will alter the characteristics of the orifice.4(b): The upstream pipework length required would be = 36 x 0.

which counts the pulses. Fig. This can include the boiler house and applications where steam is supplied to many plants.  The lubricating qualities of the fluid.5. 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 diameter of the rotor is slightly less than the inside diameter of the flowmetering chamber. there are several influencing factors that need to be considered:  The temperature. as shown in Figure 4.3.3. The speed of rotation of the turbine may be determined using an electronic proximity switch mounted on the outside of the pipework. but the overall flowrate is within the range. pressure and viscosity of the fluid being measured.  The bearing wear and friction.  The inlet velocity profile and the effects of swirl.  The conditional and dimensional changes of the blades. some on-line. and its speed of rotation is proportional to the volumetric flowrate. Anywhere the flowrate remains within the limited turndown ratio of between 4:1 and 5:1. 4.5 Turbine flowmeter Since a turbine flowmeter consists of a number of moving parts. . some off-line.

Because of these factors. or even for the flowmeter body to incorporate a bypass or shunt. to minimise cost. Bypass flowmeters comprise an orifice plate. the turbine element can be installed in a pipework bypass. The pressure drop through the flowmeter.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. 4. calibration of turbine flowmeters must be carried out under operational conditions.3.3.6.  Bypass flowmeters are relatively low cost.  Accuracy is reasonable (± 0. which is sized to provide sufficient restriction for a sample of the main flow to pass through a parallel circuit. In larger pipelines. Whilst the speed of rotation of the turbine may still be determined as explained previously. Fig.3. Disadvantages of turbine flowmeters: . there are many older units still in existence which have a mechanical output as shown in Figure 4. Clearly.5% of actual value).6. as shown in Figure 4. friction between the turbine shaft and the gland sealing can be significant with this mechanical arrangement.

the float's position is in equilibrium with:  The dynamic upward force of the fluid. Any steam pressure variations will lead to inaccuracies in readout unless a density compensation package is included.5). leading to inaccuracies due to lag time. often referred to as a rotameter. the response at low flowrates deteriorates giving a non-linear relationship between flow and rotational speed. When fluid is passing through the tube.  Low flowrates can be lost because there is insufficient energy to turn the turbine wheel. o Entrained debris can damage the turbine wheel and alter its performance. tapered bore tube with the small bore at the lower end. As with all liquids.  The fluid must be very clean (particle size not more than 100 μm) because: o Clearances between the turbine wheel and the inside of the pipe are very small. care must be taken to remove air and gases prior to them being metered.  Viscosity sensitive: if the viscosity of the fluid increases. the turbine will tend to over or under run.  Liquid flowmetering.  If the flow oscillates. Generally calibrated for a specific line pressure. particularly at low flowrates.  Flow straighteners are essential (see Tutorial 4. o Entrained debris will accelerate bearing wear and affect accuracy. consists of a vertical. and a float that is allowed to freely move in the fluid. .7). Software may be available to reduce this effect.3.  Wet steam can damage the turbine wheel and affect accuracy. Typical applications for turbine flowmeters:  Superheated steam. Variable area flowmeters The variable area flowmeter (Figure 4. particularly fluids with lubricating properties.

 A tapered tube.7 Variable area flowmeter Advantages of variable area flowmeters:  Linear output. if failure of the tube could present a hazard. On small flowmeters. With a transparent tube. Usually the tube will be made from glass or plastic. the float is simply a ball. or a metal tube may be used. The downward force resulting from the mass of the float.3.  Turndown is approximately 10:1. . Fig. a magnetic device is used to indicate the position of the float. the differential pressure remains almost constant. The most common float material is grade 316 stainless steel. but on larger flowmeters special shaped floats are used to improve stability. however. other materials such as Hastalloy C. 4. Because the annular area around the float increases with flow. and chemical resistance to the fluid. aluminium or PVC are used for specific applications. this type of flowmeter will be a mix of:  A float selected to provide a certain weight. then either a protective shroud may be fitted around the glass. is an indication of the flowrate.  The position of the float. therefore. However. In practice. For higher temperature applications where the tube material is opaque. which will provide a measuring scale of typically between 40 mm and 250 mm over the design flow range.  Simple and robust. flow readings are taken by observation of the float against a scale.

