Igor Karassik - The Pump User's Engineer


Written by:
Joe Evans, Ph.D. PumpTech Inc., P&S Editorial Advisory Board
Published:
April 1, 2014
This article is part of our ongoing series on The History of Pumps.

During the past few years, I have written articles about scientists who have contributed to our understanding of hydraulics. These included Daniel Bernoulli (Pumps & Systems, August 2012 and September 2012) and Blasé Pascal (Pumps & Systems, February 2007). Several more have made significant contributions that I have yet to cover.

Bernoulli’s theorem on energy conservation during steady-state flow and Pascal’s work on hydrostatics are still used daily in our industry. Their work dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. However, not long ago, a 20th century Russian immigrant also had a profound influence on the industry. Igor Karassik championed several engineering breakthroughs and focused on teaching pump users to apply their pumps correctly.

One of his frequent quotes was “operators deserve to sleep nights, too.” During his 50-year career, he became known as the “pump user’s engineer.”

Karassik was born in Russia in 1911 and passed away in 1995. He immigrated to the U.S. during the Russian revolution and was educated at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he received a B.S. and M.S. in engineering. Karassik joined Worthington Pump in 1934 and spent much of his career there. In 1937, he and fellow employees, George Wislicenus and R. M. Watson, developed the concept of suction specific speed, which eventually replaced the Thoma-Moody constant.

The use of suction specific speed provided a far more reliable method for determining the flow at which recirculation could occur in the suction of a pump. Two of Karassik’s other successes include the prevention of catastrophic boiler feed pump failures in open-cycle steam power plants and the development of high-speed (9,000 rpm) boiler feed pumps. In the 1970s, he was an early advocate for the development of variable frequency drives and the use of magnetic bearings in electric motors.

In addition to his vast technical knowledge, Karassik had a keen business sense. He believed that the only way business can prosper is by helping customers succeed in their endeavors. A major goal was educating end users about pumps so they could apply them properly.

He was a loyal supporter of the International Pump Users Symposium because of its objective to help pump users better understand pumps. At the 1988 symposium, he presented a paper entitled, “An Open Letter to the Pump Industry.” This presentation stressed his belief that manufacturers should exert a greater effort to educate pump users.

He was most concerned with something he called “controversial facts.” The two that he mentioned were required versus recommended net positive suction head and recommended minimum flows. One of his most quoted statements from this presentation was, “When the user hears two or more statements that contradict each other but start with the same ‘it has been proven’ he is completely confused. Remember, a man with one watch knows what time it is, but a man with two watches does not.”

For some of the younger readers who may not be familiar with mid-20th century watches, they were not as accurate as today’s digital models. Seldom did two display the same time. Several of his symposium papers, including “An Open Letter to the Pump Industry,” “A Map of the Forest” and “A Name Well Chosen,” as well as all the annual proceedings are available online at http://turbolab.tamu.edu/proc/index.html.

Karassik’s forward-thinking ideas often faced resistance from others in the industry who were reluctant to try something new. His usual reply was, “If you don’t want problems, then don’t do anything. Progress is made by solving the problems caused by progress.”

As a follow-up, he also stated, “There may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but once in a while, there could be another tunnel at the end of the light.”

In the end, he considered his most important role as that of a teacher. He was unique and, to date, I have yet to see his replacement in the pump manufacturing industry.

During his career, he authored several pump-related books including, Centrifugal Pump Selection, Operation and Maintenance; Engineers Guide to Centrifugal Pumps; and Centrifugal Pump Clinic. He was co-author of Pump Questions and Answers and co-editor of the industry bible, Pump Handbook. Some of the older editions of his books are available as a free download. He also authored more than 500 technical articles. One of the most popular was a three-part series on “Centrifugal Pump Operation at Off-Design Conditions.” This series is a must-read and is available on my website, www.PumpEd101.com.

For the pump industry to excel, it must follow Karassik’s philosophy because it is a proven roadmap to success. Invest in innovation and progress. Solve the problems caused by progress. Work with customers and help them succeed. Finally, use education to make the incomprehensible comprehensible to all in the industry.

In closing, another Russian engineer who has been a major contributor to the proper application and understanding of pumps is Dr. Lev Nelik. Nelik immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 and worked for several major pump manufacturers before founding his own company, which offers training and consulting services.

Like Karassik, he is a major supporter of the International Pump Users Symposium and serves on the advisory committee. Nelik has authored his own book on centrifugal and rotary pumps and has published more than 50 technical papers. You probably know him best for his educational “Pumping Prescriptions” that are published monthly in Pumps & Systems.


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