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Flow measurement

Flow measurement is the quantification of bulk fluid movement. It can be measured in a

variety of ways.

Units of measurement
Both gas and liquid flow can be measured in volumetric or mass flow rates (such as litres
per second or kg/s). These measurements can be converted between one another if the
materials density is known. The density for a liquid is almost independent of the liquids
conditions, however this is not the case for a gas, whose density highly depends upon
pressure and temperature.

In engineering contexts, the volumetric flow rate is usually given the symbol Q and the
mass flow rate the symbol .


Due to the nature of an Ideal gas or a Real gas, the volumetric gas flow rate will differ for
the same mass flow rate when at differing temperatures and pressures. As such gas
volumetric flow rate is sometimes measured in "standard cubic centimeters per minute"
(abbreviation sccm). This unit, although not an SI unit is sometimes used due to the
additional information attached to the unit symbol, which indicates the temperature and
pressure of the gas. Many other similar abbreviations are also in use, for two reasons,
firstly mass flow and volumetric flow can be equated at known conditions, and secondly
due to the imperial system older units such as standard cubic feet per minute or per
second may still be used in some countries. It is often necessary to employ standard gas
relationships (such as the ideal gas law) to convert between units of mass flow and
volumetric flow.


For liquids other units used depend on the application and industry but might include
gallons (U.S. liquid or imperial) per minute, liters per second, bushels per minute and,
when describing river flows, cumecs (cubic metres per second) or acre-feet per day.
Mechanical flow meters
There are several types of mechanical flow meter

Piston Meter

Because they are used for domestic water measurement, piston meters, also known as
rotary piston or semi-positive displacement meters, are the most common flow
measurement devices in the UK and are used for almost all meter sizes up to and
including 40 mm (1 1/2"). The piston meter operates on the principle of a piston rotating
within a chamber of known volume. For each rotation, an amount of water passes through
the piston chamber. Through a gear mechanism and, sometimes, a magnetic drive, a
needle dial and odometer type display is advanced.

Woltmann Meter

Woltman meters, commonly referred to as Helix meters are popular at larger sizes. Jet
meters (single or Multi-Jet) are increasing in popularity in the UK at larger sizes and are
commonplace in the EU.

Multi-jet Meter

A multi-jet meter is a velocity type meter which has an impeller which rotates
horizontally on a vertical shaft. The impeller element is in a housing in which multiple
inlet ports direct the fluid flow at the impeller causing it to rotate in a specific direction in
proportion to the flow velocity. This meter works mechanically much like a paddle wheel
meter except that the ports direct the flow at the impeller equally from several points
around the circumference of the element, where a paddle wheel normally only receives
flow from one offset flow stream.

Venturi Meter

Another method of measurement, known as a venturi meter, is to constrict the flow in

some fashion, and measure the differential pressure (using a pressure sensor) that results
across the constriction. This method is widely used to measure flow rate in the
transmission of gas through pipelines, and has been used since Roman Empire times.

Dall Tube

The Dall tube is a shortened version of a Venturi meter with a lower pressure drop than an
orifice plate. Both flow meters the flow rate of Dall tube is determined by measuring the
pressure drop caused by restriction in the conduit. The pressure differential is measured
using diaphragm pressure transducers with digital read out. Since these meters have
significantly lower permanent pressure losses than the orifice meters, the Dall tubes have
widely been used for measuring the flow rate of large pipeworks.

Orifice Plate

Another simple method of measurement uses an orifice plate, which is basically a plate
with a hole through it. It is placed in the flow and constricts the flow. It uses the same
principle as the venturi meter in that the differential pressure relates to the velocity of the
fluid flow (Bernoulli's principle).

Pitot tube

A Pitot tube is a pressure measuring instrument used to measure fluid flow velocity by
determining the stagnation pressure. Bernoulli's equation is used to calculate the dynamic
pressure and thence fluid velocity.

Multi-hole Pressure Probe

Multi-hole pressure probes (also called impact probes) extend the theory of pitot tube to
more than one dimension. A typical impact probe consists of three or more holes
(depending on the type of probe) on the measuring tip arranged in a specific pattern.
More holes allow the instrument to measure the direction of the flow velocity in addition
to its magnitude (after appropriate calibration). Three-holes arranged in a line allow the
pressure probes to measure the velocity vector in two dimensions. Introduction of more
holes e.g., five holes arranged in a 'plus' formation allow measurement of the three-
dimensional velocity vector.

Paddle wheel

The paddle wheel translates the mechanical action of paddles rotating in the liquid flow
around an axle into a user-readable rate of flow (gpm, lpm, etc.). The paddle tends to be
inserted into the flow.

