The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #13, and was written by Hunter.

There have been whole books written about differential pressure (DP) flow devices (orifices, pitot tubes, flow nozzles, venturi meters, elbow taps, wedge meters, averaging pitot, etc.) I only have space to hit the highlights and suggest that you pick up any of several books on the subject if you want to know more about this type of meter.

Concept: Just like every other flowmeter, a differential pressure flowmeter has strengths and weaknesses. The DP meter is one of the oldest means of flow measurement, and many derivatives of the basic meter exist. This section will try to briefly provide the strengths and weaknesses of the offerings and alert you to the possible pitfalls of using this type of meter.

Details: Nearly all differential pressure flow devices use some version of Bernoulli’s Law. Bernoulli’s Law states that the energy of a fluid is composed of three types: static head, pressure, and velocity. If a fluid is forced to pass through a restricted area, then the velocity will increase in that restriction. Because the overall energy must remain the same, the pressure of the fluid will drop as the velocity increases. The pressure drop can be measured to calculate flow, but the pressure drop increases as the square of the flow, so if the flow doubles through a DP meter, the pressure drop will increase by FOUR times.

The differential pressure can be generated in a number of ways. An orifice plate is the most common, but flow nozzles, averaging pitot tubes, wedge meters, venturis, and many others can be used. It is even possible to measure the differential pressure across the inside and outside of an elbow to determine flow rate.

At a high level, here is a list of the pros and cons of this type of meter:

PROS:

  1. Works in gas, steam, and liquid applications.
  2. Is insensitive to fluid conductivity.
  3. A well designed orifice installation can be extremely accurate, especially if the meter uses a honed meter run and temperature and pressure compensation. Such meters are often used for custody transfer applications.
  4. Flow nozzles, pitot, and averaging pitot tube meters can generate very low permanent pressure drops. (Note that the turndown of these meters can also be quite limited.)
  5. Averaging pitot arrays can accurately measure gas flow in odd shaped ducts with minimal meter runs.
  6. If the line size is large (greater than 6”), the economics favor differential pressure meters over vortex meters. Pitot tubes, averaging pitot tubes, and several insertion type nozzles can be used in extremely large pipelines at relatively low cost.
  7. Orifice meters do NOT have a low flow cutoff like vortex meters. If a high turndown is required, a high and low range transmitter can measure the DP across the same orifice plate to provide continuous flow measurement through a wide range of flow rates.
  8. A segmented wedge meter can be combined with capillary seals to provide flow measurement of viscous, sticky fluids such as tar and sludge. This same arrangement can also handle some solids entrainment.
  9. Because the DP transmitter is usually well removed from the process, DP flowmeters can be used in a wide range of temperatures and pressures.
  10. Integral flow orifices can measure extremely low flow rates, well below those measurable by vortex meters.

CONS:

  1. The square relationship between differential pressure and flow greatly limits the turndown of most DP meters. The pressure drop rises quickly as the flow increases.
  2. The permanent pressure drop of most orifice plates is about two-thirds of the measured differential pressure. The energy cost can be significant over the life of the meter.
  3. DP meters are sensitive to installation. The length of the meter run, the location of the transmitter, the method of running the impulse lines, and several other items can greatly impact their accuracy.
  4. The impulse lines on liquid and steam meters usually require freeze protection. Impulse lines are also prone to plugging in many applications.
  5. Like a vortex meter, the orifice meter requires an upstream and downstream meter run to establish a good flow profile. Such a run must usually be at least 25 diameters upstream and 10 diameters downstream. (Note that these distances depend upon the particular type of DP meter used.)
  6. For lines smaller than 6″, a vortex meter is usually a more economical choice if the low flow cutoff is not an issue.

 

Watch-Outs: The slightest bit of erosion on an orifice plate or pitot tube nozzle can have an enormous impact on accuracy. In addition, the sizing calculations are made for a very specific set of pressure, temperature, and density conditions. If these conditions can vary, the engineer should measure these parameters and adjust the flow rate calculation.

Exceptions: Each type of differential pressure flowmeter has a variety of pros and cons but the sheer number of types provides many options to the engineer. Few processes exist that cannot be handled by at least one version of the DP flowmeter.

Insight: Orifice type meters have been around for a long time and have been extremely well studied. Hundreds of constants and factors now exist, which can be included in the sizing calculations to make them highly accurate.

Rule of Thumb: Vortex meters have been gradually replacing orifice type meters, especially with the advent of the vortex meter made for steam applications. However, there are many applications where only a certain type of DP meter will suffice, and the DP meter (in its many variations) remains one of the most common flowmeters in the world today.

About the Author
Gregory K. McMillan, CAP, is a retired Senior Fellow from Solutia/Monsanto where he worked in engineering technology on process control improvement. Greg was also an affiliate professor for Washington University in Saint Louis. Greg is an ISA Fellow and received the ISA Kermit Fischer Environmental Award for pH control in 1991, the Control magazine Engineer of the Year award for the process industry in 1994, was inducted into the Control magazine Process Automation Hall of Fame in 2001, was honored by InTech magazine in 2003 as one of the most influential innovators in automation, and received the ISA Life Achievement Award in 2010. Greg is the author of numerous books on process control, including Advances in Reactor Measurement and Control and Essentials of Modern Measurements and Final Elements in the Process Industry. Greg has been the monthly "Control Talk" columnist for Control magazine since 2002. Presently, Greg is a part time modeling and control consultant in Technology for Process Simulation for Emerson Automation Solutions specializing in the use of the virtual plant for exploring new opportunities. He spends most of his time writing, teaching and leading the ISA Mentor Program he founded in 2011.

