Tag Archives: Markets & Technology

Transit-Time Ultrasonic Flow Meters Don’t Need to be Expensive

When you think about clamp-on, transit-time ultrasonic flowmeters, the first thought that usually comes to mind is the value that stems from the convienence and accuracy for liquid flow measurment–no pipe cutting, very high accuracy and reliability, no hassles.  But, that value does come at a price, and it is worth it if you take into account total cost of ownership.

However, what if you need to make an accurate water or water based fluid measurement and can do without some of the bells and whistles common with high-end transit-time ultrasonic flow sensors.  The recent introduction of the Innova-Sonic 203 , a slightly less feature rich and application flexible instrument compared to the flagship Innova-Sonic 205i, you get an instrument maximized for water flows, HVAC, irrigation, and other water applications which typically are under great budgetary pressure.  Take a look at the pricing here to compare the 203 to the high end 205i.

Ideal for pipes up to 48” in diameter, the 203 still promises solid accuracy to +/-1.0% of reading, repeatability to +/-0.3% of reading and a temperature range of 32°F to 140°F (0°C to 60°C).  The 203 offers low power consumption and high reliability at an economical price. An easy to read display and clear, user-friendly menu selections make using the instrument simple and convenient. It can be configured via keypad without any additional programming devices.

Accurate Fuel Flow Meters from Sierra-CP

In addition to our Flow Measurement & Control Division, Sierra has a thriving Automotive Test Division called Sierra-CP that designs and manufactures a complete range of solutions for automotive test applications including engine, vehicle, powertrain, transmission, emissions, analytical and component testing.

In engine and vehicle testing, extremely accurate fuel flow measurement is often a critical factor.  Our FuelTrak Transient fuel flow meter is an innovative technical advancement to steady-state gravimetric fuel measurement that enables continuous transient and steady-state fuel flow metering as well as density measurement. The system utilizes two measuring techniques to determine and confirm the fuel consumption of the engine.


•Accuracy: 0.5% of reading
•Fuel flow range from 300 to 6000kg/hr
•Option for high fuel flow range

Learn More…

Part 3: Cold Weather and Mass Air Flow Meter Gas Temperature (Gas Properties)

In Parts One and Two of this series, we looked at the effects of ambient temperature on mass air flow meters such as Sierra’s FastFlo™ 620S and our new QuadraTherm™ Model 640i. As discussed, cold weather has few physical effects on an air flow meter, but can degrade accuracy due to stem conduction, unless accounted for, as does the new QuadraTherm 640i.

While we have talked about the temperature of the surroundings, we need to also look at the temperature of the gas in the pipe, since this too can be affected by the surrounding temperature.

Influence of Temperature on Mass Flow Controllers

Thermal mass air flow sensors are famous for being “independent of temperature and pressure.” Since these are mass flow meters and not volumetric meters, this is mostly true, but there is some influence by temperature. As mentioned previously, thermal mass flow controllers work by measuring the heat conducted away by the flowing gas. The amount of heat lost is a function of gas heat transfer properties such as heat capacity, density, viscosity and thermal conductivity. All of these properties have some dependence on temperature and pressure.

Most thermal flow meter manufacturers do not take this into account and assume a constant process temperature and pressure. Using its unique QuadraTherm sensor and iTherm brain, Sierra’s new QuadraTherm Model 640i continuously calculates the values of these heat transfer properties at process temperature, ensuring the most accurate reading no matter what is going on inside or outside of the pipe!

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



How to Install Vortex Steam Flow Meters!

A few weeks back  Glen Coblentz, Vice President of North American sales, spent three days in New York City. Unfortunately, he was not able to enjoy the sites of NYC. Instead, he was working 45-feet underground in 120 F degree heat in New York City’s steam tunnels.  For over five hours, Glen worked with Sierra Representative, North East Technical, commissioning 25 InnovaMass vortex steam meters. Here are some hands-on tips for steam installation straight from Glen.

Top 3 Tips for Successful Steam Flow Installations:

#1. Plan the installation and conduct a good pre-installation walk down. You need to make sure there is ample room above and on the side of Sierra’s insertion mass vortex model 241 for a good installation. You can never plan too much.

#2. Determine the pipe size before the installation. This is the goal in a perfect world, but in reality many times the customer doesn’t know the actual pipe size. They simply take an average. At one point, the customer thought the pipe size was 12 inches, but it was actually 14 inches. Use your math skills for circumference converted to internal diameter.

