What Are The Types Of Flow Meters

by Anna

Flow meters are essential instruments used across various industries to measure the flow rate of liquids, gases, and steam. Accurate flow measurement is critical for optimizing processes, ensuring safety, and improving efficiency. There are numerous types of flow meters, each suited to specific applications and offering unique advantages. This article delves into the various types of flow meters, their operating principles, and typical applications, providing a comprehensive understanding of these vital instruments.


1. Differential Pressure Flow Meters

Differential Pressure (DP) flow meters are among the most widely used flow meters due to their versatility and reliability. They operate based on the principle of Bernoulli’s equation, which relates the pressure drop across a constriction in the flow path to the flow rate.


Types of Differential Pressure Flow Meters

Orifice Plate Flow Meters: An orifice plate is a thin plate with a hole in the middle, placed in the flow stream. The pressure difference between the upstream and downstream sides of the plate is measured to determine the flow rate. Orifice plates are simple, cost-effective, and suitable for a wide range of fluids.

Venturi Flow Meters: These consist of a gradually narrowing section (converging cone) followed by a throat and a gradually expanding section (diverging cone). The pressure drop between the wide section and the throat is used to calculate the flow rate. Venturi meters have lower pressure drops compared to orifice plates and are more accurate.

Flow Nozzles: Similar to Venturi meters but with a simpler design, flow nozzles offer a compromise between the accuracy of Venturi meters and the simplicity of orifice plates.


DP flow meters are commonly used in water and wastewater treatment, oil and gas, chemical processing, and HVAC systems.

2. Positive Displacement Flow Meters

Positive Displacement (PD) flow meters measure the volume of fluid passing through by trapping fixed volumes and counting the number of times these volumes are filled and emptied. They are known for their high accuracy and are ideal for measuring viscous fluids.

Types of Positive Displacement Flow Meters

Gear Meters: Consist of two meshing gears that rotate as fluid flows through. The volume of fluid trapped between the gear teeth is measured.

Rotary Vane Meters: Feature a rotor with multiple vanes that move in and out of slots. The fluid causes the rotor to turn, and the volume of fluid is calculated based on the rotor’s displacement.

Piston Meters: Use a piston that moves back and forth within a cylinder. The flow rate is determined by counting the number of piston cycles.


PD flow meters are used in applications where accurate measurement of low to moderate flow rates of viscous fluids is required, such as in fuel dispensing, hydraulic systems, and chemical dosing.

3. Turbine Flow Meters

Turbine flow meters measure flow rate by detecting the rotational speed of a turbine or rotor placed in the fluid stream. The rotational speed is proportional to the flow rate.

Operating Principle

As fluid flows through the meter, it impinges on the turbine blades, causing the turbine to spin. The rotational speed is measured using magnetic or optical sensors, and the flow rate is calculated based on the turbine’s speed.


Turbine flow meters are widely used in the petroleum industry, water distribution, and in aerospace for measuring fuel and coolant flow. They are suitable for clean, low-viscosity fluids.

4. Electromagnetic Flow Meters

Electromagnetic (mag) flow meters operate based on Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction, which states that a voltage is induced when a conductor moves through a magnetic field.

Operating Principle

In a mag meter, the fluid acts as the conductor. As the fluid flows through a magnetic field generated by coils outside the pipe, a voltage is induced in the fluid, which is proportional to the flow velocity. Electrodes positioned on the pipe walls detect this voltage, and the flow rate is calculated.


Mag flow meters are ideal for measuring the flow of conductive liquids, including water, wastewater, slurries, and corrosive chemicals. They are commonly used in water treatment plants, chemical plants, and mining operations.

5. Ultrasonic Flow Meters

Ultrasonic flow meters use high-frequency sound waves to measure the flow rate of fluids. There are two main types: transit-time and Doppler ultrasonic flow meters.

Types of Ultrasonic Flow Meters

Transit-Time Ultrasonic Meters: Measure the time difference between ultrasonic pulses sent in the direction of the flow and against the flow. The flow rate is determined based on the transit time difference.

Doppler Ultrasonic Meters: Measure the frequency shift of an ultrasonic signal reflected by particles or bubbles in the fluid. The Doppler shift is proportional to the flow velocity.


Ultrasonic flow meters are versatile and can be used for both clean and dirty fluids. They are commonly found in water and wastewater treatment, chemical processing, and HVAC systems.

6. Coriolis Flow Meters

Coriolis flow meters measure the mass flow rate of a fluid using the Coriolis effect, where a moving mass in a rotating system experiences a force perpendicular to its motion.

Operating Principle

A Coriolis meter consists of one or more vibrating tubes. As fluid flows through the tubes, the Coriolis force causes them to twist. The degree of twist is proportional to the mass flow rate and is detected by sensors.


Coriolis flow meters are highly accurate and can measure a wide range of fluids, including gases, liquids, and slurries. They are used in the chemical industry, food and beverage production, pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas industries.

7. Vortex Flow Meters

Vortex flow meters measure the flow rate by detecting vortices shed by a bluff body placed in the flow stream. The frequency of vortex shedding is proportional to the flow velocity.

Operating Principle

As fluid flows past the bluff body, vortices are alternately shed from each side. Sensors detect the frequency of these vortices, which is used to calculate the flow rate.


Vortex flow meters are suitable for measuring the flow of liquids, gases, and steam. They are commonly used in the petrochemical, chemical, and HVAC industries.

8. Thermal Mass Flow Meters

Thermal mass flow meters measure the mass flow rate of gases using the principle of heat transfer.

Operating Principle

These meters use heated sensors placed in the flow stream. The cooling effect of the gas flow on the heated sensor is measured, and the mass flow rate is calculated based on the amount of heat lost.


Thermal mass flow meters are ideal for measuring the flow of clean gases, including air, natural gas, and industrial gases. They are widely used in HVAC systems, process control, and environmental monitoring.

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Flow meters are indispensable tools in a myriad of industries, each type offering unique advantages tailored to specific applications. Understanding the various types of flow meters—differential pressure, positive displacement, turbine, electromagnetic, ultrasonic, Coriolis, vortex, and thermal mass—enables users to select the appropriate instrument for their needs. Accurate flow measurement not only enhances process efficiency but also ensures safety and compliance with regulatory standards. As technology advances, flow meters continue to evolve, providing even greater precision and reliability in flow measurement across diverse industrial landscapes.


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