Pushing Fluid Machinery Leads to Frequent Failures (First of Four Parts)

Written by:
Heinz P. Bloch
July 1, 2014

PreDefining the Operating Range
The constraints of parallel operation of pumps do not always receive proper emphasis. However, the process pump standard issued by the American Petroleum Institute (API-610) provides important guidelines. Unless pumps operated in parallel have identical performance curves, they will not share the load equally. Pumps operating in parallel should have relatively steep performance curves. Pumps with flat performance curves often have marginally higher efficiencies but will risk unequal load sharing. Operating flat-curve pumps in parallel might, in some instances, cause one pump to briefly run at zero flow. Pumps operated at zero flow will fail—some after one minute, others after one hour.

While operating-range constraint questions generally apply to hydraulic parameters, pump hydraulics can, in turn, affect the life of mechanical components. Problems with short elbows near the suction nozzle of certain pumps can exist, and the resulting flow stratification and friction losses are sometimes overlooked. Other issues can be purely mechanical and are often related to the design or maintenance oversights. These are best addressed by enhanced work procedures and better quality control. Many good recommendations may be found in solidly experience-based references. Experience-based recommendations may not always please the occasional vendor (or purchaser) whose primary goal is low initial cost and who does not share a reliability focus. Some purchasers or owners will mention an isolated example in which a pump survived despite receiving no attention regarding reliability recommendations. These notions are similar to anecdotes about a driver whose life was saved because he did not wear a seat belt. Such arguments do not add value.

Click here to read part 2 of this article series.



1. Taylor, Irving, “The Most Persistent Pump-Application Problems for Petroleum and Power Engineers,” ASME Publication 77-Pet-5 (Presented at Energy Technology Conference and Exhibit, Houston, Texas, September 18 – 22, 1977).
2. Bloch, Heinz P., Pump Wisdom: Problem Solving for Operators and Specialists, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J., 2011.
3. Bloch, Heinz P. and Alan R. Budris, Pump User’s Handbook, 4th Edition, Fairmont Press, Lilburn, Ga., 2013.
4. ANSI/HI9.6.3-1997, “Allowable Operating Region,” Hydraulic Institute, Parsippany, N.J.
5. SKF USA, Inc., Publication 100 – 955, “Bearings in Centrifugal Pumps,” Version 4, p. 20, Kulpsville, Pa., 2008.
6. Bloch, Heinz P., Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities, 2nd Edition, Fairmont Press, p. 179, 2009.,; “Mechanical Seals in Medium-Pressure Steam Turbines,” presented at the ASLE 40th Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., May 1985 (later reprinted in Lubrication Engineering, November 1985).


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