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20 Purge Flow Regulators FI


E. L. SZONNTAGH (1995) B. G. LIPTK (2003)



Flow Sheet Symbol

Applications Purge flow regulators serve the regulation of low flow rates of air, gas, or liquids.
They are most often used in air bubblers or in purging electrical housings (in explosion-
proof areas) and in purging optical windows of smokestack analyzers. Water and liquid
purge meters are most often applied to protect process connections from plugging.

Purge Fluids Air, nitrogen, and liquids

Operating Pressure Up to 450 PSIG (3 MPa)

Operating Temperature For glass tube, up to 200F (93C)

3 3
Ranges Range is from a minimum of 0.01 cm /min for liquids and from 0.5 cm /min for gases.
A 0.25-in. (6-mm) glass tube rotameter can handle 0.05 to 0.5 GPM (0.2 to 2 l/min)
of water or 0.2 to 2 SCFM (0.3 to 3 cmph) of air.

Inaccuracy Generally, 2 to 5% of range (laboratory units are more accurate)

Costs A 150-mm glass-tube unit with 0.125-in. (3-mm) threaded connection, in type 316
stainless steel, and a 16-turn high-precision valve will cost about $300; the same with
an aluminum frame and a standard valve is about $125. Adding a differential-pressure
regulator of brass or aluminum construction costs about an additional $150 (in

stainless steel, about $500). For highly corrosive services, all-Teflon , all-PTFE, all-
PFA, and all-CTFA units are available that, when provided with valves, cost from
$500 with 0.25-in. (6-mm) to $1500 with 0.75-in. (19-mm) connections.

Partial List of Suppliers Aalborg Instruments & Controls Inc. (

ABB Automation Instrumentation Division (
Blue-White Industries (
Brooks Instrument (
Cole-Parmer Instrument Co. (
Dwyer Instruments Inc. (
Key Instruments (
King Instrument Co. (
Krohne Inc. (
Matheson Instruments (
Omega Engineering Inc. (
Penberthy (
USFilter/Wallace & Tiernan Products (

Purge flows are low flow rates of either gases or liquids. They DETECTION OF LOW FLOWS
serve to protect pressure taps from plugging or being con-
tacted by hot or corrosive process fluids. Inert gas purging The low flow rates of purge media can be detected by a variety
can also serve to protect electrical devices from becoming of devices. They include capillaries, miniature orifices, meter-
ignition sources by maintaining a positive pressure of incom- ing pump, positive-displacement, thermal, and variable-area-
bustible gases inside their housings. In the case of analyzers, type flow sensors. Most of these devices are detailed in other
purging protects the cleanliness of the optics. sections of this chapter. Capillary flow elements (Section 2.9)

2003 by Bla Liptk
308 Flow Measurement

are ideal for the measurement of low flow rates. They can also
be combined with thermal flowmeters to provide flow regula-
tors with higher precision and higher rangeabilitybut also
higher cost (Section 2.13). Integral orifices (Section 2.15) can
also be used in both gas and liquid flow measurement,
whereas positive-displacement meters and metering pumps are
most often used to detect the flows of liquids (Sections 2.14
and 2.19). In addition, the second volume of the Instruments
Engineers Handbook (Process Control) includes a section
that describes self-contained flow regulators. Orifice
Only one purge flow regulator design is not covered in 0.020" (0.51mm)
other parts of this three-volume handbook: the rotameter-type
purge meter. This is the least expensive and most widely used
purge meter design, and it is described in this section.


Purge flowmeters are widely used devices and are probably

the most widely used form of the variable-area flowmeter,
the rotameter. These meters are inexpensive and are intended FIG. 2.20b
for the measurement and control of low flow rates. Most Fine-adjustment needle valve with vernier scale. (Courtesy of
purge meters are used on inert gas or water services at low Swagelok Co.)
flow rates, where measurement accuracy is not critical. These
units are reasonably repeatable, which is all that is required
TABLE 2.20c
in many purge applications where, as long as a low flow rate Gas Properties under the Standard Conditions of 29.92 in.
is maintained, it is not critical to know how much it is. The of Mercury and 70F (760 mm of Mercury and 21C)
flow rates through the purge meters are adjusted by needle-
Viscosity Specific
type throttling valves as shown in Figure 2.20a. Gas
Density (lb/ft ) Micropoises Gravity
The metering needle valves are usually multiple-turn
Air 0.0749 181.87 1.000
units provided with long stems. The opening around their
Argon 0.1034 225.95 1.380
Helium 0.0103 193.9 0.138
End Fitting Hydrogen 0.0052 88.41 0.0695

