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PAST ISSUES Getting the Best from a Magnetic Flowmeter
by: Walt Boyes
Pages: 54; June, 2001
2003 Process Industries
March March 31 - April 2, 2003
Magnetic flowmeters are widely used flow measurement devices for many
New Orleans, LA kinds of conductive liquids. There are simple reasons for this. First, magnetic
INTERPHEX flowmeters are inherently extremely accurate. They measure the average of all
March March 31 - April 2, 2003 of the velocities traveling through the pipe, from wall to wall, directly as a
New York, NY function of Faraday’s Law. Second, magnetic flowmeters are obstructionless,
2003 Offshore Technology
Conference and have about the same pressure loss as an equivalent length of pipe. Third,
May 5-8 they are remarkably maintenance free, even in cases of high corrosion or
Houston, TX abrasion. Fourth, they can measure a wide range of fluids, from clean water to •A
AWWA very dense slurries.
June 15-19
Anaheim, CA •F
Semicon West If I were going to build a plant somewhere in the world where rapid delivery of •F
July 14-16 parts and replacement units was going to be a problem, magnetic flowmeters
San Francisco, CA •G
would definitely be in my arsenal. If I had to pick two liquid flowmeter types,
and only two, to use at that remote location, magnetic flowmeters would be one • L
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choice, and I would be very torn what the other type would be. •M
Of course, I am referring to full-bore magnetic flowmeters, whether of the •P
spool-piece design or the wafer design. Insertion magnetic flowmeters of the •P
typical design, with a single point-sensor, have about the same accuracy and •R
repeatability as an insertion paddlewheel meter. Of course, there are always F
exceptions to the rule. (There are a few manufacturers who produce profiling •S
insertion magnetic flowmeters, and they can be quite accurate, even coming
close to full-bore meters in performance in good hydraulic conditions.)
General Guidelines •S
Nevertheless, like any other flowmeter, full-bore magnetic flowmeters aren’t •T
magical, and there are quite a few ways to install and operate one that will give •V
you the worst results. Here are some don’ts for installing and operating
magnetic flowmeters. These are general guidelines and one should consult
with the manufacturer to discuss the particular operating parameters of a given
meter. In other words, these aren’t written in stone -- talk to your vendor!

1. Don’t use a magnetic flowmeter on a non-conductive fluid. The minimum

conductivity is generally between five and 20 uS. You should not approach
those minimum values for normal use. Give yourself a safety factor. If you are
measuring deionized water at about six uS, you might want to look at using 4/4/03
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another type of meter, like a Transit-Time meter or a turbine meter. This is very
important since the minimum conductivity requirement can increase with the
distance between the primary (the flow tube) and the converter (the
transmitter). So, if you are building a water treatment plant, and you want to
use a magnetic flowmeter on a DI water line, don’t run the cable 300 feet to
where it is convenient to install the transmitter.

2. Don’t use a magnetic flowmeter on fluids with a lot of entrained air. Air or
other gases may collect in the meter, especially if it is installed at a high point
in the line (such as an inverted U-tube). While you may think you have forced
the meter to remain full, there is likely to be a sizeable void caused by air or
other gases coming out of solution and staying in the meter body. This will
seriously impair the accuracy of the meter.

3. Don’t use a magnetic flowmeter on a self-dewatering slurry. Some slurries,

such as calcium carbonate, or lime, have the property that at relatively high
densities (three to four g/cc slurry gravity) they will dewater, that is the solids
and the liquid will separate. The velocities of the solids and the liquids can
become quite different, and since the liquid is conductive and the solids are
not, the meter will be in substantial error.

4. Don’t use a garden-variety magnetic flowmeter in very rapid batching

operations. Because of the time necessary to make a reading, the average
magnetic flowmeter may not be fast enough to handle the step-changes in flow
of a batch and fill operation. There are some magnetic flowmeters on the
market that are faster response than others, so check the specifications to see
if one will work in your batching operation.

5. Don’t use a magnetic flowmeter that is very much oversized for the flow rate.
Very often, because of the exigencies of bureaucracy, we are forced to design
plants for expansion, and run them under current conditions. This is especially
true in the water and wastewater industries. However, any flowmeter’s
performance degrades as you approach the lower end of its measuring range,
and magnetic flowmeters are no different. If you must use an oversized meter,
be sure that the pipe will remain full, that air or other gases will not become
entrapped and check your supplier’s specifications because there is
considerable variation in performance at the low end between magnetic
flowmeter models.

6. Don’t use a magnetic flowmeter on a spiraling flow. Passing the fluid through
two 90o elbows at right angles to each other can easily create these flows.
Since the magnetic flowmeter’s raw signal output is the sum of all of the
velocity vectors in the magnetic field, and in a spiraling flow, some of those
velocity vectors have a negative sign, the output will be in error by as much as
40 percent. Magnetic flowmeters actually need very little straight run. A
common specification is three to five diameters upstream of the electrode
plane. Since the electrode plane is near the horizontal center of the meter
body, if the meter body is long enough, the required straight run may actually
be inside the meter body.

The reductions in the cost of a full-bore meter since 1990 have made it
possible to use them competitively with mechanical meters in water distribution
and in industrial water treatment, as well as in wastewater treatment, mining,
dredging, and the chemical industry. They are even beginning to be used in
agricultural irrigation.

Walt Boyes is a senior member of ISA, and current vice president of ISA's
Publications Department. He is a writer and consultant who has delivered
numerous technical papers, and has more than 25 years in the practice of flow 4/4/03
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