Typical applications for variable area flowmeters:  Metering of gases. because the float is some distance away from the scale. Disadvantages of variable area flowmeters:  The tube must be mounted vertically (see Figure 4.3. 4. the tube is manufactured from glass. Readings are taken visually.3. and the float tends to move about. Fig.  Laboratory applications.  Transparent taper tubes limit pressure and temperature. accuracy is only moderate.In these applications. with calibrations marked on the outside.  Small bore airflow metering .8).8 Variable area flowmeter installed in a vertical plane . Pressure drop is minimal and fairly constant. This is made worst by parallax error at higher flowrates.  Because readings are usually taken visually.  Rotameters are sometimes used as a flow indicating device rather than a flow measuring device.

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

and either: .  Flowrate is determine from the position of the float. Fig.With any type of variable area flowmeter  The differential pressure remains almost constant as the flowrate varies.3.3. Figure 4.10 Comparing the fixed area and variable area flowmeters The spring loaded variable area principle is a hybrid between these two devices. 4.10 compares these two principles.  The pass area (the area between the float and the tube) through which the flow passes increases with increasing flow.

11 Spring loaded variable area flowmeter monitoring the position of the float Advantages of spring loaded variable area flowmeters:  Robust. The displacement of the float .. This will result in a very compact flowmeter.3.  Using a system of coils to accurately determine the position of the float.Option 1 or  The differential pressure . although high velocities can be tolerated on an intermittent basis. offering turndowns of up to 40:1. This may be further tailored for saturated steam applications by incorporating a temperature sensor and programming steam tables into the computer unit. In Option 1 (determining the displacement of the float or 'flap').. This can be developed for steam systems by:  Using a torsion spring to give a better operating range.  Relatively low cost. 4. Fig.  Can be tailored for saturated steam systems with temperature and pressure sensors to provide pressure compensation.11 for an example of a flowmeter of this type.  Accuracy is ±2% of actual value.may be used to determine the flowrate through the flowmeter.  Turndowns of 25:1 are achievable with normal steam velocities (25 m/s).3. See Figure 4. .Option 2 .

Fig. 4.3.3. determining the differential pressure.  Small boiler houses. See Figure 4. Disadvantages of spring loaded variable area flowmeters:  Size limited to DN100. The float is referred to as a cone due to its shape.3. Typical applications for spring loaded variable area flowmeters:  Flowetering of steam to individual plants.12 Typical installation of a spring loaded variable area flowmeter measuring steam flow In Option 2 (Figure 4.13 Spring Loaded Variable Area flowmeter (SLVA) monitoring differential pressure . namely.10).13 for an example of a spring loaded variable area flowmeter measuring differential pressure. 4.3. Fig. at prolonged high velocity (>30 m/s). Short installation length. this concept can be developed further by shaping of the float to give a linear relationship between differential pressure and flowrate.  Can be damaged over a long period by poor quality (wet and dirty) steam.

 Compact .  Good accuracy ±1% of reading for pipeline unit. 4.a DN100 wafer unit requires only 60 mm between flanges. Typical applications for a variable area spring load flowmeter:  Boiler house flowmetering. Fig.14 Typical installation of a SVLA flowmeter monitoring differential pressure Direct In-Line Variable Area (DIVA) flowmeter .  Flowmetering of large plants.  Suitable for many fluids.Advantages of a spring loaded variable area (SLVA) flowmeter:  High turndown. Disadvantages of a variable area spring load flowmeter:  Can be expensive due to the required accessories.3. such as the DP cell and flow computer. up to 100:1.

