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Class #2070
Michael Yeandle
Troy, Ohio


This paper will discuss several field measurement methods that are presently in use to calibrate upright,
above ground, cylindrical, cone and floating roof steel storage tanks.


Tank calibration is often referred to as "tank strapping" derived from to the old method of placing metal
bands or straps around wooden containers used for the storage of oils.

Over the years, as the price of crude oil and petroleum products has increased, storage facilities, and the
accurate measurement of oil in storage, has become very important. We now have storage tanks as large
as 2,000,000 barrels in volume and therefore one can see how importance the calibration of a storage
tank can be. Any errors made at the calibration stage will cause errors in the final tank table.


The API Measurement Committee on Petroleum Measurement have issued a Manual of Petroleum
Measurement Standards (MPMS) containing all the present individual measurement standards, indexed,
revised to the present state of the art and rewritten to a standard format. The section on tank calibration is
covered in detail in Chapter 2.


Calibration is the process of accurately determining the capacity or partial capacities of a tank
and expressing this capacity as a volume for a given linear increment or height of liquid.

Above ground cylindrical storage tanks are usually calibrated by placing a measuring tape around the
tank shell. This procedure, known as the Manual Tank Strapping Method is the original tank calibration
technique, and can be found described in detail in the API MPMS Chapter 2, Section 2A.

Present day tank calibration techniques have taken the tank strapping method and refined it into two
optical methods of measurement. These are known as:

1. Optical Reference Line Method (ORLM).

2. Optical Triangulation Method (OTM).

The "Optical Reference Line Method" can be found in the API Manual of Petroleum Measurement
Standards, Chapter 2, Section 2B.

The "Optical Triangulation Method" can be found as a standard method in the API Manual of Petroleum
Measurement Standards, Chapter 2, Section 2C.


Circumference Measurement

Before taking any measurements, it must be ascertained that the tank has been filled at least once with a
liquid of a density equal to or greater than the normal service liquid. Generally, the static water test
carried out on the completion of construction satisfies this condition.

NOTE: This requirement is common to all tank calibration methods, whichever is used.

The normal tape for tank strapping is made of steel, 1/8" to 1/4" wide, of a length great enough to
measure the total circumference. If this tape is not available, circumferential measurement can be made
in sections, the sum of all the sections being used as the circumference. Standard tapes are usually 100',
200', 500' and 1,000' in length, marked at each foot, with one or both ends marked in 0.01' increments. A
Master Tape is a tape measured by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and reported as
having a specific length, for example:

100.0023 feet at a temperature of 68 degF, and a tension of 10 pounds.

100.0198 feet at a temperature of 68 degF, and a tension of 30 pounds.

The Master Tape length may be adjusted to the petroleum industry base temperature of 60 degF, by
using the thermal coefficient of expansion shown on the calibration report. All tapes being used in the
calibration should be checked at the tank site against an NIST Master Tape.

The tank is strapped using a working tape that has previously been checked against the Master Tape.
Never use the Master Tape to perform the actual strapping operations. There are two methods of
checking the calibration of the working tape. Stretch out both the working tape and the master tape,
alongside each other, by either hanging them from the top of the tank, if high enough, or lay them out on
a railroad line or paved highway, whichever is available. Secure both tapes at their top ends. Pull the
master tape to the tension specified on its calibration certificate. There are two methods of calibrating the
working tape from this point:

a) Pull the working tape with the same tension as the master tape and then compare the reading of the
two tapes. Apply a correction to the working tape to make its reading the same as the master tape. This
tension must now be used on working tape throughout the calibration and the same tape correction
applied at each reading.

b) Pull the working tape with sufficient tension to make it read the same as the master tape. Note: the
amounts of tension used and use this pull throughout the strapping procedure. With this procedure, there
is no tape correction to be applied to the readings but again this determined tension must be used
throughout the strapping operation.

Chapter 2.2A details the location and number of strappings to be taken on each tank ring for different
types of tanks. The tape is laid around the vertical walls of the tank, parallel to and a measured distance
from a particular ring. The position of the tape can be adjusted either by using jointed aluminum poles
with a special guide fitting on the top pole or by use of a slotted ring-like guide fitted with two 1/4" ropes.
The tape is read after sliding to distribute surface tension and applying the predetermined pull at the tape
ends using a spring balance. When measuring tanks the tape is read to the nearest 0.005' for single
measurements and 0.001' for multiple measurements.