Pelton wheel

The Pelton wheel turbine (better described as a radial turbine) translates the mechanical
action of the Pelton wheel rotating in the liquid flow around an axis into a user-readable
rate of flow (gpm, lpm, etc.). The Pelton wheel tends to have all the flow traveling around
it with the inlet flow focussed on the blades by a jet. The original Pelton wheels were
used for the generation of power and consisted of a radial flow turbine with "reaction
cups" which not only move with the force of the water on the face but return the flow in
opposite direction using this change of fluid direction to further increase the efficiency of
the turbine.
Optical Flow Meters
Optical flow meters use light to determine flow rate. Small particles which accompany
natural and industrial gases pass through two laser beams focused in a pipe by
illuminating optics. Laser light is scattered when a particle crosses the first beam. The
detecting optics collects scattered light on a photodetector, which then generates a pulse
signal. If the same particle crosses the second beam, the detecting optics collect scattered
light on a second photodetector, which converts the incoming light into a second
electrical pulse. By measuring the time interval between these pulses, the gas velocity is
calculated as V=D/T where D is the distance between the laser beams and T is the time

Laser-based optical flow meters measure the actual speed of particles, a property which is
not dependent on thermal conductivity of gases, variations in gas flow or composition of
gases. The different operating principle enables optical laser technology to deliver highly
accurate flow data, even in challenging environments which may include high
temperature, low flow rates, high pressure, high humidity, pipe vibration and acoustic

Optical flow meters are very stable with no moving parts and deliver a highly repeatable
measurement over the life of the product. Because distance between the two laser sheets
does not change, optical flow meters do not require periodic calibration after its initial
commissioning. Optical flow meters require only one installation point, instead of the two
installation points typically required by other types of meters. A single installation point
is simpler, requires less maintenance and is less prone to errors.

Optical flow meters are capable of measuring flow from 0.1m/s to faster than 100m/s
(1000:1 turn down ratio) and have been demonstrated to be effective for the measurement
of flare gases, a major global contributor to the emissions associated with climate change.

Turbine flow meter

The turbine flow meter (better described as an axial turbine) translates the mechanical
action of the turbine rotating in the liquid flow around an axis into a user-readable rate of
flow (gpm, lpm, etc.). The turbine tends to have all the flow traveling around it.

The turbine wheel is set in the part of a fluid stream. The flowing fluid impinges on the
turbine blades, imparting a force to the blade surface and setting the rotor in motion.
when a steady rotation speed has been reached, the speed is proportional to fluid velocity.
Open Channel Flow Measurement
Level to Flow

The level of the water is measured at a designated point behind a hydraulic structure (a
weir or flume) using various means (bubbler, ultrasonic, float, and differential pressure
are common methods). This depth is converted to a flow rate according to a theoretical
formula of the form Q=KHX where Q is the flow rate, K is a constant, H is the water level
and X is an exponent which varies with the device used, or it is converted according to
empirically derived level/flow data points (a 'flow curve'). The flow rate can then
integrated over time into volumetric flow.


The cross-sectional area of the flow is calculated from a depth measurement and the
average velocity of the flow is measured directly (doppler and propeller methods are
common). Velocity times the cross-sectional area yields a flow rate which can be
integrated into volumetric flow.

Dye Testing

A known amount of dye per unit time is added to a flow stream. After complete mixing,
the concentration of the dye is measured. The dilution rate of the dye equals the flow rate.

Thermal mass flow meters

Thermal mass flow meters generally use combinations of heated elements and
temperature sensors to measure the difference between static and flowing heat transfer to
a fluid and infer its flow with a knowledge of the fluid's specific heat and density. The
fluid temperature is also measured and compensated for. If the density and specific heat
characteristics of the fluid are constant, the meter can provide a direct mass flow readout,
and does not need any additional pressure temperature compensation over their specified

Technological progress allows today to manufacture thermal mass flow meters on a

microscopic scale as MEMS sensors, these flow devices can be used to measure flow
rates in the range of nano litres or micro litres per minute.

