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Orifice plate: M J Rhoades

Understanding the flow dynamics of the system

The orifice plate is used in many fluid systems to detect and measure the amount of
flow of a fluid moving through piping in various systems. They are relatively
inexpensive, and provide adequate accuracy for most applications. Understanding the
flow dynamics involved is an important and sometimes confusing part. (From an
engineering stand point.) This paper is for those Engineers or students who wish to get a
better understanding of the orifice plate and the calculations that go along with it.

In order to solve for the data to be used in the construction, calibration of sensing
equipment, and passing an engineering exam, an understanding of the system and terms
of the flow formulas must be analyzed. See drawing one below for a typical installation
and features of an orifice plate flow device.

Drawing one: (Cutaway view of an orifice plate installed in a pipe)

Pressure taps P1 P2
∆P = P1 - P2

Flow direction, @ reduced pressure

Flow Direction
A1 A2
V1, P1 P2, V2

Area of Vena contracta

Orifice plate

Flange holding the

orifice plate
Orifice plate aperture (opening)
the hole may be changed in shape
or position to prevent build up of
debris or sludge
As can be seen by the drawing, fluid flow inters from the left, and through the hole in
the orifice plate. Because A1 V1 = A2 V2 the velocity must be greater when passing
through the orifice with subsequent drop in pressure. The max pressure drop is near the
aperture due to the flow restriction created by the orifice, a pressure difference can be
measured by a sensor, and then be used to generate an electrical output used for
instrumentation, control, or alarms. To figure out a way to take this information above,
and calculate the flows through this physical set up, we can use the Bernoulli equation
and modify it to accomplish that task. With that done, we will be able to use it to set up
the system and calibrate instrumentation accordingly.

Before we derive the first equation, let's define some terms and talk about some
problems in theory regarding orifice plates. First, the term Cd (Discharge coefficient)
used in equations is related to the flow characteristics through the actual orifice device.
Commonly you will see this term described as the ratio of the orifice aperture diameter to
the diameter of the pipe. This ratio is often referred to as the β (beta) ratio, but we are still
talking about the Cd.

𝑂𝑟𝑖𝑓𝑖𝑐𝑒 𝑑𝑖𝑎
β= = Cd
𝑃𝑖𝑝𝑒 𝑑𝑖𝑎

Having said that however, there are other factors involved in the actual evaluation of
what the exact values are. These are the shape of the orifice aperture, the Reynolds
number, the vena contracta which is related to the shape, density changes, expansion
coefficient, operating temperature, and the actual ∆P of the orifice. We will explore these
later on in the discussion. The vena contracta is essentially the area after the orifice where
the pressure drop is at maximum and the point where you might consider placing the low
pressure tap. There are many different ways to obtain the desired characteristics of the
delta P and there are different equations that are also used to describe the flow rate. The
one I am going to derive is one of the common ones but by all means is not the only one.
The industry is trying to come up with one standard equation to describe the theoretical
flow through an orifice, but to my knowledge, that has not happened yet. Until then, it
will be up to the engineer to decide his own program for determining flow rates and
determining what type of orifice plate configuration to use.

The Bernoulli equation (principle) for an orifice, with incompressible fluid, is as


𝑃1 𝑉12 𝑃2 𝑉22
+ + ℊ Z1 = + + ℊ Z2 Where: P1 = Pressure at inlet to orifice
𝜌 2 𝜌 2
P2 = Pressure at orifice @ Vena contracta, V1 = Velocity before the orifice
V2 = Velocity at vena contracta, 𝜌 = rho, density of what you are pumping, ℊ =
gravitational constant

Z1,2 = the height difference

Since the heights are the same, (orifice plates are installed on straight runs of horizontal
pipe) ℊ and Z can be ignored.

𝑃1 𝑉12 𝑃2 𝑉22
So then: + = + Rearranging terms gives
𝜌 2 𝜌 2

𝑃1 𝑃2 𝑉12 𝑉22 𝑃1 −𝑃2 𝑉12 𝑉22

- + = + = Multiplying both sides by 2
𝜌 𝜌 2 2 𝜌 2 2

2(𝑃1 −𝑃2 )
+ 𝑉12 = 𝑉22 Rearranging

2(𝑃1 −𝑃2 )
𝑉22 = 𝑉12 +
Since A1 V1 = A2 V2 (Continuity equation) I can rewrite V1 in terms of V2

V1 = 𝑉2 Now, squaring both sides

𝐴2 2
𝑉12 = x 𝑉22 Next, I am going to substitute these terms back in for 𝑉12

𝐴2 2 2(𝑃1− 𝑃2 )
𝑉22 = x 𝑉22 + Dividing both sides by 𝑉22
𝐴1 𝜌

𝐴2 2 1 2(𝑃1− 𝑃2 )
1= + x Subtracting the area term from both sides
𝐴1 𝑉22 𝜌

𝐴2 2 1 2(𝑃1− 𝑃2 )
1- = Multiplying both sides by 𝑉22
𝐴1 𝑉22 𝜌

𝐴2 2 2(𝑃1− 𝑃2
𝑉22 1− = Dividing both sides by the area terms.
𝐴1 𝜌
1 2 (𝑃1 − 𝑃2
𝑉22 = 2 Taking the square of both sides.
𝐴2 𝜌