Tube Adaptor Spring Nitrogen 0.0725 175.85 0.968

Ball Check Valve Oxygen 0.0828 203.47 1.105
Carbon Dioxide 0.1143 146.87 1.526

Tube Adaptor
needle-shaped plugs is very small and can approach capillary
dimensions. Figure 2.20b shows a high-precision needle
Protection Shield valve provided with a vernier-type scale that allows a more
accurate setting of the valve opening. The dual scale increases
Metering Tube the precision and reproducibility of setting by subdividing
the smallest reading of the first scale onto the second. The
Float flow rate through these devices is a function of the opening
in the valve, the pressure differential across that opening, and
Tube Adaptor
both the density and the viscosity of the purge media.
End Fitting Table 2.20c provides information on the density and viscosity
of a number of purge gases.
When the purge flowmeter is combined with a differential-
pressure regulator (Figure 2.20d), it becomes a self-contained
Meter Body
flow controller. The purge flow is fixed by adjusting springs
1 and 2 for a particular pressure difference, usually in the
FIG. 2.20a range of about 60 to 80 in. (150 to 200 cm) of water. This
Purge rotameter with integral needle valve. constant pressure drop (P2 Po) is than maintained across

2003 by Bla Liptk

2.20 Purge Flow Regulators 309

Flow @ Bibliography
Po Outlet Pressure
Baker, R. C., Flow Measurement Handbook, Cambridge University Press,
UK, 2000.
Blasso, L., Flow measurement under any conditions, Instrum. Control Syst.,
February 1975.
Cheremisinoff, N. P., Fluid Flow, Ann Arbor Science Publishers, Ann Arbor,
MI, 1982.
Tube Cross, D. E., Rotameter calibration nomograph for gases, Instrum. Tech.,
Spring 5356, April 1969.
#1 Cushing, M., The future of flow measurement, Flow Control, January 2000.
Des Marais, P. O., Variable-area meter for viscous service, Instrum. Control
Diaphragm Syst., August 1961.
Desmeules, M., Fundamentals of Gas Measurement, Canadian Meter Com-
P2 pany, Milton, Ontario, Canada, June 1999.
Factory Mutual Loss Prevention Data Sheet 759, Inserting and Purging of
Regulator Tanks, Process Vessels and Equipment, Norwood, MA, 1977.
Valve Flow Control Hall, J., Solving tough flow monitoring problems, Instrum. Control Syst.,
Valve (v) February 1980.
Spring Instrument Society of America, Recommended Practices RP16.1, RP16.2,
#2 RP16.3, RP16.4, RP16.5, and RP16.6. (These documents deal with
Flow @ Pi Inlet Pressure
the terminology, dimensions, installation, operation, maintenance, and
calibration of rotameters.)
FIG. 2.20d Lomas, D. J., Selecting the right flowmeter, Instrum. Tech., May 1977.
Purge flow regulator consisting of a glass tube rotameter, an inlet needle Miller, R. W., Flow Measurement Handbook, 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, New
valve, and a differential pressure regulator. (Courtesy of Krone Inc.) York, 1996.
Polentz, L. M., Theory and operation of rotameters, Instrum. Control Syst.,
June 1961.
the flow control valve (V). The configuration in Figure 2.20d Purging Principles and Practices, Report XK0775, American Gas Associa-
tion, Washington, DC, 1990.
maintains the outlet pressure (Po) constant by compensating
Rotameters/variable-area flowmeters, Meas. Control, September 1991.
for any variation in the inlet pressure Pi by changing the Spitzer, D. W., Flow Measurement, 2nd ed., ISA, Research Triangle Park,
regulator valve opening. NC, 2001.
Other purge flowmeter designs are also available that Standard on Explosion Prevention Systems, NFPA 96, National Fire Pre-
work in a reverse configuration by keeping the inlet pressure vention Association, Boston, MA.
Standard on Purged and Pressurized Enclosures for Electrical Equipment,
Pi constant and allowing the outlet Po to vary. In these
NFPA 496, National Fire Prevention Association, Boston, MA.
designs, the constant pressure drop across the valve (V) is Sydenham, P. H. et al., Introduction to Measurement Science and Engineer-
maintained to equal (Pi P2) instead of (P2 Po) being kept ing, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England, 1989.
constant. The gas flows through purge flow controllers are U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board, Summary Report
usually adjustable in a range of 0.2 to 2 SCFH (6 to 60 slph). on Accident at Union Carbide Hahnville Louisiana Plant, Report
PB99159972, Washington, DC, 1998.
The error or inaccuracy is usually 5% of full scale over a
Waring, T., Fundamentals of Rotary Meter Measurement, Dresser Canada,
range of 10:1. The standard pressure and temperature ratings June 1999.
are 150 to 300 PSIG (1 to 2 MPa) and 212 to 572F (100 to Yoder, J., Flowmeter shootout, part I and II: new technologies, Control,
300C). February and March 2001.

2003 by Bla Liptk