Bourdon Tube

Measuring pressure with bourdon tube

The Bourdon tube is the third type of elastic-element pressure transducer and is a very common industrial measuring instrument used for measuring the pressure of both gaseous and liquid fluids. It consists of a specially shaped piece of oval-section flexible tube which is fixed at one end and free to move at the other. When pressure is applied at the open, fixed end of the tube, the oval cross-section becomes more circular. As the cross-section of the tube tends towards a circular shape, a deflection of the closed, free end of the tube is caused. This displacement is measured by some form of displacement transducer, which is commonly a potentiometer or LVDT, or less often a capacitive sensor. In yet another version, the displacement is measured optically.


The maximum possible deflection of the free end of the tube is proportional to the angle subtended by the arc through which the tube is bent. For a C-type tube, the maximum value for this arc is somewhat less than 360 degrees. Where greater measurement sensitivity and resolution are required, spiral and helical tubes are used, where the possible magnitude of the arc subtended is limited only by a practical limit on how many turns it is convenient to have in the helix or spiral. This increased measurement performance is only gained, however, at the expense of a substantial increase in manufacturing difficulty and cost compared with C-type tubes, and is also associated with a large decrease in the maximum pressure which can be measured.

C-type tubes are available for measuring pressures up to 6000 bar. A typical C-type tube of 25 mm radius has a maximum displacement travel of 4 mm, giving a moderate level of measurement resolution. Measurement accuracy is typically quoted at 1% of full-scale deflection. Similar accuracy is available from helical and spiral types, but whilst the measurement resolution is higher, the maximum pressure measurable is only 700 bar.

The existence of one potentially major source of error in Bourdon-tube pressure measurement has not been widely documented and few manufacturers of Bourdon tubes make any attempt to warn users of their products. The problem concerns the relationship between the fluid being measured and the fluid used for calibration. The pointer of Bourdon tubes is normally set at zero during manufacture, using air as the calibration medium. If, however, a different fluid, especially a liquid, is subsequently used with a Bourdon tube, the fluid in the tube will cause a non-zero deflection according to its weight compared with air, resulting in a reading error of up to 6%. This can be avoided by calibrating the Bourdon tube with the fluid to be measured instead of with air, assuming of course that the user is aware of the problem. Alternatively, correction can be made according to the calculated weight of the fluid in the tube. Unfortunately, difficulties arise with both of these solutions if air is trapped in the tube, since this will prevent the tube being filled completely by the fluid. Then, the amount of fluid actually in the tube, and its weight, will be unknown.

In conclusion, therefore, Bourdon tubes only have guaranteed accuracy limits when measuring gaseous pressures. Their use for accurate measurement of liquid pressures poses great difficulty unless the gauge can be totally filled with liquid during both calibration and measurement, a condition which is very difficult to meet practically.

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