Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thermal Mass Flow Meter Q&A From Magnetrol

thermal mass flow meter
Thermatel® thermal mass flow meter
Courtesy Magnetrol®
Sometimes you discover that others do something better than you. When that happens, watch and listen.

Tom Kemme, from Magnetrol®, expertly fielded some questions about thermal mass flow meters in a recent blog post. Mr. Kemme's responses were so useful and clear that I decided, with all the credit flowing his way, to share them here for those of you that may not closely follow the Magnetrol® Blog.

Question: What is the difference between the flow units Nm3/h, Sm3/h, and actual m3/h?

Answer: Actual m3/h is a flow rate at operating temperature and pressure. Normal or standard m3/h (Nm3/h = Sm3/h) is a flow rate at standard temperature and pressure (STP). I tend to reference the natural gas industry, where it is not possible to compare flow rates at every operating condition, so it is preferable to reference all flow rates back to a set of base conditions, such as 60°F and 1 atm. STP is not universal so it may be unique based on the region or industry.

Most flow meters output a flow rate at operating conditions and need to correct this measurement. This may be accomplished with a multivariable transmitter or external to the device. A few examples that do not need to correct the measurement are thermal mass flow meters, such as the ones produced by MAGNETROL, and Coriolis flow meters.

Question: Do you have any certified failure rate data on your units to perform an SIL verification?

Answer: A Failure Modes, Effects, and Diagnostics Analysis (FMEDA) is completed during development to determine failure rates and Safe Failure Fraction (SFF). The SFF is utilized to determine Safety Integrity Level (SIL), which is often the published value.

Question: What should my meter be reading with no air flow in the pipe?

Answer: At zero flow and a dry pipe, a thermal mass flow meter should measure zero. Different thermal meters may have varying stability at no flow due to differences in operation.

There are two different types of operation: constant temperature (CT) and constant power (CP). CT devices start with a low power and this power increases with the flow rate to maintain the constant temperature difference (ΔT) between the RTDs. CP devices start with a high ΔT between RTDs at low flow and the ΔT decreases as the flow rate increases. CP may lack stability at zero flow due to possible convection currents associated with the high ΔT. CT will hold zero better, particularly devices that add less heat. For example, the maximum surface temperature of a TA2 probe is 4 C above process temperature. This is extremely low heat, eliminating convection currents due to the sensor. Convection currents could also occur through the pipe due to temperature variations.

It is also possible for a thermal meter to measure above zero during a no flow condition when there is pressure buildup in the line (typically a valve closed downstream). There may be low flow cutoff settings that can be changed to ignore nuisance measurements.


You can easily tap into Magnetrol® expertise to solve your flow measurement challenges. Reach out to a product specialist and combine your process knowledge with their flow measurement expertise to develop effective solutions.