The Pump Handbook Series
apor pressure, cavitation,and NPSH are subjectswidely discussed by engi-neers, pumps users, andpumping equipment suppliers, butunderstood by too few. To graspthese subjects, a basic explanationis required.
Knowledge of vapor pressureis extremely important whenselecting pumps and theirmechanical seals. Vapor pressureis the pressure absolute at which aliquid, at a given temperature,starts to boil or flash to a gas.Absolute pressure (psia) equals thegauge pressure (psig) plus atmos-pheric pressure.Let’s compare boiling water atsea level in Rhode Island to boil-ing water at an elevation of 14,110feet on top of Pikes Peak inColorado. Water boils at a lowertemperature at altitude becausethe atmospheric pressure is lower.Water and water containingdissolved air will boil at differenttemperatures. This is because oneis a liquid and the other is a solu-tion. A solution is a liquid with dis-solved air or other gases. Solutionshave a higher vapor pressure thantheir parent liquid and boil at a lowertemperature. While vapor pressurecurves are readily available for liq-uids, they are not for solutions.Obtaining the correct vapor pressurefor a solution often requires actuallaboratory testing.
Cavitation can create havoc withpumps and pumping systems in theform of vibration and noise. Bearingfailure, shaft breakage, pitting on theimpeller, and mechanical seal leak-age are some of the problems causedby cavitation.When a liquid boils in the suc-tion line or suction nozzle of a pump,it is said to be “flashing” or “cavitat-ing” (forming cavities of gas in theliquid). This occurs when the pres-sure acting on the liquid is below thevapor pressure of the liquid. Thedamage occurs when these cavitiesor bubbles pass to a higher pressureregion of the pump, usually just pastthe vane tips at the impeller “eye,”and then collapse or “implode.”
Net Positive Suction Head is thedifference between suction pressureand vapor pressure. In pump designand application jargon, NPSH
is thenet positive suctionhead available to thepump, and NPSH
isthe net positive suc-tion head requiredby the pump.The NPSH
must be equal to orgreater than theNPSH
for a pumpto run properly. Oneway to determine theNPSH
is to mea-sure the suction pres-sure at the suctionnozzle, then applythe following formu-la:
= barometric pres-sure in feet absolute, V
= vaporpressure of the liquid at maximumpumping temperature in feetabsolute, Gr = gauge reading atthe pump suction, in feet absolute(plus if the reading is above baro-metric pressure, minus if the read-ing is below the barometricpressure), and h
= velocity headin the suction pipe in feetabsolute.NPSH
can only be deter-mined during pump testing. Todetermine it, the test engineermust reduce the NPSH
to thepump at a given capacity until thepump cavitates. At this point thevibration levels on the pump andsystem rise, and it sounds likegravel is being pumped. Morethan one engineer has run for theemergency shut-down switch thefirst time he heard cavitation onthe test floor. It’s during thesetests that one gains a real apprecia-tion for the damage that will occurif a pump is allowed to cavitate fora prolonged period.
Centrifugal pumping terminol-ogy can be confusing. The follow-ing section addresses these termsand how they are used:
is a term used toexpress pressure in both pumpdesign and system design whenanalyzing static or dynamic condi-tions. This relationship isexpressed as:
head in feet =(pressure in psi x 2.31)specific gravity
Pressure in static systems isreferred to as
and in adynamic system as
To explain static head, let’sconsider three columns of anydiameter, one filled with water,one with gasoline, and one withsalt water (Figure 1). If thecolumns are 100 ft tall and you
Nomenclature and Definitions
BY PAT FLACH
Static head using various liquids.
43 psi52 psi32.5 psi
100FEETSTATICHEAD100FEETSTATICHEAD100FEETSTATICHEADWaterSp. Gr. = 1.0GasolineSp. Gr. = .75SaltWaterSp. Gr. = 1.2