Reliable and accurate flow measurement is a critical factor in many processes, across a vast range of industries and applications.
One such application would be the accurate maintenance of liquid levels when liquids are simultaneously entering and leaving a process level.
The market for flowmeters has grown steadily over the last decade and looks set to maintain good growth into the millennium, with users benefiting from the application of new flow measurement technologies and improvements in traditional approaches, as suppliers continue to extend, develop and introduce new products and systems for an increasingly diverse range of applications.
Most significantly, with increasing pressure on companies to minimise operating costs, whilst maximising output, developments in areas such as accuracy, simplicity of installation, ease of operation and materials of construction are key, as organisations are not prepared to accept operating costs arising from erroneous flow measurement or unreasonable installation and maintenance requirements.
The cumulative effect being that flowmeters across all product types: vortex, coriolis, magnetic and ultrasonic, to name but a few, look set to become more user-friendly than ever before.
The trends in flowmeter developments at present are very much focused on the ultimate objective of supporting the customer and enabling them to be more competitive in their marketplace.
To achieve this, some key areas of development can be identified.
For example, system construction and installation requirements are becoming increasingly simplified, a trend which looks set to continue with terminology such as 'fit and forget' and 'plug-and-play' now entering the vocabulary of many flowmeter manufacturers.
Advances in this area, in terms of both digital communications and modular flow-meter construction, are moving forward rapidly towards developments such as the design of universal transmitters with plug-in modules. In essence, flowmeters from a particular manufacturer could use the same basic transmitter and, by adding a characterisation module, the instrument could act as a coriolis transmitter or a vortex transmitter, etc. All display, input and output options could also be added to the base of the product via modules. This is already starting to happen, with manufacturers such as Krohne using common output modules across its range.
Another significant area which is likely to see some exciting developments in the formative years of the next century is the introduction of new materials of construction that will expand the areas of application for flowmeter technology still further.
The properties of these new materials are likely to enable them to be completely resistant to virtually all forms of chemical attack and extremes of temperature, at both ends of the scale, ensuring they can withstand the rigours of virtually any process.
Materials of this type are already in existence, having been developed by organisations such as NASA for the space programme. At present, the costs of such materials prohibit their use in a commercial environment, but it is anticipated that, like most technological developments, this will not always be the case.
Meanwhile, the performance boundaries of existing, commercially available materials continue to be researched and developed to offer users greater functionality than ever before.
In addition, as the benefits of specific flowmeter technologies, such as single straight tube coriolis meters become more widely recognised, it is interesting to note that certain key flowmeter manufacturers that, in the past, have not viewed the design favourably, are now introducing new products based on this proven technology to their range.
The cumulative effect being significant growth in specific areas of the flowmeter market, in particular where users are looking for reliable measurement of multiphase fluids such as slurries, liquids and solids with entrained air.
With an increasing number of flowmeter products and technologies available, one criticism which can perhaps be levelled at the industry is that the selection process can appear daunting for the average process or plant engineer.
To a degree, this process had been softened by the introduction of multimedia selection guides, manuals and interactive selection software by some manufacturers. However, the developments outlined, in terms of ease installation, more modular configurations and new materials should continue to simplify this process while, at the same time, providing the user with more effective flow measurements in a wider range of media than ever before.
Gordon Duff, Krohne
(011) 315 2685
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