Tag Archives: Core Technology

A Thermal Mass Flow Meter in Outer Space

North America’s #1 selling thermal mass flow meter offering (Flow Research, Yoder), our heavy-industrial thermal mass flow meters are designed for the most demanding industrial gas mass or air flow measurement applications.

Early developments in the evolution of mass flow meters in the 1950’s were largely driven by the need for highly accurate gas mass flow readings. Over the last 50 years the demand for substantially higher flow measurement precision has only intensified. For the last 25 years, NASA has relied on the accuracy of Sierra thermal mass flow meters to get the right mixture of nitrogen, argon and oxygen to their shuttles during ground testing.

Six years ago, Sierra expert, Steve Chism, identified a way NASA could upgrade the outdated technology they were using to maintain positive space shuttle cargo door air flow on re-entry. He was convinced that Sierra’s Model 780S thermal mass flow meter was ideal for this mission-critical function.

Compact, no moving parts, accurate and easy to move from shuttle to shuttle, NASA agreed to give the 780S a try and was immediately delighted with its performance.  Extremely stable patented Dry-Sense technology combined with Field Validation and a lifetime sensor warranty gave NASA engineers a perfect mass flow measurement tool.  To prove the accuracy for this mission critical shuttle cargo door application, Sierra hired CEESI, a world renowned 3rd party calibration consultant in Colorado, to conduct an in-depth field test. CEESI determined conclusively that Sierra’s meters performed well within specifications.

Watch the Video…

New QuadraTherm Flow Meter: iTherm Expanding Gas Library

QuadraTherm 640i (Insertion Version) & 780i (In-Line Version)

The iTherm gas library stores proprietary gas packets, which are  analogous to the DNA of a specific gas. It stores all the parameters needed to instantly calculate the thermodynamic and transport properties of every gas or gas mixture versus temperature and pressure.

Currently, the library has mapped 18 gases and mixtures, and it continues to grow and improve by the day. Furthermore, the millions of data points collected over time in Sierra’s metrology laboratories can be used to tune the flowmeter for better performance and accuracy.

Expect hundreds of data sets and gas and gas mixture combinations in the future that can be downloaded to your QuadraTherm meter via the Internet.

Learn more…

Voice of the Customer: Flow Meter Solution for Air Pollutant Measurement

We’re always looking for solutions here at Sierra-ones that always give customers precise, accurate data. It’s what drove Dr. John G. Olin to found Sierra in 1973, with a goal of providing the marketplace with accurate flow meter measurement. It’s what drives our engineering team to continue to advance flow meter design. It’s also what drives them to support customers and reps with truly turnkey OEM solutions.

So, when Dr. Tony Hansen, founder of Magee Scientific in Berkeley, CA, came to us with a request for a low-cost solution for equipment that would essentially help thousands, we were happy to assist. Hansen was developing a device called an Aethalometer® to measure black carbon levels in the air thought to be related to climate change as well as air pollution.

Carbon Soot Aethalometer (South Pole)

To follow up on his progress, we asked Dr. Hansen a few questions about how his work provides accurate data to learn more about climate change and air pollution.

1. Describe your area of expertise. We manufacture a scientific instrument that measures air pollution by “black carbon” particles—now shown to be the No. 2 cause of global climate change. We also engage in scientific and technical research to improve the measurement of this pollutant.

2. What problems have you been attempting to tackle with your current or recent research studies?
Measurement of air pollution at challenging locations, including the:

  • South Pole. -50°C, 3200 m. altitude, extremely clean air, zero humidity.
  • South China and India. Extremely polluted air, very high ambient humidity, very dirty working environment.

3. Walk us through the process you went through to address this issue. What were the flow measurement concerns associated with your research?
Correct calculation of the concentration of pollution is based upon correct knowledge of the amount of air drawn through the instrument during each measurement period. Typical flow rate is 5 LPM; typical analytical period is 1 to 5 minutes. Our end users require data expressed either in Standard units (SLPM) or in “local” units, where the “local” cubic meter depends on T & P. Our instrument has a separate T & P sensor, which we use to convert the ‘Standard’ (mass) flow data.

4. What flow meter and/or controller equipment helped you during the research process? How did it impact the accuracy of your conclusions? We use the Sierra Top Trak mass flow meter, with a range of 0~10 SLPM air. The flow meter signal is combined with the user’s set point to control the speed of the BLDC variable-speed pump. In this way, we were able to program the desired flow, and the instrument automatically stabilizes at that set-point. Ours is an OEM application, so we didn’t need any display or external features. We’ve used this same flow meter for years now, and it is ideal for our application.

