The ultrasonic flow meter market is smaller than some competing technologies. Looking at revenue, it is more than half the size of the magnetic flow meter market worldwide and is substantially smaller than the differential pressure and Coriolis meter markets. On the other hand, the ultrasonic flow meter market is larger than the vortex meter market. What does this mean for future growth?

Ultrasonic meters have a distinct advantage when compared to other new-technology meters. They perform well in large pipe sizes, especially those 6 inches and larger. More than half the Coriolis meters are sold for 2-inch or smaller pipes. They also become unwieldy and expensive in sizes greater than 4 inches. Size is also advantageous for ultrasonic meters since larger pipes have more room for the ultrasonic signal to cross.

Although some Coriolis suppliers have been building meters for pipe sizes as large as 16 inches, ultrasonic meters still have an edge regarding size since many are used for custody transfer of natural gas in sizes 12 to 42 inches and up. Coriolis suppliers have not figured out how to make Coriolis meters for such large pipe sizes.

Gas Flow Measurement

The main competitors for ultrasonic meters for natural gas pipeline applications in this large size range are turbine and differential pressure (DP) meters. Ultrasonic meters are highly accurate, non-intrusive and highly reliable over time with no moving parts. DP and turbine meters have an advantage in installed base, since they have been in use for so long. Today many companies are now opting for ultrasonic meters instead, especially for new projects.

The expanding market for gas flow measurement is bringing about strong projected growth in the ultrasonic flow meter market. The market for natural gas flow is expected to show the strongest growth over process gas and flare gas, and it uses multipath ultrasonic flow meters for custody transfer. Ultrasonic meters are also now being more widely used in the chemical and refining industries to measure process gases. These meters off an alternative to magnetic meters that cannot meter nonconductive liquids or the flow of gas. Insertion ultrasonic meters will continue to be used to meter flare gas, where they are used in large pipes.

More Calibration Facilities Available

One of the barriers to the use of ultrasonic flow meters to measure natural gas flow has been the issue of meter re-calibration. Until 1999, there was no easily available natural gas calibration facility in the U.S. Users wishing to have their meters calibrated had to, in many cases, send them to Europe. In 1999, Colorado Enginnering Experimental Station Inc. (CEESI) opened its calibration facility in Iowa. This facility can calibrate large meters in the 30- to 36-inch range, as well as smaller meters.

Other facilities have opened since. TransCanada Calibrations has serviced those in Canada and parts of the northern U.S. since 2000. Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Austin, Texas, can perform calibrations, although they cannot easily do so for ultrasonic meters larger than 16 inches. In Europe, NMi Euroloop, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, services industrial oil and gas meters. It is operated by the Netherlands Metrological Institute, while VSL handles traceability.

For more information about Flow Research’s work on ultrasonic meters, visit www.flowultrasonic.comJesse Yoder, Ph.D., is president of Flow Research Inc. in Wakefield, Massachusetts, a company he founded in 1998. He has 28 years of experience as an analyst and writer in instrumentation. He holds a U.S. patent on a dual-tube meter design and is the author of The Tao of Measurement, published by ISA. Dr. Yoder also founded the Flowmeter Recalibration Working Group, addressing the topic of recalibration frequency. He may be reached at jesse@flowresearch.com.