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Best Practice Guide

Calibration of Flowmeters
The Calibration of Flowmeters

Best Practice Guide


East Kilbride, Glasgow, G75 0QU, United Kingdom

March 2002

Executive Summary

This guide covers the general principles of calibration for flow measurement. It
gives an overview of calibration methods used in a variety of situations from
calibrations in standards laboratories to calibrations in the field, and verification
of a flowmeter in a non-laboratory situation. It is produced for operators of
calibration facilities, users requesting calibrations and engineers having to
establish a calibration method.

The guide is divided into two parts. The first part covers general principles of
calibration when applied to the calibration of flowmeters or devices to measure
flowing fluids. The second part describes various individual techniques and
methods which may be employed.


The production of this Best Practice Guide was funded by the Department of
Trade and Industry's National Measurement System Directorate as part of the
1999-2002 Flow Programme.

Author: Richard Paton

Date: March 2002

TUV NEL Limited 2002

Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

CONTENTS Part 1 - General Principles


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ii
Many of the principles of calibration apply equally across metrology. This part of the
guide re-iterates these principles and shows how they apply to flow calibrations.
PART 1 - GENERAL PRINCIPLES Vocabulary is important to the understanding of the principles, and the important
definitions of terms have been reproduced from the 'International Vocabulary of Basic
1 WHAT IS CALIBRATION? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 and General Terms in Metrology' 1 (VIM). The VIM will be used throughout this guide
1.1 Rate, Quantity and Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 to establish terminology to provide a clear base understanding of what is meant when
1.2 Resolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 various terms are used in defining a calibration.


2.1 Fluid Properties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Calibration:
2.2 Flow Profile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.3 Traceability, Accuracy and Uncertainty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
The VIM definition of calibration is given opposite, but
"The set of operations that
2.4 Accreditation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 how is it applicable to flow measurement? establish, under specified
2.5 Reporting the Result . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 conditions, the relationship
2.6 Calibration Frequency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Flow measurement does not rely on a single operation. between values of
2.7 Cost and Specification . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Neither does the calibration process. Measurement of quantities indicated by a
the quantity of fluid depends on establishing the basic measuring instrument or
quantity measured and a number of influence factors. measuring system and the
PART 2 - CALIBRATION METHODS Moreover, the flow device has to be calibrated across corresponding values
a range of flowrates. This all combines to give a set of realised by standards"
operations which come together to provide the
3.1 Liquid Collection Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
3.2 Measurement Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
3.3 Pipe Provers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
As the fluid and influence factors (e.g. temperature and viscosity) all affect the meter
performance, the calibration is carried out 'under specified conditions' and these must
4 CALIBRATIONS FOR GAS FLOWMETERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 be defined.
4.1 Displacement Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
4.2 Critical Flow Venturi-Nozzle (Sonic Nozzle) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 A calibration is not an absolute operation. It is a comparison between the device being
4.3 Gravimetric / P.V.T Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 calibrated and the standard. Through this comparison, a relationship between what
the device or flowmeter measures and what the standard measures is established.
This must be expressed in some way which gives a
5 ON-SITE CALIBRATION METHODS ........................... 24
5.1 Tracer Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................ 24 Standard: meaningful expectation of how the device will perform in use.
5.2 Insertion Meters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................ 25
5.3 Clamp-on Ultrasonic Meters . . . . . . ............................ 26 "Measuring instrument The comparison during a calibration is with a standard. The
or measuring system standard comprises the system of pumps, pipes, fluids,
intended to realise or instrumentation, quantity reference measurement,
6 EXPECTATIONS FOR A CALIBRATION ........................ 26 reproduce a unit or calculations and operators, all combined to measure the
one or more values of quantity of fluid passing through the flowmeter being
a quantity to serve as
APPENDIX 1: CALIBRATION CHECK LIST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 a reference"

APPENDIX 2: REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29

As fluid flow is dynamic and all measurement devices are
affected in some way by the conditions of use, it will be impossible to have a standard
that fully reproduces the conditions under which the meter will be used in practice.
Flowmeters are affected by temperature, viscosity, flow profile, flow rate fluctuations
and pulsations. They are also affected by the external environment, vibration, stress
temperature etc. Different devices are affected in different ways.

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

As a calibration is a comparison between the measurement made by a flowmeter and 1.2 Resolution
that realised by the standard, the resultant relationship will be for the specified
conditions, and a further assessment of the relevance to the final application must be Although it may seem obvious, the resolution of the device
carried out. Selecting the standard will be a compromise to replicate the conditions of Resolution: must be adequate to allow a calibration to match the
use as closely as possible or practicable. uncertainty required. To achieve this, the standard must be
"Smallest difference able to measure enough fluid to match the resolution and
The standard must also be compatible with the performance and characteristics of the between indications uncertainty of the device. For example, if a flowmeter has a
meter to be tested and the result desired. of a display or output resolution of 1 litre, any standard used to calibrate it must have
device that can be
a volume of significantly more than 1,000 litres to achieve an
1.1 Rate, Quantity and Time distinguished" uncertainty of 0.1 per cent. To meet oil industry norms, a
volume of 10,000 litres would be expected to ensure
The mechanism by which a flow measurement device insignificant (0.01%) resolution uncertainty. The requirement
gives a reading of flow is dynamic. The sensor reacts to Response Time: for resolution to be assessed applies equally to meters with
the flow of fluid through or past it to realise an output pulsed and analogue outputs. In the latter case the effect of sampling and averaging
related to the flowrate or the quantity passing through it. "Time interval between has to be considered along with the resolution of the instruments.
the instant when a
stimulus is subjected to
Clearly the measurement of flowrate and that of quantity a specific abrupt
are related through the measurement of the time interval change and the instant 2 THE IMPORTANCE OF CALIBRATION FLUID AND CONDITIONS
across which the quantity is measured. In practice the when the response
end use of the device leads to different expectations for reaches and remains 2.1 Fluid Properties
the behaviour and hence the calibration. In establishing within specified limits
this relationship it is vital to relate the response time of the around its steady value" All flowmeters are transducers interacting in some way with the flowing fluid. The
device to the calibration method. nature of this interaction is affected by the properties of the fluid or the velocity
distribution of the fluid passing through the meter. Changes in this interaction alter the
The interpretation of response time is reasonably ability of the transducer to give an accurate representation of the quantity. The
straightforward for mechanical meters. The mechanical interface between the fluid and magnitude of the error is different for different meter types and fluids.
the indicator can be pictured and defined in terms of momentum and drag affecting the
meter when the flow changes. With the introduction of electronic devices attached to For this reason it is desirable
mechanical meters, or particularly as an integral part of the flowmeter, this relationship to calibrate using the same
has become more difficult to establish. To give some examples: a positive fluid and pipework for which
displacement meter in liquid responds very quickly to changes in flowrate, even very the meter will normally
abrupt changes; the flow stops, the rotor stops and the register stops. If a pulse operate. This is not often
generator is fitted, when the flow stops, the generated pulses stop, but a frequency possible and hence the best
counter will not reflect this until it completes its measurement cycle, which may be 1 economic compromise must
second or 10 seconds. During that time, a totaliser will correctly indicate quantity, but be established when
the flowrate indicator will not be showing the correct (instantaneous) flowrate. To choosing the calibration.
become more sophisticated, the pulses can be scaled by a microprocessor which This choice will be based on
calculates the output quantity, corrects it for temperature etc, and outputs a proportional the final duty of the meter,
pulsed output, mA current output and a digital output of quantity and flowrate. All these the required uncertainty and
outputs will have a different response time and will all lag behind the change in flow by a knowledge of the
the processing time. In this case however, the lag, although potentially long, may performance expectation of
reflect a delay in outputting real measured values. These can be missed if the the type of meter. For some
calibration method has not been chosen to recognise what is happening. meters, for example orifice
plates (within accepted limits), the performance can acceptably be related to Reynolds
With many new technologies such as Coriolis, Electromagnetic, or Ultrasonic meters number, allowing a calibration to be carried out in a different fluid to the meter's
being totally dependent on a microprocessor based output, and the variety of settings operating fluid.
to average, damp or cut off unacceptable results, the definition and understanding of
response time is vital to the calibration process. This may even allow a liquid calibration to relate to a meter for gas duty provided the
Reynolds numbers are the same.
If the device response time does not match the time within which a calibration test point
is taken, poor repeatability or calibration offsets may be seen although these effects For other meter types such as turbine meters, especially those required to meter
might not occur in service. hydrocarbons, the choice of calibration fluid is particularly important. Turbine meters