5. What has been the impact of this research on your company or the industry at large?
Our instrument is the de-facto standard for measuring black carbon air pollution. Our users have to feel confident that they can trust the numerical data. The data calculation depends intrinsically on the accuracy of the air flow measurement.

How has Sierra helped you solve your flow measurement problems? Tell us in the comments below. And also download our Clean Energy Guide to see how Sierra has partnered with companies from around the globe to help solve environmental concerns.

The Secret to Slashing Your Facility’s Natural Gas Bills

Psst. We’ve got a secret. One that could save you money. How much, you ask? Thousands. That’s right. You could be saving thousands on your facility’s natural gas bill.
Traditional diaphragm flow meters used for natural gas measurement can’t account for changes in gas composition, resulting in a utility bill that can be less than accurate. While this isn’t a problem for the typical residential home, it’s a different story for a large facility.
Find out why you should take the hint about natural gas sub-metering in the infographic below.
Natural Gas Measurement Infographic

Verifying your facility’s natural gas bill starts with accurate natural gas sub-metering with thermal mass flow meter measurement.
Find out more by downloading our in-depth white paperSub-Metering of Natural Gas.

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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.

ACHEMA 2018: An Eye On the Future

The spirit of ACHEMA 2018 can be summed up in three words: reimagine, capitalize, and prepare for the future. ACHEMA was all about seizing the potential opportunities that Industry 4.0  or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) can bring to the chemical and process industries. Industry 4.0 is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – a mix of cyber-physical systems, IIoT, cloud computing and cognitive computing. Simply put- new levels of analysis to provide a truly productive process.

ACHEMA 2018 BoothACHEMA was both a validation and confirmation that Sierra is going in the right direction. Sierra is already moving on all of these trends, Sierra no longer just builds a “thing.” We believe flow measurement solutions need to “live” and communicate with all other devices around the facility site to create value for our customers.

While not all flow meters are industry 4.0 ready yet, the industry is getting there fast. At heart, some of the newest flow meters and controllers are fulfilling the promise of Industry 4.0 with their ability to talk to the manufacturing process and automate their key function- measuring and control of gas flow- and then communicating that information so that a plant monitors (perhaps someday even the plant’s AI, the Artificial Intelligence) can make informed decisions about the process.

To that end, we showcased our Big-3™ one flow energy solution for optimizing and measuring nearly every critical and costly flow found in the chemical and process industry. An integrated solution to measure all flow data points of your facility. 

The Big-3 features QuadraTherm 640i/780i thermal flow meters, InnovaMass 240i/241i vortex flow meters, and the InnovaSonic 207i ultrasonic flow meter. The Big-3 share the same revolutionary Raptor firmware and many of the same software apps. They are a complete flow energy solution for flows like compressed air, natural gas, steam, and hot and chilled water. Together, they set a new standard in ease-of-purchase, performance, accuracy, reliability, and ease of use.

We look forward to the opportunities Industry 4.0 brings and continuing to provide innovative solutions to our customers in the years to come.

Riding the Waves of Climate Change, Part 1: Flowmeters Help Change the Way Research is Done

Back in December, I shared how the Sierra Smart-Trak flowmeter traveled to Antarctica in 2006 with Stanford University researcher David Mucciarone. As a critical component of his data collection efforts, the flow meter helped him measure the breakdown of inorganic carbon during the Antarctic summer bloom. This important R&D work directly correlated with studies on global warming.

Fast forward six years. I recently caught up with Mucciarone and discovered the scope of his research has expanded tremendously. Because of the costly nature of the Antarctica trip ($40,000 a day!) and the narrow window of time for optimal testing, he’s doing more research on the oceans’ coral reefs and kelp forests. His amazing itinerary has included:

  • The California coast near Monterey, just a few short miles from us here at Sierra Instruments
  • Palau, an island about 500 miles east of the Philippines
  • Palmyra, a Hawaiian atoll
  • Samoa, an island to the east of Australia and New Zealand
  • Torrens Island, Australia

In each location, he continues to study ocean acidification, the name scientists have given to the apparent decrease in pH of the earth’s oceans as they absorb more inorganic carbon from the atmosphere. Mucciarone and others want to know: as levels of carbonic acid gradually increase, will plants and other carbonate things like coral adapt – or begin to dissolve?

But, there’s a catch. Since oceans cover 71 percent of the earth, how can he prove that his findings aren’t just an anomaly or endemic to the small area where he’s testing?