1 2(𝑃1 − 𝑃2 )
𝑉2 = Converting to flow instead of velocity.
𝐴2 2 𝜌

Since Q = flow volume = 𝐴2 𝑉2 and, P1 - P2 = ∆P, then:

𝐴2 2( ∆𝑃)
Q= 2
Adding in the discharge coefficient for the orifice plate.
𝐴2 𝜌

𝐶𝑑 𝐴 2 2(∆𝑃)
𝐴2 2 𝜌

This is one of the equations you will see in text books and on the internet for orifice
plates. Notice that the equation in this form does not have any time consideration on the
right hand side of the equation. This is an expression, and must be modified to calculate
flow. The equation can be modified to get answers in flow by understanding what Q is.

Q, for an orifice plate is: Q = Cd A2 2 𝑔 𝑕 (Note that Q is also used in the

continuity equation with different terms.) Now, rewriting the equation, we get:

𝐶𝑑 𝐴 2 2(∆𝑃)
Q= 2𝑔𝑕 because ≈ 2𝑔𝑕
𝐴2 2 𝜌

Here is an example: Say you have a 4 inch pipe and an orifice which has a Cd of .6
and a reading of 120 inches head. What is the flow rate in gpm?

𝐶𝑑 𝐴 2
Q= 2𝑔𝑕 D1 = 4.026 (Nominal 4"pipe) D2 = .6 x 4.026 = 2.416
𝐴2 2
inch. A1 = 𝜋𝑟 2 = 3.1416 x 4.05 = 12.723 inch2

A2 = 3.1416 x 1.459 = 4.5835 inch2

.6 𝑥 4.5835 𝑖𝑛 2 𝑓𝑡
Q= 2 𝑥 32 𝑠𝑒𝑐 2 𝑥 10𝑓𝑡

.6 𝑥 .03165 𝑓𝑡 2 𝑓𝑡 𝑓𝑡 3 𝑔𝑎𝑙
Q= x 25.3 = .5166 ≈ 231.87
.93 𝑠𝑒𝑐 𝑠𝑒𝑐 𝑚𝑖𝑛

𝑓𝑡 3
Remember, converting to Gpm is accomplished by multiplying that number by
448.83. Also to convert ∆𝑃 to feet head is done by multiplying by 2.311, or to inches
head by 27.73 at STP. Now, go on the internet and find Daniel orifice flow calculator and
download the free program for calculating flow. Once you have done that select flow,
density of water is 62.4 lb/ft3, and plug in the pipe size and Cd given in the example. You
should come up with 233 gpm. You can use this program to approximate any flow
condition that you like and determine orifice size or whatever.

Here are some other formulas that have been derived or experimentally determined that
lead us to the same set of information only different as to how we get there.

𝜋𝐷22 2 (𝑃1 −𝑃2 )

Q = CeE where Q = flow rate
4 𝜌

C = discharge coefficient Cd

e = expansion coefficient

𝐷2 4

D22 = diameter of the orifice

P1- P2 = pressure differential across the orifice

𝜌 = density of what your pumping

Note: This equation must also be converted to account for time on the right hand side,
just like we did for the first one. That is if you want to calculate a flow in GPM.
Here is an interesting equation that comes from a manufacturer of orifice plates

𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛𝑡 𝑑 2 𝐶 𝑌 𝐹𝑎 𝑕 𝑤
Q= where: Q = flow rate
1−𝛽 4 𝜌1

Constant = to convert to GPM (44.748) by doing

this you dont have worry about the time factor in the equation as the other two

d = throat diameter of orifice

C = discharge coefficient

Y = expansion factor

Fa = thermal expansion factor

hw = differential pressure in inches of water

g0 = standard gravity acceleration

g = acceleration where the orifice is

β = Cd or beta ratio

𝜌 = density of what your pumping

Remember in all of this, the Idea is to get a good approximation of the flow through
the system, as that is the reason for putting in an orifice, right? So these equations can be
used to suit your needs as an engineer. You can also include the Reynolds number if you
want in the Cd figure or if you want you can include a flow coefficient to account for the
Reynolds number and expansion coefficient. It's really up to you, the engineer. I hope this
helped you out understanding the confusion over orifice plate calculations and how
complicated it can be. But you as the engineer must determine what best suits your needs.
As for students that are just trying to figure things out, use the first equation I gave you to
calculate flow through an orifice, it will be close enough for you to understand what's