Tag Archives: Minute Flow Tip Videos

Minute Flow Tip: Volumetric Flow Versus Mass Flow Technology

When engineers and systems integrators need to measure gas flow rate in an industrial process or scientific research, there are many types of technologies to choose from. This makes selecting the right gas flow meter a challenge. In addition to technology, engineers must consider many other parameters: price for value, cost of ownership, size of footprint, application flexibility, calibration method, accuracy with changing application conditions, and repeatability.

With all that said, what flow metering technology should you use to get the highest accuracy, repeatability, and lowest cost of ownership? To answer this question, engineers must first decide if they want a flow meter technology that can deliver gas mass flow rate or simply gas volume flow rate measurement.

Simply put, the mass flow rate is the WEIGHT of the sample, while the volumetric flow rate is the SIZE of the sample.

While mass flow and volumetric flow look similar on the outside, Sierra Instruments’ Chief Engineer, John Smitherman, explains the vast differences between mass flow and volumetric flow metering in the latest Minute Flow Tip Video.

What is Gas Mass Flow Rate?

Gas mass flow rate is the actual mass of a gas which travels through a measurement instrument per unit of time. Units are calculated in standard liters per minute (slpm) or standard cubic centimeters per minute (sccm) in SI units. The most common English units include standard cubic feet per minute (scfm).  In both cases, “Standard” refers to standard reference conditions for temperature and pressure. This allows more common industrial measurement terms to easily be converted to mass flow.

What is Gas Volumetric Flow Rate?

Gas volumetric flow rate or volume flow rate, in contrast, is the volume of fluid which passes per unit time. Volumetric air flow rate has many units of measure. Some common examples include: Cubic feet per minute (cfm), and cubic centimeters per minute (ccm).

Advantages of Mass Flow Versus Volumetric Flow

Mass flow technology has an inherent advantage over volumetric flow technology by its very nature since it accounts for absolute measurements. Common process gases like Air, Argon, CO2, N2, and Oxygen follow the principles of the “Ideal Gas Law.” While not all gases are “ideal” these common gases work on the principle that changes in the density are caused by the changes in temperature and pressure.

Volumetric air flow is less reliable than mass flow to account for absolute measurements because changes in temperature and pressure (T&P) affect the gas density and thus reduce the accuracy. Volumetric flow measurement requires T &P compensation to determine true gas mass flow rate.

Direct thermal mass flow controllers and insertion-type thermal mass flow meters, on the other hand, offer engineers direct gas mass flow measurement without pressure or temperature sensors or flow computers.  Coriolis flow meters are the only other technology that measures mass flow rate directly with no secondary flow computers.

Sierra’s thermal mass flow controllers are true digital MFCs based on capillary thermal mass flow technology which directly measures molecular flow (counts gas molecules). Mass flow offers greater application flexibility because the mass flow rate is unaffected by upstream gas temperature and pressure fluctuations like other differential pressure devices. No need to invest in extra temperature and pressure devices to “infer” the mass flow. In one compact mass flow meter, SmartTrak offers direct gas mass flow control which increases accuracy, repeatability, reduces cost of ownership, and adds application flexibility.

Additionally,  SmartTrak’s digital mass flow meters and controllers boast:

  • Technology to knock out upstream pressure fluctuations
  • Available PID valve tuning for full-range stability
  • Low flow size for any range between 0 to 50 slpm>
  • Up to 1000 slpm & higher available flow rates
  • Up to +/- 0.5% of full scale accuracy
  • 10-point NIST calibration based on primary standard

Do YOU Have The Thermal Mass Flow Advantage?

Download our infographic or watch our extended video for more information on the differences between volumetric and mass flow technology.

