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8 Liquid/Slurry/Gas Density—Vibrating DI


B. G. LIPTÁK (1969, 1995) C. H. HOEPPNER (1982)

G. H. MURER (2003) Sample
Flow Sheet Symbol

Types: A. Oscillating Coriolis (see Section 6.5)

B. Vibrating U-tube
C. Vibrating cylinder or straight tube
D. Vibrating twin-tube
E. Vibrating fork
F. Multivariable transducer for density and sound velocity

Applications: B. Homogeneous liquids, light slurries, gases

C. Homogeneous liquids, slurries, gases, gas-liquid mixtures
D. Homogeneous liquids, light slurries
E. Homogeneous liquids, slurries
F. Homogeneous three-component liquids

Designs: B. Bypass with sample flow required, or in-line for small pipes
C. Bypass with sample flow required, or in-line for small pipes; retractable probe
designs for large pipes
D. In-pipe flange mounted design; bypass with sample flow required, or in-line for
small pipes
E. Tank or in-line installation
F. Bypass with sample flow required, or in-line for small pipes

Design Pressure: B. Up to 2900 PSIG (200 bars), depends on model and process connections
C. Up to 2175 PSIG (150 bars), depends on model and process connections
D. Up to 1440 PSIG (100 bars), depends on model and process connections
E. Up to 3000 PSIG (207 bars), depends on process connection
F. Up to 725 PSIG (50 bars)

Design Temperatures: B. −13 to 500°F (−25 to 260°C), depends on model

C. −328 to 392°F (−200 to 200°C), depends on model
D. −58 to 356°F (−50 to 180°C), depends on model
E. −58 to 392°F (−50 to 200°C)
F. −13 to 257°F (−25 to 125°C)

Materials of B. Stainless steel, Hastelloy, tantalum, Incoloy, borosilicate glass, and others
Construction/Wetted C. Stainless steel, Ni-Span C, Hastelloy
Parts: D. Stainless steel, Ni-Span C, Hastelloy
E. Stainless steel, Hastelloy, Monel
F. Hastelloy, Incoloy

Immunity to Pipe Vibration: All types: Pipe vibration frequencies near the densitometer operating frequency or
multiples thereof and/or mechanical stress introduced through process connections
may increase errors; special precautions are recommended.

© 2003 by Béla Lipták
6.8 Liquid/Slurry/Gas Density—Vibrating Densitometers 845

Interference from All types: Effects are partially compensated by design. Error increases if certain limits
Temperature, Pressure, are exceeded or measurement conditions are very different from the calibration conditions.
Viscosity, Sound Temperature compensation is usually provided but rapid measuring temperature
Velocity, and Flow changes may still cause error. Pressure compensation may be necessary if the line
Velocity Changes: pressure varies. Flow velocity changes should be kept small for the smallest error.
Sound velocity changes due to sample composition changes may cause error.

Limitations: All types (except for special models): not suited for gas-liquid mixtures, foams, and
for abrasive slurries
B, D, and F. May be plugged by heavy slurries
B, C. Not suitable for gases except for special models
D, E, and F. Not suitable for gases

Minimum Span: Most manufacturers now provide microprocessor-based controllers, with which almost
any span can be set. For a rough estimation of the minimum span, take 20 times the
value given for error.

Error: B. 0.005 to 0.00005 SG, depending on model and SG range; typically 0.01 SG for
gases, relative to dry air
C. 0.001 to 0.0001 SG, depending on model; typically 0.01 SG for gases, relative to
dry air
D. 0.0001 SG
E. 0.001 SG
F. 0.0001 to 0.00005 SG, % concentration error depends on the application

Repeatability: B. 0.0002 to 0.000005 SG, depending on model and SG range; typically 0.001 SG
for gases
C. 0.0001 to 0.00001 SG; typically 0.001 SG for gases
D. 0.00002 SG
E. 0.0001 SG
F. 0.00001 SG

Cost: B. Liquid density transmitter with 4–20 mA output, $4,000 to $6,000; high precision
density transducer with separate controller, $8,000 to $12,000
C. Gas density system, $10,000 to $15,000; liquid density system, $6,000 to $10,000
D. $5,000 to $8,000
E. Appr. $6,000
F. $10,000 to $15,000

