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Will the Vortex Flowmeter Market Pick Up Steam?
By Jesse Yoder, Flow Research, Inc.
flowmeters have been around since 1969 when Eastech introduced them. But
Yokogawa is the company that made vortex meters popular in process control
markets. Yokogawa brought out their first vortex flowmeter in 1972. Since
that time many changes have occurred in the vortex flowmeter market. Yet
Yokogawa still remains the leading supplier of vortex flowmeters
flowmeters make use of a physical principle that involves the formation of
swirls downstream from an obstruction in a flowstream. Leonardo da Vinci
wrote about this phenomenon a notebook around 1500. In 1911, Theodore von
Karman analyzed the row of alternating vortices that forms after a flat
object is inserted into a flowing stream. This row of vortices is today
called von Karman’s vortex street.
operating principle of vortex flowmeters involves the phenomenon that von
Karman studied. A flat object called a bluff body is placed into the
flowstream. This works somewhat like a primary element, since it causes a
change in the flow that forms the basis for flow measurement. The presence
of the bluff body causes alternating swirls or vortices to form. Flow
velocity is proportional to vortex frequency. A vortex flowmeter uses one
of several means to count the number of vortices, including thermal,
ultrasonic, and pressure sensors. Volumetric flowrate is determined by
multiplying flow velocity times the area of the pipe.
Comparison to Other New-Technology Flowmeters
interesting to compare the development of vortex flowmeters with the
development of other new-technology flowmeters. Coriolis meters were not
introduced until 1977, yet they have grown dramatically since that time.
In terms of revenues, Coriolis meters bring in more than three times the
revenues as vortex meters. Coriolis meters are the most accurate
flowmeter, and they are widely used for custody transfer purposes. Their
main limitation that they are expensive and unwieldy in sizes four inches
flowmeters were first introduced by Tokyo Keiki in Japan in 1963. Since
that time, they have become widely used in process control environments.
The past five years have seen dramatic growth in the use of ultrasonic
flowmeters for custody transfer of natural gas. Now major advances are
also being made in the use of ultrasonic meters for liquid applications,
including hydrocarbons. While the revenues from ultrasonic flowmeters
still do not equally the revenues from Coriolis meters, they significantly
outpace revenues from vortex flowmeters. And ultrasonic flowmeters are the
fastest growing type of flowmeter.
Vortex flowmeters have not enjoyed a parallel growth pattern. Probably the most significant event for the vortex flowmeter market was when Rosemount entered the market in 1994. Rosemount brought its instrumentation expertise and distribution channels to vortex flowmeters. Rosemount became very competitive to Yokogawa in vortex, especially in North America. The two companies continue to vie for the leadership role in North America, though Yokogawa still has a worldwide advantage.
Vortex Meters Haven't Taken Off
haven’t vortex flowmeters enjoyed a similar growth path as the Coriolis
and ultrasonic flowmeters? There are a number of reasons for this. Vortex
flowmeter technology is fundamentally different from that of Coriolis and
ultrasonic flowmeters, and the supplier situation is also quite different.
The following are some reasons why vortex flowmeters have experienced slow
flowmeters do not have a single, compelling feature that makes them a
“must-have” flowmeter for certain applications. For Coriolis
flowmeters, this feature is accuracy. For ultrasonic and magnetic
flowmeters, this feature is their nonintrusive method of measurement.
Magnetic flowmeters are also well suited to sanitary applications, and
multipath ultrasonic flowmeters are capable of achieving high degrees of
accuracy. Vortex meters, by contrast, cannot achieve the same accuracy
levels as Coriolis and multipath ultrasonic meters. They are also more
intrusive than either magnetic or ultrasonic meters, since they have to
place an obstruction in the flowstream to create the vortices that are
closest thing that vortex meters have to a single, compelling feature is
their ability to tolerate high temperature measurements. This makes them
well suited for steam applications, a type of measurement that magnetic
flowmeters cannot make, and Coriolis and ultrasonic meters only make with
great difficulty. Steam flow measurement is certainly an area of potential
growth for vortex flowmeters. However, steam only accounts for about ten
percent of the flow measurement market.
reason that vortex flowmeters have shown slow growth is that they are not
typically used for custody transfer applications. Much of the growth in
the Coriolis and ultrasonic flowmeter markets has been due to their use
for custody transfer applications. Typically a flowmeter is used for
custody transfer applications when its use has been approved by some
standards organization. But the suppliers of vortex flowmeters have
generally not worked with standards organizations to gain approvals of
vortex meters, especially in the area of gas flow measurement. Unless the
vortex flowmeter suppliers are willing to commit their resources to
getting vortex meters approved by standards organizations, it is unlikely
that these organizations will issue reports approving their use.
inability of vortex flowmeters to achieve high degrees of accuracy is
another reason their growth is limited. While Coriolis and multipath
ultrasonic flowmeters can achieve accuracies in the ±0.1%
range, vortex flowmeters typically offer accuracies in the ±0.5%
to 1.0% range. This is not accurate enough for many custody transfer
applications, and it helps explain why vortex meters are not widely used
for custody transfer.
The supplier situation also works against vortex flowmeters. For all the major suppliers of vortex meters, vortex is secondary in importance to one or more other products. Yokogawa, Rosemount, and Endress+Hauser are all much stronger in magnetic flowmeters than in vortex meters. Vortex flowmeters are not the bread and butter of any of the major vortex suppliers. Coriolis meters have Micro Motion, and ultrasonic flowmeters have Emerson Daniel, Instromet, GE Panametrics, and Controlotron. Magnetic flowmeters have Endress+Hauser and Krohne. These companies have invested substantially in research & development on their respective flowmeters because the health of their company rests on those product lines. What the vortex flowmeter market needs is a large supplier that cares about vortex flowmeters more than any other type of meter, and will invest correspondingly large resources into improving the product line.
is Needed: A High-Accuracy Vortex Flowmeter
improvement would spur growth in the vortex flowmeter market? Many of the
improvements that have been made in the past few years address the issue
of vibration and solve this problem with digital signal processing
software. These advances are important, and they make vortex meters more
reliable and better able to withstand noisy environments. But it’s time
for a new round of innovations in vortex meters.
Probably the most important feature would be a vortex flowmeter with a very high degree of accuracy. This would make vortex meters a good candidate for custody transfer, and would cause end-users to look at vortex meters with new respect. Creating a highly accurate vortex meter, even if is significantly more expensive, could be the major breakthrough that finally makes the vortex flowmeter market pick up steam.
Note: Photos by Jesse Yoder of the Mine-Ha-Ha on Lake George, New York