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Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 5th Edition 

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Flow Research has completed our 5th edition of a study of the entire worldwide flowmeter market. This is an updated version of a study that was last published in 2012. This new study is even more comprehensive than the previous four, and covers 13 types of flowmeters. The study is called The World Market for Flowmeters, 5th Edition, and an add-on module covering Strategies, Industries, & Applications is also now available.

This study includes the following types of flowmeters:

New-Technology Flowmeters

Traditional Technology Flowmeters

DP Flow
Positive Displacement
Open Channel
Var. Area
Emerging Technology Flowmeters


It is very difficult to find reliable data on the entire flowmeter market without studying each individual technology first and then combining the data together. This is very much like seeing a landscape from 20,000 feet. You can see the outlines of buildings and roads, but very little detail. This may be sufficient knowledge for some purposes, but not for in-depth understanding.

What we have done in this project done is more like the following. We looked at the terrain from 20,000 feet and decided we needed a lot more detail. The twelve flow technologies can be compared to twelve different towns that are linked together with highways. So we landed the plane, and did a detailed study of the twelve towns individually. We wrote up this information in a report on each town. We then got back in the plane with the reports in hand, and took another look at the twelve towns.

Prior studies:

Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 4th Edition  
Published in 2012

Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 3rd Edition  
Published in October 2010

Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 2nd Edition  
Published in April 2008

Volume X: The World Market for Flowmeters, 1st Edition

From 20,000 feet, we can now see the broad outline of each of the twelve towns below. But because we have studied each town (flow technology) individually, we also have in-depth knowledge of each town. We can also see the connecting roads between all the towns. These roads were not readily visible from the ground. Taking a second look from 20,000 feet gives us the entire picture, all at one time.

The twelve flow technologies do not exist in isolation. Anytime a customer selects one type of flowmeter, he fails to select one of the other nine types. Not every technology can be growing at a ten percent rate. By studying every technology, it is possible to identify compare the market penetration of the different technologies, and to understand which technologies are growing and which are being replaced.

The method we have used also avoids another problem.It takes so long to do individual studies of all the flow technologies that, by the time the project is done, the initial data is out of date. We will avoid this problem by updating the data on all the flow technologies at the same time.

One of the most interesting developments in the flowmeter market today is the battle between the newer flow technologies and the traditional flowmeters.  New-technology flowmeters include Coriolis, magnetic, ultrasonic, vortex, and thermal flowmeters.  The traditional flow technologies include differential pressure (DP), turbine, positive displacement, open channel, variable area, and target flowmeters.  While there is a general trend towards the new-technology meters and away from the traditional meters, the rate of change varies greatly by industry and application.  Emerging technologies are also changing the flowmeter landscape.

When users select flowmeters today, they are faced with a variety of choices.  Not only are many technologies available, but so are many suppliers for each technology.  When ordering replacement meters, users often replace like with like.  This is one reason that DP flowmeters still have the largest installed base of any type of flowmeter.  In other cases, users need to select meters for new plants, or for new applications within existing plants.  Users also sometimes replace one type of flowmeter with another type.  In these cases, users need to select between new-technology and traditional technology flowmeters.

New-Technology Flowmeters: An Overview

New-technology flowmeters are so-called because they represent technologies that have been introduced more recently than differential pressure flowmeters, and several others.  Most of the new-technology flowmeters came into industrial use in the 1960s and 1970s, while the history of differential pressure flowmeters goes back to the early 1900s.  Each new-technology flowmeter is based on a different physical principle, and represents a unique approach to flow measurement. 

New-technology flowmeters share several characteristics.  First, they have been introduced in the last sixty years.  Second, they incorporate technological advances that avoid some of the problems inherent in earlier flowmeters.  Third, they are more the focus of new product development efforts by the major flowmeter suppliers than traditional technology meters.  Fourth, their performance, including criteria such as accuracy, is at a higher level than that of traditional technology meters.

Those flowmeters that incorporate newer technologies are classified here as new-technology flowmeters.  This category includes Coriolis, magnetic, ultrasonic, vortex, multivariable differential pressure (DP), and thermal meters.  These meters were all introduced in the past 60 years.  Magnetic flowmeters were first introduced in Holland in 1952.  Tokimec first introduced ultrasonic meters in Japan in 1963.  Eastech brought out vortex flowmeters in 1969, while Coriolis meters came onto the market in 1979.  Multivariable DP flowmeters were introduced in the mid-1990s.  And thermal flowmeters were developed in the mid-1970s.

