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Reprinted from June/July 2002 Plant Services Magazine

Averaging Pitot Tubes:

Six Steps to Successful Installation
John Good and Vince Cisar

nstalling an averaging pitot tube is a simple

process. However, problems can result that are
very difficult to correct later if a few basic
factors are not considered during the mounting
process. The first three steps to successful mounting
are location, orientation and installation.

of a short-radius elbow, reasonable accuracy can be

achieved if the instrument is mounted to the outside
radius of the elbow and the flow coefficient is properly

Step One: Location

First, determine if adequate straight run is available.
Straight run refers to the amount of obstruction-free
piping upstream and downstream of the averaging
pitot tube. Elbows, control valves, changes in pipe
size and other obstructions create flow disturbances
that can affect accuracy. Because the averaging
pitot tube measures and averages the readings from
multiple points along the flow profile (see Figure 1),
its straight run requirements are less stringent than
most other devices, but upstream and downstream
disturbances must still be taken into consideration.
Figure 2

Elbow mount installation

Notice how the pitot tube traverses the skew of the flow
profile in Figure 2. If it were rotated 90 from the
position shown, it would not average the flow correctly.
Another example of traversing the skew occurs
downstream of a butterfly valve, with the instrument
oriented 90 from the valve axis.

Figure 1

Examples of flow profiles

Most flow meter manufacturers publish straight run

charts. However, the charts dont tell you where to
locate the pitot tube when adequate straight run is
not available. Intuition may not always be correct
when deciding. For example, when the only option
is to install it immediately down-stream of an elbow,
one may be tempted to install it as far away from the
elbow as possible. While it is true that the upstream
disturbances influence the accuracy more than the
downstream disturbances, this is one case where
installing the pitot tube two diameters from the
centerline of the elbow is best (see Figure 2).
The velocity profile hugs the outside radius of the
pipe immediately after an elbow in a predictable
manner. At two pipe diameters from the centerline

Not all straight run rules are chiseled in stone. For

example, the chart may require 24 pipe diameters after a
valve. However, a fully open, full-throat gate or ball
valve induces only a small flow disturbance. Because
there are so many combinations possible, consult the
instrument manufacturer for a recommendation on where
it should be installed and for an estimated accuracy. One
pointer always provide a sketch or diagram. Verbal
descriptions are not always conveyed or interpreted
accurately. In addition, there may be something in the
diagram that seems irrelevant, such as a temperature
sensor or pressure tap, but may affect the accuracy of the

Step Two: Orientation

Consider horizontal piping runs first.
For gas
applications, mount the pitot tube in the upper 160
portion of the pipe to prevent condensate from collecting
in the instrument lines or transmitter (see Figure 3).
This is especially critical when the gas is saturated or
operating at a temperature above ambient.
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Reprinted from June/July 2002 Plant Services Magazine

For liquid applications, the pitot
tube should be mounted in the lower
160 portion to prevent air from
collecting in the instrument lines or
Because steam
applications require liquid legs to
isolate the transmitter, the same
consideration applies.
For vertical piping, mount the pitot
tube in any location around the
circumference of the pipe. For gas
with a high moisture content, mount
the instrument at a 5 angle to allow
drainage (see Figure 4).

Figure 3 Horizontal pipe orientation

Figure 4 Vertical pipe orientation

Indicate if the line is vertical when you order the

The manufacturer will orient the
connections parallel to the ground to eliminate low
points for condensation build-up.
Non-standard orientation
Occasionally, its not practical to mount the pitot
tube in the recommended orientation. For example,
a buried water line does not allow access to the
lower portion of the pipe; therefore, the instrument
must be mounted to the top. In such cases, special
mounting considerations prevent entrained air from
collecting in the instrument lines or transmitter (see
Figure 5).

