Taking Flow Measurement To The Next Level | Avnet Abacus

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Taking Flow Measurement To The Next Level | Avnet Abacus

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Taking flow measurement to the next level

Alan Jermyn Photo

Avnet Abacus helps engineers to develop smart flow meters for monitoring water and gas consumption. Alan Jermyn, VP Marketing, looks at what’s driving demand for smart meters, how they work and how they’re built.

Avnet Abacus helps engineers to develop smart flow meters for monitoring water and gas consumption. Alan Jermyn, VP Marketing, looks at what’s driving demand for smart meters, how they work and how they’re built.

One of the key aspects of “smart cities” is the management of valuable resources such as water, gas and electricity. It’s becoming more critical by the day because, according to the World Health Organisation, over half of us now live in cities and that figure will rise to over 70% by 2050. Smart meters are therefore an essential part of smart cities. They allow both consumers and utility companies to monitor and manage resources, delivering cost-savings for consumers and, in the case of electricity and gas meters, reducing emissions to assist governments in meeting their CO2 emissions goals.

The European Commission predicts that there will be 200 million smart meters for electricity in the EU by 2020 and 45 million for gas. When it comes to water, a report by information company IHS Technology suggests that Europe is the fastest-growing market for two-way smart water meters. Here, one in four water meters will be “smart” by 2020. Smart water meters have been shown to reduce energy consumption in water/waste water operations by up to 30% and to cut water losses by up to 15%. In gas metering, smart meters are also useful for leak detection. Here, safety benefits are the primary concern but financial benefits are an added attraction.

From an engineering standpoint, measuring electricity consumption is simple – current sensing technology is mature, you know the voltage and can apply power factor correction. For fluids, both liquids and gases, it’s a little more complicated and until relatively recently most meters have been mechanical types which have to be read manually where they’re installed. Smart meters not only need to be more accurate and robust than these mechanical devices, they also need to be able to be interrogated remotely so that the costs of taking regular readings can be reduced. What’s more, many smart meters are being installed where a grid power supply is not available, so there’s a requirement for them to have very low power consumption so that they’ll operate for long periods from small batteries.

In the last few years a number of semiconductor companies have revolutionised the market for remote metering. They have designed dedicated integrated circuits for ultrasonic meters that can be used to measure the flow of liquid, gas and heat.  These devices eliminate mechanical flow meters and provide both greater accuracy and greater reliability. Utility companies breathed a sigh of relief at this technology advance and ultrasonic meters have become very popular.

There are two distinct approaches to ultrasonic flow measurement: time-of-flight (TOF) and Doppler Effect. Some smart meters are configurable to use either.
 

The time-of-flight (TOF) approach

The principles underpinning utrasonic TOF measurement can be traced back to a book entitled ‘The Theory of Sound’, written by Nobel Laureate physicist, J.W.S. (Lord) Rayleigh, back in 1877. The book describes how sound behaves when flowing through solids and fluids.

TOF flow measurement in pipes involves applying two (or more) piezoelectric transducers to a pipe at a specified linear distance apart.  Piezoelectric transducers of a particular size and type generate an ultrasonic signal from an applied alternating electrical voltage. Conversely, when they are subjected to an ultrasonic signal, they produce an alternating electric voltage in response.

In TOF measurement, ultrasonic signals are transmitted from one transducer received by the other. If there is no flow in the pipe, the transit time of the signals is the same in both directions. When there is a flow of gas or liquid in the pipe, the signal transit time is reduced when it travels in the direction of flow and extended in the other. The time difference, or phase shift, is directly proportional to the rate of flow.
 

Using the Doppler Effect

Proposed by Austrian physicist, Christian Doppler, in 1842, the Doppler Effect is the observed change in frequency of a wave as it moves relative to an observer. It appears to increase in frequency as it approaches the observer and decrease in frequency as it moves away. The effect can be observed for any type of wave, including ultrasonic ones.

With an appropriate arrangement of transducers, transmitted and received ultrasonic signals can be compared in the frequency domain, rather than in the time domain used in TOF measurement. When there is no flow in a pipe, the frequencies are the same. Any flow of water or gas produces a Doppler Effect and the frequency difference observed between the transmitter and receiver increases with flow rate. This frequency difference can then be converted into a DC level and then, using an ADC, into a digital signal for subsequent processing, transmission and display.

The Doppler Effect may be particularly valuable when measuring low flow rates, below 1 litre per hour for water, and the measuring installation can sometimes be smaller than that needed for TOF measurement. However, the most appropriate technology depends on the final application.
 

