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The History of Thermal Flowmeters



Dr. Jesse Yoder, President, Flow Research.com
Email: Jesse@FlowResearch.com


The history of thermal flowmeters is fascinating. Thermal flowmeters were born on the West Coast of the United States —the result of independent development by first two, then three separate companies. One company was Fluid Components International (www.fluidcomponents.com), which began by developing thermal flow switches that were used in the oil patch. The switches detected the movement of oil in oil well pipes, but they didn’t evolve into actual flowmeters until 1981.

r.  John Oin

The second strain of early development in the flowmeter marketplace was a result of the collaboration of John Olin, Ph.D., and Jerry Kurz, Ph.D. Both Olin and Kurz worked for Thermo Systems Inc. (TSI) in Minnesota from 1968 until the early 1970s. They used hot-wire anemometers in their research on air velocity profile and turbulence. The anemometers consisted of a heated, thin-film element. While these anemometers worked well for research purposes, they were too light for industrial environments.  

While Olin and Kurz were doing research using anemometers, they were more interested in developing measurement products for industrial environments. This would require a more rugged device than an anemometer.  They approached TSI about developing industrial products, but TSI wasn’t interested. As a result, Olin and Kurz decided to start their own company, incorporating Sierra Instruments (www.sierrainstruments.com) in Minnesota in 1973. In 1975, they moved the company to California , packing the business up into two trucks, driving it across the Continental Divide to set up shop in Monterey .

In 1977, Sierra Instruments was making both air sampling products and thermal flowmeters. That year, Jerry Kurz decided to become independent and formed Kurz Instruments (www.kurzinstruments.com). Sierra kept the air sampling products, while Kurz Instruments kept the thermal flowmeters.  However, Sierra got back into the flowmeter market in 1983.

In the early 1980s, Sierra, Kurz, and Fluid Components were the only companies manufacturing thermal flowmeters. However, over time, more thermal flowmeter manufacturers arrived in the area of Monterey . These include Eldridge Products, Fox Thermal Instruments, and Sage Metering Inc.  Eventually, some of the larger flowmeter companies entered the market, including Endress+Hauser and ABB.  Magnetrol, a manufacturer of level and flow switches, also entered the thermal flowmeter market.  

For more information, go to www.flowthermal.com.

Coming up next: The history of mass flow controllers


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