Partial List of Suppliers: Anton Paar ( (B, D, F)

Automation Products Inc. Dynatrol Div. ( (A)
Chandler Engineering ( (B)
Solartron Mobrey ( (C, E)
Thermo Measurement Ltd. ( (C, D)
Yokogawa Corp. ( (B, C)

INTRODUCTION straight tube; the vibrating twin-tube; the vibrating fork; and
multivariable transducers combining vibrating elements with
A variety of widely used and accurate densitometers have other useful sensor principles for the concentration analysis
been designed by exploiting the phenomenon that the natural of multi component liquids. These are discussed in the fol-
frequency of oscillation varies with the mass of the oscillating lowing paragraphs.
body. Therefore, if the mass varies with density, the frequency
of oscillation can be used to measure the density. The shape
of the oscillating elements in the densitometers distinguishes BASIC THEORY
their designs, and they are grouped on that basis in this
section. The oscillating Coriolis element is not covered here, Most of the theory behind vibrating densitometers can be
as it has been discussed in detail in Section 6.5. The other derived from a simple mass-spring model (Figure 6.8a). The
types include the vibrating U-tube; the vibrating cylinder and start of the derivation is the well-known formula defining

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

846 Density Measurement

a process called calibration. This is carried out by measuring

at least two standard materials of known density, typically
air and water.


Now the question arises whether real life densitometers

behave in such a simple way. The answer is that they do behave
almost as simply as that. However, it is now time to reveal
some of the difficulties associated with real life vibrating
The first question is: How do damping forces, which are
always present, influence the system? The answer is that, in
FIG. 6.8a a properly designed vibrating densitometer, the excitation
Mass-spring model of a vibrating densitometer. system (an electronic device which keeps the densitometer
oscillating at its natural frequency) exactly compensates for
the period P of resonant oscillation of a mass-spring model the damping effects. Therefore, damping forces do not need
with mass m and spring constant c: to be considered for normal operation.

m Effects of Temperature, Pressure, and Flow

P = 2π 6.8(1)
c What happens with changing measuring temperatures? Look-
ing at Equations 6.8(4) and 6.8(5) it can be seen that both
The oscillating mass of a vibrating densitometer consists transducer constants should be influenced by temperature, as
of the following: the mass of the vibrating element M and a volume and a spring constant are involved. Therefore, an
the mass of the fluid participating in the oscillation, being extended equation is necessary which is able to compensate
the volume of the participating fluid V times its density ρ. for temperature influences on the transducer constants, pro-
vided that the temperature t is also measured:
m =M+ρ×V 6.8(2)
ρ = A × fa (t) × P 2 − B × fb (t) 6.8(7)
Replacing m in Equation 6.8(1) with the right side of
Equation 6.8(2) and rearranging leads to: fa(t) and fb(t) are functions of the temperature t which are
again determined by calibration with standard materials of
c M known density, this time at different temperatures within the
ρ= × P2 − 6.8(3)
4π V
V operating range of the densitometer. Accurate temperature
compensation can become very demanding if rapid measur-
Equation 6.8(3) relates the period of oscillation of a ing temperature changes occur.1
vibrating densitometer to the density of the fluid it is mea- A very similar extension of the fundamental Equation
suring. The two terms containing c, V, and M are now 6.8(6) can be made if the compensation of pressure variations
renamed for reasons of clarity: is needed. However, in many cases, the oscillating element
is designed to minimize pressure influences to an extent that
c pressure compensation is not necessary. Flow variations also
A= 6.8(4)
4π 2 V have a small, typically negligible influence on vibrating den-
sitometers. As its speed increases, the fluid stream increas-
M ingly resists the lateral deflection caused by the oscillation
B= 6.8(5)
V of the sensing element. This can result in slight changes of
the oscillation frequency of the sensor and consequential
This leads to the “fundamental” equation for density measurement errors.
measurement using vibrating sensors: There is still more to consider. All the equations above
are based on a mass-spring model which is supported by an
ρ = A × P2 − B 6.8(6) unlimited amount of “countermass.” In real life, the counter-
mass is either some additional mass built into or attached to
Equation 6.8(6) contains two unknowns, A and B, often the densitometer, another (counteracting) vibrating element,
referred to as transducer constants, which are determined by or, as in the case of circumferential oscillations, a part of the