Step Three: Installation

An averaging pitot tube can be installed into the pipe
through various connections.
The two most
common methods are flanged and threaded.
Regardless of the connection size or type, the size of
the hole drilled in the pipe is critical to measurement
Hole size
The averaging pitot tube is designed to pass through
a specific hole size. For example, if the pitot tube
diameter is 7/8, the manufacturer will probably
recommend a 1 hole. In short, the hole should be
just large enough to allow the instrument to pass and
be de-burred whenever possible.

Figure 5 Buried water pipe

Drilling an oversized hole or using a cutting torch affects

accuracy. A large or jagged hole produces a disturbance
that can wash out the signal from the sensing ports
located closest to the pipe wall (see Figure 6).

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is different than schedule 40 pipe. Because schedule 40
and schedule standard are identical up to 12, it is
commonly (and mistakenly) assumed that they are
identical in larger lines. Verify pipe size and schedule
before ordering the averaging pitot tube.

Figure 6 Hole size effect

In smaller line sizes, the sensing ports are located

closer to the pipe wall. The smaller the pipe and the
larger the hole, the greater effect on accuracy. To
quantify the error, for example, estimate that drilling
a 1-3/8 hole in a 6 pipe to pass a 7/8 pitot tube
will cause a potential error of 8% to 10%.

Threaded connections
An averaging pitot tube mounted through a threaded
connection should be bottomed firmly against the
opposite wall of the pipe. This ensures the sensing ports
are aligned properly in the flow stream and the pitot tube
has structural support. Figure 7 shows why an averaging
pitot tube that is not bottomed against the opposite wall
has sensing ports lost in the pipe wall.

If there is an existing oversized hole in the pipe but

not alternate mounting location, it is better to have
the manufacturer refrain from drilling the sensing
ports closest to the pipe wall. While this sacrifices
some averaging capabilities, the effect on accuracy
is far less than having sensing ports in the swirl
zone. As the pipe get larger and the sensing ports
move farther away from the pipe wall, the effect of a
large hole diminishes.
Too often, the hole size is ignored, especially when
the fitting is welded to the pipe by a contractor
without installation instructions. A common mistake
is burning out the hole to match the internal diameter
of the weld fitting. As an example, a 1 FNPT
3000# threaded weld coupling actually has an ID of
1-5/16. Burning out this size hole instead of
drilling the manufacturers recommended 1 hole
can introduce a significant error.
Simply specifying the connection size for the pitot
tube is not enough. The specification sheet and
submittal and certified drawings should identify the
hole size as well.
Its imperative that this
information be passed to the relevant pipefitters and
Another common error is overlooking the pipe
schedule. For example, a 6 schedule 40 pipe
(ID=6.065) has an inside diameter 5% greater than
a 6 schedule 80 pipe. Not only would specifying
the wrong schedule cause the averaging pitot tubes
sensing ports to be positioned incorrectly in the
pipe, there would be a flow rate error of 11% from
the differences in flow area. For pipe sizes 12 and
larger, the inside diameter of schedule standard pipe

Figure 7

Improper installation

In addition, an averaging pitot tube that merely is

cantilevered in the flow stream is structurally weak. A
cantilevered pitot tube withstands approximately onehalf the velocity of a firmly bottomed pitot tube. The
leading cause of pitot tube breakage is leaving it
cantilevered in the flow stream. Some manufacturers
offer a spring-lock mechanism to ensure the pitot tube is
firmly bottomed.
Some pitot tubes have hardware to support the far end.
Tack weld such hardware with the pitot tube in place
before performing final welds.
Flanged connections
Severe service applications such as high- pressure steam
and explosive gases usually require flanged connections.
Some companies, especially refineries and power plants,
require flanged connections throughout, regardless of
Most averaging pitot tube manufacturers supply the
necessary flanged mounting hardware with the
instrument (see Figure 8). This is desirable because the
hardware height determines how the sensing ports align
in the flow stream. Pitot tube manufacturers have set
dimensions for 150#, 300# and 600# hardware and the
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pitot tube is located accordingly. For this reason,

