Differential Pressure Meters

About differential pressure meters

Differential pressure meters involve the insertion of some device into a fluid-carrying pipe which causes an obstruction and creates a pressure difference on either side of the device. Such devices include the orifice plate, the venturi tube, the flow nozzle and the Dall flow tube. When such a restriction is placed in a pipe, the velocity of the fluid through the restriction increases and the pressure decreases. The volume flow rate is then proportional to the square root of the pressure difference across the obstruction. The manner in which this pressure difference is measured is important. Measuring the two pressures with different instruments and calculating the difference between the two measurements is not satisfactory because of the large measurement error which can arise when the pressure difference is small. The normal procedure is therefore to use a diaphragm-based differential pressure transducer.


The pitot tube is a further device which measures flow by creating a pressure difference within a fluid-carrying pipe. However, in this case, there is negligible obstruction of flow in the pipe. The pitot tube is a very thin tube which obstructs only a small part of the flowing fluid and thus measures flow at a single point across the cross-section of the pipe. This measurement only equates to average flow velocity in the pipe for the case of uniform flow. The annubar is a type of multi-port pitot tube which does measure the average flow across the cross-section of the pipe by forming the mean value of several local flow measurements across the cross-section of the pipe.


All applications of this method of flow measurement assume that flow conditions upstream of the obstruction device are in steady state, and a certain minimum length of straight run of pipe ahead of the measurement point is specified to ensure this. The minimum lengths required for various pipe diameters are specified in British Standards tables (and also in alternative but equivalent national standards used in other countries), but a useful rule of thumb widely used in the process industries is to specify a length of ten times the pipe diameter. If physical restrictions make this impossible to achieve, special flow-smoothing vanes can be inserted immediately ahead of the measurement point.


Flow-restriction-type instruments are popular because they have no moving parts and are therefore robust, reliable and easy to maintain. One disadvantage of this method is that the obstruction causes a permanent loss of pressure in the flowing fluid. The magnitude and hence importance of this loss depends on the type of obstruction element used, but where the pressure loss is large, it is sometimes necessary to recover the lost pressure by an auxiliary pump further down the flow line. This class of device is not normally suitable for measuring the flow of slurries as the tappings into the pipe to measure the differential pressure are prone to blockage, although the venturi tube can be used to measure the flow of dilute slurries.


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