Heights and Other Measurements

All height measurements should be recorded to the nearest 0.01'. The total shell height should be
measured together with the heights of the plates in each ring. The total gauge height along with the height
of the liquid level in the tank is required, also recorded should be the maximum fill height.

If the tank contains liquid, the temperature and a sample for API Gravity determination must be taken,
together with the ambient temperature.

Additional measurements required on the tank shell are the plate thickness and the paint thickness.


Test measurements of the tank should be made to find out whether the tank is tilted out of the vertical.
This is easily carried out by hanging a plumb line from the top of the shell to the ground, from various
positions around the top of the tank. If tilt is present, it should be related back to the datum plate. Tanks
tilted less than one part in seventy parts can be disregarded, as the correction is negligible.


In addition to external measurement, it is necessary to determine the amount of space taken up inside the
tank by pipes, heaters, manholes, mixers, ladders, etc. This is called deadwood and is generally
described as items that subtract from or add to the volume of liquid in the tank. Deadwood measurements
are normally made to the nearest 1/4". The strapping report must include the dimensions of the
deadwood and its location in the tank relative to the datum plate.

Bottom Survey

Once the measurement of deadwood is completed, the final operation is to carry out a bottom survey.
This is usually determined by means of a surveyor's level or transit measuring the height differences
between the datum plate and various selected points on the tank bottom. Starting at the datum plate a
survey is taken to the center. Then, from the datum plate, take survey levels around the circumference,
and at each 45-degree position again take another survey into the center of the tank. It follows that the
more level readings that are taken, the more accurate will be the bottom calculations. Another method of
determining the bottom volume of the tank is by metering quantities of water into the tank and recording
the relative heights above and below the datum plate.

Floating Roof

When afloat, floating roofs displace a volume of liquid equal in weight to the weight of the roof, therefore
an accurate assessment of the total weight of the roof is very important. The physical measurement of the
roof should be made detailing each piece of metal used in the construction, together with its exact
position in the roof. Using these measurements, calculations are made which give both volume and
weight. Floating roofs are also fitted with drain lines, seal tensioners, support legs and roof ladder, which
must also be measured and taken into account when calculating the roof weight.

All measurements and calculations should be checked against the maker's design specifications and
construction drawings.

One very important measurement is the height of the lowest part of the roof above the datum plate. This
height determines the lower position of what is known as the "Critical Zone", the higher position being
determined by calculation. In large floating roof tanks the roof legs can be set in a high or low position
which gives rise to two "Critical Zones". This critical zone is the part of the tank where the roof is not fully
supported by its legs or afloat. Measurements of oil quantities with the roof in this position are virtually
impossible to make accurately unless the critical zone has been liquid calibrated.



In the past five years, there have been major procedural and technological advances in the area of tank


The Optical Reference Line Method was originally perfected in Belgium and had much exposure in
Europe before being established in the United States. It has gained acceptance and popularity here and
is generally considered the standard method of tank calibration. The Optical Reference Line Method
(ORLM) is simply an alternative method for determining tank diameters using an optical device.

The primary difference between the ORLM and the Strapping Method is the procedure for the
determination of tank diameter. The reference diameter is measured on the bottom course by manual
strapping and deviations in the diameter are then measured at other predetermined horizontal and
vertical stations by ORLM. The ORLM can be used both internally and externally, but is not always
suitable for abnormally deformed tanks.


In addition to the regular strapping equipment, the following additional equipment will be required for the
ORLM method:

(a) Optical device (i.e., optical plummet consisting of a theodolite and a precision level mounted on a
tripod providing a 90 degree perpendicular line of vision).

(b) A traversing magnetic trolley with a graduated slide to measure offsets at different vertical stations.


Selection of the number of horizontal stations is made according to the tank diameter:

Number of Stations
Tank diameter (ft) Min. Number
of Stations
50 8
100 12
150 16
200 20
250 26
300 32
350 36

The location of each horizontal station must allow the vertical traverse of the trolley to be at least 12" from
any vertical weld seam. Two vertical station per course, high and low, must be established approximately
20% from the horizontal weld seam of each course.