How to make a smart flow meter

As illustrated in Figure 1, the main elements of an ultrasonic water or gas flow meter are piezoelectric transducers with appropriate housing and connectivity, a transducer interface with host microcontroller to compute the flow rate, a power source that is independent of the grid and, in a growing number of applications, some form of low power wireless communications to communicate measurement data to the outside world.

Block diagram of a flow meter solution

Figure 1: The building blocks of a smart water or gas flow meter
 

Piezoelectric transducer construction

A typical piezoelectric transducer for flow measurement is shown in Figure 1. The piezoelectric elements are held within a housing, which is hermetically sealed at the point at which the signal cable emerges from the assembly. The cable and connector assembly is usually of a custom design, tailored to the specific application.

Simplified construction of a piezoelectric transducer assembly for water and gas flow meters
Figure 2: Simplified construction of a piezoelectric transducer assembly for water and gas flow meters
 

The analogue front end and digital processing

A number of semiconductor companies manufacture analogue front ends and microcontrollers that are suited to flow measurement applications. One popular device for TOF meters, due to its low power consumption and high degree of functional integration, including temperature measurement, is the Maxim MAX35103. It’s a single-chip, time-to-digital converter with 20ps measurement accuracy and capable of 2Hz to 16Hz measurement frequency in event timing mode. Current consumption for TOF measurement is 5.5µA. A typical application circuit is shown in Figure 2.

The MAX35103 is a highly accurate time-to-digital converter for use in water and gas time-of-flight flow meters

Figure 3: The MAX35103 is a highly accurate time-to-digital converter for use in water and gas time-of-flight flow meters
 

Adding wireless communications

Most new smart meters now have integrated wireless communications. Numerous wireless protocols are deployed with none yet achieving the status of a de-facto standard, at least not in Europe. SIGFOX, ZigBee, Wireless M-Bus, and 868 MHz ISM and cellular radios are all being used and there’s growing interest in Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) – a protocol that’s designed to transmit short bursts of limited amounts of data over existing 2G, 3G or 4G cellular radio networks. What all these radios have in common is the need for an effective antenna. The more efficient the antenna, the lower the transmitter power needed to achieve an acceptable signal path. The fundamental choices are PCB antennas made from copper traces, chip antennas or external whip antennas. Whip antennas are the largest and may not be physically or economically the best option in every application but they do offer the highest performance. Figure 4 gives a brief summary of the pros and cons of each antenna type.

 

Antenna types Pros Cons
PCB antenna
  • Low cost
  • Good performance is possible
  • Small size is possible at high frequencies
  • Difficult to design small and efficient antennas
  • Potentially large size at low frequencies
Chip antenna
  • Small size
  • Medium performance
  • Medium cost
Whip antenna
  • Good performance
  • High cost
  • Difficult to fit in many applications

Figure 4: Size, performance and cost are the key factors in antenna selection for wireless smart meters
 

Powering smart meters

As mentioned earlier, remote smart meters need to be able to operate for a long time on small, grid-independent power sources. Ideally, they should run for 10 to 20 years between battery changes. It’s not just the total capacity of the primary battery that needs to be considered. The profile of how power will be drawn matters too, as do the environmental conditions under which the battery is required to operate. Lithium-based primary batteries with low self discharge are the preferred power sources for most metering applications but this is a broad category of batteries – there are several different chemistries to choose from. Experience suggests the lithium thionyl chloride batteries are best suited to most metering applications, millions have already been proven in the field since the 1990s, but it is vital to ensure that battery vendors can provide comprehensive and verifiable test results for the products on offer and that there is full traceability, right back to the raw materials used. Caveat emptor definitely applies to the battery industry, but you can find out more about test results and approvals in our standard li-ion / polymer batteries brochure.

The radios in smart meters create a demand for infrequent, short bursts of power, typically at currents of up 2 Amps, in order to transmit metering data to the wireless network. A secondary, rechargeable battery can be used to deliver the required power pulses but that creates a maintenance issue. Electrical double layer capacitors – known as either EDLCs or ‘supercapacitors’, charged from the primary battery, have proved to be a popular solution, but it’s one with some limitations. Many supercapacitors, particularly early generations, suffer from self-discharge, gradually losing charge over time. In some applications, the effect may not be of concern, but where it is, a new generation of lithium ion capacitors from Taiyo Yuden promises a solution (read our post on hybrid-capacitors here). Figure 5 (right) compares the self-discharge curve of a 40F lithium ion capacitor with that of a similar (50F) supercapacitor, or EDLC, and you can see that this particular limitation of supercapacitors is all but eliminated.

