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The flow meter: a role in Industry 4.0 success?

22 May 2017

José Leonett discusses the changing flow metering needs of the process industry to allow it to meet current and future challenges.

The challenges facing the process industry, and its use of flow meters, can be summarised as increasing complexity; breadth of choice and product selection; maintaining accuracy of flow meters across their life-cycle; sifting the important information from the noise generated by the growing number alerts and alarms produced; and how to control the huge number of flow meters and sensors across the plant.   

Many of the challenges outlined could be overcome with the adoption of smart flow meters which support the user during the entire product life cycle and can be smoothly integrated in the plant control environment. 

Minimising risk
Until industry decides what it can to do minimise to an acceptable level the risks involved with Industry 4.0, process plant managers need to consider products that can be deployed today, while at the same time are ready to exploit Industry 4.0 benefits in the future.

As innovation drives new products, the complexity in the production process is increasing with input lines being added as more components are used and, in turn, these all need to be accurately measured. The challenge is not only to ensure the precise amount is introduced consistently to deliver the required quality output. Processing plants are no longer built to produce one product. They need the flexibility to rapidly change to meet changing market demands. This requires flow meters that can quickly be reconfigured or updated with new features when required with minimum down-time. 

As process complexity increases, so has the choice of flow and level meters, requiring a growing engineering expertise to choose the right product to deliver the right performance. The different types of meters and different performance profiles means that engineers can no longer select the right product simply from data tables. They need to consider many parameters like measuring technology, mass or volume throughput, temperature, pressure loss, and line size. In many instances external help is required to guide engineers through the selection process.

Life-time accuracy
Planned maintenance and calibration of meters is no longer sufficient. Meters need to be able to issue an alert staff when they experience issues that affect their performance before it creates a product quality issue or process shutdown. This requires on-board diagnostics capable of continual monitoring of the unit and flow tubes without interfering with the measuring process.

Introducing intelligence into flow meters provides the opportunity to access performance data. However, poorly configured meters increase the amount of alert notification and alarms that need to be processed by the DCS or the plant staff.  To overcome this modern flow meters have the ability to configure the types and amount of alarms and warnings at any time. The flow meter must be able to provide data from both before and after an event. 

The flow meter should also be able to indicate abrasion, corrosion, viscosity in a certain range, flow velocity and many more. These data should be available and logged in real-time to give total insight into a process.

Remote meter control 
With batch production it is likely that the process will need to change regularly.  Traditionally this has meant plants faced considerable downtime and set-up to switch between processes.  Flow meters now need to be capable of storing many sets of process parameters and concentration sets in a single unit which allows a straightforward switch over. Having worked with these challenges for over ten years Yokogawa believes its recently introduced ROTAMASS TI (Total Insight) range offers a solution to these mass flow metering needs. They are future-proofed to operate within existing regulatory frameworks, yet offer wider integration with the DCS and boarded Industry 4.0 initiatives.

The Total Insight concept utilises the latest generation Coriolis Rotamass transmitters and provides enhanced settings capability for custom setups, predefined trend views, and storage of multiple configuration sets for fast change overs involved in batch productions scenarios. The range covers all the standard application areas, batching, balancing, blending, feeding, dosing, etc. In addition, they also include common functions for trending and recording, in-line verification, dynamic pressure compensation, tube integrity and leak detection, basically, each has a total health-check function inside the flow meter.  

José Leonett, is director marketing and business development for ROTA Yokogawa GmBH.


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