UNDERSTANDING YOUR CHOICES IN FLOWMETER CALIBRATION

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1 UNDERSTANDING YOUR CHOICES IN FLOWMETER CALIBRATION Mubeen Almoustafa, Calibration Application Engineer Flow Dynamics. Inc. Across various industries, measuring the flow of liquid or gas demands superior instrument performance. Each flow application presents its own unique metering challenge. From high operating pressures and changing fluid viscosities, to pulsating flow streams and corrosive environments, flowmeters must demonstrate high accuracy and reliability. The performance of a modern flow measurement device is ultimately dependent upon the proper functioning of its sensors or other signal-producing elements, which have an active relationship with the flowing fluid. In order to be confident that a meter is accurately measuring the flow volume or mass, it must be recalibrated on a periodic basis. Calibration should be done on shorter intervals for a new process or test stand versus an established system. This allows detection of any problems associated with contamination or installation issues, and helps prevent premature mortality. Fig. 1 Primary Standard Calibrators provide the best uncertainty and develop diagnostic history of flowmeter performance. Flowmeter users have several options when deciding upon a calibration solution. Their choices include: 1) Contract with an established flow laboratory offering primary standard flowmeter calibration services, 2) Utilize a staffed, onsite calibration service employing either a Primary Standard Flow Calibrator or Flow Transfer Standard (FTS), 3) Purchase their own Primary Standard Calibration System for in-house use, or 4) Acquire a secondary standard FTS to perform their own field calibrations. OVERVIEW When it comes to accurately measuring the flow of liquid or gas, your flowmeter is only as accurate as the equipment it is calibrated on. And in the age of ISO 9001, ISO/IEC 17025, ANSI Z540 and other strict quality standards, this fact is becoming increasingly important. Test and measurement applications depend on repeatable flow measurements, which provide performance criteria of the instrument being tested. These devices often play a critical role on aircraft, placing greater demand on accurate flow test measurement for fuel consumption or hydraulic actuator controls. Industrial operations live and die by the repeatability of process conditions. It is not enough for an individual flow-metering instrument to perform in a consistent manner, day in and day out; measurements must also be replicated. Multiple devices running on the same process in different physical locations must perform the same under identical conditions. This is only achieved through repeatable calibration equipment traceability to government metrology laboratories such as NIST. For industrial operations, inaccurate flowmeter calibrations can have a serious impact on plant performance, ultimately resulting in poor yields or compromised quality. Therefore, periodic flowmeter calibration must be part of the user s quality process. Flow Calibration Standards With local/domestic markets becoming a global/international arena, flowmeter users in all types of industries need precision measurements, which, in turn, require credible measurement connections to accepted reference standards in order to satisfy sellers and buyers.

