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Comparing Flow Meter Technology: Choosing the Meter

by | Jun 7, 2016 | Flow, Measurement Instrumentation

Maggie Schmidt

Maggie Schmidt

Flow Marketing Communications Manager / Blogger

After exploring how each flow meter works the way it does, learn more about which is the best fit for your needs and why. The price of the meter technology is one aspect to consider as well as installation and life cycle costs for the total ownership cost (includes factors such as footprint, flow conditioning, maintenance and calibration requirements).

For a brief overview of the different types of flow meters, click here!

Coriolis – $$$, total cost $$

Accuracy 0.05%


  • Best measurement accuracy
  • Measures mass flow, liquid density and temperature
  • Flow profile insensitive
  • Unaffected by changes in temperature and pressure
  • Best rate of turndown
  • Suitable for gas, liquids, or slurry measurement
  • Able to measure high viscous fluids
  • Bi-directional
  • Low maintenance
  • Highly repeatable
  • Reliable


  • Pressure drop might be higher (appropriate sizing mitigates)
  • Susceptible to severe system noise
  • Limited in large line sizes (>12″)
  • Low flow rates may result in lower measurement accuracy

Typical Applications

Custody transfer by mass and/or volume, precision batching, filling/dispensing, loading/unloading, continuous process control/monitoring, mass balance, density and/or concentration measurement, blending, utility metering, chemical injection, allocation, fuel consumption

Magnetic – $$, total cost $
Accuracy 0.15%

• Not constrained by Reynolds number or flow profiles
• Immune to process variable changes such as temperature
• High range of turndown
• Negligible pressure loss with no obstructions
• Able to handle large particles and chemicals
• Not sensitive to variation in fluid velocity
• Large line sizes
• Variety of wetted path materials
• Low power
• Bi-directional


  • Unable to measure gases and hydrocarbons
  • Typical minimum fluid conductance of 5 microsiemens (µS) required
    • Low conductivity versions available for fluid conductivities as low as 0.1 microsiemens (µS)
  • Electronics must be on same ground potential as the process
  • Use caution if installing near high voltage equipment to ensure proper meter isolation and process reference
  • Potential issues with electrode coating

Typical Applications
Conductive fluids in batching, filling/dispensing, continuous process control, utility metering, loading/unloading

Positive Displacement (PD) flow – $$, total cost $$

Accuracy 0.1%-2.0% depending on type


  • Well understood and widely used technology
  • High turndown capacity
  • Suitable for high pressure applications
  • Relatively inexpensive and easy to install


  • Frequent maintenance required
  • Potential for back flow from larger particle block
  • Inaccuracies

Typical Applications
Custody transfer by volume, batching, dispensing, allocation, chemical injection, fuel measurement, high pressure, hydraulic testing

Turbine – $, total cost $$

Accuracy 0.25%


  • High accuracy and repeatability with clean fluids
  • High pressure and temperature tolerance
  • Fast response rate


  • Two-phase flows may cause inaccuracies
  • Frequent maintenance required
  • Installation in small areas can be difficult
  • Wear out with non-lubricating fluids
  • Accuracy impacted by fluid characteristics (i.e. viscosity)

Typical Applications
Custody transfer by volume, batching, filling/dispensing, mass balance, blending, allocation, process control/monitoring

Ultrasonic – $$$, total cost $$$

Accuracy Wetted: 1% -2%, Non-invasive: 3% -10%


  • Measures both liquids and gases
  • Reduced maintenance
  • No pressure drop
  • High turndown
  • Bi-directional
  • Large line sizes


  • Partially filled pipes cause signal loss and lead to difficulty measuring
  • Transducer coatings can deflect beam and corrupt measurement
  • Process temperature can affect sound velocity and ultrasonic beam angle
  • Multiphase flow can cause error

Typical Applications
Custody transfer by volume, precision batching, loading/unloading, continuous process control, mass balance, blending, utility metering, allocation

Vortex – $$, total cost $

Volumetric flow accuracy: 0.65% (liquid), 1.0% (gas)
Mass flow accuracy (temperature compensated): 2.0%


  • 2-wire configuration means lower cost
  • 25%-40% reduced installation expense
  • Performs in extreme conditions
  • No field calibration required
  • Less leak potential, so fewer emissions
  • Wide flow range accuracy
  • No moving parts


  • Not for low flow applications
  • Unsuitable for high viscosity fluids
  • Inaccurate in high vibration environments

Typical Applications
Steam, gas and liquid measurement in batching, filling/dispensing, continuous process control, utility metering

Differential Pressure (DP) flow – $, installed cost $$

Accuracy 1%


  • Well understood and widely used technology
  • Established custody transfer and flow measurement standards
  • Wide variety of primary elements for multiple application suitability
  • Cost effective
  • Easy to calibrate in the field


  • Consumes a large amount of available line pressure
  • Potentially difficult to install with flow conditioning straight pipe runs
  • Increased pumping and compression costs
  • Possible leak points due to traditional configuration

Typical Applications
Custody transfer by volume, batching, filling/dispensing, mass balance, blending, allocation, process control/monitoring, allocation

A variety of factors must play into flow meter choice, as processes that require more precision should rely on a meter with finer accuracy, and if upkeep is a concern then low maintenance meters should be chosen. And–while you have to keep to a budget, choosing cost effective or more comprehensive meters–up front costs aren’t always as impactful as they seem, as savings over time will more than make up for the initial investment.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages and compare to the specific dynamics of your process when choosing the best Emerson flow meter for your company.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.