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What is a Flow Transmitter?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 17, 2024
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A flow transmitter is a device used as a means of measuring the flow of a specific substance, usually liquid, through a series of pipelines or tubing. These measurements begin as electrical signals, measuring anything from the volume of substance being pushed through the pipeline to the speed at which the fluid is moving. The measurements are converted from electrical signals by the flow transmitter and sent to a designated receiving agent, such as a computer or an automated control station. They are then translated by the flow transmitter to allow control operators to visualize the amount of liquid being transferred through pipelines in order to regulate the flow and ensure that the proper volumes are being transported at all times.

There are many different applications in which a flow transmitter may be required, especially in cases where a flow meter is installed on a piping series but the meter is not clearly accessible to the operator. A flow transmitter may be installed in conjunction with the flow meter to transmit the results the flow meter produces to the control station manned by the operator. This allows the operator to ensure that the correct amount of volume, flow rate, temperature, and pressure of the material being transferred through the pipeline is maintained.

These applications may be used in laboratories where specific materials must be introduced to one another at a controlled and specific rate. Such transmitters may also be useful in underground pipeline systems, where water volumes to public sources must be monitored for usage and pressure changes. Any time a liquid material needs to be transferred from one medium to another through a controlled piping process, a flow meter and flow transmitter may be implemented to ensure that the material is being transferred effectively and in the correct amounts.

There are three basic types of flow transmitters that may be used at any point in a transfer process. They are referred to as volumetric, mass, and velocity. Volumetric information allows the operator to determine the amount of volume the material is being transferred in, and whether or not the volume of the flow is within the regulations for the specific piping system. Velocity refers to the speed at which the material is moving through the piping system. Mass refers to the amount of mass the material being transferred creates as it is sent through the piping system, allowing the operator to control the stress the piping system may be put under by the amount of material being sent.

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Discussion Comments
By SkyWhisperer — On Feb 11, 2012

@Charred - These are all emergency scenarios. Let’s not get away from the fact that most uses of a flow meter are for practical applications as the article talks about.

For example jet turbine engines would no doubt use them. These engines convert jet fuel to mechanical motion. I suspect a steady rate of flow would be needed to ensure that it’s done properly, and you’d no doubt use a turbine flow meter in that scenario to do that, in my opinion.

By Charred — On Feb 11, 2012

@David09 - I suppose it’s left for me to argue that the last factor, volume, is probably the most important. Volume is the amount of water. Obviously the more volume of water that is being unleashed, the more critical the crisis. I think that much should be obvious.

However I do agree that they are all important taken together.

By David09 — On Feb 10, 2012

@nony - I suppose you make a good point. Realistically those three factors are all important. Sticking with your example however I don’t think that you can deny that mass is important.

The more mass there is, the harder it is to contain the leak. The BP oil spill example you cited is as much an example of this as it is of anything else, in my opinion. There was a lot of junk being carried forth with that gusher and that posed challenges to the containment operation.

A mass flow meter would monitor the amount of debris and give you an idea of what you are dealing with.

By nony — On Feb 09, 2012

So of the three factors listed here, mass, velocity and volume, which of them is the most important for a flow transmitter in an emergency situation?

Let’s take a water pipe burst in a city sewer system, for example. What could do the most damage? Would it be the velocity of the burst or its volume or the mass it creates?

I argue that velocity is probably the most important factor. I think that with a high velocity burst you have additional strains on the system and it becomes harder to plug up the leak.

With a low velocity burst it’s easier to plug the leak. A classic example of this was the BP Gulf Oil spill. One of the challenges that prevented them from quickly plugging up the hole was the speed with which the oil was gushing forth, as measured by the liquid flow meter.

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