Summary

Building a cost-effective and reliable flow meter for liquids or gases involves a lot of component choices. Understanding the design trade-offs, ensuring that each component is the best for the application and, most importantly, that the individual parts work well together, is at the heart of creating a successful metering device.

If you have a question about flow metering applications or need some advice on component selection, our pan-European team of field applications engineers are on hand to help. Click the Ask an Expert button to the right of this post to get in touch.

SOME USEFUL RESOURCES

MAX35103: Reduced Power Time-to-Digital Converter

Batteries for Smart Gas Meters

Lithium Ion Capacitors: An Effective EDLC Replacement

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About Author

Alan Jermyn Photo
Alan Jermyn

Alan Jermyn has occupied senior management roles at the Abacus Group for a number of years. Previou...

Taking Flow Measurement To The Next Level | Avnet Abacus

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Inverters and converters have become basic building blocks for many modern power applications. These applications must meet statutory and practical requirements for input EMI filtering and protection against injury to personnel and equipment
Input filtering and protection for switched mode inverters and converters
By Adam Chidley   -   April 25, 2017
Inverters and converters have become basic building blocks for many modern power applications. These applications must meet statutory and practical requirements for input EMI filtering and protection against injury to personnel and equipment
Datacentre racks
Chip-to-chip at the speed of light
By Marco Enge   -   March 31, 2017
As data centres and data farms continue to expand and grow, better solutions are required for system architectures that allow faster communication and more efficient operation.
The threat of explosion is real in many of today’s industrial applications, and connectors are critical to explosion proofing since they have the potential to create arcs and sparks as part of normal operation.
Specifying explosion-proof connectors
By Marco Enge   -   March 30, 2017
The threat of explosion is real in many of today’s industrial applications, and connectors are critical to explosion proofing since they have the potential to create arcs and sparks as part of normal operation.
Supercapacitors are commonly used as an alternative to a rechargeable battery wherever a quick energy boost is needed, however there is another type of device on the market which combines the best features of EDLCs and Li-ion batteries.
Hybrid capacitors combine technologies to get the best of both worlds
By Martin Keenan   -   March 15, 2017
Supercapacitors are commonly used as an alternative to a rechargeable battery wherever a quick energy boost is needed, however there is another type of device on the market which combines the best features of EDLCs and Li-ion batteries.
Combining the data from multiple sensors can tell us a great deal more about the application environment than each sensor could on its own.
Sensor Fusion: The future of intelligent devices
By Martin Keenan   -   March 14, 2017
Combining the data from multiple sensors can tell us a great deal more about the application environment than each sensor could on its own.
Adam Chidley explains how component diversity has made selecting the best capacitors for power-related applications more complex than ever, and why taking independent advice makes sense.
Understanding ESR in electrolytic capacitors
By Adam Chidley   -   March 1, 2017
Adam Chidley explains how component diversity has made selecting the best capacitors for power-related applications more complex than ever, and why taking independent advice makes sense.
There are a number of battery form factors and chemistries available for powering remote beacon technology. In this article, Avnet Abacus’ Tim Parker guides you through the available options.
Design considerations for powering remote bluetooth beacons
By Tim Parker   -   February 9, 2017
There are a number of battery form factors and chemistries available for powering remote beacon technology. In this article, Avnet Abacus’ Tim Parker guides you through the available options.
As LED luminaires have continued to develop in complexity and range and the number of different fixtures on the market has increased, lighting designers have begun to demand more flexibility from their driver hardware.
Programmable drivers add flexibility to LED lighting
By Don Schriek   -   December 8, 2016
As LED luminaires have continued to develop in complexity and range and the number of different fixtures on the market has increased, lighting designers have begun to demand more flexibility from their driver hardware.
As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of wireless modules for smartphones, including supplying some of the very biggest names in the market, Murata knows a thing or two about wireless technologies, and also about manufacturing modules.
Designing for LoRaWAN - Murata wireless modules
By Martin Keenan   -   December 1, 2016
As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of wireless modules for smartphones, including supplying some of the very biggest names in the market, Murata knows a thing or two about wireless technologies, and also about manufacturing modules.
If the feedback circuitry in a secondary-side regulated flyback converter could somehow be integrated into the switcher IC while maintaining isolation, the circuit would use fewer components and be smaller, simpler and cheaper overall.
