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Centrifugal Pump Hydraulics by the Numbers

Terry Henshaw

Centrifugal Pump Speciic Speed

pecic speed is a concept developed for water turbines1 When I was rst introduced to specic speed, I must
in 1915, which was later applied to centrifugal pumps admit to being unimpressed. It appeared to me that the
(Stepano, 1948). Specic speed is a way to normal- concept might be useful to pump designers, but I could see
ize the performance of these hydraulic machines. no value to the end user. I later learned that the concept is
he commonly-used equation for specic speed is as essential to the designer, andbecause it indicates the shape
follows: of the head, power and eciency curves and the maximum
achievable eciencyit is also of value to end users.
N Qbep One of the denitions of specic speed is that it is the
NS = (1)
(Hbep)0.75 speed that a modeled pump would run to produce a one
foot head when pumping one gallon per minute, but I nd
Where (in U.S. units): that denition awkward.
NS = specic speed I prefer to think of it as an index number. In Europe,
N = rotative speed of the impeller (rev/min) specic speed is sometimes called the shape number, and I
Qbep = capacity of pump at the best eciency point prefer that name. It indicates the shapes of the performance
(gal/min) curves and also determines, to a large degree, the prole
Hbep = head of a single stage of the pump at the best shape of the impeller.
eciency point (feet) An impeller with a low specic speed has a
thin prole (the shrouds are close together) and
a large outside diameter (OD) relative to the eye
diameter. An impeller with a high specic speed
has a fat prole (the shrouds are far apart) and
has an eye diameter that is closer in size to the
impeller OD.
Figure 1 helps illustrate the concept. he
chart was developed years ago by the Worthington
Group and is used extensively by the industry.
Note that the values of specic speed, in U.S.
units, are tabulated along the bottom of the
graph. he small drawings below the graph show
the proles of the impellers that correspond to
the specic speed numbers.
he small performance curves across the top
of the graph illustrate the typical shapes of the
performance curves correspondent to the values
of specic speed. Note that pumps with a low
specic speed have a at head curve, sometimes
with a slight droop at shut-o (zero capacity).
Such a droop does not make the pump unstable.
he power curve is steep. It increases signicantly
from shut-o to best eciency point (BEP).
In the midrange of NS values, the head curve
continually rises to shut-o, and the power curve
changes little from shut-o to BEP. When NS
exceeds about 5,000, the slope of the power curve
Figure 1. Worthington specific speed graph (continued on page 26)


Centrifugal Pump Hydraulics by the Numbers

(continued from page 24)

reverses, with the maximum value being at shut-o, and the Grouping like subscripts:
head curve is very steep, with the shut-o value being as much
as three times the BEP value. (Dont start one of these guys N2Q21/2 N1Q11/2
= (7)
with the discharge valve closed.) H23/4 H13/4

Derivation he resultant is specic speed. When one pump is mod-

For those who wish to see a derivation of NS, the following is eled from another, both pumps have the same specic speed.
oered. I use what is called the modeling law or model law
or factoring law. his law is used when a designer wishes to
model a pump to one of a dierent size. Making It Unitless
Each dimension of the pump is multiplied by the same It is commonly said that specic speed is unitless, but it nor-
factor, the modeling factor, f. he existing pump is designated mally is not. In the U.S., with the above units, it is not unit-
with the subscript 1 and the new pump with the subscript less. It can be made unitless, though, by converting the speed
2. hen: to radians/second, the capacity to cubic feet/second and by
multiplying the head by the gravitational constant g.
Q1 = capacity of the existing pump at the BEP he NS values on the Worthington graph run from 500
H1 = head of the existing pump at the BEP to 15,000. What would the values be if we were to convert to
N1 = rotative speed of the existing pump unitless numbers? We must divide N by 9.55 to convert to
radians/second. Q must be divided by 449 to convert to ft3/
Q2 = capacity of the new pump at the BEP second and H must be multiplied by 32.2.
H2 = head of the new pump at the BEP he result tells us that to convert from U.S. units to
N2 = rotative speed of the new pump dimensionless values requires that the U.S. values for NS be
divided by 2,735. herefore, the 500 would become about
he model law tells us that: 1/5, the 15,000 would become about 5, and the unitless value
of 1.0 would fall very near the center of the graph, where maxi-
mum eciencies reach their peak.
Q2 3 N2 Q2
( ) (NN ) Is there any signicance to the maximum eciencies
1/3 1/3

( )
from which f =

(2) occurring where the unitless NS is 1.0? I dont know, but it
sure seems like a happy coincidence.
H2 2 N2 2 N1 H2 1/2

( ) from which f = ( )
N2 H1
(3) References
1. Stepano, A. J., Centrifugal and Axial Flow Pumps, John Wiley & Sons,
New York, 1948.
2. Stepano, A. J., Pumps and Blowers Two-Phase Flow, John Wiley &
Equating the two fs: Sons, New York, 1965.

Q2 1/3 N1 1/3 N1 H2 1/2
( ) ( )
Q1 N2
N2 H1
( ) (4) 1
A reaction turbine is, basically, just a centrifugal pump running backwards,
with the uid being pushed backwards through it.
If its a double-suction impeller, do not divide by 2. With suction specic
speed, we divide the capacity by 2, but not for (discharge) specic speed.
Combining N1/N2 terms:
Q2 1/3 N1 2/3 H2 1/2
( ) ( ) ( )
N2 H1

Taking all to the 3/2 power:

Terry Henshaw is a retired engineer living in Magnolia,
Texas. He worked 50+ years in the pump industry. He can
(QQ ) N1 H2
1/2 3/4

N2 H1
( ) (6)
be reached at