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For Complex Applications, Have Your Mass Flow Controller Adjusted Remotely

The days of simple analog mass flow meters with no variables but a zero pot are gone. Now you can get great flexibility with advanced digital mass flow controller technology like our Smart-Trak 100. But, because of this virtue, the flow meter also has many communication variables. We try to keep it simple by minimizing the need to access many of these variables in our customer communication program. However, sometimes your application is truly challenging and requires more adjustments than usual. To harness the true power of the instrument, you need more software and more knowledge.

That’s where our ability to remotely adjust a mass flow controller really comes in handy. If you have a Smart-Trak 100, here’s how you can take advantage of our remote programming services:

  • Connect the 100 Series flow meter to a computer using RS232 or open-source MODBUS RTU protocol.
  • Connect the computer to the Internet and contact Sierra Instruments.
  • Allow us to “take over” the computer  and the instrument remotely using TeamViewer or GoToMyPC and we will adjust the flow meter as required.

In applications where you need advanced air flow sensor capabilities, our Compod™ Programmable Control Module comes with multi-drop RS-485/MODBUS RTU communications, giving you full system control, monitoring and the ability to network multiple flow meters. You can add Compod to any of our 100 Series models, including the Smart-Trak 2, the next generation of our digital flow meters.

If you need more advanced help, training or support, you can contact us at or by using live help.

Riding the Waves of Climate Change, Part 2: Flowmeter Precision is Essential

Recently, I wrote about how Stanford researcher David Mucciarone is helping redefine the way climate-change research is conducted  Riding Waves of Climate Change, Part 1. In making a break from traditional discrete sampling, which provides only a tiny snapshot of water conditions, Mucciarone has created his own chromatography-based, flow-through device that can sample a variety of areas and depths and take measurements around the clock. The two key components of his system are a digital syringe pump and a Sierra Instruments Smart-Trak 100 digital flow meter that he’s been using extensively since 2006.

When I talked to Mucciarone, I asked him what flowmeter features are essential to him in his research. Without hesitation, he said: “Accuracy in any weather condition.”

Indoor Laboratory Results in Outdoor Environments

That’s because the lab Mucciarone is using to conduct ocean acidification research is on a boat that’s rocked by every wave of the ocean he happens to be on. His work has taken him all over the world – Antarctica, Austalia, Hawaii and other exotic locales – and he’s roughed it in all kinds of weather. If his measurements are to be precise, he can’t afford to have a flow rate that goes up and down with the boat.

He says, “If my flow rate is moving with the ocean, I can’t get a stable baseline. My system uses an infrared detector and carrier flow, which also must be stable. If the carrier flow isn’t stable, then my baseline’s not stable and my analyticals aren’t stable. Precision is the backbone of the system. In the lab, you can control everything. But in the field, stuff happens. I need a flow meter that will give me indoor laboratory results no matter what the environmental conditions are.”

Not only does Mucciarone need accuracy, but also high resolution, especially because the data must stand before tough critics who question the reality of global warming. He says the Smart-Trak flowmeter provides the data quality he needs, even in stormy seas.

He believes continuous, real-time testing is here to stay. “We’ll have to do this for at least 10 years before we can convince the community – and even ourselves – that we are on the right track with our research,” he adds.

Precise PVD with Mass Flow Meters

Developers and manufacturers of solar photovoltaic installations have seen a dramatic increase in business in recent years. If you’re part of this industry, you know that solar energy now generates power in more than 100 countries and continues to be the fastest growing type of electricity generation in the world. Due to the growing demand, Photovoltaic Panelsmanufacturing of solar cells and photovoltaic arrays have advanced significantly.

Physical vapor deposition (PVD) or sputtering is commonly used for creating the films used to construct photovoltaic panels. Precise gas mass flow rate to the vacuum chamber is critical during the PVD process. Since there is so little pressure drop to work with, PVD processes require flow control devices that are relatively insensitive to the absolute pressure in the chamber.

That’s where mass flow controllers and flowmeters come in. Unlike differential pressure devices (dP) like orifice plates, which require a large pressure differential to operate efficiently, mass flow sensors are ideal for the PVD application because of their unmatched precision and reliability.

