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Design of a Tank Draining Experiment

May 22, 2006

Chemical Engineering Transport Lab

Carnegie Mellon University
Team 5
Aileen Dinin
Mary Catherine Fisher
Hua-Xing Lee
Caitlin Weigand

A tank for conducting basic draining experiments was designed for incorporation of modular orifice plates and a pressure gage

measuring device. The tank successfully modeled draining flow as predicted by Torricelli’s equation and an empirical hydraulic

equation. The hydraulic equation had a decreasing goodness of fit with increasing orifice diameter. Other orifice geometries and

discharge coefficients may improve the degree of fit of the tank model to the hydraulic model. Further investigations with this

setup may be made for tanks in series or for control of input or output flow to and from a tank.

Table of Contents


Background and Theory…………………………………………………………………1


Results and Discussion…..………………………………………………………………6



The study of volumetric tank draining models has wide relevance in modern consumer industries. In any process where

a tank is involved in production, the volume of the substance will invariably change at some point in the process. Even

steady-state processes will experience a change in volume as a result of flow disturbances, set point changes, or any number of

changing process variables. The model of a simple tank-draining process is designed for use as an in-class experiment in

fundamental engineering mathematics to demonstrate the realistic application of differential equations. In this experiment, we

investigate how the drain rate of a single tank depends on the shape and size of the tank orifice. To model this dependence, we

fit the tank draining data to Torricelli’s equation and relate flow through the orifice to empirical discharge coefficients based on

orifice geometry.

Background and Theory

The flow rate of fluid exiting the bottom of a tank through an orifice is modeled by relating the height of hydrostatic

pressure head to volumetric flowrate using Torricelli’s Law. The fluid draining operates in an unsteady state mode; draining

begins with a full tank and no inflow is included throughout draining. To develop the relation, a mass balance of the fluid in the

tank is made, knowing that the rate of change in mass must equal mass flowrate into the tank minus mass flowrate out.

Knowing that mass is fluid density ρ multiplied by volume V and that all fluid exits through orifice area Ae at an exit velocity v e,

m&e = ρAe v e

To relate the exit velocity to the height of fluid in the tank, we consider the energy flow caused by gravity driven fluid

flow. Assuming steady state flow of energy as fluid exits with no accumulation, constant temperature, no loss to friction, and

essentially no change in height of the system. The steady state integrated energy balance is then in terms of kinetic energy and

energy flow, expressed as the difference of top of tank velocity v 1 and bottom of tank velocity v 2 squared and the difference in

pressure from top to bottom, P 1-P 2:

m&1 2 m&
∆E = 0 = (v1 − v2 2 ) + 2 ( P1 − P2 )
2 ρ

The mass flow at the top can be assumed to be equal to that at the bottom of the tank. The energy balance them simplifies to

an equation for velocity at the bottom of the tank, v 2. Since the area for fluid flow at the bottom of the tank is much smaller

relative to the tank area, the flow velocity through the bottom of the tank will be much larger than that at the tank fluid level. If v 1

is neglected,

v2 = (P − P2 )
ρ 1

Pressure difference due to fluid weight can be expressed as a hydrostatic pressure head due to fluid density. Substituting that

into the pressure difference, we are left with an equation directly relating velocity and gravity force g at fluid height y.

v 2 = 2gy

Combining this with the mass balance in differential form for volume, we express fluid flow as a function of observed area for

the specific orifice geometry times a gravity factor and the square root of height. The observed area cA e can be calculated from

a plot of observed flowrate and measured height to determine specific values for different orifice geometries.

= −cA 2gy
dt (5)

Correlations for draining of fluid in a tank with a single orifice are also given in the Cameron Hydraulic text (67). These

relations are empirical relations giving an expected volumetric flowrate for orifice diameter d, tank diameter D, and a

geometry-based orifice discharge coefficient K. Several orifice constant values are given for geometries corresponding to

varying orifice entrance and exit lengths and edge types (Text Reference p. 67). The correlation, expressed in English units, can

be simplified for a small orifice to tank diameter ratio. The full relation is:

Q = 19.636 ⋅ Kd 2
 d 4
1−  
 D


where flowrate Q is equivalent to dt . For convenience sake, Torricelli’s Law has been graphed using this convention as



Preliminary tank draining was completed using two graduated cylinders of different sizes. A short, narrow 50mL

graduated cylinder and a tall, wide 250mL graduated cylinder each had eighth inch holes cut in the center of the base. Three

water heights were tested to create a rough correlation between tank water height and time necessary for draining. Then, a

machine shop-commissioned official setup was created from initial results.

