NASA program enables flow gauge maker to end workplace hazard

With assistance from the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program, an entrepreneur's new concept in visual flow measurements will eliminate an extreme workplace hazard in the petrochemical field and other industrial applications. Process Level Technology designs and makes liquid level and flow gauges. PLT owner Wade Donehue devised the CFLOW-360, a magnetically operated sight flow indicator that addresses industrial applications for an alternative to less reliable armored glass sight flows...

LEAGUE CITY, TX, Aug. 11, 2005 -- With assistance from the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), an entrepreneur's new concept in visual flow measurements will eliminate an extreme workplace hazard in the petrochemical field and other industrial applications.

Process Level Technology (PLT) in League City, Texas, designs and manufactures liquid level and flow gauges. PLT owner Wade Donehue devised the CFLOW-360, a magnetically operated sight flow indicator that addresses the need in industrial applications for an alternative to less reliable armored glass sight flows.

"I basically took the magnetic level gauge and applied it to the flow industry," said Donehue, whose background is in the level gauge manufacturing industry. "With CFLOW, I've applied the magnetic circuit to flow measurement, creating a sight flow indicator that is completely sealed."

The CFLOW-360 incorporates a turbine with a magnetic assembly that couples through a flow chamber to an exterior visual indicator. The device allows for 360 degrees of visibility from up to 200 feet of distance, whereas previous designs were difficult to see from any distance and only could be viewed from two angles. The ability to view critical flow lines from greater distances minimizes operator errors in determining flow, as well as operator exposure to hazardous processes.

Conventional glass sight flow indicators incur such health risks that they have been banned by petrochemical companies, but there never has been a product to replace them. PLT's innovative CFLOW-360 design also allows sight flow technology to be used in industrial applications that previously precluded use of visual sight flow devices.

The design eliminates contact between glass and processes, diminishing chemical leaks or spills and the added cost of protective gear; allows for use with clear liquids, gas and substances that have a tendency to coat; and reduces falling or tripping hazards when viewing critical flow lines.

"I had the concept, but needed assistance with the turbine design, specifically the size, pitch and overall design of the blades," said Donehue. He worked on the design for nearly five years before meeting with members of the League City Economic Development Corporation, who referred him to David Braun, SATOP Texas project engineer.

Braun facilitated a meeting between Donehue and Johnnie Engelhardt, senior payload integration engineer at Muniz Engineering Inc. (MEI), a Gold-level SATOP Alliance Partner. MEI provides high-value, technical services to the U.S. government and commercial customers in the areas of engineering services, safety and product assurance, administrative services, and information technology and management.

"Donehue was in need of a turbine design that could handle the flow rate, as well as a method to capture and hold the magnets," explained Engelhardt.

Drawing on years of aerospace engineering expertise, Engelhardt fashioned the turbine after a standard air foil, and provided Donehue all the required dimensions and specifications. The completed CFLOW-360 design utilizes magnetic fields between magnets on the pipe's interior and exterior that trigger movement of a black and yellow magnetic flow indicator ring.

Donehue couldn't be more pleased with the results. "SATOP introduced me to expertise and engineering that I could never have afforded," said Donehue. "Product development was at a total standstill for nearly two years, and in far less time than that the CFLOW-360 is ready to go to production."
Plans to increase staff size and add equipment and manufacturing space for the production and marketing of the device are currently underway. PLT projects yearly sales for the CFLOW-360 to reach $2.2 million over the next five years.

The NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) provides small-businesses with free technical assistance through the expertise of the U.S. Space Program, as well as aerospace contractors, NASA field centers, universities and colleges. These organizations join SATOP as Space Alliance Partners and donate time and expertise to help solve technical challenges for small businesses. Platinum level Space Alliance Partners include AJT & Associates, Lockheed Martin, TEAM Specialty Products, and The Boeing Company. For more information about SATOP, or to request technical assistance, please visit www.spacetechsolutions.com.

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