Flow Tip Video: Learn Why Ease-of-Use is Critical for Flow Meter Selection

Many times scientists and researchers spend more time setting up equipment and instrumentation for their experiments than conducting actual experiments to gather important data. This holds true for flow meters and controllers to measure and control gases to experiments. Some flow meters are very cumbersome with no display, can only measure one gas, low value for price, and limited application flexibility.  And if you need application flexibility and ease-of-use, many times the price of the mass flow meter for these “add-ons” drastically increases.

Over a decade ago, when designing Sierra’s SmartTrak 100 mass flow meters and controllers, our engineers realized the importance of designing a “standard model” flow meter that was fully loaded with easy-to-use features and the ability to quickly change flow meter parameters as the experiment changes.  Jim Oswald, Sierra’s Technical Support Supervisor, gives us an insider’s view of how easy SmartTrak mass flow meters and controllers are to use in the latest Flow Tip Video.

5 Reasons Why the SmartTrak is Easy-to-Use Even When Experimentation Conditions Change

  1. First of all, because of the illuminated LCD backlit display, which has been standard on the SmartTrak for over a decade, scientists can easily see the flow meter’s readout from many angles and change data easily through a push-button menu. The backlit display also has low power consumption.
  2. Many times in experiments, application conditions change like flow rate, gas, or configuration. If your gas changes, you can quickly choose from 10 preprogrammed gases with our Dial-a-Gas feature through the onboard push-button display or remote pilot module, which is essentially a “remote” display/interface for adjustment to challenging experimentation configurations. Simply choose a new gas from the menu and it’s ready to go, without losing any accuracy. You can also adjust engineering units, flow range, and set zero, span and full scale independently for each gas.
  3. For easy integration with your system or experiment, add a plug-in Compod which turns the SmartTrak into a mini PLC–no additional computers needed. The Compod module replaces a touchpad and allows you to communicate not only with one, but with over 200 SmartTrak units if you install a multi-drop. You can add functionality to control a positive shutoff valve, add a pulse output, and read and react to a pressure transmitter.
  4. Free user software and a variety of communications protocols like Modbus, Profibus and Foundation Fieldbus, make every SmartTrak easy to integrate into your digital communications network.
  5. Accurate and repeatable data regardless of changes in application parameters make experimenting easier–no repeating experiments due to unreliable flow data. SmartTrak’s NIST traceable accuracy is backed by our ten-point primary standard calibration over the entire flow range.

Learn more about the SmartTrak Series or download the Infographic.

Preventable Mistakes with Vortex Flow Meters

Vortex flow meter technology is an ideal technology for many applications particularly saturated and supersaturated steam, volumetric water applications as well as flow energy management (natural gas, compressed air, steam, water) in facilities and large campuses. In some of these applications, vortex installations can be tricky and take flow expertise for the most successful installations. Kam Bansal, the Director of Engineering, has some useful tips for successful vortex installations and common mistakes to avoid to get the most out of your vortex flow meters in your application.

Vortex Flow Meter Mistakes to Avoid

#1 – Water Hammer

If you’ve ever turned on your shower and the pipes made a loud bang, you’ve probably experienced the phenomenon called water hammer. Most commonly caused by opening or closing a valve too quickly, it occurs when a mass of water zooms through a pipe with enough momentum to pack a serious punch.

Commercial pipelines often allow these “water hammers” to reach such high speeds that they can damage the flow meter sensor. To alleviate the “water hammer” phenomenon,  try to avoid condensation in steam systems by opening and closing valves gradually to equalize pressure.

#2 – Incorrect Range or Pipe Size

Vortex flow meters are highly specialized devices, and each one is made-to-order based on customer application specifications. This means an out-of-the-box meter will only work for the original order’s conditions. Usually, you can’t make any changes once the meter is installed in the field. However, the software apps offered by Sierra’s InnovaMass iSeries allow you to change variables in-the-field with dial-a-pipe, and tune meter factors in-situ to fit your needs.  You can also adjust your vortex meter via the local pushbutton display interface. In addition, if you think your application may approach the meter’s maximum pressure or temperature, it’s better to buy a higher-rated meter than risk overheating or over pressurizing.

