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Rotameter, Basic Flowmeter Principles

Basic Flowmeter Principles

How They Work

Flowmeters are used in fluid systems (liquid and gas) to indicate the rate of flow of the fluid. They can also control the rate of flow if they are equipped with a flow control valve.

Rotameters are a particular kind of flowmeter, based on the variable area principle. They provide a simple, precise and economical means of indicating flow rates in fluid systems.

This variable area principle consists of three basic elements: A uniformly tapered flow tube, a float, and a measurement scale. A control valve may be added if flow control is also desired. In operation, the rotameter is positioned vertically in the fluid system with the smallest diameter end of the tapered flow tube at the bottom. This is the fluid inlet. The float, typically spherical, is located inside the flow tube, and is engineered so that its diameter is nearly identical to the flow tube’s inlet diameter.

When fluid — gas or liquid — is introduced into the tube, the float is lifted from its initial position at the inlet, allowing the fluid to pass between it and the tube wall. As the float rises, more and more fluid flows by the float because the tapered tube’s diameter is increasing. Ultimately, a point is reached where the flow area is large enough to allow the entire volume of the fluid to flow past the float. This flow area is called the annular passage. The float is now stationary at that level within the tube as its weight is being supported by the fluid forces which caused it to rise. This position corresponds to a point on the tube’s measurement scale and provides an indication of the fluid’s flow rate.

One way to change the capacity or flow range of a rotameter is to change the float material, and thus its density, while keeping the flow tube and float size constant. Floats which are made from less dense materials will rise higher in the tube and therefore will yield lower flow capacities for the same diameter flow tube.

Floats made from more dense materials will rise less thereby yielding higher flow capacities.  Relative flow capacities for some common float materials can be seen from the link below:

Flowmeter Product Line Overview

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