2 In the metrology world, a flow measurement is said to be traceable if it can be connected to a stated reference, usually a national standard, through an unbroken chain of documented calibrations with stated uncertainties. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), based in Gaithersburg, MD, is the recognized standard for the U.S. market. NIST is responsible for developing, maintaining and disseminating national standards realizations of the SI for basic measurement quantities, and for many derived measurement quantities. It is also tasked with assessing measurement uncertainties associated with the values assigned to these measurement standards. Understanding Primary vs. Secondary Standards The extent to which a flowmeter calibration is traceable to recognized standards, such as those established by NIST, depends on whether the calibration system used is a Primary Standard or Secondary Standard. A Primary Standard calibrator is based on the measurable standards of time, weight, pressure, temperature and distance, while a Secondary Standard or Flow Transfer Standard is a reproduction of the flow rate produced on a Primary Standard. Therefore, it is not based on the primary measurement standards of a government metrology laboratory. Calibration performance will be only as good as the repeatability of the Secondary Standard flowmeter combined with the uncertainty of the Primary Standard calibrator. Some common examples of Primary Standard flow calibration systems include Positive Displacement (PD) liquid calibrators, time-weigh calibrators, gas bell provers and air glass tube piston provers. A Secondary Standard calibration does not utilize natural, physical measurements. Rather, it involves calibrating one instrument against a primary standard; in the case of flowmeters, this device is a "master meter" that has been calibrated on a Primary Standard. The flow rate is derived from the master meter and other application inputs (e.g., temperature and pressure). Secondary Standard calibration uncertainty increases with the introduction of additional variances that derive from the produced flow rate during the calibration process and the repeatability of the master meter. In many applications, this uncertainty remains sufficient to meet the user s accuracy acceptance specification. Secondary Standard master meters typically include, but are not limited to, turbine flowmeters and sonic nozzles. These flowmeters are recognized for their precision and repeatability. LATEST CALIBRATION TECHNOLOGY The continuous evolution of global quality standards, coupled with industry s adherence to various quality programs, regulatory agencies, auditors and accreditation bodies, presents significant challenges for today s calibration providers. For cal labs, it is all about documented, factual evidence to support their flowmeter measurement uncertainty statements. This also includes documented calibration processes, which ensure the ability to repeat the calibration and achieve the same result. Fig. 2. OEM error-proof assembly line, compliant with TS16949, which incorporates a semi-automatic calibrator. The process of automation in flow calibration technology is one of the most important technological advancements revolutionizing service delivery mechanisms and processes. It offers calibration service providers, especially those

3 calibrating sophisticated metering equipment, the option to eliminate assembly and calibration error, as well as meet customers expectations of reduced turnaround time and enhanced service quality. Benefits of Positive Displacement Systems Some of the most dramatic improvements in flow calibrator technology involve the evolution of Positive Displacement calibrators. PD systems are Primary Standard calibrators, which take into account the varying conditions under which flowmeters operate. These calibrators are able to compensate for temperature, density, viscosity and other variables that can shift a meter s output. As such, they can typically achieve uncertainties in liquid of +/ percent of volumetric flow rate measurement (95 percent CF). Gas bell and piston provers achieve uncertainties of ±0.2% (95 percent CF) (See Fig. 3). course, medium and fine to obtain the exact flow rate required. The fluid is collected in a reservoir tank and returned to the cylinder, bypassing the meter under test. A temperature control system maintains the fluid temperature to create the desired calibration conditions. The calibrator can be fully automated to establish the flow rates and collect calibration data (See Fig. 4). Fig. 4. The Flow Dynamics advanced production PDCL 400 Series Positive Displacement (PD) flow calibrator. An important feature of modern PD calibrators is their user interface, which must have easy to understand user screens defining the setup and results of the calibration. Ideally, calibrator operators should be able to overlay the current calibration with previous calibrations to evaluate any differences in meter performance. Fig. 3. Primary Standard glass tube piston prover for low-flow air calibration. The latest PD calibrator designs, such as the Flow Dynamics Positive Displacement Calibrator, Liquid (PDCL) Series, consist of a precision-honed and polished cylinder assembly, with a piston mechanically connected to a displacement shaft. The shaft is used to stabilize the piston and its linear movement is measured with a high-resolution linear encoder. One side of the piston is actuated pneumatically, while the other side displaces a controlled amount of fluid through the meter under test. The flow is regulated by three control valves There is an advantage to having calibrators utilize Windows based software, which allows for the creation of graphs in Excel or data sheets in Word. The calibration data is compiled into a final report accurately presenting the flowmeter s performance. Calibration files are automatically stored for calibration history and can be recalled for comparison to the current calibration. Development of Portable Flow Transfer Standards Unlike primary flow standards, whose most important characteristics are their traceability to primary physical measurements (resulting in the minimization of absolute uncertainties, with less concern for usability or cost issues), the key criteria

