You are on page 1of 10

Pump Suction Characteristics (1 PDH) Course No.

Introduction I once presented this course to a group of mechanical engineers, and called it "What You Always Needed to Know About NPSH, But Were Afraid to Ask". They all knew that NPSH was important in designing a pumping system, but many of them who had been out of school for a few years would have had difficulty in calculating the NPSH available of a piping system without breaking out a text book. NPSH is the link that connects the piping system designer to the pump specifier. It is not uncommon to hear the complaint "This pump is cavitating. Call the manufacturer!" More likely than not, the fault is with the piping system design, which is causing the pump to cavitate. A common source of difficulty (and errors) is dealing with all the various units of measure. It seems that everything in the formula for calculating NPSH is commonly expressed in different units. There may be a few surprises, such as the fact the NPSH applies to positive displacement pumps as well as centrifugal pumps, and how suction specific speed can be used as a rough indicator for selecting a pump type. Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) When specifying pump ratings and when diagnosing pump operating problems, few items are more discussed and less understood than net positive suction head (NPSH). Symptoms that may be attributed to inadequate NPSH include:
• • • •

Sudden drop in pump discharge pressure under certain operating conditions Excessive noise and/or vibration Poor pump efficiency, especially at low loads Excessive pump wear, such as pitting of impellers

Before getting into a discussion of NPSH, some basic definitions of terms and designation of symbols used throughout this discussion will be laid out. For the sake of uniformity, the definitions and symbols will be taken from the Hydraulic Institute Standards, the most widely used compilation of pump design, operating, and testing standards in the U.S.

Page 1

Bowl Assembly Head (Hb) The difference between the total discharge head measured in the column pipe of Page 2 . hz is negative. Where the liquid surface is below the pump datum. The relation between pressure expressed in pounds per square inch (psi). and V = the velocity in the pipe in ft/sec (fps). (negative suction head) it is called suction lift. or Lift (Hs or HL) Positive suction head exists when the total suction head at the pump datum is above atmospheric pressure. and is the reading of a gauge at the pump datum minus the velocity head. Flooded Suction The liquid must flow from an atmospheric vented source to the pump without the average pressure at the pump datum falling below atmospheric pressure with the pump running at specified capacity. and feet of head is: h = psi x 144/w. expressed in feet. The datum for gauge readings shall be taken at the centerline of the pump for horizontal pumps and double suction vertical pumps.Head (H) Head is a measure of pressure. All pressure readings must be converted to feet of the liquid being pumped. or at the entrance eye of the first stage impeller for single suction vertical pumps. Total Suction Head. where g = 32. under pumping conditions. where w = the specific weight in pounds per cubic foot of liquid being pumped. Total Discharge Head (Hd) The reading of a pressure gauge at the pump discharge converted to feet of liquid and referred to datum plus the velocity head at the point of attachment. plus the velocity head at the point of attachment. When the total suction head at the pump datum is below atmospheric pressure. Static Head. It is the reading of a gauge at the pump suction converted to feet of liquid and referred to datum.17 ft/sec/sec at sea level. or Gravity Head (Hz) The vertical distance between the surface of the pumped liquid and the pump datum. Velocity Head (Hv) Velocity head shall be figured from the average velocity (V) obtained by dividing the flow in cubic feet per second (cfs) by the area of the pipe cross section in square feet at the point of the gauge connection: hv = V2/2g.

