Liquid-Filled or Dry?
Small-plot agricultural sprayers should have a pressure gauge on the wand or boom to ensure accurate application rates. Most are added after-market and the operator has the choice of buying liquid-filled or dry gauges.
Glycerine- or silicone-filled gauges are preferred because they dampen pressure spikes, pulsation and mechanical vibration. Compared to dry gauges, they are available in higher ranges and are less prone to moisture problems (which cause corrosion, accuracy and visibility issues).
We use 100 psi (~7 bar) liquid-filled gauges for our handheld sprayers. Only recently did we acknowledge the sticker affixed to the glass advising the user to cut the nipple off the rubber plug located at the top. Preferring to avoid messy leaks, we have always left it intact.
We wondered what impact, if any, this was having…
What are Vents?
Expensive gauges have mechanical vents that can be opened prior to use and closed to retain liquid when stored. More commonly, there is a rubber plug with a protrusion (referred to as a nipple).
Mechanical, liquid-filled gauges are sealed to keep the liquid in. When there are temperature fluctuations, the liquid expands or contracts and creates “case pressure”. This exerts a force that interferes with the pressure reading.
According to Marshall Instruments, case pressure can offset the accuracy by approximately 1 psi (0.07 bar) for every 35˚F (20˚C) temperature change, but is only noticeable when measuring lower pressures (0-15 psi or 0-1 bar). Nevertheless, they advise all gauges should be vented prior to use.
The plug can be removed to allow the user to refill the gauge, maintaining an air space of about ½” at the top of the window. If the nipple is cut off, the gauge is permanently vented and will leak if the gauge is not kept vertical.
We performed an experiment to see if typical working temperatures had a practical impact on the accuracy of an unvented gauge. We suspended an unvented, liquid-filled gauge upright in a water bath at approximately 15˚C, 30˚C or 45˚C (59˚F, 83˚F or 113˚F) until it equilibrated. The high temperature may seem unreasonable, but gauges left in trucks on summer days get far hotter.
The gauge was quickly removed and placed in a manometer (Ametek T-975) where it was subjected to pressures of 15, 30 and 45 psi (1 bar, 2 bar and 3.1 bar) and readings recorded. This was repeated five times. We then vented the gauge and repeated the process.
At first, there appeared to be very little difference in average accuracy of vented and unvented gauges. Accuracy refers to the closeness of a measured value to a standard or known value. Perhaps there was some small increase in the pressure reported by an unvented gauge, but very little practical difference.
However, when we look at variability we get a different picture. Variability is a measure of precision, which refers to the closeness of measurements to one another. The graphs show that an unvented gauge has greater variability (less precision) at lower temperatures and lower pressures.
A good way to think of accuracy and precision is using the classic archery bulls-eye metaphor. The unvented pressure gauge is best represented by the third image, where it is accurate (on average) but not precise (variable).
What does this mean in practice? Consider someone spraying a small plot using a TeeJet XR8002 nozzle on a CO2-powered hand boom at 30 psi. The difference in output between 30 psi and 40 psi is about 0.003 gpm / psi.
An unvented pressure gauge used on a hot day may read 1.5 psi lower, causing you to overcompensate and raise the pressure 1.5 psi higher than intended. That would result in 0.0045 gpm (0.5%) more applied. Compensating for an unvented gauge on a colder day might be closer to 0.009 gpm (1%) more applied.
Assuming a walking speed of 3.1 mph (5 km/h) and a swath of 20” (50 cm), the nozzle should emit about16.3 gpa at 30 psi. Unvented in the heat, that’s 16.7 gpa. At 33 psi, that’s 17.15 gpa. That’s almost 1 gpa more than intended. Potentially, the lack of precision could make a significant difference.
- Liquid-filled gauges are preferred over dry gauges.
- To ensure precision, the gauge should be vented prior to use.
- Permanent venting on a hand-held sprayer causes leaks, which is a nuisance, so we suggest simply lifting the edge of the plug with a screwdriver or fingernail to vent the gauge prior to each use.
This work was performed by OMAFRA summer student, Aidan Morgan.