The Move to Continuous, Real-Time Sampling Using a Digital Flowmeter

Traditionally, water samples are collected in a “discrete” manner using rosettes that are thrown over the side of the boat or a pump affixed to the boat’s bottom, and all samples are taken at approximately the same depth. The sample is then shipped to a lab or brought on board the boat where the researcher tests it for pH, fluorescence, salinity and much more.  The downside: you only capture a brief image of a very large and very complex system.

Mucciarone says, “There’s only so much data you can collect from [discrete] water samples. They’re nothing more than teeny snapshots. And people will try and poke holes in the argument by saying, ‘What if you’d taken a sample two days later or a month later? Are your findings exaggerated or depeleted because you happened to catch it at the right moment in time?’ They’ll question the validity of our findings, so we have to change how we look at things.”

And that’s exactly what he’s done. In his lab at Stanford, Mucciarone created his own chromatography-based, flow-through system that provides continuous, real-time monitoring – not just teeny snapshots. The two key components of the flow-through system he’s currently using are a digital syringe pump and – get this – the very same Smart-Trak 100 flow meter he had with him in Antarctica in 2006! He combines his device with a series of tubes that can take samples in many different strategic places and at many different levels.

Now when he samples, he can test the water in real time, 24 hours a day. He adds, “Every five minutes, I collect different samples. Every five seconds, I take measurements. I can look at all kinds of interesting cycles: minutes to hours to days to tidal cycles to weeks and even months (if I can be out there that long).”

I was thrilled to learn that Sierra Instruments is helping Mucciarone conduct cutting-edge climate change research. That means the findings about global warming will be even more reliable. In the long run, that’s what it will take to convince the larger scientific community and people all over the world that we must protect our oceans and the delicate ecosystems that live within them.

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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Part 1: Challenges with Submetering Natural Gas

In an article for Gases & Instrumentation magazine, I explored energy management as it relates to the natural gas industry. Natural gas exists in abundance in this country, with production expected to increase 44 percent by 2040. With such unprecedented growth in production of this natural resource, utility companies must focus on providing the most accurate gas billing possible.  So how do customers know that their utility bills are accurate? In most cases, they don’t. While this doesn’t pose much of a hardship for residential customers, the overages can be significant for mid-to-large-size facilities. This has led factories, campuses and universities to use flow meters to sub-meter their natural gas usage to confirm the readings achieved by traditional diaphragm meters. Using a flow meter for submetering, facilities can compare the utility’s gas usage totals to the natural gas measurement totals that the submeters provide (see Figure).

Flow Meter Submetering

The Challenge: Dealing with Changing Compositions and Delivery Pressure

The most common type of gas meter, seen in almost all residential and small commercial installations, is a diaphragm meter. Utility companies use diaphragm meters to measure the flow rate of natural gas and monetize the usage for billing. Within the meter, there are two or more chambers formed by movable diaphragms. With the gas flow directed by internal valves, the chambers alternately fill and expel gas, producing a near continuous flow through the meter. As the diaphragms expand and contract, levers connected to cranks convert the linear motion of the diaphragms into the rotary motion of a crank shaft, which serves as the primary flow element. This shaft can drive an odometer-like counter mechanism or it can produce electrical pulses for a flow computer (a smart meter).

Diaphragm gas meters are positive displacement meters. These gas meters measure a defined volume, regardless of the pressurized quantity or composition of the gas flowing through the meter. Temperature, pressure and heating value compensation must be made to measure the actual amount and value of gas moving through a meter. These fixed compensation variables used by utility companies can yield inaccuracies and overcharging of utility bills. For example, the diaphragm meter typically measures the natural gas volume in hundreds of cubic feet (CCF); however, the consumer is billed in therms, where one therm is equal to 100,000 BTUs. Customers are billed by taking the gas meter reading in cubic feet, converting this value to therms, then applying a multiplier that is the product of the heat value of the gas (composition dependent) times the gas density (pressure dependent).  The fact is that these multipliers are not accurate. As mentioned, the diaphragm meter is a volumetric meter, while natural gas is sold on the basis of mass. Volumetric meters cannot account for changes in gas composition nor deal with changes in pressure and temperature (and hence density). Such changes must be corrected for, and the consumer is at the mercy of the utility company to make those corrections.