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

are viscosity-sensitive, and the figure above gives some typical calibration results from Another feature of the standard is that it must be shown to be
a turbine meter for water and three petroleum products. The meter is primarily Traceability: able to reproduce the measurement that it claims to make
viscosity-sensitive, and hence it is important to calibrate these meters using the with some degree of confidence. To do this, all the
"Property of the result
working liquid (or substitute) if possible. For this reason, among others, fiscal meters measurements in the system have to show traceability to
of a measurement
for oil are often calibrated on site using a dedicated pipe prover. whereby it can be higher level measurements and ultimately to national and
related to stated international standards. The definition is given opposite and
For gas meters, air is often used as the calibration fluid for safety reasons. When used references, usually expresses the process by which a measurement can be
with different gases the performance related to Reynolds number provides a good national or shown to possess a calibration to a higher standard. It would
relationship for a wide range of meters, the notable exceptions being variable area international be expected that the uncertainty of each calibration higher in
meters and certain thermal flowmeters. If the gas viscosity is significantly different from standards, through an the chain would have a smaller uncertainty at each step. It
that of air, then the performance of some positive displacement meters may be unbroken chain of must be noted however that providing or claiming traceability
affected, and in these cases calibrations should be carried out in the gas on which they comparisons with makes no statement regarding the quality or uncertainty of
stated uncertainties"
are to be used. the final calibration, and only satisfies one aspect of the
quality requirements for an accredited calibration.
Properties of the fluid such as density, temperature, conductivity and pressure etc, may
also have to be considered when replicating the use of the meter in a calibration. To express correctly the 'accuracy' of a standard or a
calibration it is the 'uncertainty' which must be stated. Uncertainty:
2.2 Flow Profile Uncertainty provides a confidence that the determination
lies within the quoted limits. The value of the limits and the "Parameter associated
confidence in these limits may vary. For flow measurement with the result of a
As a fluid passes along a pipe, the distribution of velocity across the pipe alters to
measurement that
approach a 'fully developed' profile that is dependent on the pipe diameter, roughness the confidence in the result lying within the quoted
characterises the
and fluid Reynolds number. The presence of any change in pipe configuration from a uncertainty is normally k=2 which is approximately 95% dispersion of the
straight pipe will alter the profile drastically: bends, valves, double bends etc, all confidence. A full explanation of this concept is given in values that could
introduce asymmetry of the velocity distribution, and some of them introduce swirl. As Reference 2. reasonably be
the way the fluid interacts with the sensor can be highly dependent on the velocity attributed to the
profile, these effects must be considered in the calibration. Most calibration facilities Every standard must be assessed for the uncertainty in the measurand"
allow adequate straight lengths of pipe upstream and downstream of the flowmeter, determination of its measured quantity, as indeed must the
combined with flow straighteners to provide close to the ideal flow conditions to suit the result of a calibration derived from the standard.
types of meter being calibrated. It must be noted that such lengths of pipe must have
the same internal diameter as the bore of the meter inlet, must not have step changes The uncertainty quoted for a calibration or a standard will be evaluated from a detailed
or mis-alignment of joints, and must not have protrusions from gaskets or joints into the examination of all the components of the system, the use of the system and its history.
flow. It will specifically state for what parameter the uncertainty is quoted. This may be the
quantity measured by the standard or the quantity passed through the flowmeter. It is
2.3 Traceability, Accuracy and Uncertainty stressed this is not the uncertainty of the calibration result. The resolution of the meter,
the influence factors and finally the repeatability and linearity of the calibration results
As a calibration is a comparison of the reading from a device with that of a standard, it must all be included to provide the uncertainty of the calibration.
is necessary to consider what properties are required in a standard. Firstly and most
importantly, the standard has to measure the same quantity as the device. There is no The purpose of a calibration is to provide one component of the evaluation of the
point in comparing a mass meter output with that of a volume uncertainty associated with measurements from the meter in its final application. A
tank without being able to measure density. In flow Accuracy: responsibility remains with the end user to use the calibration uncertainty along with an
measurement, the standard is a system comprising a understanding of the use of the meter compared with the calibration conditions, to
measurement of quantity and subsidiary measurements of "Closeness of the provide the uncertainty in this final result. It is to be noted the 'error' shown by the
the fluid conditions, properties and influence factors. Time agreement between calibration must be allowed for.
also has to be measured to establish flow rate. the result of a
measurement and a All calibration results should have a stated uncertainty, and this should be on the
It is contentious to use the word 'accuracy' in relation to true value of the
certificate giving the result. The statement should be clear and unambiguous as to
calibration work as it has little scientific meaning and many measurand"
what is included and which result is quoted. Uncertainty can be expressed on the
would argue that the term has no place in a discussion of certificate as being the uncertainty of the measured quantity (flow, volume or mass), or
calibration. In practice however, 'accuracy' is the term most the uncertainty of the meter's estimate of this quantity. The uncertainty of an equation
users relate to and can usefully express an expectation, and general specification in a fitted to the data may be included which includes meter performance during calibration.
manner we understand. Accuracy is a qualitative term and the number associated The uncertainty will not include the estimate of uncertainty at a different time or
must be taken in the spirit of this concept and used for only indicative purposes. condition.