#3. Drink plenty of water and cool down every hour. The heat that you have to deal with during installation is sometimes up to 124F. It saps your concentration and makes you dizzy. This mental state is not good in terms of proper installation depth and safety. Glen drank up to 20 bottles of water and still wasn’t hydrated!

Check-out some great images of the installation on Glen’s Twitter feed.

What are your tips for successful steam flow installations?

The New Vortex iSeries has Arrived!

InnovaMass. Reinvented. I am proud to announce on behalf of our entire development team, our completely re-designed, next generation InnovaMass 240i and 241i vortex volumetric flow and multivariable mass flow meter product line. Learn more…

The all new iSeries InnovaMass 240i inline and 241i insertion vortex flow meters are manufactured at our brand new assembly and calibration facility in Monterey, California. I think you will find this new product exemplifies on our tradition of innovation with improvements and features like:

  • New Raptor II OS operating system “Flow Engine”
  • 10x faster processing speed
  • It has Apps like: FloPro, qMix, Dial-A-Pipe, Dial-A-Fluid
  • Easy field setup, meter tuning and instrument validation
  • Field firmware upgrades
  • And much more

Learn more… Reduced Cost of Ownership: With five high accuracy measurements available from InnovaMass, total cost-of-ownership plummets. Lower initial cost, less complex installation, and reduced maintenance costs contributed to significant overall savings. Did You Know?  In 1997, Sierra was the first to design and introduce a multivariable mass vortex flow meter to the world with InnovaMass. Today, multivariable mass vortex units are an industry standard. InnovaMass is a Registered Trademark of Sierra Instruments, Inc., Monterey, California

Direct Mass Flow or Volumetric: The Thermal Flow Meter Technology Advantage!

In today’s world where everyone is watching the bottom line, you need high performance, cost-effective instrumentation—and capillary thermal mass flow meters and controllers have been proven to meet this criteria in a wide range of process applications.

Thermal mass flow technology is an industry standard for mass flow control of gases because it measures flow directly, at the molecular level.  In most processes flowing gases like Air,  Argon, CO2, N2, Etc., it is gas mass, not gas volume, which is the critical variable of most interest.

Volumetric flow measurements are less reliable than mass flow measurements because changes in gas temperature and pressure effect measurement performance.  You lose accuracy and you lose reliability and in many cases even money due to process inefficiency and waste.  Volumetric flow meters need additional temperature and pressure compensation to convert the volumetric flow rate into mass flow rate.

Gas flow measurement and steady control of mass flow rate with capillary thermal technology is the cleanest choice.

No messy calculations or T & P compensation, just pure physics at work for you.

Check out our infographic below to see the thermal mass flow advantage for yourself.

Do You Have the Thermal Mass Flow Advantage?
Capillary Thermal Principal of Operation is the Core Technology for Thermal Mass Flow.
How has capillary thermal mass flow been used? Gas Mixing for laboratory research.
beverage manufacturing
SmartTrak 100 is the Swiss Army knife of MFCs. Watch Video.
Learn More

Need more info? Find out more about Sierra’s gas mass flow meters and controllers with application flexibility and proven performance for lab researcherssystem integrators and more.

Striving For Perfection: Flow Energy Partnership Improves Geothermal Energy Production


Since the early twentieth century, geothermal energy has been used to produce electricity. In the 1980’s and 90’s, rapid expansion in the demand for geothermal energy put pressure on suppliers to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Now geothermal energy production is becoming a common practice around the globe.

One of the largest energy companies in Turkey is blazing the trail for renewable geothermal energy production in the region, including the Middle East and Asia. They “consider sustainable energy a key element of sustainable development” which is the energy vision that drives Turkey and the region’s development. This major energy company has 3 geothermal power plants totaling 129 megawatts and 2 wind farms totaling 191 megawatts in Turkey. At the heart of these the geothermal energy production for this company, always remain: how can we produce geothermal energy in the most efficient way possible?

The Scoop on the Company’s Geothermal Process Needs

For efficient Geothermal energy production,  water is heated from the earth’s natural heat in geothermal wells, then is cooled off and sent back into the earth to be reused in the energy-generating process.  Companies need a water flow meter to accurately measure the water in this application, which is critical for assessing the efficiency of energy production.

To solve this water flow measurement problem, the energy company contacted, Elekon, one of Sierra’s flow partners in Turkey. They originally specified an an electromagnetic flow meter to measure the water before it travels back into the earth to be reused.  However, Elekon’s,  Robert Benbanaste (CEO/Owner of Elekon), noticed right away that the pipeline size was too large for an inline electromagnetic flowmeter (over 48” for the line size). Robert had the perfect solution for this application. Sierra’s 241i insertion vortex flow meter.