Simplifying SMPS design with the right switching IC plus easy custom magnetics
By Philip Lechner   -   November 5, 2016
If the feedback circuitry in a secondary-side regulated flyback converter could somehow be integrated into the switcher IC while maintaining isolation, the circuit would use fewer components and be smaller, simpler and cheaper overall.
When Murata purchased Finnish MEMS specialist VTI Technologies and renamed it Murata Electronics Oy at the start of 2012, it gained the company’s unique 3D MEMS technology which has outstanding performance and reliability in harsh environments.
Second Generation MEMS Enables Impressive Performance for Automotive and Industrial IMUs
By Adam Chidley   -   August 18, 2016
When Murata purchased Finnish MEMS specialist VTI Technologies and renamed it Murata Electronics Oy at the start of 2012, it gained the company’s unique 3D MEMS technology which has outstanding performance and reliability in harsh environments.
Bluetooth Beacons and NFC (Near Field Communication) are often mentioned in the same breath, but in terms of technology and applications, they are not really that similar.
NFC vs. Bluetooth beacons: More different than similar
By Martin Keenan   -   August 12, 2016
Bluetooth Beacons and NFC (Near Field Communication) are often mentioned in the same breath, but in terms of technology and applications, they are not really that similar.
If you’re adding wired Ethernet to a design, you will of course have to consider magnetics.
Ethernet magnetics – Discrete or integrated?
By Adam Chidley   -   July 29, 2016
If you’re adding wired Ethernet to a design, you will of course have to consider magnetics.
Selecting the right cable and/or connector assembly for a fibre optic installation need not be complex, but it is important to understand the requirements of the environment and the application.
Selecting fibre optic cables
By Marco Enge   -   July 12, 2016
Selecting the right cable and/or connector assembly for a fibre optic installation need not be complex, but it is important to understand the requirements of the environment and the application.
Since the 1990s, the external power supply has become the target of a series of regulations that are gradually being tightened around the world.
The power regulations spiral
By Andrew Hutton   -   May 24, 2016
Since the 1990s, the external power supply has become the target of a series of regulations that are gradually being tightened around the world.
Industry 4.0 and the digitisation of the manufacturing sector will have repercussions for all sectors of industrial electronics.
Evolving component technologies will make Industry 4.0 viable
By Martin Keenan   -   May 22, 2016
Industry 4.0 and the digitisation of the manufacturing sector will have repercussions for all sectors of industrial electronics.
Thermal management is of critical importance in LED lighting systems. LEDs themselves give off heat when lit due to their own inefficiencies, and knock on effects of that heat can rapidly reduce the LEDs’ lifespan if it isn’t managed carefully.
Calculating LED heatsinks
By Giovanna Monari   -   May 22, 2016
Thermal management is of critical importance in LED lighting systems. LEDs themselves give off heat when lit due to their own inefficiencies, and knock on effects of that heat can rapidly reduce the LEDs’ lifespan if it isn’t managed carefully.
Specifying medical power supplies can be particularly challenging because of the standards and jargon surrounding this application.
Deciphering datasheets for medical PSUs
By Philip Lechner   -   April 29, 2016
Specifying medical power supplies can be particularly challenging because of the standards and jargon surrounding this application.
The Internet of Things (IoT) combines pervasive connectivity to control devices remotely with Big Data applications in The Cloud capable of organising vast quantities of information and extracting information hidden in the data to enable new services
The internet of medical things (IoMT) bringing better healthcare for all
By Martin Keenan   -   April 8, 2016
The Internet of Things (IoT) combines pervasive connectivity to control devices remotely with Big Data applications in The Cloud capable of organising vast quantities of information and extracting information hidden in the data to enable new services
Aluminium electrolytic and polymer wound aluminium electrolytic capacitors may seem similar at first glance, but the technologies offer very different performance characteristics.
‘Wet’ aluminium and polymer aluminium capacitors – what’s the difference?
By Ekaterina Rachel   -   April 1, 2016
Aluminium electrolytic and polymer wound aluminium electrolytic capacitors may seem similar at first glance, but the technologies offer very different performance characteristics.
Selecting batteries for Internet of Things connected systems can be tricky, as there is such a wide variety of application types.
Design trends: Batteries for IoT
By Tim Parker   -   March 11, 2016
Selecting batteries for Internet of Things connected systems can be tricky, as there is such a wide variety of application types.
Although they’ve been superseded in some applications by newer technologies such as solid state relays (SSRs), electromechanical relays (EMRs) still have a lot to offer.
Modern electromechanical relays meet today’s reliability demands
By Giovanna Monari   -   February 2, 2016
