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Fuel Oil Testing

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Fuel Oil Testing
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For efficient and complete combustion, residual fuel must be heated before it is burnt. For correct atomisation in the
cylinder, the fuel must be at the correct viscosity. If the viscosity is too high, the fuel droplets will tend to be too large and
will take too long to absorb the heat energy from the compressed air before they start to burn. This will lead to late and
incomplete combustion, lack of power, afterburning and damage or fouling to liner, piston crown, exhaust valve and
turbocharger. If the viscosity is too low, then the droplets will be too small and combustion will tend to be early and
incomplete because the fuel droplets will not have penetrated far enough into the cylinder to find sufficient oxygen to
burn completely. This again will cause damage and fouling.

Because residual fuel is a complex blend of heavy asphaltenes blended with lighter distillates, and will vary in its make
up, to ensure that the fuel is maintained at the correct viscosity for injection, an inline device is used to measure the
viscosity and maintain it at the correct setpoint by controlling the fuel heating source.

Marine Engineers often refer to this device as a viscotherm, although this is a trade name for a particular make of
viscosity controller.

The Mechanically Driven Capilliary Tube Viscotherm

This is manufactured by VAF Instruments (Netherlands) Ltd.

The sensor consists of a housing (4) in which

the measuring element, a capillary tube
assembly (2,3) is mounted together with a gear
pump (9). An electric motor (6) with reduction
gear (7) drives the pump such that a continuous
and constant flow through the capillary tubes is
achieved. The laminar flow through the
measuring capillary creates a pressure
differential which is proportional to the
dynamic viscosity of the fuel oil. A magnetic
coupling (8) prevents both leakage and
overload of the electric motor in the event of
an obstructed pump.

The capillary assembly consists of a measuring

capillary in a resilient stainless steel housing
1. Thermometer (3) and a stainless steel damping capillary (2)
which compensates for pressure waves in the
2. damping capilliary fuel lines.

3. measuring capilliary Pressure taps (5) are provided to connect the

inlet and outlet of the measuring capillary to a
4. housing differential pressure transmitter via a valve
manifold. The manifold is used to isolate the
5. d.p. transmitter connections
differential pressure transmitter connections
6. motor and to equalize the differential pressure across
the transmitter.
7. reduction gear
An optional thermometer (1) indicates the
8. magnetic coupling actual fuel temperature.

9. gear pump

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Fuel Oil Testing

Actual viscotherm installation Exam type drawing explaining how a viscotherm works

The drawing above shows a pneumatic control system for controlling fuel oil viscosity. Modern systems convert the
differential pressure to an low voltage electrical signal between 4 - 20 mA DC and use this to control the position of the
heater valve.

Electronic Viscosity Measurement.

Systems are manufactured by VAF (Viscosense), Alpha Laval (Viscochief) and Solartron Mobrey (Viscomaster).
Basically the systems all use the principle that the damping of a vibration signal is proportional to the square root of the
viscosity. Not affected by vibrations or pressure and flow fluctuations. No moving parts to wear out.


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Fuel Oil Testing

The sensor comprises of a stainless steel pendulum attached to a base plate via
a torsion tube. two piezo elements are driven by an alternating signal causing
the pendulum to vibrate. A second set of elements sense the torsional vibration
via a feedback, and a processor measures the phase difference between the
transmitted and received signals. This phase difference is processed which
results in a value proportional to the square root of the fuel oil's viscosity.

The Viscochief

Fuel oil viscosity is measured by the damping effect of the oil on an oscillating rod.

Working Principle

A pin (1) is always kept at its resonance frequency by a motor coil

(2). A pick up coil (3) measures the amplitude change due to
viscosity change.

A protection tube (4) with 3 slots encloses and protects the

vibrating pin and limits the flow.

The electronic unit (5) consists of two circuit boards connected to

each other by a flat cable.

Measuring the decrease of the signal from the pick up coil

compared to the input by the motor coil gives a value related to the

The Viscomaster

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Fuel Oil Testing

The Viscomaster uses a vibrating tuning fork where the

tines are electronically maintained in resonance. Unlike
similar sensors, the instrument also displaces the fluid,
and this allows it to measure density and viscosity

Resonant frequency is determined by the density of the

fluid, and the damping of the vibration is proportional
to its viscosity.

The damped vibration is measured by the pick up piezo

resistive elements and a signal sent back to the
processor which measures the difference between the
drive and pick up and produces an output signal
between 4 and 20 mA which is used to control the F.O.
heater steam inlet valve.

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