Protect your flowmeter IP

trevor-forsterThe following comments come from Trevor Forster, the MD of Titan Enterprises, a specialist flowmeter manufacturer based in Dorset, UK. He recounts his experiences over the development of a new style of time-of-flight ultrasonic flowmeter, later called the Atrato, in their latest newsletter, called the Titan Flowdown. It is an interesting experience and maybe holds some lessons for all.

“A few years ago, Titan Enterprises filed a patent application for some new ultrasound technology we had been developing over the previous 12 months. On examination by the patent authority it transpired that someone else had the exact same idea and had filed some three months before us. Annoyingly this competitive filing was nine months after we had our first thoughts and six months after our first successful experiments. There were two valuable lessons here:

  1. File your ideas as soon as possible.
  2. Do not waste time in developing a completely viable idea before protecting the intellectual property behind the innovation.

As a consequence of this setback we had to revisit what we wished to achieve with our ring technology development. This project involved development of an ultrasonic device which was tolerant to variations in tube diameters due to the material, temperature or pressure. Our new idea was to section the device annulus into several segments which where independently acoustically coupled to the pipe but joined electronically. The benefit of this innovation is that it would provide us with a “flexible” crystal which can accommodate variations in the tube diameter as well as having a consistent acoustic connection.

Our developmental options were to make drawings, get the specially shaped crystals manufactured and then perform the tests. Alternatively we chose to get some miniature diamond cutting saws with appropriate boring burrs and make our own segmented crystals from existing larger crystals which we use on another ultrasonic meter. This enabled us to prototype and test our idea much more quickly.

The initial tests on the new device were extremely promising which gave us sufficient confidence to file our patent application while more accurate components were being manufactured and tested. This technology has formed the basis of our soon to be released Metraflow ultra-pure flowmeter and our developments with a new 1350 bar flow device.

The initial disappointment was a valuable lesson in getting intellectual property registered as quickly as possible especially with any rapidly developing technology.”

ENDS

Editor’s comment:

From previous discussions about this development, the initial research and testing of the flowmeter concept was undertaken in co-operation with a University, using a research student, so the development was not completely ‘under wraps’, under the control of the company. Nevertheless in a fast developing technology area, many minds are grappling with similar perceived problems and solutions, so parallel work would have been going on elsewhere: an early patent filing is very important under such conditions! The ultra-pure nature of the Metraflow flowmeter arises as the flow tube is a simple straight glass or similar tube, and the ultrasonic transducers are all external. To register to receive further info on the Metraflow, please email Titan.

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600,000 flowmeters measure beer and lager flow

Titan Enterprises has established a long-standing working relationship with Vianet plc (formerly Brulines) for the supply of beer flowmeters for pub and bar automation projects. Over the last 20 year period Titan have delivered, and Vianet has installed, over 600,000 of these meters for beer and other bar flow measurement and automation applications.

Brulines, was formed in 1993 with the intention of providing pub chain owners with data on their bar activity via an electronic point of sale (EPOS) system. After trialling several other flowmeters, the company sought a solution to resolve flowmeter bearing lifespan problems and to overcome the unreliability of the optical detection method in beer.

beer-meter

The beer flowmeter

Following a collaborative approach to developing the solutions needed for the Vianet customer base, Titan Enterprises proposed an adapted version of its 800-series turbine flowmeter as the design included durable sapphire bearings proven reliable for many thousand hours operation, and a Hall effect detector which was not subject to problems with discolouration inside the pipe. After successful tests, a trial order for 400 units was placed in 1997, which after the subsequent field trials, was followed by an order for >5000 meters which were all delivered to the clients required timescales.

To ensure the flowmeter was ‘fit for purpose’, Titan additionally adapted the cable type as well as the body and increased the length to 10 metres. These adaptions enabled Brulines installations to be maintained in beer cellars with differing wire runs to the control panel without any junction boxes.

Twenty Years of Collaboration

With the widespread reliability of this product, Vianet turned again to Titan Enterprises in 1999 to develop for them an “intelligent” flowmeter (IFM) for their enhanced iDraught retail product. The specification for the IFM required that it should additionally measure temperature as well as determining the type of fluid in the line to detect line cleaning cycles which are essential for the dispensing of a good pint.

At the time, Titan did not have the technology to provide sensing electronics at a reasonable price so we produced a revised version of the beer flowmeter with the capability of being matched to a PCB designed, manufactured and installed by a third party.

After trialling and testing, this new IFM was introduced in June 2000 and supplied to Vianet at the rate of up to 3500 units a week. Mark Fewster, product manager at Vianet commented “Titan’s supply chain has always delivered to our quality and timescale needs”.

IoT Developments

ifm latest

An intelligent flowmeter design

Since this first IFM introduction, close collaboration between the two parties has resulted in 5 iterations of the product with revised features as end user requirements have developed and evolved with the growth of the IOT (Internet of Things). Drawing upon this close working relationship, over a long period of time, Titan continue to work with Vianet on new solutions and offerings as the Vianet customer offering further develops.

This Titan Enterprises application story is based on a report in the Autumn issue of Flowdown, the regular news bulletin published by Trevor Forster, MD of Titan, from their Dorset, UK base.