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Vortex wake transit time measurements for flow metering

J. COULTHARD and Y. YAN School of Science and Technology, University of Teesside, TS1 3BA, UK

A method of flow measurement is described based on using a vortex wake as a flow tracer shed from a low-blockage-ratio bluff body, the velocity of which is measured by cross-correlation. Preliminary comparisons are made between measurements of the vortex shedding frequency and the vortex wake transit time between the two ultrasonic beams to determine the flow rates. Whilst preliminary results are confined to a 50 mm diameter sensing head, there is no upper limit to pipe size using the same suitably extended bluff body.
Keywords: vortex shedding; transit time; vortex flowmeter; cross-correlation

Nomenclature Constant C Width of bluff body d Vortex shedding frequency f Vortex transit frequency Transducer spacing L Reynolds number Re Auto-correlation function of x(t) R~(~-) Cross-correlation function of x(t) and y(t) Rxy('r) Strouhal number S Integration time, averaging time T Time t Time displacement T Vortex transit time ~'m Vortex velocity U Upstream flow derived signal x(t) Downstream flow derived signal y(t) Introduction Vortex detection from an accurately constructed bluff body is a well-known technique for measuring the flow rate of gases or liquids I. The frequency of vortex shedding f is assumed to be proportional to the flow velocity U of the fluid past the body in accordance with the relation: U

S=0.212(1-~ee )

c=21.2 c=12.7

50 <Re<100 lO0<Re<200

In this paper a new method is reported in which the flow velocity is inferred by measuring the velocity of the vortex street using cross-correlation signal processing techniques. Experimental tests were carried out to investigate the characteristics of this new type of vortex flowmeter with regard to linearity, repeatability and accuracy. The vortex shedding frequency was also measured at all flow rates in order to have a comparison with the vortex wake transit time measurement technique.

Ultrasonic cross-correlation velocity measurement has been widely described in the literature 3. Cross-correlation is a measure of the similarity between two signals, one of which (the downstream signal) is a timedelayed but corrupted version of the other due to the vortex decay between the two sensing zones. Since the two signals are not identical, the cross-correlation procedure is the statistical technique used to find the 'best fit' by electronically delaying the upstream signal until a maximum correlation is found. Referring to Figure 1, if x(t) and y(t) are the two signals derived from the upstream and downstream sensors respectively, the cross-correlation function Rxv(~') relating these signals in terms of a time delay ~-is given by the expression:

f= s-j


where d is the width of the bluff body and S is a dimensionless quantity called the Strouhal number. This relationship provides the basis upon which vortex frequency-counting flowmeters depend. Measurement of the vortex shedding frequency provides the means by which the flow velocity can be inferred from equation (1) assuming that S is a constant. However, Roshko2 showed that the assumption that S is a constant is not strictly true and for a circular body S depends upon the Reynolds number (Re) 0955-5986/93/040269-04 ~ 1993 Butterworth-HeinemannLtd

Rxv(~-) =




where T is the integration time. The vortex transit time ~'m is determined from the delay corresponding to the maximum cross-correlation as shown in Figure 2.

Flow Meas. Instrum., 1993 Vol 4 No 4


J. Coulthard and Y. Y a n - Vortex wake transit time measurements

v Bluff ~ "----I v
Body ~


This means that the parameter f, is exactly proportional to the flow velocity U with a proportionality or slope of IIL which is a constant for a given sensing head. It should therefore be noted that the vortex transit frequency f, differs from the vortex shedding frequency f, in that the former depends only upon the transducer separation L, which is a constant, whilst the latter depends upon the width of the bluff body d and the Strouhal number S, which can vary (equation (I)). The above implies that flow measurement using the vortex transit time technique should be intrinsically superior to flow measurements depending on the vortex shedding frequency.

Figure 1 Principle of vortex transit time measurement using ultrasonic sensing head

Measurement system Sensing heads

The sensing head was of a standard, well established design. The ultrasonic beams spaced 50 mm apart were generated by circular piezoelectric ceramic crystals made from PZT5A material. These crystals were bolted to guides so that a plane longitudinal wave was transmitted into and across the flow to be received by identical sensors. Two parallel ultrasonic beams were thus transmitted across the flow with the bluff body situated perpendicular to the first ultrasonic beam at its leading edge. The ultrasonic transmission frequency was determined by existing crystal-controlled electronic circuitry and was approximately 2 MHz at each sensing zone. When fluid flow occurred, the shedded vortices and natural turbulence modulated both beams. Demodulation of the electronic signals delivered by the receiving transducers provides the data for frequency counting and cross-correlation processing.