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

It is also worth noting that uncertainty may vary across the flow range of the meter. The Another option is to use electronic outputs through serial or 'field bus' links where many
quantity of fluid collected by the standard may contribute to different uncertainties, or different options of output may be available including display of pulses or mA. This type
the meter performance may vary. of output cannot usually be gated dynamically to synchronise with a standard and care
must be taken over update and processing times in the system.
In specifying the required uncertainty of a standard relative to that of the meter, it is
general advice that the standard should have an uncertainty 10 times smaller than the The result of a calibration is normally given in tabular form listing the measurements
requirement of the device to be calibrated. Although this is a good principle, in flow from the standard and the device. The extent to which the influence factors and raw
measurement it is often not possible to achieve this due to the high accuracy data are given will vary depending on the calibration specification. The presentation of
expectations of flowmeters. A standard with an uncertainty of a factor of three lower meter and standard readings is not the most helpful way to interpret the result of the
than the requirement may be all that can be achieved. calibration. It is therefore normal to calculate some form of difference or factor. This
performance indicator can be used to display the result in a manner which best reflects
In some situations, especially in field testing or in-situ calibrations, the uncertainty of the the performance of the meter across the flow range and enables the user to correct the
reference or standard may be poorer than the expected uncertainty of the meter. The meter output in future use.
achieved uncertainty of any calibration is larger than that of the reference or standard
used. Therefore the uncertainty of the final measurement above the level expected A number of different performance indicators are commonly used:
prior to the calibration will be increased. When this occurs the calibration may best be
described as a 'verification', i.e. the result is used to confirm the meter is (probably) K-factor: Used for meters with pulsed outputs proportional to quantity passed.
performing within specification. K-factor is expressed as Pulses per unit quantity. (pulses/m3, pulses/kg etc)

2.4 Accreditation Factor: Where a flowrate-based output is found (flowrate, volts, frequency, mA etc), a
meter factor may be computed.
Accreditation is the process that a calibration laboratory undergoes to ensure the result
provided to a client meets the standard of expectation as stated in the scope of the
work. Accreditation is a process by which the equipment, technical methods,
contractual methods, and quality of results are examined to give confidence to the
client in the delivery of the final result. Strictly speaking accreditation may be carried
out by the laboratory, but in practice it is normally carried out by a third party or the where F is the meter factor, Q is flowrate, and V is volume: i identifies the value from
client. Before placing a contract for work a client may accredit a laboratory by the device, and s identifies the value from the standard.
examining its methods. If this process is carried out by the client, it is not uncommon
to allow the laboratory to inform other clients of this accreditation suggesting that they Error: Error is the difference between the indicated value and the value determined by
may accept a result with a higher confidence without applying their own accreditation the standard. Relative error, the error divided by the value determined by the standard,
procedure. To avoid multiple accreditation to different specifications, third-party is normally used and expressed as a percentage.
accreditation is offered. This is normally provided by an accreditation body approved
at National Government level that will accredit laboratories to a defined quality
standard. Within UK the accreditation organisation is the United Kingdom Accreditation
Service (UKAS). Calibration laboratories are now accredited to the international
standard ISO 17025. Inter-governmental agreements have been established to allow
the accreditation given in different countries to be recognised internationally. It is very important always to define this equation as some industries use a different
convention best described as the inverse or negative error. This is based on the
2.5 Reporting the Result standard minus the indicated values.

To report the result of a calibration, the nature of the meter output has to be understood. Error can also be defined for meters with electrical outputs of pulses, frequency, volts
Flowmeters may indicate flowrate or quantity in a number of different ways. There may or mA. In this case the indicated value is calculated from the output reading and the
be a mechanical or electronic display indicating quantity or flowrate, or an electronic predetermined relationship (normally linear) between the output value and the
output based on pulses, frequency or current (mA). The output may be in the form of equivalent quantity or flowrate. For instance it may be assumed that 20 mA
a differential pressure. Where the output or display is based on the flowrate (i.e. corresponds to 10 l/s and 4 mA to 0 l/s. The value of Qi would be calculated from the
frequency, flowrate, differential pressure or mA), readings of the output must be measured current and the linear relationship.
sampled and averaged during each calibration test point. If the output is based on
quantity passed (i.e. total pulses or display of quantity), the reading of the display has
to be compared with a quantity of fluid measured by the standard. If the display is a
visual one, clearly the flow has to be stopped to read the display, but if the output is
electrical, electronic gating can coincide with a measurement from the standard.

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

Discharge coefficient (C): For differential pressure meters such as orifice plates Low uncertainty will attract a higher price as will a large number of test points although
and nozzles, the performance indicator C is usually defined. C is the ratio of the actual a small number of test points does not reduce the price proportionally due to the
flow to the theoretical flow. The theoretical flow is however defined on the assumption overhead of fitting the meter and reporting. Being able to supply multiple meters of the
that the minimum area of the jet of fluid in or downstream of the throat of the device is same or similar size should attract reduced costs.
equal to the area of the throat (or orifice). Calculated C ratios vary from 0.5 to 1
depending on the device. Typical orifice plates give a C just over 0.6 and nozzles A check list is given in Appendix 1. This shows the main pieces of information required
between 0.9 and 1. C is relatively constant for any particular device, only varying when accepting or requesting a calibration. This ranges from the contact person
slightly over the flow range. information to the meter size and type through to the fluid and test specification. The
connections and pipework are a vital piece of information to allow the laboratory to fit
Flowrate: To express the performance of a device, its performance across its flow the meter.
range has to be expressed. The flowrate is normally expressed in terms of quantity per
unit time with the units chosen to suit the application. Alternatively a more complex At all times good communications between the laboratory and the client are vital to
flow-based parameter may be used such as Reynolds number which can generalise a ensure the result is applicable to the end purpose and that the calibration is carried out
performance curve by accounting for viscosity and density. in a timely manner at the lowest cost to the client and acceptable profit to the laboratory.

2.6 Calibration Frequency

A common question to ask related to calibration is how often a flowmeter should be

calibrated. This is important since calibration can be an expensive exercise, but a
flowmeter with an incorrect reading can be even more expensive. Unfortunately there
is no correct answer to the question. In some applications an answer is easy. A third
party or a standard will define the calibration frequency. For most applications it is the
user who must examine and define their own reasoning to justify calibration intervals.

The decision is complex and will be based on a number of factors. The premise is to
define a calibration interval that minimises the risk of an incorrect meter reading making
a significant impact on the final process.

If, for example, high flowrates of crude oil attract huge tax liabilities, weekly calibrations
(in product and in-situ) will be needed. The product value is high; the risk of meter
damage is high. Alternatively metering waste water with a Venturi may only require 5
yearly inspection of the Venturi, yearly calibration of the differential pressure
measurement device and no flow calibration ever. The risk of the pressure instrument
changing is medium, the risk of fouling is medium, the product value is low, and the cost
of a flow calibration prohibitive relative to the risk of a change in C.

Other factors affecting the decision may be based on the history of the meter. This is
shown by keeping a control chart of past calibrations, and the comparison of
measurements within the process. If the process is closed for maintenance this will
allow the meter to be calibrated at a lower cost than a specific shut down. A customer
or partner in the process or a regulator may impose a third-party requirement.

