Ultrasonic flow meters have many applications, from process flow to custody flow. It is also a common practice to use a portable ultrasonic flow meter to verify other flow meters or for temporary measurement. The article explains all you need to know about the basics of ultrasonic flow measurement and its applications.

We will find two concepts within this principle: Doppler and Transit Time. But first, let’s find out more about the principle itself. Then we can go through in-depth variations and typical uses. Later, we will highlight the pros and cons and give examples of brands on the market.

To know more about flow meters, you can read the Visaya Article here 

What is an ultrasonic flow meter?

The ultrasonic flow meter is a volumetric flow measurement device with a wide range of applications for liquids and gases. I like to position the ultrasonic between the electromagnetic and the vortex flow meter

But consider: If we can’t deploy an electromagnetic flow meter, then an ultrasonic makes an excellent second option. And if the product won’t support the ultrasonic, then you’ll probably look to the vortex.

GF Piping Systems
Ultraflow U1000 Clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter with display
in the shop from 1916 €

Clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter

 If we want non-intrusive technology, then get a clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter. Just click and go! Of course, a clamp-on may not provide the accuracy you need, so we need to check before we buy.

Keep in mind, an ultrasonic flow meter can do complex as well as simple. We can find on the market sophisticated versions dedicated to custody application and other such measurements. We may need other devices to support it with process data such as pressure, temperature, and gas composition to keep it accurate, but it’ll do the job.

How does an ultrasonic flow meter work?

As mentioned earlier, an ultrasonic flow meter measures using one of two methods, Doppler or transit time. Vendors might offer you both solutions in their portfolios or only one. Of course, both options have good and bad points, so the best choice will depend on an application.

Doppler method

Usually, when people explain the Doppler effect, they use an ambulance as their example. So, we’ll use a different example – the police car! As the car moves closer to us, its siren sounds louder (audio frequency), even though it doesn’t actually increase the volume. When it moves away from, the siren wanes. We call these frequency shifts the Doppler effect.

Now the Doppler method needs particulates or bubbles in the fluid. When the transmitter sends its ultrasonic signal, the signal will reflect off the bubbles or particles in motion through the pipe, changing its frequency. The transmitter then reads those changes and calculates the flow from that data.

This reflected frequency shift is proportional to the velocity of the particles/bubbles, and we assume that the flow velocity matches the particle velocity. In a real application, many particles or bubbles may have differing velocities. We also need to remember that a signal reflected by a particle may hit another particle or bubble before returning.

We don’t need to know Faraday’s formula to use a mag meter. We don’t necessarily even need to know what that formula is, we just know that whomever invented the mag meter used the formula to produce a signal voltage that can be measured by your automation process.

Transit time method

Unlike the Doppler method, the fluid in a process using the transit time method must not have particles or bubbles. Usually you have a minimum percentage of bubbles and particles that you can squeak by with, but more than that will affect the measurement.

This method works based on the propagation velocity of sound waves. Imagine you’re in the middle of a northbound crowd and you want to head south. So, you either put more energy into walking against the flow rather than with it or you wind up walking slower.

With this method, the ultrasonic meter has two sensors that transmit and receive signals simultaneously.  If you start with zero flow, then you’ll have no transit time delay between both sensors. They transmit and receive signals equally.

However, with flow in the pipe, the sensor emitting the signal in the flow direction will receive its signal sooner than the sensor emitting against the flow. If you know the distance between both sensors – and you should! – you can calculate the flow velocity based on the difference of transit time.

Depending on the model and vendor, you can have more than two sensors in the device. You can also have inline or clamp-on meters to measure the flow on the pipe’s wall or models to measure gas flow.

GF Piping Systems
Portaflow 330 Ultrasonic clamp-on Flowmeter with integrated data logger 
in the shop from 6000 €
Portaflow 330

Clamp-on ultrasonic flow meter

Some industries use clamp-on ultrasonics more than inline. You save a lot of time on installation but lose some accuracy. However, if your application doesn’t need high accuracy, then you might like a clamp-on too.

So how does it work? Well, the sound waves can pass through the pipes and not damage or even change anything. As I said, in some applications a no-contact flow meter sounds like the best choice.

On the downside, you have to prepare the pipe to receive the sensor, know the thickness and material of the pipe, and make sure you don’t have incrustation. Still, you can install a clamp-on with a local flow transmitter or a portable ultrasonic flow meter.

Portable ultrasonic flow meters

The portable ultrasonic flow meter makes an excellent option to measure temporary flow and verify other meters. However, I’ve seen some service companies offering calibration services using clamp-on devices. I gotta know – how can you calibrate a flow meter with an accuracy of +-0.05 percent using another flow meter with an accuracy of +-2 percent? You can’t, can you?

On the upside, it’s a great tool to verify other meters if you have a question about their accuracy or to measure the flow for a short period of time.


To know about ultrasonic water flow meters, you can read  the Visaya Article 

Advantages and disadvantages of the ultrasonic flow meter

Like it says on the box. Read them and decide for yourself whether an ultrasonic would work for you.


  • No pressure loss
  • No contact with the fluid necessary
  • Small to large nominal diameters


  • Some temperature limitations
  • Deposits in the sensor or pipe can affect the measurement
  • Results will depend on the flow profile

To know more about ultrasonic low meters, you  can get in touch with our engineers and we will be happy to help.

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