0.8 0.6 0.4 0.20 -0.2 -0.4 -0,6


Correlation Coefficient = 0.75

t '



!' i /


I 4 1


't ~






Tnmsit time - 24.9ms -0.II

Time shift (ms)

Figure 2 Normalized 2.0 m s-1 flow rate




The correlator was a 'Kent' microprocessor-controlled, hard-wired high-speed multichannel machine 3 designed to give a very fast response and accurate tracking of changing flows. It is currently the fastest available system specifically designed for velocity and flow metering. The estimate of transit time was executed by a 'centre of area' algorithm which has been found to give more accurate results than the more usual peak detection procedure. The velocity of the vortex street U is calculated from ~'m and the known transducer spacing L: U L

Bluff body
The bluff body for which results are included in this paper was selected from the more well established physical shapes and dimensions and consisted of a thin 'T' shape having a blockage ratio of 0.125 (see Figure I). The longitudinal resonant frequencies of the bluff body were far above the frequency of the shedded vortices, so avoiding problems arising due to the excitation of resonant oscillations. Tests with other bluff bodies having different shapes and dimensions were also carried out and this will be reported in a separate paper s.


A new parameter is introduced to express the transit-time measurements in dimensions of frequency so that a direct comparison can be made with the vortex shedding frequency. This parameter is defined

Electronic processing
Each electronic system comprised a crystal-controlled transmitter and a tuned receiver. Phase demodulation of the received signal was carried out in each signal processor. The demodulated signal was amplified and then 'limited' to standard TTL levels prior to processing by the polarity digital correlation signal processor. It was appreciated that the electronic 'limiting' procedure would introduce higher odd-harmonics into the processed vortex frequency spectrum which would be displayed following Fourier transformation.

f~ = - Trn


where f, is referred to as the vortex transit frequency. It is clear that equation (4) can be rearranged as follows:


Flow Meas. Instrum., 1993 Vol 4 No 4

J. Coulthard and Y. Yan - Vortex wake transit time measurements

Test rig
The test circuit used in the first experiments on the 50 mm sensing head is shown schematically in Figure 3. This was a small laboratory flow rig not intended for precision measurements which had a maximum flow rate capacity of 10 I s-~. Results, particularly at the higher flow rates, were subject to error due to pump instability. Water from the header tank was pumped at a controllable rate through a 50 mm internal diameter pipe. The flow rate was measured by an electromagnetic flowmeter which provided the reference flow rate. Ultrasonic sensing heads were positioned approximately 25 pipe diameters downstream from the nearest pipework bend in a horizontal section of the flow test rig. One of the facilities available on the test rig was that metered air could be injected into the flow rig so that some preliminary tests were undertaken to determine the effects of small quantities of air injected into the flow. Details will be reported in a separate papere.



0 100 200 300 400 Time shift (ms) 500 600 "100 gO0

Figure 4 Normalized autocorrelation function of the

vortex shedding signals

increased value at ~" = 0 indicates the presence of turbulent random flow noise. Figure 5 shows the corresponding power density spectrum, which is the Fourier transformation of Figure 4. The presence of higher odd harmonic components in the power density spectrum is due to electronic 'limiting' procedures.

Test results Characteristics of the vortex shedding signal

The auto-correlation function Rxx(~') relating to a signal x(t) in terms of a time delay is given by the expression:
Rx.(r) = Lim -~


This function serves to provide an analysis of the spectral components of the detected signal in the time domain. Auto-correlation is a very powerful filtering technique for detecting periodic components buried in background noise. Since a single dominant periodic component is present in the vortex shedding signal, the auto-correlation function can be used to evaluate the frequency stability which is derived from the gradient of the envelope curve. A typical auto-correlation function obtained at a flow velocity of 1 m s-1 is shown in Figure 4. It can be seen that the vortex shedding signal exhibits very stable frequency characteristics with an almost negligible second frequency component indicated by the periodicity of the auto-correlation envelope. The

Figure 6 shows both the vortex shedding and transit frequencies as functions of flow rate. The measured vortex shedding frequency follows approximately equation (1). The measured transit frequency shows a goocl agreement with equation (6) which states that the straight lines in Figure 6 have a slope 0.02 mm -1 (equal to l/L). Figure 7 shows the flowmeter's linearity by plotting the relative deviations of the instrument outputs from linear relationships (the linear regression lines in Figure 6). It can be seen from Figure 7 that the linearities are quite similar for both methods.