2.7 Cost and Specification

The cost of a calibration is outwith the scope of this document. Some relative levels of
cost and guidelines for the provision of the lowest prices can however be suggested.

A laboratory providing calibrations of one type of flowmeter only and providing a limited
range of sizes will be able to provide the lowest cost calibrations. Laboratories covering
all types of meters and a wide range of sizes and fluids will generally be more expensive.

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

Part 2 - Calibration Methods A number of criteria have

to be met. Firstly, the
pump and the flow circuit
have to be arranged and
A number of quite specific methods and systems are recognised for the calibration of
designed to allow the
flow devices. Although both follow the same principles major differences exist between
flow through the meter to
liquid and gas methods.
be stopped without
damage to the pump or
Two main differences exist between gas and liquid flow methods. The first is that
pipework. A pump
liquids will remain in an open container while gases need to be contained. Moreover,
bypass is usually fitted.
gases are highly compressible while liquids, for most practical purposes, may be
Secondly no air may be
assumed incompressible except for some small corrections. This causes fundamental
left trapped in dead ends
differences in the approach to calibrating in gas and liquid, and for this reason they are
or T pieces as this will
considered separately.
provide a spring effect
causing the flow to
oscillate when stopped,
3 CALIBRATION METHODS FOR LIQUIDS causing incorrect meter
3.1 Liquid Collection Methods
The flow has to be started and stopped as quickly as is practical to minimise the rise
One characteristic of a liquid is that it can usually be contained in an open vessel, and fall time errors. Stopping too fast will create pressure fluctuations and 'water
although if the liquid is volatile or hazardous, suitable precautions have to be taken. As hammer'; these must be reduced by slowing down the valve until an acceptable
a result, calibration standards are usually of the 'bucket and stopwatch' type. The performance is found. The stop valve should have an equal opening and closing time.
bucket is a collection container, which is weighed or has a known volume, while the
stopwatch is a method of timing the filling of the container. Static methods of calibration The meter being
are based on collecting fluid in the bucket and determining its quantity by a static calibrated has to have a
measurement; dynamic methods try to establish the quantity in the measure fast response time to
dynamically. match the start and stop of
the flow. The test time has
3.1.1 Standing start and stop method to be sufficiently long in
comparison with the
This method is generally acceleration and decel-
preferred for meters used for eration periods to give
measuring quantity of liquid, insignificant error. This is
especially meters for batch illustrated with meter 2
quantities. showing the effect of
microprocessor or an
The 'standing start and stop' electronically enhanced
method is the simplest meter where the sensor may start and stop quickly but the electronics take a significant
method available and can be time to 'catch up' with real time. Meter 1 shows a 'conventional' meter with a slow
used for both high and low response to a change in flow. Many meters will however follow the flow response very
accuracy calibrations. closely.

The flow system is filled, all As the level of liquid downstream of the shut-off valve in the pipework may vary due to
air purged and the required the surge in the flow, a constant level or transfer point must be established. This is
flowrate established. The done using a weir arrangement as shown in the schematic diagram for a top filling
flow is then stopped using a fast-acting valve. When the container is drained, the drain arrangement
valve is closed, the flow started and the container filled. When the container is full the
flow is stopped. The quantity collected is measured and compared with the meter It is unlikely to achieve high accuracy with test times less than 60 seconds, and for
reading. The time to fill gives the flowrate during the fill. large flows, with a slow operating valve, longer times may be required. Switches on the
stop valve may be used to time the tank filling and gate start and stop pulse counters.

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Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

What is discussed is a standing start and finish method based on a gravimetric or A three port valve can be used as the diverter. As this will probably introduce a
weighing tank. If a volume tank is used, filling is usually from the bottom, and the valve pressure surge at the cross over point and a different back pressure (hence flowrate)
closing time is slow or stepped at the last stages to ensure the level in the tank lies in in the two positions it is not normally used for high accuracy systems.
the measuring neck.
3.1.3 Dynamic methods
3.1.2 Flying start and finish method
Dynamic methods are techniques where, not only is the flow continuous, but the
This is sometimes called the diverter method. In this method the flow through the meter standard also measures the quantity, without stopping the flow passing through it.
is not stopped, but the flow is diverted between a return to the supply and the container.
A switch on the diverter The static methods outlined above can be modified to make a dynamic measurement
mechanism starts and stops a technique possible. The changing weight or volume in the container can be detected
timer and counter. These time and used to trigger the test point measurements of time and meter output. Flow is
the filling of the collection established into a tank with the drain open. To initiate a test, the drain is closed and
measure and count pulses the rising level or increasing weight is detected and used to initiate a test point by
from the test device. starting a timer and reading the meter. When the tank is full, and after a signal has
been sent to stop collection of data, the tank drain is opened and the tank emptied. The
In this method the key to drain has to be large enough to allow the full flow to pass through when open.
accurate measurement is a
clean separation between fluid Although there are exceptions the technique is really only used for low accuracy
entering the container and fluid calibrations as repeatability is normally 1 per cent at best. The method is sometimes
returning to the supply. This employed using very large tanks in the field where long test times can give reasonable
should be accomplished accuracy for in-situ calibration or verification of a meter.
without any change of flowrate
through the device. For this Other dynamic techniques include the use of reference meters, pipe provers or other
reason the flow into the reference devices such as sonic nozzles or insertion meters. All are discussed later.
diverter is normally conditioned
by creating a long thin jet impinging on a splitter plate. This will be open to atmosphere 3.2 Measurement Methods
ensuring no change in pressure occurs which may give a change in flowrate when
diverting. The diverter mechanism is operated as quickly as possible to reduce 'timing Two principles are used to measure the quantity of liquid in the container. The volume
errors' to a minimum. With a well-designed diverter, test times down to 30 seconds can can be defined, or the mass can be determined.
be achieved with divertors operating at less than 0.5 seconds.
3.2.1 Gravimetric calibrators
The main source of uncertainty
lies in the timing error. This is A flowmeter can be calibrated gravimetrically by weighing the quantity of liquid
shown diagrammatically. The collected in a vessel. The vessel is weighed empty, again full, and the difference
'hydraulic centre' of the diverter calculated. This gives the weight (in air) of the fluid collected.
is found by calibrating a high
quality reference meter at a As the quantity collected must be expressed as mass, then converted to volume, the
constant flowrate. Long and weight collected has to be corrected for the effect of air buoyancy. As a weighing
short diversion times are used. machine is calibrated using weights with a conventional density of 8000 kg/m3, and the
The difference between the fluid collected will have a significantly different density, the up-thrust of the air on the
calibration using short tank will have a significant effect. This amounts to around 0.1 per cent for water. The
diversions and that using long correction is given below.
diversions defines the timing
error. The timing sensor is moved until the difference between calibration points is
minimised. This is repeated at different flowrates and a best compromise position
found. The residual scatter and difference between long and short diversion
calibrations gives the uncertainty due to timing error. where M is the mass,
W is the measured weight
Flying start and finish methods are used primarily for meters with slow response times rair is density of air,
and where flowrate is the primary measurement rather than quantity passed. Meters rf is the density of the fluid, and
with visual displays cannot be calibrated by this method. rw is the density of the calibration weights (8000 kg/m3).