Even though traditional thermal flow meters outperform volumetric meters due to relative immunity to changes in gas supply line pressure and temperature and no moving parts, they cannot automat­ically adjust for changing gas composition. When there is a large composition change, the meter must be returned to the factory for recalibration to remain accurate. However, a solution for this problem has recently emerged.  Four-sensor thermal technology now provides a method for dealing with changing natural gas compositions in the field.

In my next blog post, I’ll share more about this innovative four-sensor mass flow meter branded by Sierra as QuadraTherm. Why will it prove to be so valuable to facilities submetering their natural gas usage now and in the future?

For more in-depth information about natural gas submetering, download the article today.

And, find out how you could slash your facility’s natural gas bill in our sub-metering infographic.

Conserve Energy & Save On Your Natural Gas Bill



Ultra-High Pressure 5000 psig (345 barg) Gas Mass Flow Control…No Easy Task!

Overall, Sierra wants better accuracy and control of high pressure gas mass flows across industry in general, leading to better efficiency, and vastly reducing gas losses to save time and money for our customers.  But, how is it possible to accurately measure and control gas mass flow rates at pressures up to 5000 psig (345 barg)?

This is certainly no easy task. In fact, there are only a handful of mass flow meter and controller manufacturers who compete in this ultra-high pressure space due to the inherent challenges of this application. Sierra is proud to be a part of this elite group to manufacture ultra-high pressure flow meters and controllers.  Our solution is the SmartTrak 100HP. 100.HP.screen.capture.9.17.14

To embark on this ultra-high pressure journey, we have been pushed to add robust features to the mechanical design of our flagship SmartTrak 100 series and build an in house high-pressure flow calibration facility. Here are a few critical questions that needed to be answered to make our 100HP such a success.

Q: What is the market need for high pressure mass flow meters and controllers?  

A: There are a great number of potential applications requiring measurement and control of high pressure flows. It’s an ever-increasing market. When storing and transporting large amounts of gas, it is generally compressed to allow for greater ease in transport. Using the 100HP to control gas directly from the container it was shipped in, will yield greater accuracy and eliminate costly gas losses associated with inaccurate control.

Another application the 100HP is perfectly suited for is in the construction of pilot plants from a variety of industries. These much smaller, scaled down pilot plants operate under higher pressures than the intended application in order to increase the rate of chemical interactions to better match what the full-sized plant will experience. In many locations, the atmospheric composition of the air varies greatly from day to day. To eliminate this variation, many companies will re-create atmospheric air, directly from high-pressure gas cylinders. The 100HP provides high accuracy mass flow control of this gas, which allows both accurate and consistent air compositions that would otherwise be impossible.

Q: What separates Sierra’s high pressure mass flow controllers and meters in the market?

A: Because high pressure is an emerging market, the product lines of high pressure controllers and meters are similarly young. Our 100HP builds off of the proven and highly developed 100 Series product line that has been one of the most popular units at Sierra for over a decade. We’ve beefed up the mechanical features of our existing 100 product line to withstand far greater pressures, while leaving the working designs from the 100 series alone. This assures precision high performance as we build upon an existing proven core technology platform.

100.accumulator.v.2.Q: What was the inspiration for building our own high pressure flow calibration facility?  What advantages does that give Sierra owning their own high pressure calibration system?

A: Having our own facility assures shortened lead times and impeccable quality.  Our inspiration to build a high pressure calibration facility was mainly based on demand. Every month Sierra would gets inquiries for meters and controllers operating at pressures that are extremely challenging to match for calibration. We performed calculations and were confident that our existing flow-body could withstand the elevated pressures. Logically, the next step was to build a flow calibration facility and that’s exactly what we did.

The advantages to having an in-house high pressure flow calibration facility are innumerable. Primarily it allows us to offer meters and controllers that are rated to far greater pressures than before. It allows us to promise and deliver on a level of cleanliness that wouldn’t be possible if the facility wasn’t under our roof or control. It allows us to experiment and further develop the product line, because we can generate and ‘play’ with these high pressures.

Q: What does the future look like for Sierra’s high pressure line?  Your vision?

A: After assuring high quality of gas mass flow measurement and control, the vision for Sierra’s high pressure product line is to lead the market in ease-of use, accuracy, control, and price. By doing so, my hope is that customers will either begin using or convert to using Sierra’s 100 HP mass flow controllers and meters for all their high pressure gas control needs. Overall, Sierra wants better accuracy and control of high pressure gas flows across industry in general, leading to better efficiency, and vastly reducing gas losses to save time and money for our customers.  Let us know your high-pressure flow metering or control application challenges.

Check-out our SmartTrak 100HP product!