Diagnostics Drive New Flowmeter Tech.

Dec. 20, 2006

By Matt Migliore The latest generation of flowmeter technology continues to show incremental improvements in accuracy and reliability, as well as a strong emphasis on diagnostic capability, according to

By Matt Migliore

The latest generation of flowmeter technology continues to show incremental improvements in accuracy and reliability, as well as a strong emphasis on diagnostic capability, according to analysts covering the flowmeter market. Meanwhile, manufacturers say they are focusing on improving the usability of modern flowmeter technologies to help encourage users of older flowmeter types to upgrade to newer modes of flow measurement.
Technology Improvements

Allen Avery, an analyst with ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com), says he is seeing a continued progression toward improved performance among most flowmeter types. In the magnetic flowmeter segment, he says manufacturers are slowly shaving down the conductivity requirement for the fluids that can be measured. Meanwhile, he says the emergence of multi-beam ultrasonic flowmeters offers users the ability to support a wider range of flow applications. And in the Coriolis segment, Avery says the ability to measure two-phase flow (liquid and gas) is now a reality, and manufacturers are working toward three-phase flow measurement. However, he says the technology for three-phase flow still has some ground to cover before it’s ready for live application environments.

One of the more broad trends Avery sees in the flowmeter category is in the area of embedded intelligence and diagnostic capability. He says most of the new flowmeter releases coming to market offer some sort of diagnostic capability that allow the instruments to plug into larger asset management platforms and provide users operational information to assist in predictive maintenance. According to Avery, the plant asset management market is expected to show 9.5 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the next several years, and, as a result, manufacturers are responding with products that offer features along this line.

Usability Focus
Avery says the emergence of predictive maintenance features in the flowmeter market figures to benefit users tremendously, as such methodologies are designed to help reduce overall operational costs. In fact, Avery says he recently spoke to a flowmeter user operating a custody-transfer application that was able to cut his proving costs in half by taking advantage of the calibration diagnostic capabilities of his ultrasonic flowmeter.

KROHNE (www.krohne.com), a manufacturer of Coriolis, magnetic, ultrasonic, variable-area, and vortex flowmeters, verifies the trend toward self-diagnostics in the flowmeter segment. Jon Fiedler, a product specialist for KROHNE, says the latest generation of KROHNE’s flowmeter products offers self-test features that help users identify problems in the process line.

Going forward, Fiedler says he expects self-test diagnostics to become less of a flow measurement luxury and more of a requirement, as leading application standards continue to specify self-test diagnostic features. Fiedler cites NAMUR (www.namur.de), an international process-automation user association, as an example, noting that this organization already offers pretty specific guidelines for self-check for certain chemical applications, which means that flowmeter manufacturers targeting the chemical market must offer technology with capability for self-test diagnostics.

Another usability-focused product evolution KROHNE is particularly excited about is its new standardized flowmeter converters (pictured on page 6), which essentially isolate the uniqueness of each of KROHNE’s flowmeter products to the flow sensor. So instead of having to choose a specific converter for a given application, users can now employ a single converter for all of their flow measurement scenarios.

Fiedler says the benefits of standardized converters are threefold. First, the standard converter allows KROHNE to streamline its support for new protocols, such as FOUNDATION Fieldbus, HART, PROFIBUS, etc. Second, it allows KROHNE to quickly update the converter for compliance with emerging standards, such as NAMUR. And finally, by having a single device rather than a variety of different converters, KROHNE can lower its production costs without sacrificing quality, thus providing users a full-featured and reliable product at a lower price point.

Market Trends
According to Fiedler, ultrasonic flowmeters are generating a lot of uptake for nonconductive liquid measurement. He says the chemical market has been particularly receptive to ultrasonic flowmeter technology of late, as chemical companies look for a solution that offers better low-flow performance than vortex meters and a lower price point than Coriolis technology. Fiedler says a lot of chemical companies are turning to ultrasonic meters for nonconductive applications that do not require a mass measurement and/or the high precision offered by Coriolis meters.

In addition, Fiedler says ultrasonic technology is benefiting from an improving reputation among users. According to Fiedler, many manufacturers of early clamp-on systems attempted to position clamp-on as a low-cost alternative for flow measurement applications in which they were not a good fit, which led to a perception of ultrasonic flowmeters as poor performers. As such, ultrasonic technology struggled to generate uptake for many years. Now, however, as manufacturers have been more careful to employ inline meters and clamp-on systems where appropriate, ultrasonic meters have gained recognition as a flexible flow measurement solution that can support a wide range of nonconductive applications. Meanwhile, magnetic flowmeters remain a popular choice for measuring conductive fluids, and Fiedler says there are still a lot of traditional flowmeters types (e.g., differential-pressure, turbine, variable-area, etc.) out there. "Users have been slower to grow than the technology," he says, but he expects flowmeter users will increasingly move from traditional technology to newer modes of flow measurement over time.

ARC’s Avery also sees ultrasonic technology as the most promising flowmeter segment, as his latest research shows ultrasonic flowmeters will experience a CAGR of 9.6 percent over the next five years. He says ultrasonic flowmeters will continue to receive strong uptake for custody transfer of oil and gas as the AGA (www.aga.org), API (www.api.org) and OIML (www.oiml.org) approvals gain more and more traction in the coming years.

Another application for which Avery sees strong growth for ultrasonic technology is in water and wastewater. "Fresh drinking water is going to become as precious as oil down the road, and a lot of automation companies are concentrating on that," says Avery. Regarding ultrasonic flowmeters specifically, Avery says clamp-on devices have seen a lot of use in the water and wastewater segment in recent years, and he expects ultrasonic meters to further penetrate the water and wastewater market going forward.

According to Avery, early research for upcoming studies on Coriolis and vortex flowmeters shows strong growth in both segments of 9.0 percent and 7.5 percent CAGR, respectively. He says magnetic flowmeters have a far more established market share, and, as a result, will not show as strong a CAGR as some of the other growing flowmeters types. Avery estimates a CAGR for magnetic flowmeters of approximately 3.5 percent. However, he says magnetic flowmeters figure to show high single-digit growth in the water and wastewater segment.

Matt Migliore is the editor of Flow Control magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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