Expert Article

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

Juhani Lehto
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Juhani Lehto

Product Manager for high-end products


Industrial Manufacturing and Processes
Industrial Measurements

Humidity measurement and control is called for in a wide variety of industrial applications. Each application has a different set of requirements for humidity instruments, such as required measurement range, tolerance to extreme temperature and pressure conditions, ability to recover from condensation, ability to operate in hazardous environments, and options for installation and calibration. There is no single device that is suitable for all needs. In fact, the range of available equipment is quite large, varying both in cost and quality.

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. In applications with high humidity where condensation can occur, a warmed sensor head probe such as the Indigo compatible Vaisala HUMICAP® Humidity and Temperature Probe HMP7 or Vaisala HUMICAP® Humidity and Temperature Transmitter HMT337 should be used.

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. For example, Vaisala DRYCAP® products are designed for measuring dew point.

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. See the Indigo compatible Dew Point and Temperature Probe DMP8 with adjustable installation depth for pressurized pipelines or Dew Point Temperature Transmitter DMT348 also for pressurized pipelines.

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. For example, the Vaisala HMT370EX series of intrinsically safe humidity transmitters are specially designed for use in hazardous environments.

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.

Download a Humidity Guide for Smart Industries
Measuring humidity in industrial processes and facilities usually brings you energy savings and improves end-product quality. Also indoor air quality is better when the humidity levels are optimal. Get access to Vaisala Humidity Calculator and Humidity Conversion Formulas, measurement glossary and knowledge about intrinsic safety, theoretical and practical humidity webinars and videos, a drying simulator and use cases and typical applications & instruments. Download here

Vaisala Humidity Calculator

Relative humidity, absolute humidity, wet-bulb temperature, enthalpy, water concentration, and many more. Humidity calculations and conversions made easy.

Humidity Calculator
Juhani Lehto

Juhani Lehto

Product Manager for high-end products


Juhani Lehto has over ten years of experience in industrial measurements and sensor technology. He holds a Master of Science degree in Technology from the Aalto University of Espoo, Finland.