Figure 8 shows the standard deviations of the vortex shedding and transit frequencies measured over a 200 s continuous test with 1 s interval. These data combine

Water tank dB

40 30. 20-

w~,. now ~ ) Pomp



Test section


-10 .

Air flow control pressure Air rotarneters

-20 -30 -40 0









Frequency(Hz) Air inlet

Figure 3 Test rig

Figure 5 Power density spectrum of the vortex shedding signals Flow Meas. Instrum., 1993 Vol 4 No 4

J. Coulthard and Y. Yan - Vortex wake transit time measurements


Vortex shedding fuequen~,


7. 65-

Frequency counting measurement + Transit time me.asurerr~nt


2I. Vx.Vm% 0 Vm

~, so


~g 4o
30 2O 10

-]. -2. -3-4. -5



















Reference Velocity(m/s)

Reference Velocity (m/s)

Figure 6 Measured vortex shedding and transit frequencies

Figure 9 Accuracies of the frequency counting and transit time measurements. Vm, reference velocity; Vx, measured velocity
also implies that the vortex wake is relatively unstable at the lower flow rate and this is probably due to the curved and mainly laminar flow profiles.




+ +

Vortex shedding frequency

+ Vortextransitfrequency










Accuracy is defined in this case as measurements relative to those obtained from the electromagnetic flowmeter. Figure 9 shows a direct comparison between the accuracies obtained using the two techniques. The accuracy of the frequency counting method was calculated assuming the Strouhal number S is a constant and S = 0.15 for the bluff body used. It is clear that an advantage is gained by using the transit time method with an accuracy of --+1% over the entire flow range. The precise determination of this accuracy is, of course, limited by the flow test rig.

Reference Velocity (m/s)

Figure 7 Relative deviations in the vortex shedding/ transit frequency from linear relationships

1.0 0.9 0.80.7 . Vortex shedding frequency Vortex transi! frequency

This paper has shown that ultrasonic vortex flowmeters measuring the vortex transit time as opposed to measuring the vortex frequency can achieve very high degrees of accuracy and good repeatability using simple low-blockage-ratio bluff bodies.

g 0.6
0.5 0.4-

This paper is published with kind permission of FLOMIC, the British Flow Measurement and Instrumentation Consortium and is derived from a detailed report of a Category IIA research project funded by them.
0 015 |10 ]15 210 2[5 310 3'.5 410 4.5

0.2 0.1 0

ReferenceVeloci~' (ntis)

Figure 8 Standard deviation of the transit frequency



1 Zanker, K. I. and Cousins T. The performance and design of vortex flow meters, Int Conf on Flow Measurement in the Mid 1970's, Inst. Meas. Control (April 1975) 2 Roshko,A. On the development of turbulent wakes from vortex streets, N.A.C.A. Rep 1191 3 Keech, R. P. The Kent multichannel correlation signal processor for velocity measurement. Trans. Inst. Meas. Control 14(1) (1982) 4 Coulthard,J. Ultrasonic crosscorrelation flowmeters. Ultrasonics
11(2) (1973) 83-88

both the repeatability of the velocity measurements and the stability of the flow rate in the pipeline. The results in Figure 8 indicate that the vortex transit time technique can achieve better repeatability than the frequency counting method over the entire flow range. Figure 8 272

5 Coulthard, J. and Yah, Y. Comparisons of different bluff bodies in vortex wake transit time measurements. Flow Meas. Instrum. 4(4) (1993) 273-275 6 Coullhard, I. and Yah, Y. Effect of small quantities of air in a liquid fluid on the vortex transit time measurements. To be published

Flow Meas. Instrum., 1993 Vol 4 No 4