Now that you are aware of these preventable mistakes, think about your vortex meter installation process and specification process.

If you need a refresher, watch this short video by Director of Engineering, Kam Bansal, for an in-depth explanation on how to solve some of the common vortex installation mistakes.

Have technical questions? Comment below or contact us.

Sierra’s Top Flow Blogs of 2017

best of 2017

Another year has come and gone, and it certainly was a big one for Sierra and our customers! Let’s look back at the news and top content that we shared with you in 2017.

Most Popular Blog Posts from 2017

We love sharing our news and providing useful flow meter information with you through our Let’s Talk Flow Blog. Here are the posts that resonated best with our readers last year, complete with links so you can catch up if you missed any.



Measure All Flow Energy in Your Facility-ONE Solution-Three Metering Technologies 

The pressure is on your shoulders to make the smartest decisions in 2018 to measure all the gas, liquid, and steam flow energy in your facility. In this video, learn how ONE complete flow energy management solution can simplify the flow energy management in your factory.


minute.flow.tip.John.S.1.3.17[Minute Flow Tip Video] Mass Flow Versus Volumetric Flow Technology

What’s the Mass Flow Advantage? Chief Engineer, John Smitherman explains the vast differences between gas mass flow rate and volumetric flow rate.  Learn why mass flow technology greatly improves measurement accuracy in this Minute Flow Tip Video.


scott.video.207i.installation.1.3.17Making Ultrasonic Liquid Flow Meter Installation Easier
Clamp-on Ultrasonic flow meters are the perfect flow meter for liquid flow measurement. But finding the perfect signal can sometimes be difficult. Sierra’s Product Line Director, Scott Rouse, demonstrates how on board Software Apps on an InnovaSonic 207i ultrasonic liquid flow meter make set up simply with an easy “12-step” program.


compod.blog.2017.Best.of.1.3.17How to Supercharge the SmartTrak Mass Flow Controller with Compod
Learn how to streamline, simplify, and save time and money with the Compod upgrade for the SmartTrak 100 mass flow meter and controller.  Set up simple process control systems driven by SmartTrak with Compod without the need for PLCs or computers.




4-20.image.2017.best.of.1.3.18 Understanding  4-20 mA Current Loop Communications
Many times, customers ask  “how do I get accurate 4-20mA output readings?” for 4-20mA output devices. Kam Bansal, Director of Engineering, explains 4-20mA communications protocol, step-by-step to dispel the complications and confusion around the protocol to get you set up and running.



Oldies, but Goodies

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or so it seems based on the continued popularity of these older posts that continue to draw readers.

Tuning Your Boiler for EPA Boiler MACT Compliance
Our most popular new post in 2016 remained hot through 2017 as the three-year grace period on the EPA’s Boiler MACT expired in January 2017. In the article, we discussed the regulations, three ways to tune a boiler for compliance, and how flow meters can help your company comply.

Flow Meter Do’s and Don’ts with Ammonia
Five years after it was published, this post is still one of our most popular. We knew we had to write this post when a number of engineers and researchers stopped by our booth at Pitcon in 2012 to ask about ammonia flow measurement. Years later, the precautions stand true and are critical if you are using a flow meter for an ammonia application.

Methods & Pitfalls of In-Situ Calibration Validation of Thermal Flowmeters
“In-situ” means in place, meaning that you don’t have to return your instrument to the facility to have it recalibrated and recertified. You can certainly see the allure of that, but there are pitfalls. Read this post to learn how to get reliable results and avoid false positives.

We hope you enjoyed this look back at 2017 and that you continue to follow us through 2018. We look forward to bringing you more of the best flow information online in the coming year.

Video: Select The Right Mass Flow Controller For Your Application

Which mass flow controller will work best for my application?