If you’re not using a mass flow meter with your PVD processes, chances are you are not achieving the level of accuracy you need. Consider making the switch!

QuadraTherm Flowmeter Puts New Spin on Fiberglass [Case Study]

Thermal flowmeters for the fiberglass insulation industryWhat a waste! That’s what I thought when I learned how much material is rejected and how much gas is consumed during the fiberglass insulation manufacturing process. The biggest losses occur during the melting, spinning and subsequent cooling of silica, a key ingredient in fiberglass. For those who work in this industry, it’s a never-ending battle to:

  • Improve fiberglass quality
  • Reduce the waste of raw materials
  • Increase production capacity
  • Keep costs down

One Thermal Flow Meter to Handle the Variables of Fiberglass Production

Recently, I worked with some process engineers from a fiberglass company who were looking for a new spin on these long-term problems. However, it wasn’t just a matter of handing them a digital flow meter from off the shelf. They were facing a number of challenges, including various pipe diameters and several grades of fiberglass, each needing a different gas flow, temperature and pressure. What they needed was an instrument that could enhance combustion efficiency while operating reliably under all these conditions.

Our new QuadraTherm™ 640i thermal mass flow meter – currently the most accurate on the market today – made the idealQuadraTherm thermal mass flow meter choice.

With four sensors in one, it measures:

  1. To a +/- 0.75% of reading accuracy over a flow range 0-60,000 sfpm (305 smps).
  2. Multiple gases, including natural gas, air and compressed air. All three play an integral role an integral part of making fiberglass.
  3. High or low flow in pipes of various lengths and diameters.

A Flowmeter that Adapts to Fiberglass and Other Applications

QuadraTherm’s Dial-a-Pipe and Dial-a-Gas features allow it to conform to the application and provide consistent mounting, installation and wiring. In addition, it comes with our patented DrySense sensor, which eliminates drift and the need for recalibration, and ValidCal, a program that can be used in the field to confirm, adjust or troubleshoot all meter inputs.

As you can imagine, this one flowmeter has the power to impact not only fiberglass manufacturing, but many other processes in a broad range of industries. If you’d like to learn more about how QuadraTherm can transform thermal mass flow measurement for you, contact us.

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Bluetooth Wireless Portable Liquid Flow Measurement Made Possible

As you might have guessed, Sierra has a passion for flow measurement and we are always striving for ways to improve our flow meters and processes to give you the best accuracy possible for your application. Today, we are pleased to announce the release of our new InnovaSonic 210 Portable with Bluetooth Wireless Android Tablet PC  offering precise flow data, along with great field flexibility and portability to give you instant access to your flow measurement information wherever you are.

InnovaSonic 210 Portable Ultrasonic Flow Meter with Android Tablet PC

InnovaSonic 210 Portable Ultrasonic Flow Meter with Android Tablet PC

The InnovaSonic 210 replaces keyboards and cabling with a Bluetooth-enabled Android tablet PC running a dedicated Flow App to control data acquisition and processing. You can browse your collected data, perform statistical analysis, display graphs and perform other functions easily. With its high accuracy (+/- 0.5% of reading from 1.6 ft./s to 16 ft./s (0.5 m/s to 5 m/s)), the 210 is ideal for precisely measuring a wide range of liquid flows with a consistent repeatability of +/-0.15% of reading for pipe sizes 1 inch to 200 inches. While principally designed for clean liquids, this ultrasonic flow meter operates effectively with the minimal quantity of air bubbles or suspended solids found in most industrial applications. Another benefit? Fast delivery—2 days for in-stock units!

Check out all of our liquid flow meters for the most accurate flow meter measurement available on the market today.

Part 1: Accurately Measuring Flare Gas — Challenges, Solutions, and Opportunities

Flare Gas Flow Meter Measurement

If your company is involved with hydraulic fracturing to increase oil and gas production, you’re familiar with the fact that state and national regulations are becoming increasingly stringent. In particular, flare gas now requires the installation of mass flow measurement instruments to measure waste and excess gases burned off as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process. For gas wells alone, the EPA estimates that the cost of compliance will rise to $754 million per year by 2015.