12 13
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

The term in the large brackets is called the buoyancy correction factor and can be pre- For all volumetric methods, a number of corrections and conventions have to be
determined and treated as a constant in some applications where the highest accuracy observed due to the expansion and contraction of both the standard, and the device
is not required. being calibrated. The expansion and contraction of the fluid between the standard and
the flowmeter have also to be recognised. Expansion due to temperature is the most
To determine the volume, the mass collected is divided by density. The density is important, but expansion in a pressurised system must also be accounted for.
determined at the flowmeter, to give the volume passed through the flowmeter.
Density can be measured using a densitometer but is more often calculated from the Reference volume tanks, and pipe provers, have their volume defined at a stated
temperature and pressure at the meter and knowledge of the fluid properties. If a reference temperature (and pressure). Normal reference temperatures are 15 or
densitometer is used, any difference in temperature (hence density) between the 20C. Other references can be defined for special purposes to minimise the size of
densitometer and the meter has to be allowed for. corrections. Similarly reference pressure is normally atmospheric pressure (1.01325
bar(a)). How this standard or base volume is measured and defined is outwith the
The weighing machines used must be calibrated using recognised standards of mass. scope of this document but this provides the starting point for the calibration.
Normal platform machines fitted with steelyards provide measurements of weight to
high accuracy, provided they are carefully maintained. Electronic 'force balance' The volume contained in the standard at the temperature of the standard during a
machines provide a better performance with an electronic output. Gyroscopic weighing calibration is not the base volume. It is the base volume increased or decreased by the
gives the ultimate resolution but probably exceeds the requirements of flow expansion of the material of the standard. As the container makes up a volume, it is
measurement. Combined with the other uncertainties in density etc, uncertainties down the cubical expansion of the material used. The equation is fundamentally
to 0.03% can be achieved. Strain gauge load cell weighing techniques may be used,
but generally will not provide an uncertainty capability much better than 0.1%.

3.2.2 Volumetric calibrators

where VS is the volume contained, S is the linear expansion of the material of
The measurement of the quantity of liquid collected may be carried out volumetrically, construction of the standard (prover or tank), tS is the temperature of the standard and
i.e. by collecting a known volume of liquid in a container. In the volumetric method the tR is the defined reference (base) temperature.
standard vessel takes the form of a container with calibrated volume. Normally this will
be a pipette with conical ends to facilitate drainage and to reduce the risk of air To define the volume of fluid which has passed through the flowmeter into the standard,
entrapment. The neck of the pipette is normally fitted with a sight glass and a scale the expansion of the fluid due to the temperature difference has to be calculated.
marked in volumetric units. A typical volumetric tank is shown below.

The tank is not itself a primary calibration device and its volume must be determined
by calibration. This can be carried out by weighing the water contained in the vessel,
or, for larger vessels, carried out using smaller volumetric measures which are where V is volume passed through the meter, is the cubical expansion of the fluid, tS
themselves traceable to national standards by weighing methods. is the temperature of the standard and tM is the temperature of the meter.
Volumetric systems are normally used with
Similar corrections have to be applied for pressure. It is noted however that a volume
standing start and finish methods due to the
tank will always be at atmospheric pressure. It is sometimes found more practical to
difficulty of diverting flow into the tank end.
reduce the volume of everything to that at the reference temperature rather than
The technique gives a very high level of
correcting to actual conditions and then calculating the error or k-factor. Both
repeatability but is by necessity lower down
approaches should give the same answer.
the traceability chain. Tank volumes are
expressed at a reference temperature
In the oil industry these corrections are calculated individually in a formulaic manner
(normally 15 or 20C) and corrections have
and are given 'Correction factor' nomenclature. Ctsp = Temperature correction for the
to be applied for the expansion of the
Steel of the Prover (standard). Cplp= Pressure correction of the Liquid for the Prover
material of the tank. Drainage time (after
the tank is empty) is vitally important, as
liquid clingage to the wall can be significant.
The correction of the flowmeter to a reference condition is contentious. If this is done,
Each tank has a calibrated drain time and
the calculations are the same as above. The difficulty is defining the expansion
this must be maintained. For this reason
coefficient. Flowmeters are complex devices where not only does the volume or area
high viscosity liquids above 10 cSt start to
of the device change with temperature, but internal clearances and friction change to
give problems of both accuracy and repeatability due to the unpredictable quantity of
give a rather ill defined coefficient. For this reason it is normally advised not to apply
liquid left attached to the walls of the tank.
corrections to the flowmeter, but to quote the result at actual conditions. Some industry
practice does however apply corrections to defined coefficients.

14 15
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

Meters can be calibrated against tanks with Provers are often installed at metering stations when the product is of high value and
a repeatability of better than 0.02% and dedicated to the application, or sometimes are mobile and taken to different metering
uncertainties of 0.05%. This of course stations.
assumes the volume is adequate and the
standing start and finish method is Four main classifications of provers are found.
3.3.1 Unidirectional sphere prover
3.3 Pipe Provers
A unidirectional prover has a displacer which only travels in one direction along the
The pipe prover also is a volume method. pipe. The displacer consists of an elastomer (neoprene, viton, polyurethane, etc)
The difference between a volume tank and sphere which is hollow. The centre is filled with liquid and pressurised to inflate the
a prover is that the prover may be used at sphere until it is larger than the pipe bore.
pressure and the calibration is dynamic. A typical inflation is around 2 per cent
This will require a correction of the base larger than the pipe bore. When the
volume at reference temperature and sphere is inserted into the pipe it takes up
pressure for both temperature and pressure an elliptical shape and makes a good seal
related to the expansion of the pipe and the to the pipe wall.
The pipe itself is a long length of steel pipe
Pipe provers probably provide the best with a smooth bore. The internal surface is
calibration devices for truly dynamic usually coated with phenolic or epoxy resin
A volume tank or seraphim being calibration. They are used in a sealed to provide a smooth low-friction lining and
levelled prior to use system, provide high accuracy calibrations,
(Courtesy of Alderley Systems)
to protect against corrosion. As the pipe
and can be used in-situ as well as in can be extremely long, it is usually
laboratories. constructed in a series of loops. The
radius of the bends is chosen to allow the
It is to be noted that the term 'proving' is used extensively in the oil industry for the set
sphere to pass without either sticking or
of operations to 'prove' the accuracy and fitness for purpose of a flowmeter. It is
recognised that the term is synonymous with calibration.
At each end of the calibrated length of pipe
a detector switch is located through the
The pipe prover principle is shown
pipe wall. This usually takes the form of a
opposite. A length of pipe is fitted with
plunger triggering a switch when the
switches such that the volume between the
sphere passes under it.
switches is known. If a displacer or pig is Unidirectional Prover
introduced to the flow, the time it takes to (Courtesy of Alderley Systems) At the end of the prover is the sphere
travel between the switches will give a
handling valve. This arrangement is
measure of the flowrate. If the switches
designed to hold the sphere. At the start of a test the sphere is launched into the flow
are used to gate a pulse counter, totalising
and carried round the loop. At the end of the loop the sphere is captured and returned
pulses from a flowmeter, a measure of the
to the launch position ready for another run. The valve also has to allow for removal of
meter factor (pulse per litre) can be found.
the sphere. The design of the valve is critical, and must not only be leak tight but must
have mechanisms to prove it is leak tight.
The technique illustrates the ingenuity brought to bear on a calibration problem. The
first prover was a mile long pipe linking two oil refineries in dispute over the flowmeters
measuring product. With no ability to calibrate the meters independently, the length
and diameter of the pipe were estimated and the time for a cleaning 'pig' to travel the
distance provided an adequate measurement of volume to verify the transfer meters.