Although they’ve been superseded in some applications by newer technologies such as solid state relays (SSRs), electromechanical relays (EMRs) still have a lot to offer.
LEDs are widely touted as the perfect solution for lighting applications because, in theory at least, they last forever.What’s less frequently spoken about is that circuit protection can make or break the design.
Circuit protection is vital for long lifetimes in LED lighting
By Adam Chidley   -   January 7, 2016
LEDs are widely touted as the perfect solution for lighting applications because, in theory at least, they last forever.What’s less frequently spoken about is that circuit protection can make or break the design.
How can MEMS pressure sensors help you keep fit? Well, they are now commonly being integrated into wearable activity monitors that help consumers track their daily activities and thereby monitor their fitness levels.
Accurate altitude measurements help keep you fit
By Mathias Goebel   -   October 20, 2015
How can MEMS pressure sensors help you keep fit? Well, they are now commonly being integrated into wearable activity monitors that help consumers track their daily activities and thereby monitor their fitness levels.
Today, supercapacitors are widely used in transport applications to help stabilise the output power of a main power source and improve fuel efficiency.
Supercapacitors: Making transport more efficient
By Adam Chidley   -   September 7, 2015
Today, supercapacitors are widely used in transport applications to help stabilise the output power of a main power source and improve fuel efficiency.
The various types of capacitors all have their advantages and disadvantages, but polymer capacitors offer a host of desirable electrical characteristics.
The unstoppable rise of polymer capacitors
By Ekaterina Rachel   -   August 10, 2015
The various types of capacitors all have their advantages and disadvantages, but polymer capacitors offer a host of desirable electrical characteristics.
Lithium batteries have been in the news again recently, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
How to impose a smoking ban on lithium batteries
By Tim Parker   -   July 9, 2015
Lithium batteries have been in the news again recently, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
The invention of the micro switch goes back over 80 years to 1932 and is attributed to one Peter McGall of Freeport, Illinois, USA. Who knows how many billion of these handy little components have been manufactured since, but there can hardly be a ho
Understanding micro switches and hysteresis
By Giovanna Monari   -   June 12, 2015
The invention of the micro switch goes back over 80 years to 1932 and is attributed to one Peter McGall of Freeport, Illinois, USA. Who knows how many billion of these handy little components have been manufactured since, but there can hardly be a ho
Fans are often looked at like insurance policies – they’re something you need, rather than something you want.
Fans have few fans, but perhaps they should?
By Mathias Goebel   -   May 28, 2015
Fans are often looked at like insurance policies – they’re something you need, rather than something you want.
Supercapacitors are an alternative to using a battery or indeed the more common-or-garden variety of capacitor in many energy storage applications, perhaps as backup power or for high-surge demand applications.
What’s super about supercapacitors?
By Adam Chidley   -   May 18, 2015
Supercapacitors are an alternative to using a battery or indeed the more common-or-garden variety of capacitor in many energy storage applications, perhaps as backup power or for high-surge demand applications.
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications has undergone phenomenal growth in recent years and connectivity is becoming increasingly reliant upon wireless networks.
Latest developments in antennas for M2M communications
By Marco Enge   -   April 30, 2015
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications has undergone phenomenal growth in recent years and connectivity is becoming increasingly reliant upon wireless networks.
Keenly associated to the trend of greater computing power and complexity is a technology that is making a move into industrial from the communications field: that of advanced power system architectures.
Advanced power architectures move into industry
By Philip Lechner   -   April 20, 2015
Keenly associated to the trend of greater computing power and complexity is a technology that is making a move into industrial from the communications field: that of advanced power system architectures.
A growing pre-occupation with leading healthier life styles means that many of us are becoming much more sensitive to the environment around us, and in particular air quality.
How sensitivity to our environment is creating a growing market for air quality sensors
By Giovanna Monari   -   April 2, 2015
A growing pre-occupation with leading healthier life styles means that many of us are becoming much more sensitive to the environment around us, and in particular air quality.
Thermal management is a key element of LED lighting design, ensuring reliable operation, better performance and extended device lifetimes.
LED thermal management: Is it just me or is it getting hot in here?
By Giovanna Monari   -   March 19, 2015
Thermal management is a key element of LED lighting design, ensuring reliable operation, better performance and extended device lifetimes.

Taking Flow Measurement To The Next Level | Avnet Abacus

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