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

6.8 Liquid/Slurry/Gas Density—Vibrating Densitometers 847

same vibrating element. If the countermass does not behave The solution is to use abrasion-resistant materials or to carry
like an unlimited amount of mass, the volume of fluid par- out frequent readjustments and replace the sensor once it is
ticipating in the oscillation changes as its density changes. seriously degraded.
This is due to the fact that the nodal points of the oscillation
of the vibrating element shift as the mass load changes with
different densities. To compensate for this, for most densito-
meters a third transducer constant is introduced into Equation
6.8(7). This third transducer constant is multiplied by the
period of oscillation or a function thereof. In this section, two different designs based on the vibrating
U-tube concept are discussed. The first design utilizes the
period of oscillation measurement for density determination;
Effects of Sample Properties the second design relies on vibration amplitude measurement.
The validity of Equation 6.8(7) is subject to another impor-
tant limitation:2 the underlying model is only accurate if all of Vibrating U-Tube with Period of Oscillation Measurement
the fluid participating in the oscillation always follows the move-
Figure 6.8b shows a typical design in which the sample fluid
ment of the surface of the vibrating element in the same way.
flows continuously through a U-shaped tube and the frequency
In real life, there are three cases in which this rule is broken:
of oscillation is measured. This design is mainly used in high-
precision online density measurements, as required for the
1. The “sound velocity effect:” If the speed of the vibrating
determination of concentration in the brewing, soft drink,
element’s surface becomes significant in relation to the
pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. Here, the oscillating
sound velocity in the fluid, part of the participating fluid
U-tube is driven by a magnet and coil assembly and a feedback
will lag behind the movement of that surface depending
amplifier so as to maintain the oscillation at the resonant fre-
on the actual sound velocity. This causes the fluid to
quency of the system. A resistance-type platinum temperature
exert different inertial forces with different sound veloc-
sensor is attached to the U-tube for automatic temperature
ities, leading to different oscillation frequencies of the
sensor and consequential measurement errors. In the compensation. In order to avoid measurement errors at mea-
case of gas density measurement with high frequency suring temperatures below ambient, the U-tube is sealed in a
oscillating sensors, this effect can lead to excessive error metal box to prevent humidity condensations forming.
if no countermeasures are provided. The resonant frequency of the U-tube and the measured
The “viscosity effect:” If the movement of the temperature are transmitted to a controller through a twin
vibrating element’s surface is such that shear flow is wire cable which also supplies power to the densitometer.
generated in the fluid, the flow pattern will change Resonant frequency and temperature are converted into den-
depending on the actual viscosity of the fluid. This sity at measuring temperature, density at reference tempera-
causes the fluid to exert different inertial forces with ture, and concentration by the microprocessor-based control-
different viscosities, again leading to different oscilla- ler. There, analog and digital outputs provide corresponding
tion frequencies of the sensor and consequential mea- signals for further processing.
surement errors if no countermeasures are provided. This densitometer type is also available with a built-in
The viscosity effect has to be taken into consideration controller and 4–20 mA output at the expense of a slightly
for high-precision density measurement when the vis- increased error. Several design variations with special
cosity varies greatly. materials for the wetted parts and U-tube diameters from
2. Measurement of highly inhomogeneous fluids: If the 1/8 in. (3 mm) up to 1 in. (25 mm) are available. Intrinsically
constituents of an inhomogeneous fluid differ consid- safe versions are provided for applications in hazardous
erably in their density and flow behavior, they will atmospheres.
move relative to each other when subject to oscillating
forces. This leads to different inertial forces depending
on the degree of inhomogeneity, again causing differ-
ent oscillation frequencies of the sensor and conse-
quential measurement errors.

Some additional, practical aspects are as follows: if a

fluid forms deposits on surfaces, the mass M of the vibrating
element will increase and the fluid volume V will decrease.
This leads to drifts of the densitometer and requires suitable
periodic cleaning and readjustment of the sensor. If abrasive FIG. 6.8b
fluids are measured, M and c will typically decrease and V High-precision vibrating U-tube densitometer. (Courtesy of Anton
will increase, again resulting in drifts of the densitometer. Paar GmbH.)

