You are on page 1of 2

Cammda Corporation

Metering Liquids: The Art, The Science
(December 2010) From the very beginnings of commerce and trade between tribes there has been a requirement to standardize units of measure of liquids. Wine, beer, olive oil, resins, potions and liquids of all sorts needed to be quantified in order to be able to establish a value for trade. The ancients used vessels of standard dimensions proclaimed by a governing authority as the legal unit of measure for this purpose. Amphora, the broad-hipped pottery vessels with the pointed bottoms that we often see in museums, are a classical example of volumetric standardization. Barrels originally constructed from wood are another example of successful standardization. Although most crude oil is handled in pipelines we still measure it in barrels. During the medieval ages vessels of specific dimension were kept safe by various groups such as the masonry guilds and were designated the ‘standard unit of measure’ against which vessels of commerce were compared to determine the value of liquid products. These ‘standards’ were used for legal purposes to help protect the consumer and establish a level playing field for competition. Woe is the person caught selling an undersized tankard of ale and claiming it to be a ‘full measure’. This method of metering liquids is known as “volumetric metering”. Liquid is poured into a vessel of a specific volume to a specific level and then transferred to another vessel. This type of metering is quite accurate and has been adequate for most purposes for thousands of years. At the onset of the Industrial Revolution when manufacturing processes became increasingly automated, the measure and pour method of metering became cumbersome for many applications. The development of the single acting “positive displacement” piston pump was a logical extension of the thinking behind this process, only automated. When a solid that is incompressible moves into the space occupied by a liquid (which is by definition non-compressible) the two cannot occupy the same space simultaneously so the liquid is said to be positively displaced; hence the term ‘positive displacement’. Practically speaking, if a liquid fills a cylinder of known dimensions and a piston then pushes it out, the volume of the displaced contents can be calculated: (Volume = the cross-sectional diameter of the piston x the stroke length) If the piston is retracted and the cylinder is refilled when the piston advances the same distance again, another shot of the same quantity is dispensed. This is known as repeatability. A key assumption of the above concept is that the cylinder is full and all of its contents are dispensed. This is where it gets tricky. All pumps must have an inlet, an outlet and some sort of facility for moving the liquid. A piston pump is a device that has a cylinder, a mechanically driven piston and two valving

Applying Experience … Dispensing Adhesives

functions; an inlet valve that allows liquid into the cylinder but will not allow it to get out and an outlet valve that allows the liquid to get out but will not let it back in. These valving functions are mechanical and typically the ‘Achilles Heel’ of any pumping system. They must work flawlessly in order to ensure that the cylinder is full and that its contents have been repeatably displaced. As they are a critical element in the accuracy of a metering system, considerable thought and energy has gone into the design and development of these devices. The ultimate inlet valve is one that does not inhibit liquid flow into the metering chamber but instantly stops back-flow once the chamber is filled. The ultimate outlet valve is one that does not unduly inhibit liquid flow out of the metering chamber but instantly stops back-flow once the dispensing motion stops. Externally actuated valves have been used for this. These can be complex and have their own problems with respect to coordination and timing of the function. Typically check or non-return valves are used. These valves have a plunger which seals the inlet once a pressure differential is felt between the inlet pressure and pressure build in the cylinder due to the motion of the piston. In order for the cylinder to fill, the plunger must move out of the way to provide the least amount of restriction to flow. When the time comes to seal, the plunger has to move back into position. It is during this time that some of the liquid that made up some of the contents of the cylinder can forced back out of it through the inlet rather than the outlet. The same problem occurs at the outlet valve. If the piston begins to retract before the outlet valve has fully closed the vacuum developed can suck some of the metered liquid back into the cylinder. In terms of accuracy of displacement not everything is displaced through the outlet so there is some loss at both valving sites. Repeatability, however, is another issue. As long as all things remain equal the amount lost through the inlet should be consistent and the amount displaced through the outlet and then sucked back should be as well. This means that the repeatability may be quite high and good enough for most practical purposes. The mechanical shortcomings of the valving systems are amplified by the physical characteristics of liquids. The five most important characteristics of liquids when it comes to metering them are: viscosity (their internal resistance to flow), cohesion (how strongly the molecules in the liquid are attracted to one another), compressibility (remember we said they weren’t supposed to compress) filler composition (many liquids carry non-liquid fillers) and chemical compatibility. To a large extent how these characteristics interact with the inlet and outlet valve mechanisms in a pump will determine the success and accuracy of the metering system. Understanding the intricacies of these interactions is the ‘art’ of liquid metering. Many solutions, in terms of the mechanical designs of metering devices, have been devised over the years. Each has its benefits and its shortcomings. The discussion of the various approaches to solving the problems of metering liquids will be the subjects of future papers. At Cammda we understand the technology. We have been working with it for over 34 years. We apply the know-how gained through art and science to accurately fill your product into the most appropriate package for you.
/written by : Greg McEwan, President CAMMDA Corporation 1-888-372-0123

Applying Experience … Dispensing Adhesives