Ultrasonic flowmeters become the technology of choice

Saturday, 13 December, 2003

The emerging adoption of ultrasonic flowmeters for custody transfer measurement of refined liquid petroleum products and natural gas will drive robust growth in the market. The worldwide ultrasonic flowmeter market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.9 per cent over the next five years. The market was nearly US$406 million in 2002, and is forecasted to be a little less than US$600 million by the end of 2007, according to a new study by the US-based ARC Advisory Group.

User demand for maintenance-free and high-precision flowmeters has spurred suppliers to introduce new products to industries that appreciate the value they provide, such as the oil and gas, and district heating industries.

"After a tarnished past, new ultrasonic flowmeters are raising the bar against which all flowmeter technologies must be judged. Ultrasonic technology will increasingly become the technology of choice not merely an alternative to traditional flowmeter technologies," according to ARC Research Director Wil Chin, author of ARC's Ultrasonic Flowmeter Worldwide Outlook. "The non-contact and non-intrusive nature of ultrasonic flow technology poses a challenge to the traditional flowmeters in process industries."

Not surprisingly, price remains a major issue exacerbated by the extended economic downturn of the past few years, according to the study.

Ultrasonic flowmeters are available in a variety of configurations for a number of different applications and at various price levels. The multi-beam versions accurately measure fluids by minimising the negative effects of swirl, viscosity and other installation effects. Ultrasonic is one of the few technologies versatile enough to measure not only liquids and gases but also steam. Additionally, measurement without pressure drop can save significant pumping cost in applications requiring high pressure or long transport distances. And unlike mechanical flowmeters, the maintenance of these meters is greatly simplified by the virtue of no moving parts. Ultrasonic flowmeters are impervious to issues that beset traditional flow technologies, such as the inevitable wear of orifice plates and bearing and rotor failures of turbine meters.

The recent approval of ultrasonic standards for precision ultrasonic flowmeters is setting the stage for robust growth. The American Petroleum Institute (API) draft standard for liquid hydrocarbon custody transfer applications, American Gas Association (AGA) for natural gas applications, and International Organisation for Legal Metrology (OIML) for international custody transfer applications provides strong support for the expected growth in this segment.

While shipments to Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) lead all regions, the North American market is expected to grow slightly faster. Much of this is due to pipeline infrastructure upgrades necessary to meet increasing demand for energy in the US. Not to be overshadowed by the US, EMEA will continue to grow as significant capital is invested in Western Europe to build new infrastructure to transport petroleum and natural gas from reservoirs in Russia to populated regions. The increasing adoption of ultrasonic technology provides opportunities for both suppliers of ultrasonic and competing technology alike. According to Chin, "The endorsement of ultrasonic flowmeters by users will challenge traditional and ultrasonic flowmeter suppliers to introduce new products to stay competitive, with users as the ultimate benefactor."

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