Pressure and flow readings provide a means of assessing the performance of hydraulic and pneumatic systems and aid troubleshooting when malfunctions occur.
Simplified view of spiral Bourdon tube pressure gauge and movement.
Simplified view of helical Bourdon-tube pressure gage and movement.
The majority of gauges for measuring pressure have one characteristic in common: the pressure being measured is the only source of energy required to provide a visual indication of static pressure. Some form of elastic chamber inside the gauge case converts the pressure to motion, which is translated through suitable links, levers, and gearing into movement of a pointer across an indicating scale. Three types of elastic chambers are commonly used in gauges for fluid power systems:
Since the invention of the Bourdon-tube gauge more than a century ago, pressure gauge manufacturers have been developing different types of gauges to meet specific needs without ever changing the basic principle of operation. Bourdon-tube gauges are now commonly available to measure a wide range of gauge, absolute, sealed, and differential pressures, plus vacuum. They are manufactured to an accuracy as high as 0.1% of span and in dial diameters from 1 1/2 to 16 in. A variety of accessories can extend their performance and usefulness. Snubbers and gauge isolators can be installed to protect the sensitive internal workings from pressure spikes.
Gauges using C-shaped Bourdon tubes as the elastic chamber, as shown above left, are by far the most common. Pressurized fluid enters the stem at the bottom (which is sometimes entrancement instead) and passes into the Bourdon tube. The tube has a flattened cross section and is sealed at its tip. Any pressure in the tube in excess of the external pressure (usually atmospheric) causes the Bourdon tube to elastically change its shape to a more circular cross section.
This change in shape of the cross section tends to straighten the C-shape of the Bourdon tube. With the bottom stem end fixed, the straightening causes the tip at the opposite end to move a short distance — 1/16 to 1/2 in., depending on the size of the tube. A mechanical movement then transmits this tip motion to a gear train that rotates an indicating pointer over a graduated scale to display the applied pressure. Often, a movement is incorporated to provide mechanical advantage to multiply the relatively short movement of the tube tip.
Spiral and helical Bourdons
Bourdon tubes also may be made in the form of a spiral, Figure 1, or a helix, Figure 2. Each uses a long length of flattened tubing to provide increased tip travel. This does not change the operating principle of the Bourdon tube, but produces tip motion equal to the sum of the individual motions that would result from each part of the spiral or helix considered as a C-shape. Small-diameter spirals and helices can be manufactured to provide enough motion to drive the indicating pointer directly through an arc up to 270° without having to use a multiplying movement. Alternatively, they may be manufactured to be used in conjunction with a multiplying movement. In this case, the required motion is distributed over several turns, resulting in lower stress in the Bourdon material. This improves fatigue life when compared to a C-shaped Bourdon tube in the same pressure range.
Metallic diaphragms also are used as the elastic chamber in low pressure gauges. A diaphragm plate is formed from thin sheet metal into a shallow cup having concentric corrugations. To make an element with a low spring rate that generates substantial deflection from a small change in pressure, two plates can be soft soldered, brazed, or welded at their periphery to form a capsule, and additional capsules can be joined at their centers to form a stack.
Diaphragm elements may be used in an opposing arrangement. By evacuating one side of the assembly, the gauge can indicate absolute pressure. If a pressure is applied to one side of the assembly, and a second pressure is applied to the other side, then the differential pressure will be indicated. The differential pressure is limited with respect to the static pressure that can be applied. That is, the gauge may be suitable to indicate between 10 psi and 12 psi, but not be suitable to indicate between 100 psi and 102 psi. Also, the consequence of inadvertently applying full pressure to one side of the element and no pressure to the other side of the element must be considered.
Specifying a pressure gauge involves a number of considerations:
Options and accessories
A variety of options and accessories are available to enhance life and operation of gauges. Digital readout is accomplished by mounting a strain gauge to the sensing element and using on-board electronics to convert the strain induced by pressure into digital readout on an LED or LCD panel. Digital gauges require a power source — generally a long life battery — and may use a switch so power is consumed only when a button is pushed to read pressure.
A gauge isolator, mounted between the gauge and circuit, prevents the gauge from being exposed to fluid pressure unless a button is pushed. In this manner, the gauge is not exposed to pressure spikes and pulsations unless they occur when pressure is being read.
Orifices or snubbers protect gauges by smoothing out pressure fluctuations seen by the gauge. Snubbers may cause gauges to respond sluggishly, but can extend life by damping rapid pressure fluctuations. To help protect the gauge from external physical shock, case protectors can be used, which encapsulate the gauge in rubber.
A wide variety of other useful options — such as an integral adjustable pressure switch — are available from manufacturers to make pressure gauges even more versatile.