Many times, we have had university professors and students contact us in tech support about which scientific flow meter they should get for their research. Sierra has two primary options for you to choose from:

  1. SmartTrak 100
  2. SmartTrak 50

We are going to go over the differences between these two options so you will know which to purchase in order to achieve your application goals.

When you need flexibility

If you need to make changes to your application, the SmartTrak 100 is perfect for you. The vast amount of flexibility and features empower you to adjust your research or application, which is best for the university or lab environment.

Changing gases is easy. Ten gases are already preloaded into the memory of the unit, and you can also have custom ones programmed into it. Making changes is easy with the local touchpad and large LED screen for viewing data.

With the controller, you can command it to purge mode and select the range of the controller. For even more flexibility, you can get the Compod module that replaces the touchpad but allows you the ultimate control over your application via computer with totalization, batch control, input control, mixing gases, blending gas, and setting alarms.

See how SmartTrak 100 was instrumental in a suspended animation  experiment by Dr. Kraus, allowing him to achieve his research goals with precise gas flow.

When you expect no changes in your application

If you know that your application will not change, then the more economical SmartTrak 50 is perfect for you.

The 50 series is not as flexible for a lab environment, as it was designed for single applications using a single gas with a single range. There is no local touchpad, so changes need to be done through a computer. To achieve signals for the device, you need to have it come from an analog source or computer.

This meter is perfect for OEMs or multiple units that you’re going to repeat over and over.

Learn more about how SmartTrak 50 can be used in OEM applications. Perfect for semiconductor industry, the 50 series allows you to maintain specified mass flow rates in the PVD process.

We can help

The right tools make all of the difference. If you have more questions, please feel free to contact us in tech support. We’ll help you select the perfect flow meter for your application.

Tune Your Boiler: Watch Video for 3 Tips to Improve Energy Efficiency

Improving energy efficiency in facilities, campuses and hospitals is top of mind for most facilities managers and engineers.  Government regulations like Boiler MACT and other energy efficiency mandates for government buildings like VA hospitals have put the pressure on facilities engineers to take a hard look at their equipment to optimize for energy efficiency.  Optimizing energy efficiency comes in the form of both saving energy and increasing productivity.  Hands down the biggest energy hog in a facility is compressed air production and a close second are the boilers which use methane & air for combustion to create steam energy.

Glen Coblentz, VP Sales North America for Sierra, tackles the tough question, “Is Your Boiler Running at Optimal Levels?” and gives some in the field tips to tuning your boiler to improve energy efficiency in his new Flow Tip Video. Watch Video.

3 Tips for Tuning Your Boiler

1. Know Your Flow-get accurate methane measurements in low and high flow conditions
As with most energy audits, it’s critical to know how much fluid you have running in your pipe. In this case, you must know much inlet methane (or intake fuel) is entering your boiler? This is actually a difficult flow measurement due to the requirement for flow measurement accuracy over a wide range, from very low flows to high flows. There are many types of flow technologies to choose from for methane measurement.

In the past, facilities have used insertion turbine meters for methane measurement, but turbine meters don’t work well with low flow conditions.  Thermal flow meters are the ideal technology for methane measurement due to their high accuracy over a wide range-from 0 up to 60,000 sfpm  (0 to 305 smps) and wide 100:1 turndown.

2. Get direct mass flow measurements over volumetric flow rate
We have established that thermal flow meters have excellent accuracy and turn down over a wide range. But what are the other advantages of using thermal flow meters for methane measurements? Thermal mass flow meters are ideal for natural gas combustion because mass flow rate, not volumetric, is the quantity of direct interest. For example, the optimal fuel/air ratio for efficient combustion is calculated on a mass basis.

Natural gas is also billed on a mass basis. Because thermal mass flow meters count the molecules of gas, they are immune to changes in inlet temperature and pressure. In a thermal flow meter’s simplest working configuration, fluid flows past a heated thermal sensor and a temperature sensor. As the molecules of the fluid flow pass the heated thermal sensor, heat is lost to the flowing fluid. The thermal sensor cools down, while the temperature sensor continues to measures the relatively constant temperature of the flowing fluid.

