Flow measurement is arguably the most complex, most varied and most interesting of measurements that an Instrument Engineer is likely to encounter.
For example flow can be measured in volumetric or mass terms e.g. m3/hr or kg/sec. These measurements being related by the material's density. And since gases are compressible and change volume when placed under pressure, are heated or are cooled then the volumetric flow rate may change under differing process conditions, the mass flow rate may not. This introduces the need for terms like "actual" flow rate through a meter and "standard" flow rate. So flow rate that you report may in fact not be the flow measured. See our page on Flow Conditions for how to convert between standard, actual and normal flows.
Then there is the task of how to measure flow. And here the choice can be huge:
- mechanical flowmeters like positive displacement meters or oval gear meters,
- pressure based meters like the ubiquitous orifice plate or equally popular venturi meter,
- thermal mass meters,
- vortex meters, electromagnetic, ultrasonic and coriolis flow meters
- and not forgetting laser and acoustic doppler methods.
All of these types of flow meter have their place; some being more suited to a particular application than others. Many factors may influence your choice when selecting a flow meter, including:
- Required accuracy (or uncertainty),
- Whether mass or volume flow rate is required,
- Properties of the fluid to be measured e.g. pressure, temperature, viscosity, conductivity etc,
- Installation restrictions e.g. straight length requirements, vertical or horizontal pipeline etc,
- Familiarity of operators with the flow meter technology