specify mounting flange to be supplied by

Figure 9 Bolt hole patterns

Figure 8

Flanged connection with opposite support

If the mounting flanges are being provided by

another source or if the pitot tube is to be mounted
through an existing flange, its important that the
flange installation match the installation instructions.
For example, mounting a 7/8 pitot tube through an
existing 2 150# flange results in a loss of accuracy.
Another consideration when mounting a pitot tube to
an existing flange is whether the flange bolt holes
are properly aligned. Bolt holes should straddle the
pipe centerline, an industry standard orientation (see
Figure 9).
The pitot tube flange locates off the bolt hole pattern
to ensure it lines up properly in the flow stream.
Provide the flange height dimension so the pitot tube
can be manufactured according to the specific
installation (see Figure 10).

Figure 10 Customer supplied mounting flange

For certain applications, the sensor may be strong

enough to be cantilevered rather than with the support
hardware. The manufacturer determines the adequacy of
the cantilever style based on flowing conditions. Figure
11 summarizes the most important points of a good
installation. If you follow the basics of location,
orientation and installation, you can ensure accurate
long-term performance.

Figure 11 Correct installation summary (side view)

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Reprinted from June/July 2002 Plant Services Magazine

fter the averaging pitot tube has been

installed, attention shifts to the transmitter.
Steps 4 through 6 discuss transmitter
mounting, configuration and start-up.

Step Four: Mount transmitter

Many pitot tubes have a head that mounts directly to
the differential pressure (DP) transmitter. If the
transmitter is mounted remotely to allow for cooling
of the process or easier access to the transmitter, the
following considerations determine its location.
For steam and liquid applications, mount the DP
transmitter below the pitot tube instrument head (see
Figures 12 and 13).

Figure 13 Liquid application

transmitter below pitot tube

This allows entrained air to bleed upward to the process

pipe. Air collecting in the high or low-pressure
instrument lines can affect the DP signal and, ultimately,
the flow measurement accuracy. For steam applications,
mounting the DP transmitter below the instrument head
allows condensate to collect in the instrument tubing
which isolates the transmitter from live steam.

Figure 12 Steam application

transmitter below pitot tube

For gas applications, mount the DP transmitter above the

pitot tubes instrument head to allow condensate to drain
back into the process pipe rather than collect in the
instrument tubing or transmitter (see Figure 14).
Allowing condensate to collect in the high and lowpressure instrument lines can affect the DP signal and
flow measurement accuracy.

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However, when the vent valves are located in the rear,
orienting the transmitter in this manner will leave a
pocket to trap air or condensate above or below vent
ports. Air trapped in a liquid application transmitter is
illustrated in Figure 15.
Condensate trapped in a gas application is shown in
Figure 16.

Figure 16 Condensate trapped in transmitter

Orient the DP Transmitter with the vent valves pointed

upward for gas applications. For liquid and steam
applications, they can be oriented straight up or down.

Figure 14 Gas application

transmitter above pitot tube

If improperly oriented, the DP transmitter can trap

air bubbles or condensate, producing a false
differential pressure signal as great as in. H2O.
DP transmitter orientation often leads to an incorrect
installation. To many, it simply looks right to
install it with the electronic housing on top. This
does not present a problem with coplanar DP
transmitters. If the vent valves are located on the
side of the transmitter body, the transmitter can be
oriented to allow its internal cavities to self-drain.

Consider the process temperature when determining the

distance between the transmitter and pitot tube. As a
general rule, the process will cool 100F per foot of
instrument tubing. For hot processes, there must be
sufficient instrument tubing to meet the transmitters
temperature specification.
Risers or drip legs minimize the effects of air bubbles or
condensate. It may not be possible to mount the
transmitter as recommended. In such cases, contact the
pitot tube manufacturer for a custom installation
Although Figures 12 through 14 are for horizontal pipes,
the transmitter location is identical for vertical pipe
(below for liquid or steam, and above for gas).
Figures 12-14 indicate how to install instrument valves,
tubing and the manifold. Using half-inch instrument
valves at the head of the averaging pitot tube allows
isolating the sensor and servicing the instrument tubing
and connections without depressurizing the pipe.
Optional blow-down valves can be used on steam or
liquid (see Figures 12 and 13).