The official experimental setup equipment consisted of a cast acrylic tank and interchangeable aluminum alloy

(Al6061-T6) orifice plates of varying geometries. A pressure transducer was also used. The tank had the following

dimensions: 6 inch outer radius with 0.25 inch wall thickness, base diameter of 6.75 inches and base height 0.5 inch, with total

tank height of 19.4375 inches from base to top. The hole for the orifice plates was located directly in the center of the base

while the hole for the pressure transducer was offset 2 inches from the center.

Each orifice plate had vertical thickness of 0.508 inch, with a lip height and diameter of 0.385 inch and 1.856 inches

and neck diameter of 1.245 inches. The lip and neck enabled the snug fit of orifice plates into a complementary hole in the

base of the tank. This is shown visually in figure 1.

The Setra Systems 209 pressure transducer was a true 2-wire transducer with an external load range of 0-800 Ohms

and 4-20 milliAmperes. The pressures could be measured from 0-20 psi or up to 138.39 inches of water. The measurement

accuracy was within 0.25% of total range, which corresponded to plus or minus 0.346 inches of water, and the pressure gage

time constant was 5 milliseconds from 0 to full pressure.

LabView software was used to collect the pressure data.

Figure 1: Setup of Tank-Draining Apparatus

In order to begin the experiment, the pressure transducer was allowed a 24-hour adjustment period prior to

experimental data collection. Data was obtained by observing water height as a function of time for drainage of a full tank. A

calibration curve was made for pressure and height for several runs until the data was reproducible and variations in pressure

with height were negligible. After calibration, straight runs were completed using the pressure transducer to record tank
drainage with varying conditions and orifice plates.

Results and Discussion

In preliminary testing, both equations gave a close, but not perfect fit to the data. For the 250 ml graduated cylinder, the

experimental data had an error value of 0.0485 lower than the hydraulic equation (equation 6); for Torricelli’s Law (equation

5), the error was –3.08 ⋅10 -6 . Considered within the magnitude of the data, these errors also show very similar values.

For the 2 liter graduated cylinder, the hydraulic equation error was -0.0394; Torricelli’s Law gave a value of 5.16 ⋅10 -6 .

Once again, these are very reasonable values. These graduated cylinders, but particularly the 250 millileter, would be

appropriate for a hands-on demo because they drained quickly and data was easily obtained. On visual inspection, the

hydraulic equation appears to have the best fit for the data, but the unit conversions involved in it would probably make it

inappropriate for in-class demos, unless spreadsheets were set up ahead of time. The equations appear to fit better at lower

flowrates; figuring out the reason for this phenomenon could be an interesting discussion topic for the class.

For the 0.125 in diameter orifice plate, both fits provided an average fit, although the data from the transducer tended to

be noisy (see Fig. 2).

0.125 inches Hydraulic Equation





Experimental Run 3
Experimental Run 1
Q (gal/min) Experimental Run 2


0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4


root (h)

Figure 2: Flowrate vs Height for 0.125" Orifice Plate

0.125 in Torricelli




4.000E-05 Theoretical
Run 1
run 2
run 3
Q 2.000E-05
(in m^3/s)

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7


root h

Figure 3: Data for 0.125” orifice, showing Torricelli and hydraulic fits

As per figure 3, Torricelli’s provides a fit that is more to the middle of the data, while the hydraulic equation tends to stay in the

lower range.

For the 0.305 inch orifice, similar trends were observed, although the hydraulic equation has a much more noticeable

sinking in the data set:

Hydraulic - 0.305 in



Run 1
Run 2
1.5 Run 3
Run 4
Q (gal/min) Run 5
Run 6


0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4


root h

Figure 4: Data for 0.305" orifice, showing hydraulic fit

Torricelli - 0.305 in




0.0001 Theoretical
Run 1
Run 2
0.00005 Run 3
Run 4
Q (m^3/min) Run 5
0 Run 6
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8



root h

Figure 5:Data for 0.305 in orifice, showing Torricelli and hydraulic fits

For the 0.250 inch orifice, the data points were similarly noisy and predictable for Torricelli, and also demonstrated a similar

but slightly smaller deviation for the hydraulic equation:

Hydraulic 0.25 in



Run 1
Run 2
q (m^3/s) Run 3


0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4


root h

Torricelli 0.25 in



Run 1
Run 2
Q (m^3/s) Run 3

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8

root h

Figure 6: Data for 0.250 in orifice, showing Torricelli and hydraulic fits

It appears that for the larger orifices, the hydraulic equation no longer applies. The largest coefficient for straight, square

orifices was used in our calculations. The poor degree of fit for larger orifices could be the result of a discrepancy between our

choice of discharge coefficient and the original experimental conditions used in determination of each coefficient. It would be

interesting to investigate the wellness of fit for different coefficient values for straight as well as rounded geometries to find a

better model.