4 for secondary Flow Transfer Standards are portability, low cost and the ability to calibrate the flowmeter in the physical piping configuration it lives in. Instead of removing flowmeters from service for recalibration, FTS devices allow users to bring the calibrator to the flowmeter. These portable, documenting field flow calibrators are intended for in-line calibration and validation of meters using the actual process gas or liquid. Advanced FTS systems like the Exact Flow Flow Gator incorporate handheld electronics with built-in signal conditioners, thus eliminating bulky interface boxes and the need to carry a laptop computer into the field. Highquality Flow Transfer Standards also have the capability of measuring and correcting the influences of line pressure and temperature effects on flow. Operation of a portable Flow Transfer Standard requires that a master meter be installed in series with the flowmeter under test. The readings from these instruments are compared at various flow rates or flow totals. A technician can install the master meter in the same system as the test meter, perform the calibration, and note any changes in performance. New calibration data might need to be programmed into a flow computer to align the measurement with the current flow calibration data. performance either through wear, electronic drift, or build up of residue/coatings in the flowmeter. Calibration labs that perform calibrations daily are better equipped to determine the health of the flowmeter and related performance issues. Such services not only identify accuracy/performance problems, but also perform necessary repairs and restoration of the flowmeter. The choice of a flowmeter calibration solution is not always an easy one. Thankfully, end-users have numerous options when seeking assistance from an outside calibration service center, or considering the purchase of their own in-house calibration equipment. Their alternatives can include: 1.) Contract with an established flow laboratory offering Primary Standard flowmeter calibration services Leading flow laboratories, such as Flow Dynamics Inc. (Scottsdale, Ariz.), provide highly documented, NIST-traceable calibration services for every type of modern flow measurement device. Government, aerospace, industrial, OEM and test & measurement users worldwide utilize these services with confidence (See Fig. 5). If the meter repeats from the last calibration, then the user has provided the history data required to have confidence in a scheduled calibration interval. This field calibration approach minimizes downtime and eliminates the need to purchase back-up meters to replace units that are out for calibration. Even though the calibration is done with a Flow Transfer Standard, it offers something that a Primary Standard cannot. That is the ability to calibrate the meter in the same piping configuration and fluid conditions that it is measuring. CHOICES FOR FLOWMETER USERS In today s business climate, it s crucial to maximize instrumentation investments and flowmeters are no exception. During the life of a flowmeter, external effects will change its Fig. 5. Leading flow laboratories provide highly documented, NIST-traceable calibration services for every type of modern flow measurement device.

5 Your calibration-lab-of-choice should have a good working knowledge of the types of meters being tested, familiarity with the appropriate meter inspection procedures, the ability to quickly diagnose meter or test facility problems, and the expertise to properly assess meter performance. An experienced lab will know the best way to calibrate a particular type of meter. Most calibration labs work closely with meter manufacturers, so a well-equipped test facility will typically have spare parts from the meter manufacturers and will be trained in repair procedures. While most major flow calibration labs are NIST traceable, a U.S. National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) accredited facility encompasses much more. First of all, the lab must be audited annually to maintain its NVLAP accreditation. This audit is not only based on the calibrator documentation traceability, but also the process used to maintain the reported uncertainty. This requires that the facility meet the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025, ANSI Z540 and ISO 9001:2000. NVLAP accreditation is based on evaluation of a laboratory s management and technical qualifications and competence for conducting specific test methods, measurements, and services in specified fields of testing or calibration. Accreditation is granted only after thorough evaluation of an applicant has demonstrated that all NVLAP requirements have been fulfilled, and is acknowledged by the issuance of a Certificate of Accreditation and a Scope of Accreditation, which details the specific test methods, measurements and services for which a laboratory has been accredited. NVLAP operates a management system compliant with ISO/IEC 17011:2004. In addition, NVLAP accredited calibration labs must conduct periodic correlation meter testing to ensure their calibrators are repeating from the time of system calibration. This is critical to ensuring a calibrator not only produces repeatable results, but also providing factual data as evidence that flowmeters were calibrated within the stated uncertainty of the calibrator. Plus, it ensures that the calibration uncertainties, as documented on the NVLAP Certificate of Accreditation, are maintained. 2.) Utilize a staffed, onsite calibration service employing either a Primary Standard Flow Calibrator or Flow Transfer Standard Some calibration providers offer on-site calibration of flow measurement instrumentation for customers unable to shut down process lines for extended periods of time. Calibration of in-line flowmeters can often be accomplished in one day or less. Larger flow calibration labs offer onsite primary Standard Calibration services staffed with a calibration technician who works at the customer location handling high-volume calibration needs. For some flowmeter installations, portable Flow Transfer Standards are used when it is difficult to remove flowmeters from system piping. A calibration service provider should have the proper master meters to perform the calibration online. The efficiency of the calibration is guarantied with an experienced calibration technician or engineer to provide quality results. 3.) Purchase a Primary Standard Calibration System for in-house use Military calibration labs, aerospace testing facilities and other large operations frequently purchase their own in-house Primary Standard Calibration System in order to minimize the time and cost required to keep meters in optimal working order. Primary Standard Calibrators represent a significant investment, but for users with critical flow accuracy requirements, they are the gold standard by which all flow calibrations are measured. Sophisticated Primary Standard systems, such as the Flow Dynamics PDCL 10, 60 and 400 Series calibrators, offer enhanced features enabling the most precise liquid calibrations available. Their flow capabilities range from 0.01 GPM (0.04 LPM)