it nearly cancels out the pressure within the deaerator. and the total suction head. when calculating the NPSH available from a deaerating feedwater heater pressurized to 5 psig (~20 psia). Vapor Pressure (Hvp) Vapor pressure is one of the physical properties of a liquid. or the elevation of the deaerator above the feedwater pump suction nozzle minus frictional losses in the suction Page 3 . However. such as pumping water or # 2 fuel oil at moderate temperatures from an open container. TDH can only be determined by the user and specified to the pump supplier along with the rated capacity. For such liquids. It is usually expressed in mm of mercury or psia. The Hydraulic Institute uses the term Net Inlet Pressure (NIP) instead of NPSH in connection with rotary pumps. This is true for hot (saturated) water. where the water is near the saturation temperature for that pressure. ammonia. less the vapor pressure. and LP gas. In simple terms. connected to the top of the bowl assembly. Vapor pressure of a liquid is of little concern in many pumping applications. less the vapor pressure of the liquid in feet absolute. and must be stored in pressurized containers. is expressed as a positive number). and can be ignored and left out of the calculation for NPSH. Where suction lift exists. It is the analysis of energy conditions on the suction side of a pump to determine if the liquid will vaporize at the lowest pressure within the pump. Therefore. vapor pressure is well below atmospheric pressure. It is mentioned here just to make the student aware of the term.a vertical turbine pump. For example. NPSH is the pressure at the pump suction port measured in feet of liquid absolute. It varies with temperature. NIP is just NPSH expressed in psia instead of feet. which have relatively high vapor pressures. remember. volatile liquids such as gasoline and other petroleum products. Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) Net positive suction head is the total suction head in feet of liquid absolute determined at the suction nozzle and referred to datum. the NPSH available at the feedwater pump is due primarily to the gravity head alone. confusion over the term “vapor pressure” can lead to errors when calculating NPSH in cases where the vapor pressure of a liquid is significant. It is the difference between the total discharge head and the total suction head. Total Dynamic Head (TDH) Total dynamic head is the measure of the work increase per pound of liquid imparted to the liquid by the pump. In such cases. the vapor pressure may be expressed in psig. it is the pressure exerted by the vapor of a contained liquid. By definition. total dynamic head is the sum of the total discharge head and the suction lift (which. and should not be ignored when calculating NPSH.

and the liquid being pumped. If this were not the case.8 ft of fuel oil (To convert pressure in psia to ft of liquid. velocity head. as well as causes pulsations in the discharge pressure.7 psia) x (2. the pressure at some point in the pump suction area will be less than the vapor pressure of the liquid. This includes the pressure on the surface of the liquid in the supply tank. For a system in the design stage. or for one in use. the difference between the liquid level and the centerline of the pump suction nozzle. These vapor bubbles are carried along to the higher pressure area of the pump. and short service life.31 and divide by specific gravity of the liquid).g. the operating conditions. the NPSHa should always be greater than the NPSHr. of fuel oil = 38.88 s. NPSH available and NPSH required NPSH must be indicated as NPSH available (NPSHa) or NPSH required (NPSHr) in order to be meaningful. NPSHr is based on everything from the pump suction nozzle to the point in the pump where the pressure starts to increase. Hz = -10 ft of fuel oil (worst case) Hf = 2. and vapor pressure. where they collapse. NPSHa can be calculated from the formula: NPSHa = Ha + Hz – Hf + Hv – Hvp An example of how this formula is applied is given below: Ha = (14. NPSHa is a function of everything in the system on the suction side of the pump up to the suction nozzle of the pump. It is the violent collapse of the bubbles that cause the damaging effects of cavitation. Cavitation is the formation of pockets of vapor. and cavitation will occur. noise. Since NPSHa is the absolute pressure available less the vapor pressure of the liquid. There is a widely used formula for calculating NPSHa. multiply by 2. which should be reviewed and thoroughly understood. NPSHa is a function of the suction piping system.piping.31 ft H2O per psi) / 0. the line losses. erosion. or bubbles. Cavitation also reduces capacity and efficiency. This includes the entrance losses and the friction losses or pressure drops getting into the pumping elements.9 ft of fuel oil (from piping pressure loss calculation) Hvp = 1 ft of fuel oil (maximum) Page 4 . at a point inside the pump where the liquid pressure drops below its vapor pressure.

In this case. If the liquid being pumped were gasoline instead of fuel oil. While the vapor pressure of a pure liquid is constant and predictable. The higher apparent vapor pressure would decrease the NPSHa. it is possible to determine the NPSHa of an operating system without making all of these calculations.6 ft of gasoline. When making the conversion. For an installed pump with a suction gauge. entrained air or gas in the liquid would tend to expand or to be released.5 psia.3 ft of gasoline. the normal lift should not exceed 6 ft when pumping gasoline). and that atmospheric pressure at any given site can vary ± 1 in Hg from an average value.71 =27. NPSHa = 7. the NPSHa would be quite different. Hvp = 8.NPSHa = 24.88 to 0. as the pressure in the suction system is reduced. Entrained Gases The factors connected with NPSH determinations are not always precise. It then can be substituted for the first three terms of the NPSHa formula: Hi = Ha ± Hz – Hf. and the appropriate conversion factors. The value of Hi can be determined by converting the suction gauge reading to ft of liquid absolute. use the local absolute barometric pressure. Introduce a new term. Units Perhaps the most frequent mistake made in calculating NPSHa is failure to keep the units consistent. This situation could happen when the Page 5 .71.9 ft of fuel oil. As this occurs. vapor pressure in mm of mercury. The standard value of 14. Atmospheric pressure is often given in inches of mercury absolute or psia. (From a practical standpoint.31 / . Keep in mind that psig will vary with elevation of the pumping site above (or below) sea level.9 in Hg is a good reference.5 x 2. a centrifugal pump would tend to cavitate and a positive displacement pump would experience a loss of volumetric efficiency. and define it as the absolute pressure of the liquid at the pump suction nozzle in feet of liquid. hi . it is possible to have entrained or dissolved air or gas in the liquid with the result that the fluid acts as though it had a higher vapor pressure than the figures for pure liquid would indicate. elevation in feet. the specific gravity of the liquid. Notice the big difference the vapor pressure has made in the same system pumping gasoline instead of fuel oil.7 psia and 29. and line loss in psi. and the vapor pressure to 8. Restating the formula with this substitution: NPSHa = Hi – Hvp. The specific gravity would change from 0.

