Flowmeters Defined

Aug. 22, 2006

About the author: David W. Spitzer is principal of Spitzer and Boyes, LLC. He can be reached at 845/623-1830 or by e-mail at [email protected].


Vortex shedding and other fluidic effects are oscillations that occur when fluids pass by an object or obstruction. Examples of these effects in nature include the whistling caused by wind blowing by the branches of trees, the swirls produced downstream of a rock in a rapidly flowing river and the waving of a flag in the wind. Note that in all of these examples, when the flow is slowed, the phenomenon ceases. That is, the whistling stops when the wind dies down, the water flows calmly around the rock when the river is not flowing rapidly and the flag does not wave in a mild breeze.

Fluidic flowmeters are a class of flowmeters that generate oscillations as a result of flow. The number of oscillations can be related to the rate of flow passing through the flowmeter. Vortex shedding flowmeters are a specific type of fluidic flowmeter. Other fluidic flowmeters include designs based upon the Coanda effect and vortex precession.

Vortex shedding

Vortex shedding flowmeters present the flow in a pipe with an obstruction in the general shape of a bluff body (or strut). At low flow rates, the fluid simply goes around the bluff body. As velocity increases, alternate vortices are formed (shed) on each side of the bluff body and travel downstream. The number of vortices formed is proportional to the velocity of the fluid, such that doubling the flow will form twice as many vortices. A variety of electronic and mechanical techniques can be used to sense the vortices. The frequency of vortex formation is used to generate a flow measurement signal.

Bluff body vortex shedding flowmeter designs have shedder bars that have a width of approximately 20% of the inside diameter of the pipe. As a result, the pressure drops associated with these designs are similar. The relatively thin strut shedder designs reduce the loss of hydraulic energy across the flowmeter (pressure drop). Reducing the pressure drop across the flowmeter can conserve hydraulic energy in some applications, such as when a pump or fan is controlled with a variable speed drive. Note that, in many installations, installing a flowmeter with a lower pressure drop in place of a flowmeter with a higher pressure drop can cause the pressure drop to be transferred from the flowmeter to the control valve, and result in no energy savings.

Coanda effect

Coanda effect fluidic flowmeters contain passages or other hydraulic mechanisms that allow a portion of the downstream fluid to be fed back near the inlet of its fluidic oscillator. By impacting the incoming fluid, the feedback flow causes the main flow to preferentially attach itself to the opposite surface of the flowmeter. This increases the opposite feedback flow and forces the main flow away from that surface. This process repeats and causes flow in the feedback passages to oscillate in proportion to flow, such that doubling the flow will create twice as many oscillations. A variety of electronic and mechanical techniques can be used to sense the feedback flow oscillations. The frequency of feedback flow changes is used to generate a flow measurement signal.

Vortex precession

In vortex precession fluidic flowmeters (often called swirl flowmeters), a static element is used to impart rotation to the incoming fluid and cause the fluid to form a vortex downstream that resembles a cyclone. The downstream portion of the vortex rotates around the axial centerline of the pipe. In other words, looking through the flowmeter in the downstream direction, the downstream portion of the vortex is rotating in a circle at the pipe wall. A vortex breaker is installed at the outlet of the flowmeter body to stabilize the vortex and to keep it from propagating downstream where it can disturb the process or other hydraulic devices, such as control valves.

The speed with which the vortex rotates is proportional to the flow rate, such that doubling the flow will cause the vortex to rotate twice as many times. A variety of electronic and mechanical techniques can be used to sense the number of vortex rotations. The frequency of vortex rotation is used to generate a flow measurement signal.

Excerpted from The Consumer Guide to Vortex Shedding and Fluidic Flowmeters.