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Document Category Accounting
Document Target Users Electrical and Instruement Engineers, technicians and supervisor



Measuring the flow of liquids is a critical need in many industrial plants. In some operations, the ability to conduct accurate flow measurements is so important that it can make the difference between making a profit or taking a loss. In other cases, inaccurate flow measurements or failure to take measurements can cause serious (or even disastrous) results.

With most liquid flow measurement instruments, the flow rate is determined inferentially by measuring the liquid’s velocity or the change in kinetic energy. Velocity depends on the pressure differential that is forcing the liquid through a pipe or conduit. Because the pipe’s cross-sectional area is known and remains constant, the average velocity is an indication of the flow rate. The basic relationship for determining the liquid’s flow rate in such cases is:

Q = V x A
Q = liquid flow through the pipe
V = average velocity of the flow

Other factors that affect liquid flow rate include the liquid’s viscosity and density, and the friction of the liquid in contact with the

Direct measurements of liquid flows can be made with positive-displacement flowmeters. These units divide the liquid into specific increments and move it on. The total flow is an accumulation of the measured increments, which can be counted by mechanical or electronic techniques.

Reynolds Numbers

The performance of flowmeters is also influenced by a dimensionless unit called the Reynolds Number. It is defined as the ratio of
the liquid’s inertial forces to its drag forces.

The equation is:
R = 3160 x Q x Gt
D x h
R = Reynolds number
Q = liquid’s flow rate, gpm
Gt = liquid’s specific gravity
D = inside pipe diameter, in.
h = liquid’s viscosity, cp

Figure 1: Laminar and turbulent flow are two types normally encountered in liquid flow Measurement operations. Most applications involve turbulent flow, with R values above 3000.
Viscous liquids usually exhibit laminar flow, with R values below 2000. The transition zone between the two levels may be either laminar or turbulent.
The equation is:
R = 3160 x Q x Gt
D x h
R = Reynolds number
Q = liquid’s flow rate, gpm
Gt = liquid’s specific gravity
D = inside pipe diameter, in.
h = liquid’s viscosity, cp
The flow rate and the specific gravity are inertia forces, and the pipe diameter and viscosity are drag forces. The pipe diameter and the specific gravity remain constant for most liquid applications. At very low velocities or high viscosities, R is low, and the liquid flows in smooth layers with the highest velocity at the center of the pipe and low velocities at the pipe wall where the viscous forces restrain it. This type of flow is called laminar flow. R values are below approximately 2000. A characteristic of laminar flow is the parabolic shape of its velocity profile, Fig. 1.

However, most applications involve turbulent flow, with R values above 3000. Turbulent flow occurs at high velocities or low viscosities. The flow breaks up into turbulent eddies that flow through the pipe with the same average velocity. Fluid velocity is less significant, and the velocity profile is much more uniform in shape. A transition zone exists between turbulent and laminar flows.

Depending on the piping configuration and other installation conditions, the flow may be either turbulent or laminar in this zone.

Numerous types of flowmeters are available for closed-piping systems. In general, the equipment can be classified as differential pressure, positive displacement, velocity, and mass meters. Differential pressure devices (also known as head meters) include orifices, venturi tubes, flow tubes, flow nozzles, pitot tubes, elbow-tap meters, target meters, and variable-area meters, Fig. 2.

Positive displacement meters include piston, oval-gear, nutating-disk, and rotary-vane types. Velocity meters consist of turbine, vortex shedding, electromagnetic, and sonic designs. Mass meters include Coriolis and thermal types. The measurement of liquid flows in open channels generally involves weirs and flumes.

Space limitations prevent a detailed discussion of all the liquid flowmeters available today. However, summary characteristics of common devices are shown in Table 1. (Click here to see Selection Guide) Brief descriptions follow.

Differential Pressure Meters

The use of differential pressure as an inferred measurement of a liquid’s rate of flow is well known. Differential pressure flowmeters are, by far, the most common units in use today. Estimates are that over 50 percent of all liquid flow measurement applications use this type of unit.
The basic operating principle of differential pressure flowmeters is based on the premise that the pressure drop across the meter is proportional to the square of the flow rate. The flow rate is obtained by measuring the pressure differential and extracting the square root.

Differential pressure flowmeters, like most flowmeters, have a primary and secondary element. The primary element causes a change in kinetic energy, which creates the differential pressure in the pipe. The unit must be properly matched to the pipe size, flow conditions, and the liquid’s properties. And, the measurement accuracy of the element must be good over a reasonable range. The secondary element measures the differential pressure and provides the signal or read-out that is converted to the actual flow value.

Orifices are the most popular liquid flowmeters in use today. An orifice is simply a flat piece of metal with a specific-sized hole bored in it. Most orifices are of the concentric type, but eccentric, conical (quadrant), and segmental designs are also available.

In practice, the orifice plate is installed in the pipe between two flanges. Acting as the primary device, the orifice constricts the flow of liquid to produce a differential pressure across the plate. Pressure taps on either side of the plate are used to detect the difference. Major advantages of orifices are that they have no moving parts and their cost does not increase significantly with pipe size.

Conical and quadrant orifices are relatively new. The units were developed primarily to measure liquids with low Reynolds numbers.
Essentially constant flow coefficients can be maintained at R values below 5000. Conical orifice plates have an upstream bevel, the depth and angle of which must be calculated and machined for each application.