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

848 Density Measurement

This design can handle gases, homogeneous fluids, and is expected to vary, an automatic temperature compensating
light slurries with low to medium viscosities. Larger amounts circuit performs the required temperature correction.
of entrained gas cause the oscillation to stop due to excessive If the process stream contains entrained gases, then low
damping. Therefore, such samples cannot be measured unless flow velocities can cause separation and trapping of the gas.
increased line pressure causes the gas bubble volume to be The measured value then represents some average value of
compressed to a suitable extent and/or causes the gas to the liquid and gas density. As with most vibrating densitom-
become dissolved in the liquid. Connecting the densitometer eter designs, the entrained gas influence on the measured
to the process with flexible hoses prevents influence from pipe density can be compensated to some degree by offsetting the
vibration. If the densitometer is used in a bypass configuration, measurement result, provided that line pressure and flow
proper means have to be provided to secure a representative remain suitably constant.
sample flow through the bypass (orifice in main line; bypass Several different materials for the wetted parts are avail-
around pump in main line; pump in bypass; etc.). able for this densitometer, e.g., for applications with aggressive
liquids or abrasive slurries. This densitometer can handle
Vibrating U-Tube with Vibration Amplitude Measurement homogeneous fluids or light slurries with low or moderate
viscosities. High-viscosity streams or heavy slurries are likely
A different, low cost/low accuracy concept is used in the to plug the small diameter U-tube. If the densitometer is used
detector illustrated in Figure 6.8c. The process fluid flows in a bypass configuration, proper means have to be provided
continuously through a 1/2 in. (12.5 mm) diameter U-tube to secure a representative sample flow through the bypass.
section which is welded at the node points. The total mass of
the U-tube assembly is affected by the process fluid density.
A pulsating current through the drive coil brings the U-tube VIBRATING CYLINDER OR STRAIGHT TUBE
into mechanical vibration. An increase in process density
increases the effective mass of the U-tube and, therefore, These two densitometer designs have a similar shape of vibrat-
decreases the corresponding vibration amplitude. An armature ing element, but different oscillation modes are applied. In the
and coil arrangement is provided to detect the vibration at the vibrating cylinder design, circumferential oscillation of a cyl-
“pickup” end. The armature vibrates together with the U-tube inder is used for density measurement. In the vibrating straight
and induces an AC voltage proportional to the fluid density tube design, lateral oscillation of a single tube is utilized.
in the pickup coil. This AC voltage is then converted into DC
millivolts, which is more compatible with remote recorders Vibrating Cylinder
or controllers. In installations where the process temperature
In the vibrating cylinder design for gas density measurements
as shown in Figure 6.8d, the gas flows around (or both
through and around, as in similar designs) a thin-walled cyl-
inder that is located concentrically inside the housing of the
densitometer. If circumferential oscillation normal to the
cylindrical element is induced and sustained, the element will
vibrate at a frequency that is a function of its stiffness and
the oscillating mass. Since the gas surrounding the cylinder
is caused to oscillate, the mass of the entire system in vibra-
FIG. 6.8c tion consists of the mass of the spool plus that of the fluid.
Vibrating U-tube density detector. If a loop closed around the oscillator exhibits a proper phase

FIG. 6.8d
Gas densitometer using the vibrating cylinder concept. (Courtesy of Yokogawa Corp.)