There are also pressure losses due to shock and turbulence as the liquid strikes the impeller. NPSHa should always exceed NPSHr by a comfortable margin. The pump internally raises the liquid velocity as it decreases the liquid pressure. Collapse of the vapor bubbles will cause cavitation and loss of pump performance plus excessive wear. NPSHr will increase as pump speed increases.liquid is agitated while being transported or unloaded or where the liquid is being continuously recirculated. and is plotted as a point on the NPSHr curve. an NPSH test consists of throttling the inlet flow to the pump over the operating range of capacities. For such a liquid a slight vacuum might vaporize the lighter fractions. For a given pump. NPSHr NPSHr is another way of indicating the pressure loss within the pump itself. the velocity increases and the pressure decreases as the liquid passes from the pump suction to the eye of the impeller. positive displacement pumps are more tolerant of low NPSHa. the liquid will vaporize. it may be practical to reduce the Page 6 . since the liquid is probably made up of many different fractions. This formation of vapor on the suction side of the pump can cause vapor lock. and also increase with the viscosity and the temperature of the pumped liquid. it should include an NPSH test. A sharp drop in the discharge pressure indicates the onset of cavitation. albeit with reduced capacity and efficiency. each with its own vapor pressure. It is a function of the pump design. The pump manufacturer will provide NPSHr curves along with the other operating characteristics. If the suction side of a “lift” system is so designed that a positive displacement pump develops a vacuum that results in an absolute pressure less than the vapor pressure of the liquid being handled. Dealing With an NPSH Problem Pump Speed If a change to the suction piping is not practical. NPSHr can be determined on the pump test stand by methods detailed in The Hydraulic Institute Standards. If a pump specification calls for performance testing of a pump. In a centrifugal pump. The dynamics within a positive displacement pump are different. A similar situation can be encountered when handling volatile petroleum products. In general. The NPSHr is the positive head in feet absolute required at the pump suction to overcome these pressure drops in the pump and maintain the liquid above its vapor pressure. The centrifugal force of the impeller vanes further increases the velocity and decreases the pressure of the liquid. and in fact may still operate as the liquid vaporizes within the pump. By their nature. but the consequences are the same.

and rotational speed at optimum efficiency. If it is not practical to reduce the speed. where N is the rotational speed in rpm. The definition of specific speed is “the rpm at which an impeller would run if reduced in size to deliver one gpm against a total head of one foot”. it is the design of the impeller that is of interest. much less its significance. Tank Level If the source of the liquid is a tank with a variable level. and so decreases NPSHa. Entrained Air As previously mentioned. For centrifugal pumps. and produces pump surging and loss of capacity. A method sometimes used to reduce the tendency of a boiler feedwater pump to “flash” during rapid load changes is to inject cooling water (condensate) into the suction piping when flashing is likely to occur. It will also increase the NPSHa because the pipeline friction loss hf will also be reduced. For a given pump. The Hydraulic Institute Standards suggests methods to reduce this tendency. a larger pump running at a slower speed will be able to deliver the same capacity with a lower NPSHr. head. High Temperatures High temperature of the pumped liquid increases the vapor pressure. and H is the total head in feet per stage. the problem may be caused by swirling or vortexing at the suction pipe. at the cost of reducing the tank’s useable capacity. This classifies pump impellers with respect to their geometrical similarities. reducing the speed (which will lower the capacity as well) will reduce the NPSHr. a solution may be to simply limiting the maximum draw down level. Specific Speed As previously mentioned. such as reducing agitation during transport. Specific speed is indicative of the Page 7 .NSPHr of the pump. so don’t worry about the definition. It is difficult to visualize just what this means. may help. Measures to reduce the entrained air. Specific speed is usually expressed as Ns = ( N√ Q) / H3/4. The Hydraulic Institute recognized that a relationship exists between the specific speed and suction conditions that could affect the tendency for the pump to cavitate. Of course. entrained air in the liquid causes a reduction in NPSHa. or allowing longer settling time in the tank. Specific speed is a dimensionless quantity that correlates pump capacity. Q is the flow in gpm at optimum efficiency (take ½ of the gpm for double suction pumps). and if the pumping problem occurs when the tank level is unusually low. the net positive suction head required (NPSHr) is a function of the pump design.