Just as flowmeters that incorporate new technologies are classified as new-technology meters, so flowmeters that incorporate more traditional technologies are classified as traditional technology meters.  These include differential pressure, turbine, positive displacement, and variable area meters.  As a group, these meters have been around longer than the new-technology meters.  They generally have higher maintenance requirements than new-technology flowmeters.  And while suppliers continue to bring out enhanced traditional technology flowmeters, they are less the focus of new product development than new-technology meters.

Many of the traditional technology flowmeters were developed 100 years or more ago.  The history of DP meters goes back to the early 1900s, while the beginnings of the turbine meter go back to at least the mid-1800s.  Many of the problems inherent in DP meters are related to the primary elements that they use to measure flow.  For example, orifice plates are subject to wear, and can also be knocked out of position by impurities in the flowstream.  Turbine and positive displacement meters have moving parts that are subject to wear.  The accuracy levels of open channel, thermal, and variable area meters are significantly lower than that of new-technology flowmeters.

Traditional Technology Flowmeters

Despite the growth of new-technology flowmeters such as Coriolis and ultrasonic over the past few years, traditional technology flowmeters are holding their own.  Many users are still selecting differential pressure (DP), turbine, positive displacement, and other more traditional meters as their flowmeter solutions.  This article describes the traditional technology flowmeter market, and explains why this market is still holding onto market share even in the face of competing technologies.

Traditional technology flowmeters share the following characteristics:

  1. As a group, these meters were introduced before 1950.
  2. They are less the focus of new product development than new-technology meters.
  3. Their performance, including criteria such as accuracy, is not at the same level as the performance of new-technology flowmeters. 
  4. They generally have higher maintenance requirements than new-technology flowmeters.
  5. They are slow to incorporate recent advances in communication protocols such as HART, Foundation Fieldbus, and Profibus.

Traditional technology flowmeters include DP, positive displacement, turbine, open channel, variable area, and target.  Business is brisk with many of these meters.  In terms of units, there were more positive displacement and also more turbine flowmeters sold worldwide in 2007 than all the new-technology flowmeters combined.  Why are customers still so loyal to these meters

Familiarity Breeds Respect

While the explanations vary with the type of meter, there are several themes that run throughout.  One answer is familiarity.  End-users like having a technology they are familiar with and can understand.  DP, positive displacement, and turbine meters especially are very well known and understood technologies.  There is a comfort level among users with these technologies that is less likely to exist with the newer technologies such as Coriolis and vortex.  In case more meters need to be added in a plant, users often stick with what they have rather than selecting a different type of meter.

A second reason is installed base.  Some flowmeters such as DP and positive displacement have been around for over 100 years.  Once these meters are installed, customers find in many cases that it is easier to replace them with meters of the same kind than to switch to another technology.  Once a technology is in place, backup parts are readily available, any potential problems are usually known, and the path for replacement is clear.  All these are reasons to stick with an existing technology.

Another reason is approvals by standards organizations.  For example, positive displacement and turbine flowmeters are approved by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) in the US and the International Standards Organizatioin (ISO) in Europe for use in custody transfer of water.  The AWWA has approvals for both nutating disc and oscillating piston PD meters.  While the AWWA has formed a working group to consider approvals for magnetic flowmeters, a published document on magnetic flowmeters is close to two years away.  In the meantime, PD and turbine meters will continue to dominate the water custody transfer market.

The effect of approvals is shown by the example of AGA 9, which formulates criteria for the use of ultrasonic flowmeters for custody transfer of natural gas.  After the publication of AGA 9 in 1998, the ultrasonic market for natural gas flow measurement received a major boost.  Previous AGA publications laid out criteria for the use of DP and turbine meters.

Users are also sticking with traditional technologies because suppliers are bringing out improved products.  Turbine suppliers are using material such as ceramic to improve the life of ball bearings.  Rosemount has recently introduced the 3051S, a pressure transmitter with increased accuracy and stability.  PD suppliers are using enhanced manufacturing techniques to build more precision into their PD meters.  Communication protocols such as HART and Profibus are beginning to appear on turbine and PD meters.  All these changes are resulting in improved and more reliable meters for users to choose from.

Flow Research, Inc. | 27 Water Street | Wakefield, MA 01880 | (781) 245-3200 | (781) 224-7552 (fax) | (800) 245-1799 (from the USA) | info@flowresearch.com

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