Bourdon Tube Pressure Gauge

Potting compound Magnet coils

Fig. 8.2. A cut-away view of a short-form magnetic flowmeter (Howe et al., 1969).

the increases and decreases in weight of the various vessels at regular time intervals. Provided the specific gravities of the liquids are known it is possible to estimate flow rates fairly accurately in different feed pipes. This is another technique which may be used with particulate suspensions.

Another indirect method of measuring flow rates aseptically is to use a metering pump which pumps liquid continuously at a predetermined and accurate rate. A variety of metering pumps are commercially available including motorized syringes, peristaltic pumps, piston pumps and diaphragm pumps. Motorized syringes are used only when very small quantities of liquid have to be added slowly to a vessel. In a peristaltic pump, liquid is moved forwards gradually by squeezing a tubing held in a semicircular housing. A variety of sizes of tubes can be used in different pumps to produce different known flow rates over a very wide range. Suspensions can be handled since the liquid has no direct contact with moving parts.

A piston pump contains an accurately machined ceramic or stainless-steel piston moving in a cylinder normally fitted with double ball inlet and outlet valves. The piston is driven by a constant-speed motor. Flow rates can be varied within a defined range by changing the stroke rate, the length of the piston stroke and by using a different piston size. Sizes are available from cm3 h 1 to thousands of dm3 h 1 and all can be operated at relatively high working pressures. Unfortunately, they cannot be used to pump fibrous or particulate suspensions. Piston pumps are more expensive than comparable sized peristaltic pumps but do not suffer from tube failure.



Aquarium Diaphragm Pump
Fig. 8.3. A direct-driven diaphragm pump (Howe et al., 1969).

Leakage can occur via the shaft housing of a piston pump. The problem can be prevented by the use of a diaphragm pump. This pump uses a flexible diaphragm to pump fluid through a housing (Fig. 8.3) with ball valves to control the direction of flow. The diaphragm may be made of, e.g., teflon, neoprene, stainless steel, and is actuated by a piston. A range of sizes of pumps is available for flow rates up to thousands of dm3 h_1.

Liquid flow from a nutrient feed tank or to or out of a fermenter may be monitored by continuous weighing on a balance or load cell(s). This will be discussed in the Weight section.

Pressure measurement

Pressure is one of the crucial measurements that must be made when operating many processes. Pressure measurements may be needed for several reasons, the most important of which is safety. Industrial and laboratory equipment is designed to withstand a specified working pressure plus a factor of safety. It is therefore important to fit the equipment with devices that will sense, indicate, record and control the pressure. The measurement of pressure is also important in media sterilization. In a fermenter, pressure will influence the solubility of gases and contribute to the maintenance of sterility when a positive pressure is present.

One of the standard pressure measuring sensors is the Bourdon tube pressure gauge (Fig. 8.4), which is used as a direct indicating gauge. The partial coil has an elliptical cross-section (A-A) which tends to be

Section A-A

Bourdon Tube Gauges

Process pressure

Fig. 8.4. 'C' Bourdon tube pressure gauge (Liptak, 1969).

Process pressure

Fig. 8.4. 'C' Bourdon tube pressure gauge (Liptak, 1969).

come circular with increasing pressure, and because of the difference between the internal and external radii, gradually straightens out. The process pressure is connected to the fixed socket, end of the tube while the sealed tip of the other end is connected by a geared sector and pinion movement which actuates an indicator pointer to show linear rotational response (Liptak, 1969).

When a vessel or pipe is to be operated under aseptic conditions a diaphragm gauge can be used (Fig. 8.5). Changes in pressure cause movements of the diaphragm capsule which are monitored by a mechanically levered pointer.

Diaphragm Gauge

Alternatively, the pressure could be measured remotely using pressure bellows connected to the core of a variable transformer. The movement of the core generates a corresponding output. It is also possible to use pressure sensors incorporating strain gauges. If a wire is subject to strain its electrical resistance changes; this is due, in part, to the changed dimensions of the wire and the change in resistivity which occurs due to the stress in the wire. The output can then be measured over long distances. Another electrical method is to use a piezoelectric transducer. Certain solid crystals such as quartz have an asymmetrical electrical charge distribution. Any change in shape of the crystal produces equal, external, unlike electric charges on the opposite faces of the crystal. This is the piezoelectric effect. Pressure can therefore be measured by means of electrodes attached to the opposite surfaces of the crystal. Bioengineering AG (Wald, Switzerland) have made a piezoelectrical transducer with integral temperature compensation, to overcome pyroelectric effects, and built into a housing which can be put into a fermenter port.