6 to 400 GPM (1514 LPM) with an uncertainty of ±0.025% and a repeatability of 0.01% of reading. The PDCL series Primary Standard calibrators are utilized at the NIST flow calibration laboratory in Gaithersburg, MD, as well as other government calibration labs around the world. The PDCL is a high-accuracy, volumetric device displacing an exact, known volume of fluid, which passes through the flowmeter under test while compensating for fluid viscosity and temperature. The PDCL Series is capable of performing NISTtraceable calibrations on most common flowmeters, including turbine, differential pressure orifice plate, rotameter, variable area, coriolis or any other type of meter that has a visual, pulse or analog output. favorable results. Lastly, there may be a need to have a third-party calibration certificate to eliminate any discretion in the uncertainty of the calibration data. The current generation of FTS systems are designed for exceptionally wide flow ranges, and can be used for manifold control involving multiple flowmeters. The calibrator reads signals from the master meter, the flow meter under test, and a fluid temperature sensor. It automatically selects the appropriate master meter based on the current flow rate. Flow conditioners are part of the manifold system, which includes a temperature sensor (See Fig. 6). The Exact Flow FTS is a true standalone system not requiring a notebook computer or any additional signal conditioners. 4.) Acquire a Secondary Standard FTS to perform your own field calibrations. There are several ways for flowmeter owners to benefit from the purchase of a portable Flow Transfer Standard, all depending ultimately on the accuracy requirements of the application and the expertise of the operator. Correct calibration of flowmeters ensures accurate, safe and efficient fluid measurement and can result in significant cost savings for the end-user. For some flowmeter installations, portable Flow Transfer Standards are an economical, user-friendly tool for an ongoing calibration program when it is difficult to remove flowmeters from system piping. An FTS system allows users to either set up a flow loop with master meters in a manifold configuration and perform their own calibrations, or install a master meter inline in their existing piping and calibrate meters under test based on actual process conditions. However, there is a word of caution. Not all companies have the expertise to fully understand the calibration variables and determine good data. The time between calibrations may also cause a learning curve for the technician each time he performs the calibration. If the expertise and technical understanding of calibration is not mastered, it may take much longer to achieve Fig. 6. Today s FTS systems, like the Exact Flow Flow Gator, are designed for exceptionally wide flow ranges and can be used for manifold control involving multiple flow meters. Automated FTS equipment utilizes advanced calibration software to compile flow data and save all the parameters of the calibration set-up. Users can download reports showing data points for the meter under test and compare that information with output from a master meter. They can also generate calibration data sheets in volumetric or mass units, which can be stored for future reference. This capability enhances calibration management programs by providing a record of traceability to recognized calibration standards.

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