3. Determine if your boiler is running too rich or too lean 
Once you have accurate methane measurements, you can answer the key question: Is my boiler running too rich or too lean? If your boiler is running “rich”, which means it is using more methane than is needed for optimal combustion, you not only waste money on natural gas costs but also emit more hazardous air pollutants into our environment-every molecule of methane that is not burned increases emissions. If your running too “lean”, your boiler is not at optimal combustion, so you are not producing steam at capacity.

So the answer is to “tune” your boiler to get the optimal boiler efficiency calculation which improves energy efficiency.  A well-tuned boiler is around 80% efficient. If the boiler’s efficiency is less than 80%, then energy is being wasted.  Government regulations like Boiler MACT require end users to fix the boiler to meet this efficiency level. “Fixing it” entails fixing leaks, adding insulation, and cleaning heat exchanger tubes, which all add to the cost of boiler maintenance. Download Boiler MACT Information Guide.

Boiler Tuning with Thermal Mass Flow Meters

As part of Sierra’s Big-3™ suite of Flow Energy Management products for all gas, liquid, and steam flow applications,  QuadraTherm 640i/780i thermal flow meters have been specifically designed for precise flow energy management in compressed air and natural gas applications. QuadraTherm offers:

    • Direct mass flow measurement of gases, eliminating the need for temperature or pressure compensation
    • Wide 100:1 turndown
    • Accuracy of +/- 0.5 percent reading; high flows 60,000 sfpm (0-305 smps); 100:1 turndown
    • Multivariable Mass flow rate, temperature & pressure
    • Advanced four-sensor “dry sense” technology minimizes drift and enables field validation
    • Insertion version with hot tap capability for easy installation on large pipe
    • Software applications for easy set-up, in-situ calibration, dial-a-pipe, and gas mixing
    • Digital communications suite

For a more economical solution, Sierra’s BoilerTrak 620s provides direct mass flow accuracy at a lower price point. Sierra also offers all products needed for Boiler tuning like the InnovaSonic 207i ultrasonic flow meter to measure the feedwater and InnovaMass 241i for measuring steam output. Learn more about our complete flow energy management solution for all gas, liquid and steam flow applications.

See all of Sierra’s boiler efficiency solution flow meters.



Steam Flow Energy Measurement

From facilities management to district heating applications, accurate steam flow energy measurement is a critical flow measurement needed to incur substantial savings on energy and maintenance costs. However,  steam flow energy measurement is also the most difficult flow measurement to make due to the unknown factors of what type of steam is being produced, various pipe sizes, and difficulty in steam flow meter installation. In most cases, you need to shut down the steam production, which can cost thousands of dollars in lost productivity, to install the steam flow meter.

Glen Coblentz, VP Sales North America for Sierra, has over 30 years experience dealing with the challenges of getting accurate steam flow measurements in facilities. Learn some tricks of the trade in his new Flow Tip Video, “Do You Know Your Steam Flow Measurement?” He tackles 3 important questions for accurate steam flow measurement:

  1. What kind of steam is your facility making? Are they producing saturated or superheated steam?
  2. What type of measurement, mass or volumetric, provides the most accurate steam flow measurements?
  3. What do you do when you absolutely cannot shut down the process, but you find you need to measure steam flow?

Determine if your Steam is Saturated or Superheated Steam

To measure steam flow effectively,  you need to know what type of steam you are producing. Saturated steam and superheated steam are very different and measuring incorrectly for either one will cost you big time.