This concept has been refined to give the measuring device called a 'pipe prover'.
These devices are used extensively to measure all types of high value fluid from LPG
to high viscosity crude oil and are produced in all sizes from 2-48 inches diameter. The
fluid remains contained and sealed in the system, the calibration fluid can be the
product at normal conditions, and calibration can take place without interrupting the
16 17
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

3.3.2 Bi-directional sphere prover The design illustrated shows a

unidirectional piston prover. To allow a
Because of the complexities of sphere short length and retain accuracy the
handling and to reduce the turn round optical detectors are mounted external
time of the sphere, the bi-directional to the pipe. The piston has an integral
prover was developed. Similar in layout 'poppet' valve, which allows the flow to
to the unidirectional type, the main pass through the piston when held open.
difference is that flow can circulate An external rod allows the piston to be
around the loop in both directions. A pulled, using hydraulic pressure, to the
four-way valve, of very high integrity, upstream end of the cylinder while
changes the flow path without breaking holding the valve open. Releasing the
the flow. The sphere is held in special hydraulic pressure allows the valve to be shut by a combination of a spring, gas
end chambers. These are designed to pressure on the end of the rod, and the force of the flow. The flow carries the piston
launch the sphere and absorb the shock down the pipe. At the downstream end, the hydraulic pressure is restored and the
of capture. One chamber also provides a means of removing the sphere. Note from valve opens and is returned to the start position. A second rod carries flags which,
the drawing that two switches are provided at each end. This provides better integrity through optical detectors, give very precise start and stop signals across the measured
of the measurement by giving redundancy and a means of checking results by volume.
developing four separate volumes.
As a small volume will not allow the generation of enough pulses from the flowmeter a
3.3.3 Piston provers technique called pulse interpolation is used to increase the resolution of the pulse
counting. For the oil industry the minimum number of pulses has to be 10 000. If fewer
For difficult fluids, which may are collected, pulse interpolation may be used providing the signal stability is suitable.
damage a lining material, or leak Examples can be shown where down to 100 pulses are collected during one pass of
past the conventional sphere the displacer.
displacer, a piston may be used. The
pipe must be straight to allow a 3.3.5 Operation and calibration of a prover
piston to pass. The pipe is normally
a smooth, honed pipe of stainless To use a prover, the flow is directed through the prover and then the meter. The
Bi-directional Prover with Associated steel or plated carbon steel. The displacer is launched into the flow. When the first detector is actuated, a counter and
Flowmetering Skid displacer is a piston with multiple timer are started. When the second detector is actuated the timer and counter are
(Courtesy of Alderley Systems) seals. Switches can be conventional stopped. From the known volume between the detectors, the pulses counted and the
plungers or high integrity, non- time, a calculation of volumetric flow rate and K-factor are derived. In oil industry
contacting types. These provers are bi-directional using a four-way valve. This type of standards 3 or 5 calibrations are carried out at each flowrate specified. These have to
prover is not so common for the usual liquid applications but finds a particular fall in a range of 0.02%.
application with LPG, LNG and other difficult high value products.
The volume of the prover between the switches is determined by calibration. This will
3.3.4 Small volume (or compact) provers be called the 'base volume' and is quoted as being the volume at 15C (or other
reference temperature). The volume is found by displacing water into a volume (or
Depending on the definition, this type of prover can be one of two concepts. mass) standard measure. For larger provers, a reference meter is used with water or
product to measure the volume and the meter calibrated as part of the same operation
a) Any prover but smaller than a 'conventional' design for any particular against a volume measure, small pipe prover or small volume prover.
application. Usually this will mean the prover will have a volume too small to
allow the collection of enough pulses to give insignificant meter resolution A prover is a volumetric calibrator and the calculations have to take into account the
uncertainty (<10000 pulses is the standard criteria). In other respects it will be corrections for temperature and pressure of the prover and liquid. Codes of Practice
of the same design as a 'conventional' prover but require pulse interpolation to governing the design, calibration and use of pipe provers, including the small volume
be employed to improve meter resolution. versions, are available from ISO, Institute of Petroleum and API.

b) A custom-designed pipe prover with a volume about one-tenth of a conventional 3.3.6 Pulse interpolation
design for the same duty. It is normally a piston prover.
Mentioned above is the concept of pulse interpolation. This technique effectively
increases the resolution of a pulsed output by estimating the fraction of a pulse missed
at the beginning of a test and that gained at the end of a test.

18 19
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

This can be done electronically using frequency multipliers, or by pulse timing using two Some piston pipe provers have been produced for gas service. These are generally
or three techniques. By far the most common method is the double chronometry timing for higher pressures where the gas density is high or the piston is driven or assisted in
method illustrated below. some manner.

To estimate the fraction There are however, a number of

of a pulse lost or gained specialised and proprietary piston provers
at the start and finish of available for use with low pressure gas
a pass, the whole where the piston is driven by a precision
number of pulses is lead screw, taking out the need for the gas
counted. This number pressure to overcome friction.
is multiplied by the ratio
of the time between the 4.1.1 Mercury seal prover
switches to the time
between the first pulse For low flows, mercury seal provers use a
after the start switch very light displacer in a vertical glass tube.
and the first pulse after The piston runs vertically upwards in the tube. The seal is a mercury ring formed in a
the stop switch. recess in the piston. This reduces friction to a minimum.