Connect with Greg
LinkedIn

About the Author
Hunter Vegas, P.E., has worked as an instrument engineer, production engineer, instrumentation group leader, principal automation engineer, and unit production manager. In 2001, he entered the systems integration industry and is currently working for Wunderlich-Malec as an engineering project manager in Kernersville, N.C. Hunter has executed thousands of instrumentation and control projects over his career, with budgets ranging from a few thousand to millions of dollars. He is proficient in field instrumentation sizing and selection, safety interlock design, electrical design, advanced control strategy, and numerous control system hardware and software platforms. Hunter earned a B.S.E.E. degree from Tulane University and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University.

Connect with Hunter
LinkedIn

The following tip is from the ISA book by Greg McMillan and Hunter Vegas titled 101 Tips for a Successful Automation Career, inspired by the ISA Mentor Program. This is Tip #13.

There have been whole books written about differential pressure (DP) flow devices (orifices, pitot tubes, flow nozzles, venturi meters, elbow taps, wedge meters, averaging pitot, etc.) I only have space to hit the highlights and suggest that you pick up any of several books on the subject if you want to know more about this type of meter.

Concept: Just like every other flowmeter, a differential pressure flowmeter has strengths and weaknesses. The DP meter is one of the oldest means of flow measurement, and many derivatives of the basic meter exist. This section will try to briefly provide the strengths and weaknesses of the offerings and alert you to the possible pitfalls of using this type of meter.

Details: Nearly all differential pressure flow devices use some version of Bernoulli’s Law. Bernoulli’s Law states that the energy of a fluid is composed of three types: static head, pressure, and velocity. If a fluid is forced to pass through a restricted area, then the velocity will increase in that restriction. Because the overall energy must remain the same, the pressure of the fluid will drop as the velocity increases. The pressure drop can be measured to calculate flow, but the pressure drop increases as the square of the flow, so if the flow doubles through a DP meter, the pressure drop will increase by FOUR times.

The differential pressure can be generated in a number of ways. An orifice plate is the most common, but flow nozzles, averaging pitot tubes, wedge meters, venturis, and many others can be used. It is even possible to measure the differential pressure across the inside and outside of an elbow to determine flow rate.

At a high level, here is a list of the pros and cons of this type of meter:

PROS:

  1. Works in gas, steam, and liquid applications.
  2. Is insensitive to fluid conductivity.
  3. A well designed orifice installation can be extremely accurate, especially if the meter uses a honed meter run and temperature and pressure compensation. Such meters are often used for custody transfer applications.
  4. Flow nozzles, pitot, and averaging pitot tube meters can generate very low permanent pressure drops. (Note that the turndown of these meters can also be quite limited.)
  5. Averaging pitot arrays can accurately measure gas flow in odd shaped ducts with minimal meter runs.
  6. If the line size is large (greater than 6”), the economics favor differential pressure meters over vortex meters. Pitot tubes, averaging pitot tubes, and several insertion type nozzles can be used in extremely large pipelines at relatively low cost.
  7. Orifice meters do NOT have a low flow cutoff like vortex meters. If a high turndown is required, a high and low range transmitter can measure the DP across the same orifice plate to provide continuous flow measurement through a wide range of flow rates.
  8. A segmented wedge meter can be combined with capillary seals to provide flow measurement of viscous, sticky fluids such as tar and sludge. This same arrangement can also handle some solids entrainment.
  9. Because the DP transmitter is usually well removed from the process, DP flowmeters can be used in a wide range of temperatures and pressures.
  10. Integral flow orifices can measure extremely low flow rates, well below those measurable by vortex meters.

CONS:

  1. The square relationship between differential pressure and flow greatly limits the turndown of most DP meters. The pressure drop rises quickly as the flow increases.
  2. The permanent pressure drop of most orifice plates is about two-thirds of the measured differential pressure. The energy cost can be significant over the life of the meter.
  3. DP meters are sensitive to installation. The length of the meter run, the location of the transmitter, the method of running the impulse lines, and several other items can greatly impact their accuracy.
  4. The impulse lines on liquid and steam meters usually require freeze protection. Impulse lines are also prone to plugging in many applications.
  5. Like a vortex meter, the orifice meter requires an upstream and downstream meter run to establish a good flow profile. Such a run must usually be at least 25 diameters upstream and 10 diameters downstream. (Note that these distances depend upon the particular type of DP meter used.)
  6. For lines smaller than 6″, a vortex meter is usually a more economical choice if the low flow cutoff is not an issue.

Watch-Outs: The slightest bit of erosion on an orifice plate or pitot tube nozzle can have an enormous impact on accuracy. In addition, the sizing calculations are made for a very specific set of pressure, temperature, and density conditions. If these conditions can vary, the engineer should measure these parameters and adjust the flow rate calculation.

Exceptions: Each type of differential pressure flowmeter has a variety of pros and cons but the sheer number of types provides many options to the engineer. Few processes exist that cannot be handled by at least one version of the DP flowmeter.

Insight: Orifice type meters have been around for a long time and have been extremely well studied. Hundreds of constants and factors now exist, which can be included in the sizing calculations to make them highly accurate.

Rule of Thumb: Vortex meters have been gradually replacing orifice type meters, especially with the advent of the vortex meter made for steam applications. However, there are many applications where only a certain type of DP meter will suffice, and the DP meter (in its many variations) remains one of the most common flowmeters in the world today.

 

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