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

6.8 Liquid/Slurry/Gas Density—Vibrating Densitometers 849

shift, vibration is sustained at the natural frequency. Thus, is exerted on both surfaces of the spool, so that pressure
for a cylinder of a fixed stiffness and mass, variations in variations have no influence on oscillation. This design is
oscillating frequencies are due to variations in gas densities. suitable for light and clean liquids of low viscosity such as
In this particular design, both fundamental and overtone har- light hydrocarbon mixtures, and not for slurries and viscous
monic oscillations are applied in order to compensate for inter- and/or abrasive materials. Typically a bypass type of instal-
ferences from other gas and process properties. lation is needed.
Only specific vibrating cylinder densitometer designs are The vibrating cylinder densitometers are usually provided
suitable for gas density measurements, whereby special con- with platinum RTD (resistance temperature detector) elements
sideration has to be given to measurement errors induced by for temperature compensation. Microprocessor-based con-
sound velocity changes due to gas composition changes.3 When verters serve to compensate for pressure and temperature
used as a gas mass-flow meter system, the densitometer effects and also to calculate mass flow rates based on density
should be installed in a pocket of the pipeline (Figure 6.8e) and volumetric flow rate signal inputs, if required.
in order to keep the gas temperature in the densitometer at
the same temperature as in the pipeline.
In a design suitable for liquids as shown in Figure 6.8f, Vibrating Straight Tube
oscillations are induced in a cylindrical spool and sustained
by a feedback amplifier. A predetermined number of oscilla- The vibrating straight tube design is popular for all kinds of
tions is counted and the elapsed time is measured by a high- liquid density applications (Figure 6.8g). It utilizes lateral
frequency clock. The density signal is then developed from oscillation of a single straight tube of 1 in. diameter. To
these data. Variations in spool stiffness and natural oscillating minimize measurement errors introduced by mechanical
frequencies are minimized by several means. Temperature stress from the ambient, flexible bellows located between the
effects on spool dimensions and elastic modulus are kept as process connections and the vibrating straight tube are
small as possible by alloys such as Ni-Span C. Fluid pressure applied. Temperature measurement for automatic temperature

FIG. 6.8e FIG. 6.8f

Vibrating cylinder densitometers are often used to calculate mass Thin-walled stainless steel spool, which is secured at one end, is
flow rates of natural gas or similar flows from orifice pressure drops. oscillated, and the oscillation frequency is detected as a measure
(Courtesy of Schlumberger Transducer Division) of density. (Courtesy of Sarasota Automation Inc.)

FIG. 6.8g
The 1 in. (25 mm) densitometer can be installed in the process pipe or, when the line size is larger, in a bypass. (Courtesy of Schlumberger
Transducer Division)

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

850 Density Measurement

compensation purposes is provided by a resistance-type plat- applied in a bypass-type installation. Temperature measure-
inum temperature sensor. ment for automatic temperature compensation purposes is
Due to the single straight tube of 1 in. diameter, highly provided by a resistance-type platinum temperature sensor.
viscous fluids and heavy slurries can be measured. The design Several materials for the wetted parts and intrinsically safe
is also applicable for difficult liquids such as crude oils, versions for applications in hazardous atmospheres, as well
although regular mechanical cleaning and readjustment4 is as special versions for hygienic and other applications are
then necessary to avoid measurement errors due to the for- offered. Twin-tube designs can be used for homogeneous,
mation of residue layers on the wall of the vibrating straight low to medium viscosity liquids. If the densitometer is used
tube. Special versions for applications with entrained gas are in a bypass configuration, proper means have to be provided
available. Intrinsically safe versions are provided for appli- to secure a representative sample flow through the bypass.
cations in hazardous atmospheres. A wide variety of materials
for the wetted parts and special versions for hygienic and
other applications are offered. VIBRATING FORK
Measurement errors due to the potential separation effects
on inhomogeneous samples have to be considered. Specific The vibrating fork design became popular in the late 1990s
installation rules must be followed in this case. Sound velocity due to its low cost and simplicity (Figure 6.8i). The main
changes due to sample composition changes may also have feature of this type of densitometer is that it can be mounted
some influence on the result. If the densitometer is used in a directly on a tank or large diameter pipe wall. The sensor acts
like a tuning fork immersed in a liquid. Piezo-ceramic elements
bypass configuration, proper means have to be provided to
and a suitable feedback amplifier drive the oscillation of the
secure a representative sample flow through the bypass.
sensor. Although its natural oscillation frequency is heavily
influenced by both the density and viscosity of the liquid, ways
have been found to compensate for most of the viscosity influ-
VIBRATING TWIN-TUBE ence. Thus density can be measured with reasonable accuracy.
The viscosity influence is compensated by determining
A successful design to avoid measurement error being intro- both the natural frequency of oscillation and the damping of
duced by mechanical stress is based on the twin-tube concept the oscillation exerted by the liquid. The same sensor design
(Figure 6.8h). It consists of two parallel tubes of equal geom- can also be used for liquid viscosity determination. Temper-
etry through which the sample flows. The sample stream is ature measurement for automatic temperature compensation
equally distributed between the two parallel tubes. Ideally, purposes is provided by a resistance-type platinum tempera-
these two tubes have the same natural frequency and oscillate ture sensor.
against each other (180° phase shift) driven by a suitable
feedback system. The twin-tube concept allows the produc-
tion of relatively lightweight densitometers providing a rea-
sonable level of accuracy.
Transducers are available as flange-mounted devices for
in-pipe installation. Other manufacturers provide designs
with 1 in. (25 mm) process connections which are normally