For example, as the trolley moves upwards approximately 20% of the plate width into the course, past the
horizontal weld seam, a measurement reading of the scale on the trolley is taken. The trolley is then
raised to within 20% of the next horizontal weld seam and a measurement is again recorded.

Instrument Verification

It is necessary that the optical device be leveled along the three axes at each horizontal station and that
the perpendicularity of the device be verified. Verification is normally accomplished by raising the
trolley/slide to the uppermost level. A note is made of the reading, the optical device is rotated through
180 degrees and the reading is again noted. The difference between the readings should not be greater
than 0.005 ft.


The ORLM is currently dependent upon the reference circumference determined by manual strapping of
the first ring, 20% below the top horizontal weld seam. This line of measurement, in turn, becomes the
first vertical station. After positioning the optical device, the trolley is placed on the first vertical station and
the reference offset is recorded. The trolley is then moved upwards vertically to each predetermined
vertical station so that readings are recorded sequentially. After reading the uppermost offset, the trolley
is lowered back to the first vertical station to verify that the latest reading is within 0.005' (ft) of the first
reading. This verifies that there have been no physical changes in the trolley or scale. The procedures
and methods are then performed in the same manner at each succeeding horizontal station.

Additional measurements needed to accurately calibrate a tank are taken as described in the Tank
Strapping Method, Chapter 2.2A. The ORLM is simply an alternative to manual strapping each ring.


As the distance from the tank center to the vertical reference line is constant for each given horizontal
station, the following is true:

(r ′ + m ) = (r + a )
r ′ = r + (a − m )

r′ = + (a − m )

C (a − m )
r′ = +
2π n

r = Reference radius, as circumference.
r' = Radius at given vertical station.
a = Reference offset.
m = Offset at given vertical station.
C = Reference circumference (Measured).
n = Number of Horizontal Stations.

While it is true that measurements are taken at two vertical stations per ring, which in turn determines two
radii per ring, it is the mean radius which is ultimately used to determine the volume of any given course.

(r1′ + r2′ )
R = Mean Course Radius
r'1 = Course Radius at Higher Vertical Station
r'2 = Course Radius at Lower Vertical Station

Once the mean course radius is known, it is easy to convert to circumference, diameter and ultimately
volume. It should be noted that this method merely determines circumference, and that there are
numerous additional measurements, which must be taken in order to complete the tank calibration.


France has developed and been using an Optical Triangulation Method (OTM) which uses the
measurement of tank angles to determine the tank diameter. This method again provides a means for
calibrating vertical cylindrical tanks using external measurement of angles with a theodolite or a laser
theodolite. The method also requires a measured reference circumference (same as ORLM), determined

by manual strapping at its bottom course. The theodolite being used must have an angular graduation
and inaccuracy equal to or less than 0.022 degrees to ensure the required accuracy of measurement is


As in the ORLM, the number of horizontal stations should be selected according to tank diameter. The
minimum number of stations as shown in the table should be used, but the number of maximum stations
is left to the choice of the person doing the work. Obviously, the more stations used the better accuracy of
the calibration.

Number of Horizontal Stations

Tank diameter (ft) Min. Number
of Stations
50 4
100 6
150 8
200 10
250 13
300 15
350 18

The horizontal stations should be approximately spaced, at equal distances, along a circle concentric to
the tank. The point of tangency sighting line to the tank should not be closer than 12" to any vertical weld
seam. The weld seam will introduce errors in measurement because it does not react to tank movement
in the same way as the tank shell moves.

The number of vertical stations are the same as in the ORLM Method (two per ring) and are established
at 20% of the distance from the upper and lower horizontal weld seams for each tank course.


The base length is determined by manually strapping the bottom course circumference, 20% below the
horizontal weld seam. This measurement is the reference circumference.

The tank is then sighted from the first horizontal station using a theodolite. Two sightings must be made
tangentially to the tank, on the left and right from each station, recording the angle subtended between
the two sightings.

The first vertical sighting should be made at the same height as the reference circumference was taken.
This measurement will determine the reference angle. The theodolite is then angled upwards to sight at
the next vertical station. In order to prevent any correction for tilt in the tank, the vertical angle for each
pair of sightings should not be changed during the measurement.