It will also be necessary to monitor and record atmospheric pressure if oxygen concentrations in inlet and/or exit gases are to be determined using oxygen gas analysers (see later section). Paramagnetic gas analysers are susceptible to changes in barometric pressure. A change of 1% in pressure may cause a 1% change in oxygen concentration reading. This size of error may be very significant in a vessel where the oxygen consumption rate is very low and there is very little difference between the inlet and exit gas compositions. The pressure changes should be constantly monitored to enable the appropriate corrections to be made.

Pressure control

Different working pressures are required in different parts of a fermentation plant. During normal operation a positive head pressure of 1.2 atmospheres (161 kN 1) absolute is maintained in a fermenter to assist in the maintenance of aseptic conditions. This pressure will obviously be raised during a steam-sterilization cycle (Chapter 5). The correct pressure in different components should be maintained by regulatory valves (Chapter 7) controlled by associated pressure gauges.

Safety valves

Safety valves (Chapter 7) should be incorporated at various suitable places in all vessels and pipe layouts which are likely to be operated under pressure. The valve should be set to release the pressure as soon as it increases markedly above a specified working pressure. Other provisions will be necessary to meet any containment requirements.

Agitator shaft power

A variety of sensors can be used to measure the power consumption of a fermenter. On a large scale, a watt meter attached to the agitator motor will give a fairly good indication of power uptake. This measuring technique becomes less accurate as there is a decrease in scale to pilot scale and finally to laboratory fermenters, the main contributing factor being friction in the agitator shaft bearing (Chapter 7). Torsion dynamometers can be used in small-scale applications. Since the dynamometer has to be placed on the shaft outside the fermenter the measurement will once again include the friction in the bearings. For this reason strain gauges mounted on the shaft within the fermenter are the most accurate method of measurement and overcome frictional problems (Aiba et al., 1965; Brodgesell, 1969). Aiba et al. (1965) mounted four identical strain gauges at 45° to the axis in a hollow shaft. Lead wires from the gauges passed out of the shaft via an axial hole and electrical signals were then picked up by an electrical slip-ring arrangement. Theoretical treatment of the strain gauge measurements has been covered by Aiba et al. (1973).

Rate of stirring

In all fermenters it is important to monitor the rate of rotation (rpm) of the stirrer shaft. The tachometer used for this purpose may employ electromagnetic induction voltage generation, light sensing or magnetic force as detection mechanisms (Brodgesell, 1969). Obviously, the final choice of tachometer will be determined by the type of signal which is required for recording and/or process control for regulating the motor speed and other ancillary equipment. Provision is often made on small laboratory fermenters to vary the rate of stirring. In most cases it is now standard practice to use an a.c. slip motor that has an acceptable torque curve that is coupled to a thyristor control. At pilot or full scale, the need to change rates of stirring is normally reduced. When necessary it can be done using gear boxes, modifying the sizes of wheels and drive belts, or by changing the drive motor, the most expensive alternative.

Foam sensing and control

The formation of foam is a difficulty in many types of microbial fermentation which can create serious problems if not controlled. It is common practice to add an antifoam to a fermenter when the culture starts foaming above a certain predetermined level. The methods used for foam sensing and antifoam additions will depend on process and economic considerations. The properties of antifoams have been discussed elsewhere (Chapters 4 and 7), as has their influence on dissolved oxygen concentrations (Chapter 9).

A foam sensing and control unit is shown in Fig. 8.6. A probe is inserted through the top plate of the fermenter. Normally the probe is a stainless-steel rod, which is insulated except at the tip, and set at a defined level above the broth surface. When the foam rises and touches the probe tip, a current is passed through the circuit of the probe, with the foam acting as an electrolyte and the vessel acting as an earth. The current actuates a pump or valve and antifoam is released into the fermenter for a few seconds. Process timers are routinely included in the circuit to ensure that the antifoam has time to mix into the medium and break down the foam before the probe is programmed after a preset time interval to sense the foam level again and possibly actuate the pump or valve. Alternatively antifoam may be added slowly at a predetermined rate by a small pump so that foaming never occurs and there is therefore no need for a sensing system.

A number of mechanical antifoam devices have been described including discs, propellers, brushes or hollow cones attached to the agitator shaft above the surface of the broth. The foam is broken down when it is thrown against the walls of the fermenter. Other de-

Antifoam reservoir






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  • Claudia
    Is paramagnetic used with bourdon gauge?
    6 years ago

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