Thermal mass flow meters are used for compressed air, nitrogen, helium, argon, oxygen,
natural gas. In fact, most gases can be measured as long as they are fairly clean and non-

Temperature at the sensors varies depending upon the mass flow

Vortex flowmeters
Another method of flow measurement involves placing a bluff body (called a shedder
bar) in the path of the fluid. As the fluid passes this bar, disturbances in the flow called
vortices are created. The vortices trail behind the cylinder, alternatively from each side of
the bluff body. This vortex trail is called the Von Kármán vortex street after von Karman's
1912 mathematical description of the phenomenon. The frequency at which these vortices
alternate sides is essentially proportional to the flow rate of the fluid. Inside, atop, or
downstream of the shedder bar is a sensor for measuting the frequency of the vortex
shedding. This sensor is often a piezoelectric crystal, which produces a small, but
measurable, voltage pulse every time a vortex is created. Since the frequency of such a
voltage pulse is also proportional to the fluid velocity, a volumetric flow rate is calculated
using the cross sectional area of the flow meter. The frequency is measured and the flow
rate is calculated by the flowmeter electronics.

With f= SV/L where,

• f = the frequency of the vortices

• L = the characteristic length of the bluff body
• V = the velocity of the flow over the bluff body
• S = Strouhal number, which is essentially a constant for a given body shape
within its operating limits

Electromagnetic, ultrasonic and coriolis flow meters

Modern innovations in the measurement of flow rate incorporate electronic devices that
can correct for varying pressure and temperature (i.e. density) conditions, non-linearities,
and for the characteristics of the fluid.

Magnetic flow meters

Industrial magnetic flowmeter

The most common flow meter apart from the mechanical flow meters, is the magnetic
flow meter, commonly referred to as a "mag meter" or an "electromag". A magnetic field
is applied to the metering tube, which results in a potential difference proportional to the
flow velocity perpendicular to the flux lines. The physical principle at work is Faraday's
law of electromagnetic induction. The magnetic flow meter requires a conducting fluid,
e.g. water, and an electrical insulating pipe surface, e.g. a rubber lined non magnetic steel

Ultrasonic (Doppler, Transit Time) flow meters

Ultrasonic flow meters measure the difference of the transit time of ultrasonic pulses
propagating in and against flow direction. This time difference is a measure for the
average velocity of the fluid along the path of the ultrasonic beam. By using the absolute
transit times both the averaged fluid velocity and the speed of sound can be calculated.
Using the two transit times tup and tdown and the distance between receiving and
transmitting transducers L and the inclination angle α one can write the equations:


where v is the average velocity of the fluid along the sound path and c is the speed of

Schematic view of a flow sensor.

Measurement of the doppler shift resulting in reflecting an ultrasonic beam off the
flowing fluid is another recent innovation made possible by electronics. By passing an
ultrasonic beam through the tissues, bouncing it off of a reflective plate then reversing the
direction of the beam and repeating the measurement the volume of blood flow can be
estimated. The speed of transmission is affected by the movement of blood in the vessel
and by comparing the time taken to complete the cycle upstream versus downstream the
flow of blood through the vessel can be measured. The difference between the two speeds
is a measure of true volume flow. A wide-beam sensor can also be used to measure flow
independent of the cross-sectional area of the blood vessel.

For the Doppler principle to work in a flowmeter it is mandatory that the flow stream
contains sonically reflective materials, such as solid particles or entrained air bubbles.
Coriolis flow meters

Using the Coriolis effect that causes a laterally vibrating tube to distort, a direct
measurement of mass flow can be obtained in a coriolis flow meter. Furthermore a direct
measure of the density of the fluid is obtained. Coriolis measurement can be very
accurate irrespective of the type of gas or liquid that is measured; the same measurement
tube can be used for hydrogen gas and peanut butter without recalibration.

Laser doppler flow measurement

Laser-doppler flow meter.

Blood flow can be measured through the use of a monochromatic laser diode. The laser
probe is inserted into a tissue and turned on, where the light scatters and a small portion is
reflected back to the probe. The signal is then processed to calculate flow within the
tissues. There are limitations to the use of a laser doppler probe; flow within a tissue is
dependent on volume illuminated, which is often assumed rather than measured and
varies with the optical properties of the tissue. In addition, variations in the type and
placement of the probe within identical tissues and individuals result in variations in
reading. The laser doppler has the advantage of sampling a small volume of tissue,
allowing for great precision, but does not necessarily represent the flow within an entire
organ. The flow meter is more useful for relative rather than absolute measurements.
Electromagnetic Flow Meter
In an electromagnetic or magnetic flowmeter, voltage induced in a moving
electroconductive liquid, crossing lines of the magnetic field, is directly proportional to
the flow rate. The flowmeter consists of a nonconductive pipe (or a conductive pipe with
an insulating inner surface liner), two electrodes usually flush with the inside surface of
the pipe, and an electromagnet (sometimes a permanent magnet). The electrodes are in
contact with the liquid and are oriented perpendicularly to both the direction of flow and
the lines of the magnetic field. The pipe is mounted in the gap of the magnet. The liquid
must be electroconductive; however, the electroconductivity can be very low.

