A keen ear for everything that flows

31.08.2020

Marzahn-based FLEXIM GmbH is the market leader in the field of non-contact flow measurement using ultrasound

When it comes to high-precision flow measurements with ultrasound, FLEXIM Flexible Industriemesstechnik GmbH plays in the top international league. The company, based in Marzahn, Berlin, has grown from four to over 400 employees since it was founded 30 years ago – and is now even able to measure gases, compressed air or steam without contact using ultrasound.

Four young guys, fresh out of university and a groundfloor flat in Friedrichshain. This is how the company with 420 employees began 30 years ago. It has now matured into a globally sought-after specialist for non-invasive measurement of material flows. Here alone in the smart headquarters, 250 FLEXIM employees come and go every day. The three and four-storey buildings with wooden facades are a real eye-catcher in Marzahn‘s industrial park.

Managing director Jens Hilpert was part of the founding team in April 1990. “We founded the company with the East German mark“, he says. For a decade, they developed a method for non-contact flow measurement with ultrasound at their universities in Rostock and Berlin.

The founding of the company gave them a direction during the turbulent days of German reunification – even if Hilpert had never dreamed of what would become of the start-up in his groundfloor flat in Friedrichshain. “We just set off without any major plan and only had the East German market in mind“, he grins. Today, FLEXIM is a global leader in flow measurement.

What has remained since the beginning is the specialization in ultrasonic measurements of flowing media. These can be liquids, gases or, more recently, steam. The ultrasonic transducers mounted on the outside of pipes determine precisely which quantity of a medium passes the measuring point, regardless of the direction of flow, pressure peaks, turbulence or pulsating flows.

The main customer is the energy sector. The range of applications extends from oil and gas production to refinery, storage and transport processes of fossil fuels to use in solar thermal power plants. However, FLEXIM is working on diversifying its target markets. “The oil and gas business is extremely volatile – and, in the medium term, we will switch to renewable energies“, explains Hilpert. His company has long since gained a foothold in other industries. Food, pharmaceuticals, paper and pulp, semiconductors – recently in the wake of the Corona pandemic, demand in the health sector has skyrocketed. Hospitals are installing FLEXIM measurement technology on oxygen lines in order to determine real-time consumption data and to be able to optimally distribute the available amount of oxygen. Since measurements are taken from the outside, there is no risk of contamination of the medical oxygen.

While this is a case of pipe diameters in the millimetre range, FLEXIM recently proved to a water supplier in Manila in the Philippines that ultrasonic measuring technology can also cope with pipes of other calibres. Through the 8 inches thick concrete walls of a pipe with an inner diameter of 125 inches, four transducers from the Marzahn company precisely measured how much drinking water was flowing through it. Scale: 50 billion gallons per day.

In order for the flow measurement of fluids, gases and steam to deliver precise values even under the most difficult conditions, it is important to record any interfering noises and the influence of the flow profiles in order to calculate them from the measured signals. “In order to get better and better, we are promoting research projects with the Physikalisch-Technischen Bundesanstalt (national metrology institute)“, explains Hilpert. Their Charlottenburg flow standard test system offers optimal conditions for this in connection with modern laser-optical measuring technology. Here – you can easily hear it – his heart beats faster. As a measurement technician, Hilpert is interested in precision. “Our goal is to further develop the technology. Money is only a means to an end“, he says. It must be precisely this way of thinking that turns a four man start-up into a global technology leader.

By Peter Trechow for Potenzial – Das WISTA-Magazin

Jens HilpertFLEXIM HQ