Figure 15 Air trapped in transmitter

Half-inch stainless steel instrument tubing is

recommended. It should slope continuously at least 20
(4 in. per foot) upward to the DP transmitter for gas
applications and downward for liquid and steam. Use a
tubing bender and maintain a minimum radius of three
times the tubing OD. This eliminates peaks, dips or
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sharp bends that create pockets where condensate or
air can accumulate.

Qv = C

A three-valve manifold mounted to the transmitter

permits zeroing the transmitter.
A five-valve
manifold makes it possible to verify that the
equalizer valve is not leaking without having to shut
down the process.
Its important to verify that fittings and connections
running from the pitot tube to the DP transmitter are
completely free of leaks. For gas applications, use a
soap bubble or leak-detector fluid on each
connection, including instrument valves and
manifolds. Even an occasional bubble, produced in
30 seconds, can generate a signal error. For liquid
applications, make sure fittings and connections are
completely dry before inspecting for leaks.
considerations. Always use gate valves rather than
needle valves because the latter have small passages
that can cause problems. If the interface between
steam and water occurs in these small passages, it
can affect the DP signal. Also, fill tees are
recommended to allow water to be added to the
instrument tubes before startup. This will ensure the
system starts with consistent water legs that have
been purged of air bubbles.
Finally, steam
applications require the two instrument tubes in a
symmetrical manner to ensure consistent cooling. If
one tube is longer or nearer a wall or other
equipment, the steam may condense at a faster rate
and affect the signal. If insulation is used, insulate
both instrument tubes identically.

Step Five: Transmitter configuration

DP transmitters are configured for linear or square
root mode. In linear mode, the output represents
DP. For example, if the transmitter is configured for
linear mode and spanned to 10 in. H2O, then 4 mA
equals 0 in. H2O and 20 mA equals 10 in. H2O.
Linear mode is recommended if a flow calculation
will be performed at a PLC or other device.
Pressure and temperature signals can be fed to the
PLC, where the flow equation converts inputs into a
flow rate. A typical flow equation for pressure and
temperature compensated gas flow is shown in
Figure 17. Set the transmitter span to a round
number slightly larger than the maximum expected

Qv =
C =
DP =
T =
P =
Z =

standard volumetric flow rate

flow constant
differential pressure
flowing temperature, absolute
flowing pressure, absolute
flowing compressibility

Figure 17 Linear mode transmitter,

square root equation at PLC

In square root mode, the output represents flow rate. For

example, if the transmitter is configured for square root
mode and spanned to a DP value that corresponds to
1000 scfm, then 4 mA equals 0 scfm and 20 mA equals
1000 scfm. Square root mode is recommended if no
pressure or temperature compensation is to be
performed. Choose a transmitter span that corresponds
to the flow rate desired at 20 mA signal. For example, if
1000 scfm produces a differential of 5.23 in. H2O, span
the transmitter to 5.23 in. H2O to set the 20 mA value to
1000 scfm. Be sure to choose a flow rate and
corresponding DP that are slightly above the highest
expected flow rate. Figure 18 demonstrates how to
convert mA to flow rate when the transmitter is
configured in square root mode.
Qv = 1000

mA -4

Qv = standard volumetric flow rate

mA = transmitter output in milliamps
Note: This example uses 1000 scfm full scale at 20 mA
Figure 18 Square root mode transmitter,
4-20mA flow output