values of Ss vary within the range of 6. and would typically have a larger eye than an impeller with a lower Ss. On the other hand. Suction Specific Speed (Ss) Suction specific speed has come into use as an indication of the suction characteristics of centrifugal pumps. Each impeller has a specific speed range to which it is best adapted. radial flow 2.000 to 12. which develops most of its head by the propelling action of the vanes. Ns from test and operating data. However. impellers that have an Ss below this range would have an impeller eye comparatively small. They have a rather narrow stable operating range. which is at or near the BEP. Normally. When outside of this range. An impeller with a higher Ss would require lower NPSHr.000. while impellers for low heads have a high specific speed. the highest value of Ss is at or near the capacity corresponding to the best efficiency point (BEP). or different impellers for a given pump. mixed flow 3. Exceeding these limits would increase the potential for serious cavitation problems. Impellers for high heads usually have a low specific speed. By plotting Ss vs. In comparisons of different pumps. Suction limitations of different pumps bear a relation to the specific speed. as illustrated below: Centrifugal pumps are traditionally classified by three types: 1. and could be subject to choking at certain operating ranges. Ss is an indication of the relative size of the eye of the impeller. which develops pressure principally by centrifugal force. The Hydraulic Institute publishes charts giving recommended specific speed limits for various conditions. Page 8 . to the axial flow. Impellers with Ss above this range have a relatively large impeller eye.shape and characteristics of the impeller. Ss = (N√Q) /(NPSHr)3/4 . there is a continuous change from the radial flow impeller. it has been found that for pumps of a “normal” design. impellers with an oversize eye can experience recirculation at the eye and tend to surge and vibrate. axial flow.

82) /54.By substituting NPSHa for NPSHr in the equation defining Ss. the quantity Suction Specific Speed Available (SA) is derived. you appreciate the difficulty in keeping the units consistent within the problem.500 x 12. Is this rule firm? No. The suction specific speed available (SA).800 rpm. Substitute 8. and has been chosen by the Hydraulic Institute to be a valuable criterion to determine the maximum recommended rotational speed of a given pump.500 (NPSHa)3/4 / √ Q. must equal or exceed the suction specific speed required (Ss). of course. SA = (N√Q) / (NPSHa)3/4.? N = SA (NPSHa)3/4 / √ Q N = 8.77 N = 1.500 for SA in the above equation and solve for N. So the engineer must be familiar with and be able to explain the choices and justify the decisions. NPSHa is the net positive suction head available in feet. Example Assuming a suction specific speed available of 8. a two-edged sword.990 The recommended maximum operating rpm is 1. As you observed if you worked through some of the calculations. what is the recommended rpm limit for a single suction centrifugal pump with a capacity of 3. Conservatism is. N is therefore the recommended maximum operating speed for a centrifugal pump operating at or near the BEP of Q gpm.500. This produces: N = 8.0001/2 N = (8. Pump manufacturers tend to be somewhat conservative when making recommendations for a system or a pump on an application which may involve NPSH problems. you should seriously consider reconfiguring the system for a higher NPSHa or look at a specially designed pump.500 (30)3/4 / 3. Conclusion Working with NPSH involves a number of factors and variables. which must be given consideration.990. through tests and operational data.500 has been found to be a practical value for SA. If motor driven. Page 9 . of course not.600 rpm motor. often interrelated. the next lower synchronous speed is 1. an SA of 8. Again.000 gpm and an NPSHa of 30 ft. What may be "safe" for the supplier is expensive for the buyer. But it is an indication that if you were planning to run this pump with a 3.

As previously suggested. if a pump is misbehaving. Page 10 . it very likely is the suction piping design that is causing the problem.