Given the immense number of flares that are to be regulated, you need to find more cost-effective mass flow measurement technologies. Multi-path ultrasonic flow meters have been widely used for flare gas measurement, but they are extremely expensive and have marked limitations. To comply with regulations, oil and gas companies need new flow meter alternatives that are accurate, durable, reliable and economical.

Complicating the matter is the fact that each well has its own unique and constantly changing characteristics that include depth, temperature, pressure, flow rate, soot content and changing gas composition. This makes accurate flare gas measurement very challenging. So to comply with stringent state and federal regulations, engineers at oil and gas companies must assess which flow measurement technology yields the highest accuracy with the lowest installation and cost-of-ownership over the lifetime of the well.

This in turn makes the choice of flow measurement technology for flare gas measurement a critical one as the equipment needs to perform under the following application challenges:

  1. Wide Flow Rate Variations. Turndowns of up to 1,000:1 may be required.
  2. Non-Uniform Flow Profile. Flare stacks generally have asymmetric and swirling flow.
  3. Very Low Pressure with Variable Temperatures. Most flare headers operate at near atmospheric conditions. Gas temperature varies with well depth and reservoir characteristics.
  4. Dirty Flares Versus Clean Flares. Many flares have significant amounts of dirt, hydrogen sulfide, wax, tar, and other paraffins that make for a dirty, sooty flame.
  5. Maintenance Is Difficult and Costly. Roaring flames, difficult access and regulatory requirements make flares difficult to service.
  6. Wide Gas Density Variations. Flare gas composition, and thus the density of flare gas varies over the lifetime of the flare. Traditional flow meters cannot successfully manage the changes in flare gas composition.

The good news is that several recent innovations in thermal mass flow sensor technology now give end-users an alternative metering choice to consider. Of particular interest is the invention of four-sensor thermal technology coupled with an advanced algorithm set that works in tandem with the American Gas Association’s (AGA) compliant gas property database. In combination, these technologies allow the user to adjust the instrument and retain accuracy as flare gas compositions change in the field over time.

In the next installment of our series on flare gas measurement, I’ll cover the many flow metering alternatives for flare gas and provide insight into the best solution for your application. In the meantime, download my white paper, Flare Gas Mass Flow Metering, to find out more.

What challenges has your company encountered with flare gas measurement?

How to Manage Your Flow Calibration Risk

Precision measurement instrumentation, like mass flow meters, are only as good as their calibration. No one knows this better than the facilities managers and process engineers who have to keep up with the yearly calibration of sometimes thousands of instruments. Because managing instrument calibration is such a time-consuming, but necessary reality of facilities management, industry thought leaders are constantly debating the best practices in instrumentation calibration.

Sierra’s VP of Product Management Scott Rouse recently weighed in on this topic in the recent  Flow Control Q&A Roundup article asking for expert opinions oService Center (2)n flow calibration. Geared toward the fluid handling industry, Flow Control asked how to determine when a meter needs to be calibrated. Scott was able to provide valuable tips for Flow Control readers. In addition to quality system requirements that govern how often equipment must be calibrated, Scott focused on how to identify a “drift” condition. According to Scott, all sensors “drift” from their original factory calibration, often due to dirt buildup, aging electronics, as well as physical changes in the sensors. Read more calibration insights in the Flow Control Q&A Roundup article.

Since we understand that managing instrument calibration can be a daunting task, we have tried to make the job of flow instrument service/calibration as painless as possible. Simply create or login to My Sierra Account, submit a Return Materials Authorization, send your product to Sierra, receive a quote after 72 hours and get your recalibrated meter back within 14 days. We’ll also send you automated status updates and calibration reminders.

If you have any questions after reading Scott’s comments in Flow Control or simply want to find out more about calibration procedures, we’re here to help. Contact us today.

Engineering Spotlight: Meet John!

Our talented team of engineers is at the heart of all our flow innovations and solutions here at Sierra. From design to production to finished product, our engineers oversee the creation and implementation of equipment designed to help you measure flow more accurately for consistent results.

