What the World Would Be Like If Flowmeters Didn’t Exist?

Up well of Nilometer building with one column in the middle calibrated to measure the level of River Nile, dates from 715 AD, located in Rhoda Island, River Nile

Flowmeters have many uses. Perhaps a look to their history will give us a clue to their ubiquity and necessity?

The history of the flowmeter

The earliest use, quoted by many, is the Nilometer. These were simple level measurement devices that allowed the Egyptians to predict the success of their harvest by associating water level or flow with the amount of good soil spread by the Nile when the banks burst each season.  The Chinese had a similar need. The Romans were known to construct simple obstructions in their open channels to use the level difference to gauge flow rate.

One of our competitors quotes us when we say: “No one buys a flowmeter unless they want to save money“. For the Egyptians it was to ensure they had enough water. For our domestic water companies it allows them to charge according to usage. More precisely, without measurement, their customers will not care about usage and be wasteful of this resource. So, yes, every householder has a flowmeter and would likely miss it.

The flowmeter in every day life

They also have one in their vehicle. It probably takes the form of an mass airflow sensor (MAF) used to calculate the mass of air entering the engine to enable matching of fuel through injectors into the engine. Without this technique then the control of air to fuel ratio would be far less accurate, like the carburettors of old. Not only would more fuel be used but the combustion would be significantly less clean. Between 1960 and 2018 your automotive gallon of fuel got you at least twice as far but emissions reduced by an amazing 98 to 99%.

Similar to petrol and diesel, in the hydrogen powered automotive eco-system a high pressure flowmeter is required at every filling point to make sure drivers get what they pay for.

Flowmeters largest markets

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the largest markets for flowmeters for measuring air and water flow.  There are strict limits on air circulation within new buildings and air flow meters are extensively utilised to keep buildings ‘healthy’. Likewise water quantities are measured at 100s of points around large buildings. Energy consumption can be measured by assessing temperatures of hot and cold lines by floor or by department. Heating resources can be optimised. Steam is tricky to measure and vortex meters normally fit the bill. Steam is one of the most widespread yet expensive fluids to create.

In agriculture the measurement of water is crucial for good crop management. The application of insecticides and fertilizers relies on accurate liquid measurement to maintain crop yields.

Oil rigs in the Norther Sea


Water flowmeters

In Water and Waste Water (W&WW), without continuously measuring the water flow, the amount of chemicals added at water treatment plants would be a bit more hit-or-miss so either less effective or overdosed; certainly more expensive and ultimately, wasteful.

Oil and Gas flowmeters

Frequently, energy rich liquids such as crude oil and petroleum are passed from one entity to another and money changes hands. The accuracy of the flow device is critical to a trustworthy transaction and thus fiscal flow meters are used, guaranteed with a high degree of confidence to be accurate enough for both parties.

Flowmeters for Pharma

Finally, pharmaceuticals. How does Pharma produce such controlled dosages but without metering? Maybe it’s dispensing cleaning alcohol into individual wipes or measuring the cooling water on an MRI machine; hundreds of thousands of flow measurement points are critical.

It’s fairly safe to say the 21st Century would be a quite different place without flowmeters.  The Dark Ages or the Victorian era? You decide.

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Do electric vehicles use flowmeters? Maybe not directly but all the clever battery technology is kept safe and stable by encapsulation with resin. These are two part mixes and a simple control system uses the metered flow rates to dose out the right ratio of components and the right amount of finished product. So, indirectly, yes.
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