Anywhere a stream of gas or liquid comprises or integrates a process, metering its behaviour represents a crucial step in ascertaining that process’s functionality. Flow meters are in use anywhere from the small-scale breathalyser to the not-so-small hydroelectric dams, from the domestic sprinkler to the industrial air monitoring system. As such, many branches of industry practically depend on closely and accurately surveying their fluid and its flow.
Brief treatise on flow meters
Essential tools for monitoring the flow rate of a given fluid – that is, a liquid or a gas – flow meters exist in many different types, classified according to their individual operating principles. On the ground, they are selected for practical use depending on a combination of factors, chief of which scale, pricing concerns, accuracy needs, and of course the physical properties of the fluid to be measured.
A fluid’s flow rate is the ratio of its units of volume or mass which pass through a conduit section per unit of time. Instead of measuring volume or mass directly, a flow meter will usually derive that rate by measuring an intrinsic property of the fluid – density, pressure, viscosity, conductivity, etc. This measurement will, in turn, influence the accuracy of the flow meter, but likewise its cost – making it important to overestimate neither budgets nor precision requirements.
Transitioning to the real world
As delineated above, flow meters are key in numerous branches of industry. In many areas, it’s intuitive to see that being the case: in natural gas processing and distribution, nuclear and chemical plants, or industrial cooling installations for instance.
Flow meters are just as much a requirement, however, in subtler areas of application. They are an indispensable tool in domains where precision is imperative, like aeronautics, semiconductor processing, fuel cell development, emissions control, and of course the now-infamous gas chromatograph.
In short, information regarding the flow rate of a gas or liquid can be of critical importance at any scale, be it the fine detail work of pharmaceutical manufacture or the immense bulk of wastewater treatment, rendering flow meters an essential industrial tool.