Whenever there is the need to transport fluid, gas, liquid prescription medications, fossil or refined fuel or water, a flow meter is installed to provide accurate measurement, control and safety. The speed with which a material travels from one area to another, and the ability to precisely control both the ‘start and stop’ of the flow, relies solely on technology employed in the flow meter used.
The devices have many business applications. For instance, flow meters are responsible for significantly complex control and measurement of medication or blood, in medical care environments. They are also in control of rerouting and stemming the flow of oil, when there has been a leak or disruption to fossil fuel distribution. You can also find fewer complexes, but nonetheless essential flow meter technology, at your favorite local bar or restaurant.
We will discuss four common industrial applications for flow meters, how they work, and share how the technology helps improve human, process and environmental safety.
1. Hospital and Emergency Healthcare Uses
Flow meters in healthcare environments, are some of the most compact and technologically advanced designs, which are almost always provided with shock protection mechanisms, to avoid health complications or disruption of pace makers, or other medical devices.
Given the reduced amount of room around a patient’s bed, flow meters in medical practice are usually quite small. This allows them to be both portable, and enable doctors and the care team from being disrupted by large pieces of equipment around the patient. Medical teams to determine peak respiratory flow rates to monitor respiration for asthma and, emphysema patients, during critical care procedures, also use them.
Emergency and healthcare environments will have flow meters for the following patient care functions:
- Administration of oxygen
- Dosage of prescribed medications
- To regulate the flow of transfusions
- Blood pressure or hypertension testing
- Intravenous medication, hydration or nutritional administration of the patient
One of the most important aspects of flow meters in medical applications is the reduction of oxygen pockets (or bubbles) in the apparatus, while delivering lifesaving fluids. For instance, the introduction of even a single air bubble into the blood stream can cause a condition called an arterial air embolism. The air can travel to the heart, lungs or brain, causing respiratory failure, cardiac arrest or stroke.
Flow meters ensure the precise volume measurement of any medication, fluid or anesthetic gas is maintained without dilution, to help prevent under or over dosage, and some devices are programmed to delivery accurate amounts at timed intervals, for therapeutic care. From surgical to pediatric care, dental and emergency response, flow meters are used to deliver accurately measured and controlled services.
2. Natural Gas and Fossil Fuel Industry
Have you ever wondered what happens in an oil or natural gas leak, and how safety and compliance experts are able to ‘shut off’ the flow of fuel or other potentially hazardous industrial chemicals? At the simplest level, consider how a flow meter regulates the gasoline dispensed for your car or truck, to prevent spills, and to accurately deliver the correct amount of fuel that was paid for by the customer, without costly wastage for the retailer.
Have you ever noticed the disclaimer sign on the automotive gas pump, which indicates that the dispensation of fuel can be impacted in terms of accuracy, according to the external temperature around the gas pump? That is also another aspect of gas station flow meters, which are more accurate in measuring dense fluid volumes, than gas.
The price per liter or gallon of your fuel is adjusted because gasoline expands during high temperatures. As the energy content of gasoline is directly related to weight versus volume, the energy value for gasoline does not increase when temperatures are hot, and gasoline expands, at an average rate of 0.069% per degree increase, in Fahrenheit.
On a larger scale, the pipelines that supply crude oil across the country are highly regulated by flow meters with built in safety sensors. When pressure increases (also impacted by temperature) the volume rate can be adjusted remotely, to reduce pressure on the pipe infrastructure, and help reduce instances of pipeline explosions or leaks. When a leak does occur, the same sensors are able to report a drop-in volume displacement, and alert authorities to address the problem promptly, while diverting crude oil (and natural gas) away from damaged pipe networks.
3. Uses in Food and Beverage Service
Look underneath the counter of your favorite bar or eatery, and you will see numerous food and beverage flow meters in service. Electromagnetic flow meters are also commonly used in breweries.
In the production or dispensing of beverages, starch solutions and liquefied CO2 are measured to precise amounts, to ensure the consistency of flavor. With a few exceptions, you may notice that popular brands of beverages have the same taste, no matter where you drink them in the world. The level of accuracy is used in manufacturing beverages, to ensure precise measurements for quality control globally, for large brands like Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and leading internationally distilleries and breweries.
4. Pharmaceutical Production and Manufacturing
Consistency and quality control is not only important in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and prescription medications. In general, there are three manufacturing processes within the pharmaceutical industry, that utilize flow meters:
- Chemical synthesis production
- The reduction of raw material handling.
- The extraction of API’s (active pharmaceutical ingredients), or the purification or fermentation of compound medicinal materials.
Most medications sold in the United States, are compounded or processed domestically. However, the raw ingredients are typically purchased in bulk from manufacturing countries like India and China. India is the current leading supplier of API’s to American big pharmaceuticals, with 75 FDA approved manufacturing centers that provide API synthesis services.
Wherever a consumer can see an array of modern pipes, including fresh water delivery, sewage or rainwater management, flow meters are essential to providing accurate, measured and controlled delivery. New technology and research is working on the combination of predictive analytics with flow meters. Imagine a washing machine that can detect a malfunction, and shut the supply of water, right before there is a problem? A simple case scenario, but one that is not unreasonable in terms of advanced flow meter technology soon.