the DIVA does not rely on the measurement of differential pressure drop across the flowmeter to calculate flow.  Cost energy as a raw material. However.  Identify priority areas for energy savings. the individual . Flowmetering systems will:  Check on the energy cost of any part of the plant.3.  ± 0. reducing installation costs and potential problems (Figure 4. The higher the flow of steam the greater the force. As the DIVA is a self-contained unit the uncertainty quoted is for the complete system. unlike other SLVA flowmeters. measuring instead the force caused by the deflection of the cone via a series of extremely high quality strain gauges.2% FSD to a confidence of 95% (2 standard deviations) from 2% to 10% of the maximum rated flow. which provides full density compensation for saturated steam applications.3. This removes the need for expensive differential pressure transmitters.  Enable efficiencies to be calculated for processes or power generation. 4.16) has a system uncertainty in accordance with EN ISO/IEC 17025. The DIVA has an internal temperature sensor.15).15 Traditional flowmetering system versus a DIVA flowmetering system The DIVA steam flowmeter (Figure 4.The DIVA flowmeter operates on the well established spring loaded variable area (SLVA) principle. Fig. for the whole system. This cone is free to move axially against the resistance of a spring. Many flowmeters claim a pipeline unit uncertainty but.3. where the area of an annular orifice is continuously varied by a precision shaped moving cone. of:  ± 2% of actual flow to a confidence of 95% (2 standard deviations) over a range of 10% to 100% of maximum rated flow.

the DIVA has a steam pressure limit of 32 bar g. and a 50:1 turndown. The turndown of a flowmeter is the ratio of the maximum to minimum flowrate over which it will meet its specified performance. such as DP cells.16 The DIVA flowmeter Flow orientations The orientation of the DIVA flowmeter can have an effect on the operating performance. . and the turndown ratio will be affected if the flow is vertically upwards.uncertainty values of any associated equipment. 4. Installed in horizontal pipe. if the DIVA is installed with a vertical flow direction then the pressure limit is reduced. or its operational range. The DIVA flowmeter has a high turndown ratio of up to 50:1.3. Fig.3. need to be taken into account. As shown in Figure 4. giving an operational range of up to 98% of its maximum flow.17.

3. two tubes inserted into a pipe would be cumbersome. Fig. 4.2. as introduced in Tutorial 4. and the installation work required. where a pressure is generated in a tube facing the flow. and one flowmeter may be used in several applications. A Piot tube flowmeter can be an inexpensive method of metering.3.18 A diagrammatic pitot tube In practice. the cost of providing a full bore flowmeter can become extremely high both in terms of the cost of the flowmeter itself. The flowmeter itself is cheap. 4. Pitot tubes. are a common type of insertion flowmeter.3. and a simple Pitot tube will consist of one unit as shown in Figure 4.17 Flow orientation Pitot tubes In large steam mains. it is cheap to install.19. Figure 4. the hole measuring the velocity pressure and the holes measuring the reference or static pressure are incorporated in the same device.3.18 shows the basis for a Pitot tube. . and the velocity can be determined by applying a simple equation. This 'velocity' pressure is compared against the reference pressure (or static pressure) in the pipe.Fig. by the velocity of the fluid. Here.

Note that a square root relationship exists between velocity and pressure drop (see Equation 4.19 A simple pitot tube Because the simple Pitot tube (Figure 4. because the flow profile of the fluid (and hence velocity profile) varies across the pipe.Static pressure ρ= Density Fig.3.3. u1 = The fluid velocity in the pipe Δp = Dynamic pressure . These sensing tubes sense various velocity pressures across the pipe.20) was developed with a number of upstream sensing tubes to overcome the problems associated with correctly siting the simple type of Pitot tube.2.3.13 Where: The averaging Pitot tube The averaging Pitot tube (Figure 4. Equation 4. This limits the accuracy to a small turndown range.3. accurate placement of the nozzle is critical.2.  Inexpensive to buy. and.Fig. 4. which are then averaged within the tube assembly to give a representative flowrate of the whole cross section. 4. .20 The averaging pitot tube Advantages of the Pitot tube  Presents little resistance to flow.19) only samples a single point.13).

 Simple types can be used on different diameter pipes. To counter this. the bottom holes can become effectively blocked.2.  If steam is wet. some models can be installed horizontally.  Sensi  . 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.