Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Factors For Selecting a Variable Area Flow Meter (Rotameter)

Industrial process variable area flow meters rotameters
Three of many configurations of
variable area flow meters.
Courtesy Brooks Instrument
Industrial processes have many instances where fluid product components, liquid or gaseous, are moving within pipes. Processing is about control, so it follows that an input to the control, measurement, or data logging centers of the facility will answer the question, "How much is flowing through that pipe?".

There are numerous methods employed for quantifying flow in the industrial process measurement and control field, each with particular attributes that may be considered advantageous under  certain operating conditions. All flow measurement methods are indirect, as their actual measurement is of a property that is impacted in a predictable manner by a change in the flow. Flow measurement is an essential element that, combined with other fluid attributes, is used to calculate the total mass of a fluid that has traversed the measurement point.
One time tested method of measuring flow is the variable area meter, also called a rotameter.
Operation of the variable area meter (also referred to as a VA meter) is based upon creating an equilibrium between an upward force, produced by the fluid motion, and a downward force, gravity. The device includes a tapered glass or metal tube that encases a specially shaped float, often referred to as a shaped weight. VA meters must be installed vertically, with the media flowing from the bottom upward, so that the gravitational force necessary for operation is properly aligned with the flow direction. As fluid flows upward through the specially tapered tube, it creates drag on the float contained within the tube, lifting it upward. As the float rises, the free area between the float and the tube wall increases, causing a reduction in the fluid velocity and drag force. For any given flow volume, the flow velocity within the tube will cause the weight to rise until the drag force created by the flow reaches equilibrium with the countervailing force of gravity on the float. Proper design of the tube and the float allow for direct indication of flow volume.

Some of the attributes of variable area meters include:

  • No external power or fuel required for operation
  • Must be installed vertically, with flow entering bottom
  • Meters are characterized to a specific substance, at a specific temperature
  • Operation is stable, with low pressure drop
  • Requires constant gravity for operation
  • Direct local readout of flow rate with meter or scale imprinted on tube
  • Glass tube based unit flow readings require visibility of float through the medium
  • Accuracy is comparatively low for an industrial flow measurement device
  • Generally low maintenance, simple construction, low comparative cost
Brooks Instrument, a world renowned manufacturer of flow, pressure, and level measurement instruments, has produced a concise and compact white paper that summarizes the factors to consider when specifying a VA meter, as well as how each factor impacts operation of the unit. The description is practical and easily understood. It is recommended reading for all process stakeholders to build their flow measurement knowledge.

I have included the paper below. Browse the paper. Contact the flow instrumentation specialists to discuss your application requirements and challenges. Combining your process know-how with their product application knowledge will produce a good solution.