A common error is to take the square root twice (at the

transmitter and again at the PLC) or not at all.
Remember, the square root calculation must be
performed once, and only once.
The span on most transmitters can be set electronically
using pushbuttons on the transmitter display or with a
communicator. A pressure source, such as a deadweight
tester, can be used to span the transmitter, but that
method is more commonly used to verify a system
before startup or when troubleshooting it. Refer to the
transmitter manual for specific information regarding
configuration and calibration.
A final DP transmitter consideration is the multivariable
transmitter, which measures the process pressure,
differential pressure and process temperature. The
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transmitter itself calculates a compensated flow rate
and outputs a signal that represents the true flow
rate, taking into account fluctuations in process
pressure and temperature.
A multivariable
transmitter requires an RTD input that may be
integral to the pitot tube or can be located in a
thermowell downstream of it.

Step Six: Start-up

Prior to start-up, the manufacturer of the averaging
pitot tube should have furnished:
Straight run requirements
Mechanical installation instructions (welding of
mounting hardware to the pipe and the sensor
Installation drawing showing the correct sensor
orientation and the bill of materials required to
complete the installation
Start-up and operating procedure
For simplicity, the start-up procedure presented here
assumes a three-valve manifold on a gas process
system. The procedure for liquid and steam is
similar. In the case of steam, establish water legs in
the instrument lines before start-up to protect the
Start the setup for instrument and manifold valve
sequence (three-valve manifold) by verifying the
process conditions dont exceed the maximum limits
shown on the instrument tag. Sequencing the valves
manually introduces the potential for human error
(see Figure 19). Follow the sequence to ensure the
proper flow loop performance:

1. Close the HI instrument valve (1), LO instrument

valve (2), manifold valves (3, 4 and 5) and
transmitter vent valves (6 and 7).
2. Open the LO instrument valve (2), then open the
equalizer manifold valve (4) to prevent
overpressurizing one side of the transmitter (4).
Open the LO manifold valve (5).
Open the transmitter vent valves (6 and 7) to
bleed off trapped air (for liquid only). Close
transmitter vent valves (6 and 7).
4. Check the transmitter output; it should indicate
4mA. If necessary, adjust the transmitter zero.
5. Close equalizer manifold valve (4) and open the HI
instrument valve (1) and HI manifold valve (3).
Warning: The equalizer manifold valve (4) should never
be opened if both the HI manifold (3) and LO manifold
(5) valves are open. When all three are open, fluid flows
from high to low. Fluid temperature in excess of 200F
could damage the transmitter.
6. The system is now operational.
Note: This procedure is essentially the same for other
DP devices, such as orifice plates and venturi tubes.
Check the transmitter zero using the following sequence
to avoid damaging the transmitter:
1. Close HI manifold valve (3).
2. Open equalizer manifold valve (4). The transmitter
should now read zero.
3. To return to service, close the equalizer manifold
valve (4) and open the HI manifold valve (3).
When depressurizing the transmitter, take care to avoid
overpressurizing one side of it or an uncontrolled release
of pressure:
1. Close HI manifold valve (3).
2. Open the equalizer manifold valve (4).
3. Close LO manifold valve (5).
4. Slowly open either transmitter vent valve (6) or (7).
This depressurizes both high and low sides of the
transmitter simultaneously.
Figure 20 summarizes the most important factors
regarding transmitter location and instrument tubing for
a gas application. With proper transmitter mounting,
transmitter configuration and start-up procedure, the
system will function properly.

Figure 19 Instrument and manifold valves

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Figure 20 Final visual inspection checklist

Article written by John Good and Vince Cisar of

Veris, Inc., manufacturer of the Verabar, a velocity
averaging Differential Pressure flow sensor designed
for use in gases, liquids and steam.
Veris, Inc.
6315 Monarch Park Place
Niwot, CO 80503
Tel: (303) 652-8550
Fax: (303) 652-8552
Toll Free: (877) VERIS00 (837-4700)

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