It may seem like this would be obvious, but let’s say you are creating superheated steam.  If you have to continually add lots of heat (energy) to the steam so that you can create the superheated steam you may have something wrong with your process. When you specify, your steam flow meter make sure you know what type of steam you are measuring as this determines how the steam flow meter is set up from the factory. Incorrect set up results in incorrect steam flow readings. The density of saturated steam varies with either temperature or pressure, while superheated steam varies with temperature and pressure, so multivariable vortex flow meters assure the flow meter’s density calculations are correct, and therefore, mass steam flow measurements are correct maximizing steam productivity. Sierra’s multivariable vortex flow meters provide steam accuracy of +/- 1% of reading, 30:1 turndown plus pressure and temperature compensation.

Use the Right Flow Meter Technology to Ensure the Most Accurate Steam Flow Measurements

While there are a multitude of steam flow measuring technologies out there, an insertion multivariable mass flow vortex meter will be your best option for accurate data to help make informed decisions about your steam flow system.

Unlike differential pressure devices commonly used for steam flow which are inherently volumetric flow measurements, a multivariable mass flow vortex uses mass flow as its basis of measurement. This is important,  because changes in pressure and temperature will change the mass flow rate of steam. Even a “small” change of 10 percent in steam pressure will result in a 10 percent error in non-compensated mass flow. This means that, in a typical differential pressure measurement installation, the volumetric flow rate measured by the device must be compensated by measuring temperature and pressure, and then these three measurements (ΔP, T and P) integrated with a flow computer to calculate mass flow.

Choosing an insertion multivariable vortex meter gives engineers the benefit of using one instruments and one process connection to simultaneously measure mass flow rate, temperature, pressure, volumetric flow rate, and fluid density.

When Shutting Down is Not an Option – Hot tap

In many facilities, a very real challenge is the need to measure steam flow but shutting down your process is not an option. So, what do you do in these situations?

The answer is to use Sierra’s 241i insertion vortex flow meter. Unlike other options out there, the 241i has full packing gland and hot tapping capability allowing engineers to insert the sensor into any size pipe they want, anytime they need to do so to make a steam flow energy measurement without shutting down the process.

    • Insertion probe up to 72 inches (2M); optional hot tap
    • Ideal for saturated or superheated steam, gas, and liquid
    • Low-cost alternative to Coriolis meters for large pipes and ducts
    • Easy single-point installation; hot tap and hot tap retractor available
    • Volumetric flow rate or mass flow
    • Multivariable for five measurements in one device with one process connection:
      • Mass flow rate
      • Volumetric flow rate
      • Temperature
      • Pressure
      • Fluid density
    • Complete suite of digital communications
    • Rugged, long-lasting design for the toughest applications; no leaks with all welded gasket-free flow body

Learn more about Sierra’s vortex volumetric flow and multivariable mass flow meters.

Discover how vortex flow meter works.

Video Series Highlights One-Minute Flow Measurement Tips

At Sierra, we get very excited about flow measurement and control as you can imagine, and sometimes we want to spread the information we have quickly without a whole lot of fuss. That’s the spirit behind our video series called “Minute Flow Tips.”  In just a minute or so, we discuss a specific flow application and recommend best flow measurement practices.  The videos cover a variety of flow measurement control tips to help you strengthen your flow measurement capability to improve your overall process quality.

The “Minute Flow Tip” videos are available on our YouTube channel. Subscribe to the Sierra Instruments YouTube Channel today so you don’t miss out.

The first Minute Flow Tip video tip we ever published is below. Watch now!

Minute Flow Tip: Steam Measurement in Large Pipes


Need more information on measuring steam? Learn more about maximizing steam productivity and reducing overall cost of ownership for additional energy savings when measuring steam.

Minute Flow Tip Video: Steam Measurement in Large Pipes—Hot Tapping

Learn more about the product featured in this video:  InnovaMass 241i Insertion Vortex Flow Meter

Need more information on measuring steam? Learn more about maximizing steam productivity and reducing the overall cost of ownership for additional energy savings when measuring steam.

A new “Minute Flow Tip” will be posted to our YouTube channel every month. Subscribe to the Sierra Instruments YouTube Channel today so you don’t miss out.

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.