There are a number of modifications that can be made to the flowmeter. For instance, the
local velocities of the liquid in a duct can be measured by immersing two electrodes into
a stream and mounting a magnet outside the duct.

Electromagnetic flowmeter (a), side view (b), and flowmeter with immersed electrodes
(c). Q = flow, /ex = electromagnet excitation current, Uo = output voltage, 1 = pipe, 2 and
3 = poles of electromagnet, 4 and 5 = electrodes, 6 = duct, 7 and 8 = poles of magnet, 9 =
immersed electrodes.

What is an Electromagnetic Flow Meter

An Electromagnetic Flow Meter is a device capable of measuring the mass
flow of a fluid.
Unlike the common flow meter you can find on the market it has no moving
parts, and for this reason it can be made to withstand any pressure (without
leakage) and any fluid (corrosive and non corrosive).
This kind of flow meter use a magnet and two electrodes to peek the voltage
that appear across the fluid moving in the magnetic field.
How does it Work

The Neumann Law (or Lenz Law) states that if a conductive wire is moving at
right angle through a magnetic field, a voltage E [Volts] will appear at the end
of the conductor (Fig.1):


B = Magnetic Induction [Weber/m2]
L = Length of the portion of the wire 'wetted' by the magnetic field [m]
V = Velocity of the wire [m/sec]

Now imagine you have a plastic tube with two electrodes on the diameter and Mercury
flowing into it (fig.2). A voltage will appear on the electrodes and it will be

as in the previous
example (L in this
case is the inner
diameter of the
You can think of
Mercury as tiny
conductive wires
next to each other :
each wire, moving
in the tube, will
touch the two
electrodes ,and thus
you can measure
their voltage.
An interesting fact
is that if you
reverse the flow,
you still get a
voltage but with
reverse polarity
Till now we have talked about a conductive fluid ,Mercury, but this stuff will also work
with non conductive fluid ,provided that you use an alternating magnetic field.
Two physicists, Mittlemann and Cushing, in an unpublished work, stated that when using
a non conductive fluid, if the frequency of the alternating magnetic field is the voltage
at the electrodes will be attenuated by a factor so that:


= Relative Permittivity [Adimensional]

= Permittivity of Free Space [Farads / m]

= Electrical Conductivity [M / m]

= Frequency [1 / sec]

and depends on the substance used and can be found on a good chemistry book.
is a constant = 8.86E-12 [Farads / m].

If an alternating magnetic field is used, an alternating voltage will appear on the

electrodes and its amplitude will be E. That is, the output is an amplitude modulated

Measuring the flow

Measuring the flow present some difficulties.
A perfect axisimmetric construction cannot be achieved and thus some magnetic flux
lines will 'wet' the connecting wires to the electrodes. The alternating magnetic field will
create an offset voltage in this wires and even if the fluid is not moving, the measured
voltage will not be zero.
If you plan to use the flow meter with a volt-meter you'll need to build a 'compensator
circuit' to zero the voltage when the mass flow is zero, unless you want to calculate the
difference between the measured voltage and the offset voltage every time.
Fig.3 shows the typical output of an E.F.M.
Important Characteristics
1. As soon as the fluid start to move in the tube a voltage will appear immediately at
the electrodes. There is no lag, therefore you can measure instantaneous flow in
pulsating system.

2. When the fluid is not moving the voltage at the electrodes will be zero (if you
accounted for the offset voltage).
If the fluid is moving with a certain speed V1 a voltage E1 will appear at the
electrodes. If the fluid is moving with a speed V2 two times V1, a voltage E2 two
times E1 will appear on the electrodes. That is, an E.F.M. has a linear calibration
curve. (fig.4)

If you are not sure about the strength of the magnetic field (and thus you don't
know what voltage will appear at the electrodes), just let a constant fluid flow Q1
pass through the flow meter and read the voltage E1 with an oscilloscope.
The calibration curve will pass from 0 Volts when there is no flow ,and the point
E1, Q1 (fig.5).
3. It has a bi-directional response therefore you will measure a voltage anytime the
fluid is moving, no matter which way.
Remember that if you are using a constant magnetic field the voltage will reverse
polarity if you reverse the flow.
If you reverse the flow in an alternated field you'll get the same AM wave ,and if
you use the AC to DC converter you'll measure the same output voltage because it
will 'feel' and hold the positive peak of the alternating voltage.

4. There is no movable part and restriction in the flow pipe.

How to Build It