The application flexibility gained with insertion flow meters, versus the inline mag meter, is perfect for applications with large pipe sizes. The 241i insertion vortex can handle applications in pipes up to 72 inches (2M) in diameter and larger and has hot tap easy installation with an on board retractor.  With the 241i, volumetric or multivariable measurement is possible with a single pipe insertion point, greatly reducing installation and maintenance costs.

Hakan, one of Elekon’s seasoned application field engineers, worked right with the facilities managers at the company to hot top the vortex 241i into their pipe-fast, easy, and painless (see above photo). ATEX certification was also important for the company. ATEX is a certification by FM Approvals Ltd that certifies that the 214i vortex flow meter complies with the Essential Health and Safety Requirements relating to the design and construction of equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. The 240i and 241i Inline and Insertion Mass Vortex flow meters meet those requirements, specifically those relating to the process temperature and pressure.

Armed with their new vortex flow meters, the Turkish energy company is most pleased with the success of the cost savings and energy efficiency they have gained since their installation. They are so happy with the solution that they are placing an additional order—now that’s a sign of process success!

Want to get energy process gains in your application for vortex technology? Check out Sierra’s line of InnovaMass vortex flow meters.

If you’re not sure what type of meter you need for your project, contact an engineer today for a free consultation. We’ll help you find the right tools for your process—anyday.

Core Technology Series: Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meters and Controllers

Understanding Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meters & Controllers:  

Flow meters and controllers are used every day in general purpose industrial and laboratory applications and in the semiconductor industry.  Have you ever wondered how capillary tube flow meters work?  or How to specify the perfect flow meter for your application? I am excited to present this ongoing core technology series based on excerpts from Sierra’s Founder and Chairman (Also my Father), Dr. John G. Olin’s, white paper entitled, “Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meters & Controllers- A User’s Guide.”  This “User’s Guide” is designed to educate both flow beginners and experts in the most common types of direct mass flow thermal flow meters, typical applications, principle of operation of capillary tube thermal flow meters, best practices for users, including the selection, installation, and operation of the instruments.   Now let’s start at the beginning.

What is a Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meter or Controller?

Capillary tube thermal mass flow meters directly measure the mass flow rate of clean gases and gas mixtures in lower flow ranges. A capillary tube thermal mass flow controller adds an integrally mounted flow control valve to the flow body of the mass flow meter and both monitors the mass flow rate and controls it to be equal to a set-point value selected by the user.

History of Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meter and Controllers

SmartTrak 100 flowmeter for highly accurate gas mass flow control

Capillary tube thermal mass flow meters and controllers were first commercialized in the early 1960’s. The space industry was one of the first users, but before long the industry that fabricated solid state semiconductor devices recognized their usefulness. When integrated circuit semiconductor devices began their long and continuing period of exceptional growth, the market for capillary tube thermal mass flow controllers grew with it. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, general industry recognized the advantages of using capillary tube mass flow meters and controllers in a broad range of applications, and several new companies were formed to serve this growing market. The advantages of accuracy, compactness, reliability, and cost-effectiveness continue to make capillary tube thermal instruments the choice for monitoring and controlling smaller mass flow rates of clean gases in general industry and in the fabrication of semiconductor devices.

The primary virtue, and the source of their prominence, is the fact that capillary tube thermal instruments directly measure mass flow rate, as opposed to, for example, volumetric flow rate. This is important because most industries need to measure and control the flow of the molecules, i.e., the mass, of the gas entering their process.

Types of Direct Mass Flow Meters & Applications

Figure 1: Classifications of Mass Flow Meters

There are two kinds of flow meters that directly measure the mass flow rate of fluids—Coriolis mass flow meters and thermal mass flow meters. Coriolis mass flow meters directly measure the mass flow rate of most fluids, both liquids and gases, and do not require knowledge of the identity, or composition, of the fluid. Thermal mass flow meters directly measure the mass flow rate of gases, and do require knowledge of its composition. Coriolis mass flow meters have high accuracy, high pressure drop, work best with liquids, and are relatively expensive. Thermal mass flow meters have medium to high accuracy, low pressure drops, work best with gases, and are relatively inexpensive.

