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How to Select the Right Ultrasonic Flowmeter for Your Application

Principles of a Transit-Time Based Ultrasonic Flowmeter

Ultrasonic Flow Measurement Technologies:
Transit-time, Doppler, Cross Correlation, and Pulse Doppler Profiling

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Ultrasonic Flow Measurement Technology


Transit-time Ultrasonic Flow Meter

A typical transit-time flow measurement system utilizes two ultrasonic transducers that function as both ultrasonic transmitter and receiver. The flow meter operates by alternately transmitting and receiving a burst of sound energy between the two transducers and measuring the transit time that it takes for sound to travel between the two transducers. The difference in the transit time measured is directly and exactly related to the velocity of the liquid in the pipe.

To be more precise, let's assume that Tdown is the transit-time (or time-of-flight) of a sound pulse traveling from the upstream transducer A to the downstream transducer B, and Tup is the transit-time from the opposite direction, B to A. The following equations hold:

     Tdown = ( D / sinq ) / ( c + V*cosq ),         (1)

     Tup = ( D / sinq ) / ( c - V*cosq ),              (2)

where c is the sound speed in the liquid, D is the pipe diameter and V is the flow velocity averaged over the sound path. Solving the above equations leads to

     V = ( D / sin2q ) * ∆T / (Tup * Tdown),        (3)

where ∆T = Tup - Tdown. Therefore, by accurately measuring the upstream and downstream transit-time Tup amd Tdown, we are able to obtain the flow velocity V. Subsequently, the flow rate is calculated as following,

     Q = K *A* V,                                              (4)

where A is the inner cross-section area of the pipe and K is the instrument coefficient. Usually, K is determined through calibration.

From equations (3) and (4), we see that the measurement results, V  and Q, are independent of fluid properties, pressure, temperature, pipe materials, etc. The sound speed term does not appear in the final equations. These characteristics, plus large turn-down ratio, no pressure drop, no moving parts, no disturbance to the flow and many other features, make ultrasonic transit-time flowmeter extremely attractive.

The transducers come with two types, one is clamp-on type, the other is wetted type. The wetted type can be further categorized into insertion type and flow cell (or spool piece) type. A brief comparison among those types can be found here.

The transducers can be mounted in three ways: Z-method, V-method and W-method. With Z-method, the two transducers are mounted on opposite sides of the pipe (see the figure on the top) and the sound pulse crosses the pipe flow once. This method is usually used for large pipe size, say above 12".

With V-method, the two transducers are mounted on the same side of the pipe and the sound pulse crosses the pipe flow twice. This is the most commonly used installation method, which could apply to pipe size from 1" up to 12".

With W-method (refer to the following drawing), the two transducers are still mounted on the same side of the pipe. However, the  spacing between the two transducers is doubled comparing with V-method. The sound pulse is bounced twice from the other side of the pipe, thus it intercepts the flow four times. This method is used for small pipe, usually less than 1 1/2", for  better accuracy.


It should be mentioned that the actual implementation of the above principle is much more complex than what it looks like. The challenges include:

  • how to accurately measure the transit-time,

  • how to reduce the discrepancy between the upstream and the downstream signal paths,

  • how to provide stable results when the signal quality is degraded due to old pipe material, low sound conductivity fluid, the presence of minor particles or air bubbles, and etc.

  • how to treat the short-circuit wave (or pipe-wall born wave),

  • how to reduce installation-induced errors, how to make the installation easy and reliable,

  • for high temperature application, how to design a high temperature transducer

  • how to provide a user-friendly operation interface, how to provide more functionalities,

  • and, of course, how to reduce the cost.

Different manufacturers have different answers to the above questions. As a result, there are many brands of ultrasonic flowmeters, some of them may work well in a wide range of applications, some may not. Some may be expensive, and some may be less expensive. Some may be easy to use, some may be difficult. A low-cost, high accuracy, reliable and easy to use ultrasonic flowmeter is always the pursuing goal of all ultrasonic flowmeter manufacturers. Spire Metering claims to be the top performer along this line. You may take a look at their liquid ultrasonic flowmters together with their "guaranteed high quality, guaranteed lowest price" policy.


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Last modified: 12/15/12