A keen ear for all that flows
FLEXIM GmbH from Marzahn is market leader in the field of non-invasive flow measurement using ultrasound
When it comes to high-precision ultrasonic flow measurements, FLEXIM Flexible Industriemesstechnik GmbH is in the international top league. Since it was founded thirty years ago, the Marzahn-based company grew from four to four-hundred employees — and is now capable of non-invasively measuring gases, compressed air, or vapour using ultrasound.
Four young blokes, fresh from university, and a ground-floor flat in Friedrichshain. That’s how it started thirty years ago and what has now become a world-leading specialist for non-invasive flow measurement with a 420-strong staff. Every day, 250 FLEXIM employees frequent the stylish headquarters. The wooden facades of the two three and four-storey buildings are one of the most eye-catching features of Marzahn’s business park.
CEO Jens Hilpert was part of the founding team in April 1990. ‘We founded the company with Ostmark, the Socialist-era currency,’ he tells us. At their respective universities in Rostock and Berlin, they worked on developing a procedure for non-invasive flow measurement using ultrasound for a whole decade.
During the turbulent time following reunification, founding a company gave them a sense of direction — even though Hilpert would have never dreamed of what became of the start-up from the ground floor in Friedrichshain. ‘We started out without any type of plan and obviously focused on the East German market,’ he chuckles. FLEXIM is now a global market leader in the flow measurement field.
This specialisation on ultrasound flow measurements of liquid or gaseous matter has stayed with since its founding. This can include liquids, gases, and, most recently, vapours. Clamped onto pipes, the ultrasound sensors can identify the amount of a liquid or gaseous matter passing a measuring point, regardless of the flow direction, pressure peaks, or a pulsatile flow.
Most customers come from the energy sector. The range of applications includes oil and gas extraction, refining, storage, and transport processes of fossil fuels, and the use in solar thermal power plants. However, FLEXIM is currently working on diversifying its target markets. ‘The oil and gas industry is distinctively volatile and we are expecting a transition to renewable energy in the medium term,’ says Hilpert. His company has already gained a foothold in other industries — in food, pharma, paper and chemical pulp, and semi-conductors. Lately, the demand in the health sector increased overnight due to COVID-19. Clinics are installing FLEXIM’s measurement technology in their oxygen supply to glean real-time consumption data and optimise the distribution of available oxygen. Since there is no contact with the medium inside the pipe, there is no threat of contamination of the medical oxygen.
While this job was about pipe diameters in the millimetre range, FLEXIM recently proved that ultrasonic measurement technology can also tackle pipes of a very different calibre: working for a water company in Manila, Philippines, four sensors from Marzahn measured precisely how much drinking water flowed past the strong concrete walls of a pipe that had an inner diameter of 3.20 metres and was 20 centimetres thick. Think 200 million litres per day.
To make sure that the flow measurement of fluids, gases, and vapours yields precise results even under difficult conditions, it is essential to identify any source of noise and the effect of flow profile so as to correct for them later. ‘We push forward research projects with PTB, Germany national metrology institute, to get better and better at it,’ says Hilpert. Based in the Charlottenburg district, PTB’s high-precision flow rig offers ideal conditions to do so in combination with state-of-the-art laser-optical systems. It’s easy to tell that this is a matter of pride and joy to him. Being a measurement technician, precision is everything to Hilpert. ‘Our goal is to further develop this technology. Earning money is just a means to an end,’ he says. It must be this way of thinking that turns flat shares into global technology leaders.
By Peter Trechow for Potenzial – The WISTA Magazine