FIG. 6.8h
Vibrating twin-tube densitometer for in-pipe flange-mounted instal- FIG. 6.8i
lation. (Courtesy of Anton Paar GmbH.) Vibrating fork densitometer.

© 2003 by Béla Lipták

6.8 Liquid/Slurry/Gas Density—Vibrating Densitometers 851

An explosion-proof version and a selection of different a need for a similarly simple and precise method for the
wetted materials are offered. A microprocessor-driven control- concentration determination of ternary systems such as alcohol/
ler is built into the densitometer, allowing various conversions sugar/water or NaOH/NaCl/H2O. Although such determi-
of density and temperature into density-related properties. nations have already been performed for many years by
A 4–20 mA output and an RS 485 interface are provided. combining, e.g., density with separate refractive index or
The vibrating fork densitometer can be used for both low and conductivity transducers, in the 1990s a transducer was devel-
high viscosity liquids and slurries. oped which combines a vibrating U-tube densitometer and a
high-precision sound velocity measurement in one housing
(Figure 6.8j).
MULTIVARIABLE TRANSDUCER FOR DENSITY Density, sound velocity, and temperature are measured and
AND SOUND VELOCITY transmitted to a controller through a twin-wire cable, which
also supplies power to the transducer. The controller provides
High-precision density measurement is often applied for the analog and digital signal outputs for further processing. The
accurate concentration determination of binary liquids such system is successfully applied for on-line beer and soft drink
as alcohol/water solutions, sugar/water solutions, acids, and concentration analyses as well as for the measurement of many
many other types of binary solvent/solute systems. There was ternary systems in the chemical industry.
The transducer is available with a 1/4 in. (6.6 mm) U-tube
diameter and is normally applied in a bypass type installation.
Several materials for the wetted parts and an intrinsically safe
version for applications in hazardous atmospheres are
offered. The design can be used for homogeneous, low to
medium viscosity liquids.


1. Kotnik, P., Murer, G., et al., “Accurate Fluid Density Measurements

Using Oscillating Type Density Meters under Rapid Measuring Tem-
perature Variations,” ACHEMA, Frankfurt, 2000.
2. Stabinger, H., “Density Measurement Using Modern Oscillating Trans-
ducers,” Yorkshire Trading Standards Unit, Sheffield, 1994.
3. Matthews, A.J., “Theory and Operation of Vibrating Element Liquid
and Gas Densitometers in the Hydrocarbon Industry,” NEL Density
Seminar, East Kilbride, October, 1994.
4. Campbell, M. and Pinto, D., “Density Measurement—A Laboratory
Perspective,” NEL Density Seminar, East Kilbride, October, 1994.


Capano, D., “The Ways and Means of Density,” InTech, November 2000.
Gordon, I., “Vibrating Element Technology for Measuring Liquid Density
in Process Applications,” ACHEMA, Frankfurt, 2000.
ISO 15212—2:2001, Oscillation-type density meters. Part 2: Process instru-
ments for homogeneous liquids, ISO, Geneva, 2001.
Kotnik, P., Murer, G., et al., “Accurate Fluid Density Measurement Using
Oscillating Type Density Meters under Rapid Temperature Variations,”
ACHEMA, Frankfurt, 2000.
Magaris, P., “On-Line Density Measurement Is Fast and Accurate,” Control
Engineering, June, 1981.
Schietinger, M., “Mass Flow vs. Volumetric Flow,” Measurements and Con-
FIG. 6.8j
trol, September, 1990.
Combined density and sound velocity transducer for concentration “Standard Practice for Calibration of Transmission Densitometers,” ASTM
analyses of three component types of liquids. (Courtesy of Anton Standard, 1998.
Paar GmbH.)

© 2003 by Béla Lipták