For the purposes of this blog series we will focus on thermal mass flow meters. Specially, capillary tube flow meters and controllers. Capillary tube thermal mass flow meters and controllers have two broad fields of application: general purpose industrial and laboratory applications and semiconductor manufacturing and other high purity vacuum processes. More MFCs are manufactured than MFMs because most users want to control the mass flow rate of the gas in their process rather than just monitor it. Capillary tube thermal MFCs offer a cost-effective solution for controlling the flow of gases because they are compact, require only one penetration of the process line, and have a built-in optimized control system.

Principle of Operation: How Capillary Tube Mass Flow Meters & Controller Work

Figure 2: Typical general purpose mass flow controller

In the case of the capillary tube type of thermal mass flow meter (MFM) described in this blog, the flow enters the flow body and splits into two internal flow paths. One path flows through a heated capillary sensor tube that has a small diameter and relatively long length. The second parallel path inside the flow body passes through a split-flow bypass consisting of a laminar flow element that shunts the bulk of the flow around the sensor tube. The ratio of the flows through the bypass and the sensor tube is a constant. The capillary sensor tube measures its internal mass flow rate by means of the heat capacity of the gas that carries heat from an upstream resistance-temperature-detector winding to a downstream winding, both  on outside of the sensor tube. The difference in the electrical resistances of the two windings provides the measurement of the mass flow rate through the sensor tube, and thereby the total mass flow rate in the flow conduit.

A capillary tube thermal mass flow controller (MFC) adds an integrally mounted flow control valve to the flow body of the MFM and both monitors the mass flow rate and controls it to be equal to a set-point value selected by the user either remotely or on the MFC itself. To learn more about Capillary Thermal Mass Flow Controller & Meter technology, watch this video that follows a molecule of gas through a typical capillary thermal flow controller.


Next up in the “Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meters & Controllers- User’s Guide” series, Dr. Olin describes the mechanical components of mass flow meters and controllers and the operation of these components.

Get more information on Capillary Tube Mass Flow Meters and Controllers:

Download Dr. Olin’s Complete White Paper “Capillary Tube Thermal Mass Flow Meters & Controllers- A User’s Guide.”

Read more about the History & Evolution of Mass Flow Controllers

Read Core Technology: Capillary & Immersible


Precision Gas Flow Control is Key to R&D Instrumentation

If you’re a scientific researcher, few things are as important as your ability to accurately control experimental research variables. Data – more specifically, precise data – is king! When you need gas flow rate measurement and control instrumentation, the ability to derive statistically sound and repeatable data is the key driver.

Over the past several years, it’s been a privilege to develop a good working relationship with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), which is just a short drive from our facilities here in Monterey, Calif. In the past, we’ve helped Jim Barry, Ph.D., a researcher and Benthic Ecologist, accurately simulate past, present, and future atmospheres and their effects on ocean chemistry.

In his early experiments, Dr. Barry wasted countless hours recalibrating his mass flow controllers to account for his ever changing flow rates to his experiments. In 2005, with the application expertise of our product manager, Dr. Barry and his team installed nine of Sierra’s digital Smart-Trak 2 Model C100 gas mass flow controllers to control mixtures of O2, N2 and CO2 to his aquarium tanks. The O2 levels varied from 1 – 20%, N2 from 80 – 99% and C02 levels from 180 to 1500 ppm, depending on the desired atmosphere or ocean condition Dr. Barry wanted to create.

Dr. Barry says “accuracy is essential” for these experiments. If his CO2 readings are off by just 0.1%, the acidity of his simulated oceanic environment will change drastically, requiring many hours of work to reset conditions and restart the experiment. Now Dr. Barry can rely on his gas control instrumentation to deliver the precise gas flow rate to his control his various atmospheres.

For Dr. Barry, data is king! All his findings and discoveries – basically, his life’s work – hinge on the accuracy of his data. He wants gas control equipment he can set and forget.

We look forward to years of invaluable research from MBARI. We have learned that Dr. Barry’s findings have led to more in-depth research on how acidification and rising levels of carbon dioxide may upset the ocean’s delicate geochemical balance, as well as ongoing study of greenhouse gases and ocean chemistry. These ramifications are just now being explored.

Benefits of Precise Gas Flow Control for Researchers

We recognize that gas flow control is only one small part of what you want to accomplish. In the end, you want to present sound research to colleagues and other influencers in your field of scientific study.

Thanks to researchers like Dr. Barry, who have told us what they need, our Smart Trak 2 can provide your with:

  • Stability and accuracy
  • User-friendly design
  • Ability to adjust for 10 different gases independently

Do you have a story about gas flow control instrumentation or equipment? Please share it with us in the comments below!