Engineering a Long-Term Solution

Figure 1. The pump as received

Many pumps in operation today were designed and manufactured decades ago. As plants require increased capacity, pump systems are expected to meet these higher process flow demands. Without an impeller rerate or change in speed, this increased capacity can be achieved in one of two ways. The individual pumps can supply more flow to the system, resulting in operation out on the pump curve. Alternatively, capacity can be increased by operating more pumps in parallel; in this case operation is pushed back on the curve, as operating another pump in parallel requires less flow from each individual pump to meet total system demand.

Either operational change results in a move away from the pump best efficiency point (BEP). As a result, the original designs and hydraulic characteristics no longer effectively meet plant requirements and detrimental effects from hydraulic instability can occur.

By way of example, this article will discuss a fertilizer plant in the Gulf of Mexico that had a boiler feedwater pump unit that was experiencing performance problems after a significant plant expansion project. Unfortunately, it was not the first time this particular unit had experienced a loss of capacity; the pump had been in operation only 18 months prior to the current issue.