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Ultrasonic flowmeters have been gaining acceptance over the last decade as end users come to understand and appreciate the technology -- although some are just now discovering the advantages and potential of ultrasonic flow measurement.

The ultrasonic flowmeter market is still a relatively new technology. Tokyo Keiki first introduced ultrasonic flowmeters to commercial markets in Japan in 1963. In 1972, Controlotron introduced the first clamp-on ultrasonic flowmeter to the United States. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Doppler flowmeters began to be used. 

Because ultrasonic flowmeters were not well understood at first, they were often misapplied. As a result, many users got a bad impression of the meters during this time. It was not until the 1990s that ultrasonic flowmeters began to be widely used for industrial applications.. 

The rapidly expanding market for gas flow measurement is one of the major reasons for strong projected growth in the ultrasonic flowmeter market. Energy, including energy conservation, and other markets have the potential to create even more demand, particularly as the technology improves to enable new applications. 

Advantages 

Ultrasonic flowmeters feature high accuracy, high reliability, high turndown ratios, long service life, low maintenance, relatively low cost, valuable diagnostics, no moving parts, and redundancy capabilities. Clamp-on ultrasonic flowmeters, in particular, can offer redundancy by providing an easy check of an inline meter. In addition to the traditional advantages, suppliers are significantly improving accuracy, sensitivity, and reliability. 

Ultrasonic flowmeters have a distinct advantage over other flowmeters:

  • Unlike Coriolis meters, ultrasonic flowmeters do very well in large pipe sizes. 
  • In  large-size, natural gas pipeline applications, ultrasonic flowmeters have the advantage over turbine and differential pressure (DP) flowmeters of being highly accurate, non-intrusive, and highly reliable over time, with no moving parts to wear. They also have an advantage over DP  flowmeters in that they are largely non-intrusive, with the exception of insertion types. 
  • Ultrasonic flowmeters have an advantage over magnetic flowmeters in that they can be used to measure the flow of nonconductive liquids, gases, and steam. 
  • Ultrasonic flowmeters have an advantage over vortex flowmeters in that they can meter low flows better than vortex meters. 

Further sweetening the pot is the fact that average ultrasonic prices are holding their own or even declining. In comparison, the average price for Coriolis flowmeters has had upward pressure due to the recent introductions of large-line size models in the 12”-16” diameter range.

A range of applications 

Ultrasonic flowmeters are used in upstream applications for allocation metering, for measuring gas and oil from test and production separators, for check metering, and for other applications. A major use of ultrasonic flowmeters is in the midstream segment for custody transfer of natural gas. 

Probably the single most important factor in the recent growth of ultrasonic flowmeters in the past 20 years has been the rapid growth in the market for multipath ultrasonic meters for custody transfer of natural gas. Multipath ultrasonic meters have three or more paths. The benefit of having multiple paths is that flow is measured at more points in the flowstream. This enhances the accuracy of the measurement. In 1998, the American Gas Association (AGA) approved the use of ultrasonic flowmeters for custody transfer applications. Since that time, suppliers have researched multipath meters and brought out new products. 

Ultrasonic flowmeters are also being more widely used to measure process gas and flare gas. Insertion meters are used to measure flare gas in stacks, and ultrasonic flowmeters are used more widely in the chemical and refining industries. 

In other areas,  the increased use of battery power supplies opens up additional opportunities for ultrasonic flowmeters in the water and irrigation industries as well as other applications. Battery powered flowmeters offer low energy consumption independent of the main power grid, and can help reduce prices on the worldwide market.

How they work

There are two main types of ultrasonic flowmeters: 

A transit time ultrasonic flowmeters has both a sender and a receiver.  It sends two ultrasonic signals across a pipe at an angle: one with the flow, and one against the flow.  The meter then measures the “transit time” of each signal.  When the ultrasonic signal travels with the flow, it travels faster than when it travels against the flow.  The difference between the two transit times is proportional to flowrate..  

Transit time ultrasonic flowmeters are distinguished according to the number of “paths” they have. A path is simply the path or track of the ultrasonic pulse as it travels across the pipe and back again. Many ultrasonic flowmeters are single or dual path, meaning that they send either one or two signals across a pipe and back. Typically there are two transducers for each path; one is a sender and one is a receiver.

Doppler flowmeters also send an ultrasonic signal across a pipe. Instead of tracking the time the signal takes to cross to the other side, a Doppler flowmeter relies on having the signal deflected by particles in the flowstream.  These particles are traveling at the same speed as the flow. As the signal passes through the stream, its frequency shifts in proportion to the mean velocity of the fluid. A receiver detects the reflected signal and measures its frequency. The meter calculates flow by comparing the generated and detected frequencies. Doppler ultrasonic flowmeters are used with dirty liquids or slurries.  They are not used to measure gas flow.  

See the forest and the trees with our three studies
This is the fifth edition of this study, which was previously published in 2001, 2003, 2008, and 2012. This study series includes three components that, together, cover the entire scope of the ultrasonic flowmeter market but can also function as standalones. The new studies build on the knowledge gained over the years since our last full treatment of the subject, but will also represent a completely fresh look at the market. 

The Core Study of the Ultrasonic series analyzes the world market for all types of ultrasonic flowmeters. It includes 2016 market size, provides in-depth segmentation of the market by various product and geographic categories, provides detailed market growth projections through 2021, and includes 2016 market shares. It also includes a technology analysis, profiles of significant supplier companies, and provides detailed market strategies for suppliers. 

The two modules analyze the inline, clamp-on, and insertion markets individually, enabling  us to separate out unit price and unit quantity data for each technology, and to provide a distinctive analysis for each of these three fundamentally different ultrasonic flowmeter types.

Together these  three studies  enable you to see both the forest and the trees when it comes to the ultrasonic flowmeter market. So far as we know, Flow Research stands alone in providing such a comprehensive analysis of the worldwide ultrasonic flowmeter market.


Articles about Ultrasonic Flowmeters

Previous Studies:

The World Market for Ultrasonic Flowmeters, 4th Edition  
Published
2012

The World Market for Ultrasonic Flowmeters, 3rd Edition
Published 2008

The World Market for Ultrasonic Flowmeters, 2nd Edition (2003)
Provides historical perspective

The World Market for Ultrasonic Flowmeters, 1st Edition (2001)
Provides historical perspective

 
 
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