Soap film burettes are again a form of pipe prover used for both calibration and
The technique works well when the pulses have a constant frequency or period. If the measurement. In this case, a glass tube is vertically mounted with a reservoir of soapy
period of the individual pulses varies by more than 5-10% lack of repeatability is found. water below the gas inlet. Gas flow from the meter on test
passes through a vertically mounted burette. As the gas
enters the burette a soap film is formed across the tube
4 CALIBRATIONS FOR GAS FLOWMETERS and travels up the tube at the same velocity as the gas.
By measuring the time of traverse of the soap film
The choice of calibration method for any particular flowmeter is governed by the meter between graduations at either end of this accurately
type, the ranges of flow and flow conditions, the pressure and the accuracy of calibrated burette the rate of flow of the gas may be
calibration required. In general all the methods have analogies with the liquid obtained.
methods. The main difference between the calibration of a gas flowmeter and a liquid
device is the compressibility of the fluid. When calibrating a gas flowmeter, the What is created is a pipe prover with the displacer formed
temperature, pressure and hence volume of gas measured by the standard will be by the soap film. This method is usually used to measure
different. Corrections to common conditions must be made. It is often best to convert gas flows within the range 10-7 to 10-4 m3/s at conditions
to mass flow at each stage and then back to the conditions at one position or to close to ambient, and under very carefully controlled
'standard' conditions. conditions reference flows can be determined to within
0.25 per cent using soap film burettes.
4.1 Displacement Methods

A number of proprietary standard devices are used for gas calibration based on the 4.1.2 Bell provers
principles of the pipe prover. The biggest drawback of any prover system for gas is the
friction generated by the displacer seal. This friction will require the gas to compress The 'Bell prover' is the standard for calibrating
until the pressure difference overcomes the friction. Variations in the friction can low-flow gas meters such as domestic gas
prevent the displacer moving smoothly, causing sticky or juddering movement hence meters. A cylinder (or bell), open at the bottom
giving poor results. and closed at the top, is lowered into a liquid
bath. The weight of the cylinder is supported by
a wire, string or chain and counterbalanced by
weights. A smaller counterbalance is fitted to
compensate for the changing buoyancy as the
cylinder is submerged. All pulleys etc, are on low
friction bearings. By altering the counterbalance
weight, a pressure can be generated in the

20 21
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

A pipe passing through the liquid The expression for the mass flowrate of the gas is:
communicates with the trapped
volume, and, as the cylinder is
lowered, gas is displaced from the
cylinder to the meter on test. By timing
the fall of the cylinder and knowing the where Cd is discharge coefficient, C* is critical flow factor, and A is area of the nozzle
volume/length relationship for the throat. PO and TO are the upstream pressure and temperature.
cylinder, the volume flow of gas
through the meter may be determined The mass flowrate under sonic conditions is independent of downstream pressure and
and compared with the meter reading. temperature and dependent only on the geometry of the nozzle, the properties of the
By closing a valve leading to the meter, gas, and the upstream pressure and temperature. This feature makes the device
and opening a valve (not shown) from particularly suitable for calibrating meters, like some rotary displacement meters, which
a gas supply, the cylinder can be can introduce pressure pulsation into the
returned to the start position. Original flow. A standard toroidal throat sonic
designs used water as sealing liquid. Venturi as specified in an ISO standard is
As this saturates the air as it shown. Other designs based on conical
evaporates, giving concerns over entries or parallel throat orifice plates can
humidity measurement, most bell be used but with larger pressure drops.
provers are now filled with low-vapour-
pressure/ low-viscosity oil. One disadvantage of the critical flow
Venturi-nozzle is the large pressure drop,
In order to minimise expansion or which is normally much greater than that for subsonic nozzles or other flowmetering
contraction of the gas, the liquid, gas devices. Moreover, an accurate knowledge of the thermodynamic properties of the
and air temperatures should not gas is required, and this may cause difficulties in gases such as natural gas where the
differ by more than 1C. Errors can composition may be complex and variable. The device is however particularly suitable
also arise due to incorrect for calibrating flowmeters in high-pressure gas flows at flowrates where the throat
compensation for change in Reynolds number exceeds 105: uncertainties of 0.2 per cent may be achieved. The
buoyancy of the bell as it is large pressure drop can in some situations lead to long times being required to
immersed and the fact that the gas is establish stable temperature conditions at the test meter.
not fully saturated. At present, for
flows up to some 10-2 m3/s, bell One feature of the nozzle is that, as pressure changes cannot travel faster than the
provers can be used to measure speed of sound, the nozzle effectively de-couples any downstream pressure changes
flows to within 0.2 per cent if strict from upstream conditions and hence provides a constant mass flow when upstream
precautions are taken to minimise pressure is constant. This applies even when downstream pressure changes.
the errors. Although for measurement purposes a nozzle is used to de-couple up and downstream
pressures, any suitable restriction, such as a valve run at sonic velocity, performs the
same function. It is this feature that allows nozzles to be calibrated against primary
mass or volume static measurement systems, and in fact nozzles are integrated to the
operation of primary standards.

4.2 Critical Flow Venturi-Nozzle (Sonic Nozzle) 4.3 Gravimetric / P.V.T Methods

Although not a primary method of calibration sonic nozzles can form part of a system A simple primary gas calibration system is outlined. This is similar to a liquid collection
when combined with primary methods. Sonic nozzles also provide the reference method and can be found as either a volumetric or a gravimetric system. For gas, the
system for many calibration facilities where their stability requires infrequent calibration collection tank is sealed and gas is introduced through valves. In gravimetric systems,
of the nozzle. the tank has to be disconnected from the supply to allow weighing. For volumetric
systems the pressure, temperature and tank volume must be known. An obvious
If the pressure drop between the inlet and the throat of a nozzle or restriction is drawback of such a system is found. As gas enters the tank, the pressure rises. As
increased until sonic velocity is reached at the throat, then for a given value of the the pressure rises, the flow rate must reduce. To get round this problem, these systems
upstream pressure and temperature, the mass flowrate through the nozzle will be are usually used in conjunction with a sonic nozzle to 'de-couple' the pressure. As
constant. explained in Section 4.2, the mass flow through a critical nozzle is dependent on the
upstream pressure and independent of the downstream (tank) pressure. This allows
the mass flow through an upstream device to remain constant while the tank fills.

22 23
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

Alternatively the nozzle can be used as a transfer device to calibrate a lower pressure In transit-time methods a pulse of tracer
meter whereas it is itself calibrated against the primary tank. fluid is injected into the main flow stream,
and the time taken for the tracer to pass
The measuring vessel may be a sealed between two detection points is noted. If
vessel which is weighed. To give some the volume of pipe between the detectors is
sizes, a vessel may weigh some known the volumetric flow can be
2.5 tonnes and filled to 30 bar will determined. At present, tracers used in
contain about 40 kg of gas. this method are usually radioactive
Alternatively, the vessel may be of isotopes, and radiation detectors are used
known volume. In this case by to determine the tracer transit time.
measuring the pressure and
temperature and knowing the gas For the dilution method a tracer fluid which is detectable in low concentrations, is
properties, the quantity of gas collected injected into the flow (see the Figure
is derived. opposite) at a known rate q (m3/s). The
mainstream flow is then sampled at a
Due to gas compressibility effects, distance downstream of the injection point
problems encountered in maintaining a far enough to have allowed homogeneous
closely controlled flowrate are considerably greater in gas flow systems than in liquid mixing to have taken place, and the
flow systems. Also since gases are very much less dense than liquids further concentration, C, of the tracer is
difficulties are encountered in accurately weighing the diverted mass. measured. Since the rate q is usually very
small compared with the main flowrate Q,
The NEL gravimetric system can be used to measure air flowrates of up to 4 kg/s, at the flowrate can be derived from
pressures of up to 50 bar, to within an estimated uncertainty of 0.15 per cent.


