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How to choose the right instrument for measuring humidity and dew point

The right instrument for high humidity
Environments with >90%RH are defined here as high humidity environments. At 90%RH a difference of 2°C can cause water to condense on the sensor, which in an unventilated space may take hours to dry. Vaisala humidity sensors will recover from condensation. However, if the condensed water is contaminated, the instrument accuracy can be affected due to deposits on the sensor, especially salt deposits. Even the life of the sensor may be shortened.

The right instrument for low humidity
Environments with <10%RH are defined here as low humidity environments. At low humidities, the calibration accuracy of instruments measuring relative humidity may not be adequate. Instead, measuring dew point will provide a good indication of humidity. 

If a dryer fails in a compressed air system, water condensation may appear and the instrument will need to recover. Many dew point sensors are damaged or destroyed in such situations, but Vaisala DRYCAP® dew point sensors withstand high humidity – and even water spikes.

The right instrument for extreme temperature and pressure conditions
Continuous exposure to extreme temperatures may affect sensor and probe materials over time. It is therefore very important to select a suitable product for demanding environments. In temperatures above 60°C the transmitter electronics should be mounted outside the process and only a suitable high temperature probe should be inserted into the high temperature environment. Moreover, built-in temperature compensation is required to minimize the errors caused by large temperature swings or operation at temperature extremes.

When measuring humidity in processes operating at around ambient pressure, a small leak may be tolerable and can be reduced by sealing around the probe or cable. However, when the process needs to be isolated, or when there is a large pressure difference between the process and the external environment, a sealed probe head with appropriate mounting must be used.

Pressure leaks at the point of entry will alter the local humidity and result in false readings. In many applications it is advisable to isolate the probe from the process with a ball valve to enable the removal of the probe for maintenance without shutting down the process.

When is a sampling system needed for dew point measurement?
Wherever possible, the probe should be mounted in the actual process to achieve the most accurate measurements and a rapid response time. However, direct installations are not always feasible. In such situations, sample cells installed in-line provide an entry point for a suitable measurement probe.

Note that external sampling systems should not be used to measure relative humidity because the change in temperature will affect the measurement. Sampling systems can instead be used with dew point probes. When measuring dew point, sampling systems are typically used to lower the temperature of the process gas, to protect the probe against particulate contamination, or to enable easy connection and disconnection of the instrument without ramping down the process.

The simplest dew point sampling setup consists of a dew point transmitter connected to a sampling cell. Vaisala has several models suitable for the most common applications and sampling needs. For example, the easy to install DSC74 sampling cell is designed for the flow and pressure conditions in compressed air applications. In demanding process conditions, sampling systems must be designed carefully. As dew point is pressure dependent, a flow meter, pressure gauge, special non-porous tubing, filters, and pump may be needed.

In a pressurized system a sample pump isn’t needed as the process pressure induces a large enough flow to the sampling cell. When measuring dew point with a sampling system, trace heating should be used when the ambient temperature around the cooling coil or connecting tube is within 10°C of the dew point temperature. This prevents condensation in the tubing that connects the dew point instrument to the process.

Hazardous environments
Only products with appropriate certification can be used in potentially explosive areas. For example, in Europe products must comply with the ATEX directive, which has been mandatory since 2003. Intrinsically safe products are designed in such a manner that even in the event of failure they do not generate enough energy to ignite certain classes of gas. The wiring from the intrinsically safe product into the safe area must be isolated via a safety barrier. 

Shock and vibration
When the probe will be subject to excessive shock or vibration, the choice of probe, mounting method, and installation location needs careful consideration.


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