So what makes our engineers tick? Most had an interest in math and science growing up, and while engineering may not have been their first academic path, the profession drew them back in. We’re glad that’s the case with the subject of our fourth engineer spotlight, John Smitherman. John serves as our Chief Engineer and has been with Sierra for the past 22 years.

While we’re sure he would have made an excellent teacher, we’re glad he made the switch to engineering early in his college career! In short, John loves the entire production cycle from design to shipping out a product that will deliver results based on customer expectations. Read on to find out more about John.

Meet John-Chief Engineer

John Smitherman Engineering Spotlight

How you became interested in the field of engineering?

I grew up interested in Math and Science. I first thought that I might want to be a teacher, but I switched to engineering early in my college career. I also followed space exploration, and I ended up working for an aerospace company out of college. Boats and motors also interested me to the point where I was racing boats as a teenager.

How long have you been with Sierra? What attracted you to the company?

I’ve been with Sierra for 22 years. Before working at Sierra, I was working for a company that was consolidated and relocated to Tennessee. I was anxious to stay in this area, and had some friends that worked at Sierra. I hired on to commercialize what is now the BG3 Elite Engine Particulate Emissions Sampler as a project engineer.

What’s your area of expertise?

Product development, R&D, manufacturing, production, and service support. I also manage specials engineering.

What’s your favorite part of the job? Is it research? Design? Production, actually seeing a finished product?

All of the above! In summary, it is starting with a clean sheet of paper, leading up to shipping the products. (It needs to work well, and look good!)

How do you stay up-to-date on changes in your field of engineering?

Evaluate competitors, read technical articles, study patents.

Why is Sierra, and its staff of engineers, uniquely qualified to provide custom flow solutions?

We have a great team with a variety of skills. We can design products, design software and firmware, test products, measure performance, write procedures for manufacturing, as well as technically support sales, service and marketing.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to spend time with my wife, sons and grandkids. I also enjoy surfing, paddling, back packing, fishing, as well as building things for my wife.

Minute Flow Tip! Don’t Settle for “Good Enough”

There are so many options for selecting the best mass flow controller out there that is “good enough.” Why compromise when making an investment in a mass flow instrument?

Discover the Swiss Army Knife of mass flow controllers in this Minute Flow Tip.

The capillary thermal technology used in every SmartTrak mass flow controller measures flow directly, at the molecular level. In essence, counting and controlling every gas molecule flowing through the instrument to achieve unmatched precision. Unaffected by upstream gas temperature and pressure fluctuations, gas mass flow control is direct and unequivocal.

Find the ideal MFC by application:

Learn more about the entire family of SmartTrak mass flow meters and controllers from sierra instruments.

How to Supercharge the SmartTrak Mass Flow Controller with Compod

smarttrak-compod_highStreamline, simplify and save time and money by plugging the innovative Compod upgrade into the face of any SmartTrak 100 mass flow meter or controller. SmartTrak is not only a true multi-gas digital mass flow controller, it can control your process too.

If you need more functionality to control a positive shutoff valve, have a pulse output, or read a pressure transmitter, that is no problem with Compod. It is also programmable by the user. Set up simple process control systems driven by SmartTrak without the need for PLCs or computers.

Daisy chain multiple mass flow controllers to network multiple instruments using open-source fully network-enabled multi-drop RS-485 / Modbus RTU. Upgrading your SmartTrak MFC with Compod adds two digital output channels and one analog input channel and a configurable pulse output channel to allow functions of much more complex systems at a fraction of the cost.


Compod acts as a vital link in your more complex process control network. It monitors the operation of instruments and provides potential problem alerts. Send and receive data and even perform data logging and diagnostics that notify users of valve faults or system upsets.

Compod is available with a local LCD display for local monitoring and flow totalization and can be used with new instruments or added to existing models.  Sierra provides free Compod software or you can write your own using open-source MODBUS protocol.

Watch Video “>SmartTrak 100, Master of ALL Flows!

Common applications include:

Compod really puts the “smart” in your SmartTrak mass flow controller. Learn more about Compod and the SmartTrak series.