Processing Magazine

Versatility equals application for magnetic flowmeters

Biggest seller, European suppliers and China growth among market characteristics

May 1, 2014

Most type flowmeters measure water flow proficiently.

Exceptions include thermal flowmeters, which are used almost entirely for gas flow measurement. And while Coriolis flowmeters can measure water readily, they typically find application in high-value liquids, such as petroleum and certain chemicals. This may change over time, as water becomes an increasingly valuable commodity.

Water-applied flowmeters include ultrasonic, vortex, positive displacement, turbine and open channel. However, none is as closely associated with water measurement as magnetic flowmeters. But while magnetic flowmeters measure most type liquids, they cannot measure hydrocarbon-based liquids. This means they are not widely used in the oil & gas industry.

In 2013, worldwide, more money was spent on magnetic flowmeters than any other type, outpacing even Coriolis and differential pressure (DP) flowmeters. This is due to several factors, including magnetic flowmeter versatility. While the water & wastewater industries are the really big users of magnetic flowmeters, they’re applied in the chemical, food & beverage, pulp & paper and metals & mining as well.

Operational principles

Magnetic flowmeters are accurate and reliable, and at the moment, many users are looking for a high degree of accuracy. Magnetic flowmeter accuracy is sufficient to meet a broad range of user requirements. Magnetic flowmeter reliability is rooted in its method of operation.

A magmeter has no moving parts to wear out, and its use is backed up by decades of study and experience. As one respondent to a Flow Research survey put it: “I have not heard of a more trustworthy technology for water flow than magnetic.”

Many types of liners are available for magnetic flowmeters. While PFA, PTFE and Hard Rubber dominate, other liners increase durability and reliability, make possible use with almost any type of liquid or are for such things as sanitary applications. No other flowmeter has this much liner versatility in its application.

The inability of magnetic flowmeters to measure nonconductive liquids limits their use in oil & gas and refining, barring some unforeseen technological breakthrough. Suppliers have succeeded in reducing the amount of conductivity required for accurate measurement with a magnetic flowmeter. This has been done in part by boosting the amount of power used to excite the magnetic coils, thereby creating a stronger signal. By pushing back the boundaries of conductivity, suppliers are making magnetic flowmeters usable in a broader range of applications.

Regional preferences

Magnetic flowmeters are especially popular in Europe. They were first introduced in Holland in 1952. Water is a highly valued resource in Europe, and magmeters are used heavily in the food processing and pulp & paper industries there. Europeans seem to prefer spool-piece over clamp-on meters, and most magnetic flowmeters are of the inline type, whether wafer or flanged. There are no clamp-on magnetic meters, but there are clamp-on ultrasonic meters, and ultrasonic meters are an alternative to magmeters for some applications. The leading supplier of one major alternative to magnetic flowmeters, DP flowmeters, is based in the United States. By contrast, the top three magnetic flowmeter suppliers are based in Europe. All these reasons contribute to explaining the popularity of magnetic flowmeters in Europe.

Magnetic flowmeter suppliers abound, with more of them than for any other type flowmeter, excepting ultrasonic meters. With more than 60 suppliers worldwide, users are assured of a steady stream of new products and product upgrades. Because suppliers are distributed throughout the world, users can select high-quality magnetic flowmeters from companies in their geographic region. Major European suppliers include Endress+Hauser, KROHNE and ABB. Major U.S. suppliers include Emerson Rosemount and Invensys/Foxboro. ABB also has manufacturing operations in the United States. In Japan, major suppliers include Yokogawa, azbil and Toshiba.

A number of smaller suppliers feature specialty or niche products, often distributed mainly in their own geographic region. Europe has quite a few of these. Some specialize solely on magmeters, while others manufacture several types of flowmeters. Still others manufacture magnetic flowmeters, but also resell other types of meters. The presence of so many magnetic flowmeter suppliers worldwide will continue to be a growth factor for magmeters.

Global industries

The magnetic flowmeter market has grown substantially in China and in the Asia-Pacific region in the past five years. China has many large water projects meant to bring liquid sustenance to low-rainfall areas within the country. One example is the South-North Water Transfer Project, being built at a reported cost of $62 billion. Its purpose is to bring water from the Yangtze River in southern China to the Yellow River Basin in arid northern China.

A significant number of magnetic flowmeter suppliers are stationed in China. Some are associated with Western companies such as ABB, KROHNE and Endress+Hauser. Others appear to be operating independently. While some of these manufacturers can be difficult to identify, it is safe to say that the Chinese market is a significant portion of the world market, and that this is the fastest growing region for magnetic flowmeters.

In the future, expect to see more magnetic flowmeters made in countries such as Mexico and China. Suppliers will continue to work on enabling magnetic flowmeters to measure at lower conductivities. The frontiers of research are in 2-wire meters, high-strength DC meters and battery-operated and wireless meters. Also, look for suppliers to continue to introduce innovative linings that offer improved performance and make it possible to measure a wider range of liquids.

In conclusion, while the magnetic flowmeter market may be thought of as “stable,” it is also very large and active.

Jesse Yoder, Ph.D., is president of Flow Research, Inc., a company he founded in 1998. He has 27 years of experience as an analyst and writer in processing control, specializing in flowmeters and other field devices, including pressure, level and temperature products. He has written over 150 market research studies in industrial automation and process control and has published over 200 journal articles. He recently authored The World Market for Magnetic Flowmeters, 5th Edition.