The segmental wedge is a variation of the segmental orifice. It is a restriction orifice primarily designed to measure the flow of liquids containing solids. The unit has the ability to measure flows at low Reynolds numbers and still maintain the desired squareroot relationship. Its design is simple, and there is only one critical dimension the wedge gap. Pressure drop through the unit is only about half that of conventional orifices.

Integral wedge assemblies combine the wedge element and pressure taps into a one-piece pipe coupling bolted to a conventional pressure transmitter. No special piping or fittings are needed to install the device in a pipeline.

Metering accuracy of all orifice flowmeters depends on the installation conditions, the orifice area ratio, and the physical properties of the liquid being measured. (Back to Meter Types Table) Venturi tubes have the advantage of being able to handle large flow volumes at low pressure drops. A venturi tube is essentially a section of pipe with a tapered entrance and a straight throat. As liquid passes through the throat, its velocity increases, causing a pressure differential between the inlet and outlet regions.

The flowmeters have no moving parts. They can be installed in large diameter pipes using flanged, welded or threaded-end fittings.
Four or more pressure taps are usually installed with the unit to average the measured pressure. Venturi tubes can be used with most liquids, including those having a high solids content. (Back to Meter Types Table)

Flow tubes are somewhat similar to venturi tubes except that they do not have the entrance cone. They have a tapered throat, but the exit is elongated and smooth. The distance between the front face and the tip is approximately one-half the pipe diameter. Pressure taps are located about one-half pipe diameter downstream and one pipe diameter upstream. (Back to Meter Types Table)

Flow Nozzles, at high velocities, can handle approximately 60 percent greater liquid flow than orifice plates having the same pressure drop. Liquids with suspended solids can also be metered. However, use of the units is not recommended for highly viscous liquids or thoseĀ  containing large amounts of sticky solids. (Back to Meter Types Table) Pitot tubes sense two pressures simultaneously, impact and static. The impact unit consists of a tube with one end bent at right angles toward the flow direction. The static tube’s end is closed, but a small slot is located in the side of the unit. The tubes can be mounted separately in a pipe or combined in a single casing.
Pitot tubes are generally installed by welding a coupling on a pipe and inserting the probe through the coupling. Use of most pitot tubes is limited to single point measurements.

The units are susceptible to plugging by foreign material in the liquid. Advantages of pitot tubes are low cost, absence of moving parts, easy installation, and minimum pressure drop.(Back to Meter Types Table)

Elbow tap meters operate on the principle that when liquid travels in a circular path, centrifugal force is exerted along the outer edges. Thus, when liquid flows through a pipe elbow, the force on the elbow’s interior surface is proportional to the density of the liquid times the square of its velocity. In addition, the force is inversely proportional to the elbow’s radius.

Any 90 deg. pipe elbow can serve as a liquid flowmeter. All that is required is the placement of two small holes in the elbow’s midpoint (45 deg. point) for piezometer taps. Pressure-sensing lines can be attached to the taps by using any convenient method. The difference in pressure on the outside and inside walls, caused by centrifugal force, can be measured with a differential pressure transducer. Figure 2 shows a typical installation.

Pressure measurements are obtained by placing taps at 45- degree angles on opposite sides of the elbow. The size of each of the two taps should not exceed one-eighth of the pipe diameter.

Flow is calculated according to the following formula:
W = 244 [SQ.ROOT SIGN] rhD3p
where W = flow in pounds per hour
r = elbow radius (inches)
D = elbow diameter (inches)
h = differential pressure (inches H20)
p = density in lbs/ft3
(Back to Meter Types Table)

Target meters sense and measure forces caused by liquid impacting on a target or drag-disk suspended in the liquid stream. A direct indication of the liquid flow rate is achieved by measuring the force exerted on the target. In its simplest form, the meter consists only of a hinged, swinging plate that moves outward, along with the liquid stream. In such cases, the device serves as a flow indicator.
A more sophisticated version uses a precision, low-level force transducer sensing element. The force of the target caused by the liquid flow is sensed by a strain gage. The output signal from the gage is indicative of the flow rate. Target meters are useful for measuring flows of dirty or corrosive liquids.(Back to Meter Types Table)

Variable-area meters, often called rotameters, consist essentially of a tapered tube and a float, Fig. 3. Although classified as differential pressure units, they are, in reality, constant differential pressure devices. Flanged-end fittings provide an easy means for installing them in pipes. When there is no liquid flow, the float rests freely at the bottom of the tube. As liquid enters the bottom of the tube, the float begins to rise. The float is selected so as to have a density higher than that of the fluid and the position of the float varies directly with the flow rate. Its exact position is at the point where the differential pressure between the upper and lower surfaces balance the weight of the float.

Because the flow rate can be read directly on a scale mounted next to the tube, no
secondary flow-reading devices are necessary. However, if desired, automatic sensing
devices can be used to sense the float’s level and transmit a flow signal. Rotameter
tubes are manufactured from glass, metal, or plastic. Tube diameters vary from 1/4 to greater than 6 in. (Back to Meter Types Table)

Positive-Displacement Meters

Operation of these units consists of separating liquids into accurately measured
increments and moving them on. Each segment is counted by a connecting register.
Because every increment represents a discrete volume, positive-displacement units are popular for automatic batching and accounting applications. Positive-displacement

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