After the angle between each pair of sightings has been recorded for all vertical stations at the first
horizontal station, the theodolite is relocated to the next predetermined horizontal station. All
measurements and procedures are then repeated, beginning at the first vertical station.


The distance between the vertical centerline of the tank and the vertical line of any horizontal station is
constant to the height of the tank. The course radii are calculated as follows:

Let T be the horizontal station site of the

theodolite. The sighting T --> B and T --> B'
at the exact location of the manual strapping
determines the reference horizontal angle 2.


TZ = r ×

C 1
TZ = ×
2π sinθ
Sightings T --> A and T --> A' to any ring or
vertical station give the horizontal angle 2'.


r ′ = TZ × sin θ ′

C sinθ ′
r′ = ×
2π sinθ
The arithmetic mean of all the radii (r') for a given vertical station will determine the tank radius at that
vertical station. As there will be two average radii per ring, the mean value of the two will be the average
radius for that course.


When developing gauge tables for storage tanks, the incremental volume and unit of volume must be

The unit of volume will have a wide range based on the product to be stored. For molten sulfur the unit
may be 2240 lb. Tons or 1,000 kilogram Metric Tons, gasoline may be in U.S. Gallons or Liters, and
Crude Oil in U.S. Barrels or Cubic Meters.

The increments will also vary. Usually for storage tanks, the increment is generally 1" for the main table
with a side fraction table of 1/4", 1/8", or 1/16" increments.

Gauge tables may be prepared on an innage or ullage (outage) basis.

On an innage basis, the quantities are expressed as increasing from the bottom datum plate to the liquid

On an outage basis, the quantities are expressed as decreasing from the gauge reference point at the top
of the tank to the liquid level. Innage gauges may be converted to outage gauges by subtracting the
innage gauge from the total gauge height of the tank.


The question is often asked when should storage tanks be recalibrated. Verification of the diameter of the
bottom ring of the tank, tank course plate thickness changes and examination of tilt on a regular basis,
will all suggest if recalibration is necessary. In addition, changes in the physical properties of the
petroleum liquids stored can also affect the calibration.

It is important to differentiate between the terms recalibration and recalculation of a tank's capacity table.
Recalibration simply means that the tank diameters are re-determined through physical measurements
and based on these measurements a new capacity table is developed. In contrast, recalculation involves
development of a revised capacity table based on previously established tank diameters. While
recalibration includes recalculation, the process of recalculation by itself does not involve new physical
tank measurements.

Generally, three variables affect tank volume determinations. These factors may be classified as follows:

Variables affecting Measurement: - These include tank diameter, tank plate thickness, and tilt.

Variables affecting Tank Structure: - These include tank deadwood, reference height, tank structure
(both internal and external, including floating roof), and repairs or alterations to the tank and tank bottom.

Variables affecting Operations: - These include product temperature, ambient temperature, density of
the product stored in the tank, and reference height.

As a general rule, changes to the Measurement Variables and the Structural Variables may dictate the
need for the tank to be recalibrated, while changes to the Operating Variables may require a recalculation
of the capacity table. For all of these parameters, variations greater than established acceptable limits,
indicate the need for recalculation or recalibration of the tank volume.


We have looked briefly at the three main methods used in tank calibration. All have their merits and

Tank Strapping is the traditional method used in this country. It is well known and the equipment is cheap.
If accurately performed there can be no doubts as to its accuracy and validity. Of the disadvantages, the
method is labor intensive, has some serious safety hazards, and always runs the risk of a misreading of
the strapping tape. For these reasons, the strapping method is slowly disappearing, as the industry these
days prefers to go with the Optical Methods.

Optical Calibrations are the easiest methods to use. They reduce the manpower required to generally two
men for the ORLM and often one man for the OTM. Optical readings are quickly made reducing the time
of calibration to a minimum. Their big disadvantage is that both methods require a reference
circumference be measured. Should this be determined in error then the whole tank table will be
incorrect. Both the ORLM and the OTM methods have been accepted as API Standards and tank
calibration companies offer both as alternative methods.

Whatever the method of tank calibration is selected, it is important that it has a high degree of
repeatability. When selecting which method to use consideration must be given to your company
standards, the requirements of fiscal bodies and local authorities; primary, secondary or back-up
measurement systems; tank throughput and cost.

Questions of volume are eventually resolved most often by the accurately calibrated storage tank.


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