Tracer methods are not suitable for sluggish, slow moving flows. In dilution methods
In this Section three methods, suitable for calibrating flowmeters on site, are described. the main source of error occurs in obtaining accurate determination of the tracer
These are in addition to using any of the methods previously described. concentration, and in tracer velocity methods difficulties are encountered in determining
the volume between detectors. However it is claimed that, by incorporating recently
Generally these methods are used to calibrate meters where the standard laboratory developed radioactive techniques, an experienced team can determine the flowrate
methods are not suitable due to the product, the meter size, or an inability to stop the under the most favourable conditions to within 0.5 per cent.
process. Generally they are methods which do not give the best uncertainty, and may
in some cases provide poorer uncertainty than that expected of the meter. If doubt 5.2 Insertion Meters
exists these may be the methods which have to be employed to verify meter In these methods, the flowrate in the
performance. pipeline is estimated by measuring a
number of point velocities at discrete
5.1 Tracer Methods positions in a cross-section of the flow, and
then integrating these over the cross-
Tracer techniques can be divided into two methods: section. The device used to measure the
point velocities may be a pitot tube,
a) Transit time (velocity methods), and insertion turbine or an insertion
b) Dilution methods. electromagnetic meter.

The main disadvantages of these methods are that they are time consuming and that
serious difficulties are encountered with unsteady flows. For gas velocities in the
range 0.3 to 3.0 m/s uncertainties of 4 per cent are attainable using vane anemometers
and for velocities in the range 6-120 m/s uncertainties of within 2 per cent can be
achieved using pitot tubes. For water flows in large diameter water pipes, care must
be taken to ensure the measurement is unaffected by flow disturbances, bends or T
pieces. Of course, one of the issues is how to calibrate the insertion meter.

24 25
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters

5.3 Clamp-on Ultrasonic Meters

Clamp on ultrasonic meters operate by knowing the internal diameter of the pipe, and
measuring the velocity across a diameter by using a time of flight ultrasonic meter. The
transducers are clamped on to the outside wall of the pipe and measurements taken.
Many factors have to be considered such as flow profile, pipe material and internal
condition and fluid properties. Uncertainties of no better than 1-10% can be assumed
but 5% is a more probable expectation.


The calibration curve of a meter applies to that meter only, operating under the
conditions in which it was calibrated. If in service these conditions are changed the
calibration may not apply. What then are the real orders of uncertainty which might be
reasonably obtained from calibrated meters?

First, the meter cannot be calibrated to an uncertainty level better than its repeatability
and the uncertainty of the standard. The random uncertainties of a calibration can be
calculated statistically from the results of a calibration, whereas the systematic
uncertainties can only be estimated from a knowledge of the calibration system and its
method of traceability. The absence of systematic errors can often only be checked by
an intercomparison of facilities using a transfer standard.

Liquid flowmeter calibration facilities, having a known traceability path, should be able Appendix 1
to measure flowrates to uncertainty levels between 0.5 and 0.05 per cent depending
upon the size, cost and complexity of the system, and to measure volumes with a
somewhat higher accuracy. Calibration Check List

Calibration systems for gas flowmeters should be able to measure flowrate to

uncertainty levels of 0.5 per cent. A primary gravimetric system such as that at NEL
can be used with an uncertainty of 0.15 per cent, and when critical nozzles, directly
traceable to the gravimetric system, are used as working standards, the uncertainty
level drops to 0.25 per cent.

26 27
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters



1. Type of meter
2. Make/Model
3. Size of meter
(Length, diameter) (weight) (other sizes)
4. Type of Fluid
(get details i.e. what is the viscosity of the
oil etc)
5. Flowrate/Flowrange
(remember to note Units!)
6. Operating Pressure (especially for gas)
7. Operating Temperature
8. Signal Output: Pulsed/mAmps
Pulsed = max frequency
Resolution: is it a scale, pulses/unit
What's the electrical characteristics (volts etc) Appendix 2
9. K-factor (below 4 no verbal quote
before checking)
10. Is the pipework included?
Are all electronics included?
11. What uncertainty is required
12. What Flanges: screw etc
Are the flanges raised or RTJ
Some standard fittings are:
ANSI 600 PN16 BSP(T)
13. Measured Points required
e.g. (3 @5 flowrates) (1 at 10 flows) etc
14. Timescale required
15. Have you had the meter calibrated before
Contact Name:

Tel: Email:

28 29
Guide to the Calibration of Flowmeters


1 International Vocabulary of Basic and General Terms in Metrology (VIM).

BS PD6461, 1995 (Also ISO).

2 Guide to the Expression of Uncertainty in Measurement 1995 (GUM).


3 ISO 12916. Liquid Hydrocarbons - Dynamic Measurement - Volumetric Proving

Tanks Or Measures.

4 ISO 8222. Petroleum Measurement Systems -Calibration - Temperature

Corrections For Use When Calibrating Volumetric Proving Tanks.

5 ISO 7278-2. Liquid Hydrocarbons - Dynamic Measurement - Proving Systems

For Volumetric Meters - Methods For Design, Installation and Calibration of Pipe

6 ISO 7278-3. Liquid Hydrocarbons - Dynamic Measurement - Proving Systems

For Volumetric Meters - Pulse Interpolation Techniques.

7 ISO 7278-4. Liquid Hydrocarbons - Dynamic Measurement - Proving Systems

For Volumetric Meters - Guide For Operators of Pipe Provers.

8 ISO 9300. Method of Measurement of Gas Flow By Means of Critical Venturi


9 ISO 91-1. Schedule for Petroleum Measurement Tables.

10 Expression of Uncertainty and Confidence in Measurement. NAMAS M3003,

UKAS, London, 1997.

11 NEL Report No 367/99. ISO 5168 (Draft 5). Measurement of fluid flow-
estimation of uncertainties. A Report for NMSPU, DTI, London. September
1999, East Kilbride, Glasgow, National Engineering Laboratory.

12 Petroleum Measurement Manual. Part X: Meter Proving. Section 3: Code of

Practice for the Design, Installation and Calibration of Pipe Provers.

13 ISO 4185:1980. Measurement of Liquid Flow In Closed Conduits -- Weighing


14 ISO 9368-1:1990. Measurement of Liquid Flow In Closed Conduits By The

Weighing Method -- Procedures For Checking Installations -- Part 1: Static
Weighing Systems.

15 ISO 8316:1987. Measurement of Liquid Flow In Closed Conduits -- Method By

Collection of The Liquid In A Volumetric Tank.

16 ISO/TR 5168:1998. Measurement of Fluid Flow -- Evaluation of Uncertainties.

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