The results of the 0.250 inch orifice with a 0.75 inch protrusion into the tank are given below.

Hydraulic - 0.25 in w/0.75 in extension



0.5 Run 1
Run 2
q (gal/min)
0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4



root h

Figure 7: 0.250" orifice with 0.75" extension with hydraulic fit

Torricelli 0.250 in w/0.75in extension




0.00005 Run 1
Run 2
Q (m^3/s)

0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7


root h

Figure 8: Data for 0.205” orifice with 0.75” protrusion with Torricelli fit

This orifice shows a similar deviation from the hydraulic equation line, suggesting that perhaps there is an intrinsic problem in

that correlation. The other coefficients that are listed for this type of orifice are lower which would have resulted in larger

deviations from theoretical fit. Hence, the problem is not simply that the wrong coefficient was chosen.

Another peculiar trend, visible for both correlations, is that the data tends to skew higher than the predicted results. Since

both trials use the same height readings, a sensor error is unlikely. This may be a result of some sort of systemic bias in

applying both equations to the tank system. Whatever the cause, this kind of discrepancy is worrisome because systems with

draining tanks designed using these equations will drain faster than expected. For more complicated systems, this could result in

disturbances that could have costly effects further on down the line after such a tank.

One more relevant aspect was the formation of vortices as the tank drained. They were generally preventable as long as

water motion was allowed several minutes to stagnate prior to draining. However, the run in which significant vortex formation

was present gave data that was generally indistinguishable from that which did not form vortices. This may be due to the

noisiness of the pressure transducer readings, however. In theory, vortex formation should decrease or increase the pressure

transducer readings (depending on the location of the transducer in relation to the vortex), as it makes the height uneven.


The preliminary testing determined that a 250 ml graduated cylinder with a hole in the base would be a good experimental

setup to use in demonstrations of mathematical modeling. Deviations from commonly-used equations would provide a good

jumping-off point for discussions of empirical correlation determination and nonidealities.

A single tank apparatus also provides many opportunities for variation from the experiment described in this paper. Other

important modes of operation of interest are steady state flow of inlet and outlet streams, flow control of the exit line by a valve

providing a constant resistance. The tank could also be operated using control systems like a surge tank, with PID or

proportional control. All of these variations would require additional setup, but they could be used with the same tank and set

of orifice plates. A control model of such a tank is available on pp. 25-27 and Example 5.3 in Process Dynamics and Control

by Seborg, Edgar, and Mellichamp, 1989. Chapter 6 of Process Systems Analysis and Control by Coughanowr and Coppel

has a thorough description of liquid storage systems with Laplace transforms and responses to different types of control inputs

as well.

Another possible experiment would involve modifying the current setup by introduction of higher than ambient pressure on

top of the water. Such an experiment could model the effects of draining from taller heights than are currently achievable.

Other testing could be done to find alternate ways of preventing vortex formation (for example, placing some sort of sheet on

top of the liquid). In addition, another identical setup, possibly even with the addition of a control valve, could be used in

combination with the original tank to create coupled or decoupled draining tanks, allowing for the application of systems of

differential equations and creating a more difficult mathematical problem. Further investigations into a quad-tank draining

system seen in Chemical Engineering Education Summer 2004 issue (Rusli, Ang, and Braatz) might also be of interest. This

kind of setup allows for the creation of unstable systems and other interesting control problems.


Cameron Hydraulic Data, 14 th Edition. Eds. Shaw G.V. and Loomis, A.W. Woodcliff Lake: Ingersoll-Rand Company,1970.

Setra Systems. Model 209 Performance Requirements. Online: Accessed 8 May

White, Dr J.R. “Torricelli’s Law.” Lecture Notes. Lowell: University of Massachusetts. August 1998. Online:

12 Accessed 10 May 2006.