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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W.

 Simon

CAVITATION
Anywhere that the fluid static pressure drops below the saturation pressure which corresponds
to the local static temperature there is a possibility that the fluid will change from the liquid state
to the gaseous state -- vapor pockets are formed. Actually some amount of under-pressure is
required but this is small unless the fluid is very free of dissolved gases or particles. This event is
most likely in the early part of the trip through the rotor where the fluid velocities are high but
little work has been imparted to the fluid. The damage to the rotor as a result of cavitation is
farther downstream along the fluid path, however, for it is there that the pressure has risen again
and the bubbles collapse. When the bubbles collapse, the pump suffers a severe dynamic impact
loading on the surfaces (see figures 1 and 201,2 respectively)
Thus, the important quantities to monitor are: (1) the local static temperature (and associated
saturation pressure) and (2) the local static pressure. We usually don’t know in detail how static
pressures vary throughout the pump so we usually must settle on knowing (1) the inlet static
pressure, (2) a 1-D estimate of the absolute velocity head at the inlet to the rotor, and (3) some
empirically-found description of the cavitation behavior of various classes of pumps in terms of
these two. We should consider cavitation when (1) very high specific speeds lead to high absolute
velocities somewhere within the pump, (2) a pump is drawing fluid from far below the impeller
elevation, (3) there is a reduced atmospheric pressure, perhaps due to a higher altitude than that
for which the pump was designed, (4) the pressure is low because the pump is drawing from a
vacuum, or (5) there is an increase in the pump supply fluid temperature.
Also, cavitation can occur when the through-flow is low and the pump is operating far off-
design. Under these conditions, strong recirculation can occur at either the impeller inlet or the
impeller outlet. Strong vorticity associated with this recirculation can create regions of very low
pressure in the vortex cores where bubbles can form.
Cavitation is usually first detected by the pinging noise being emitted and an accompanying
pump vibration. Cavitation would also be visible as a drop in pump performance. Cavitation
would be expected when the flow rates are high (and thus, internal velocities are large). The
pump head-flow curve would be affected as shown below:
Rotor and fluid speeds are often characterized in w/o cavitation
terms of the specific speed:
1
w/ cavitation
NQ 
2
Ns  H
 gH 
3
4

For a particular geometry, there is a critical specific


speed, sometimes called the suction specific speed,
where cavitation conditions are reached. It is:
1
NQ 2 Q
Sc  , (critical specific speed), where NPSH is the head of the pump inlet flow
 gNPSH 
3
4

relative to the saturation pressure (at the supply temperature),

NPSH 
P

 
static  pump suction  Psaturation Tstatic  pump suction


 g 
 
Cavitation inception occurs at an almost constant value of Sc for all the pumps which are not
specifically designed for cavitation. From Logan, this value is:

Sc  3 for single-suction pumps, and


Sc  4 for double-suction pumps.

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon

Pumps which must run with cavitation and are designed to do so are called super-cavitating
pumps. The most common design has a screw impeller (or inducer), which allows this part of the
impeller to do work on the fluid, and raise its static pressure, before the fluid begins to accelerate
into the impeller (see Figure 38, below).
Cavitation damage can be eliminated also by introducing air to the pumped flow. Then, as the
pressure rises in the impeller, only the vapor collapses, leaving residual air pockets that cushion
the collapse process, eliminating the high impact loads. This is likely to reduce pump
performance, however.

Example
For a water pump with N=1160 RPM and Q=3100gpm (pump on p.7 of the notes
“Centrifugal Pumps and Fans”), find the suction static pressure at which cavitation would be
o
expected. Assume that this pump draws water at 70 F.

Objectives
We wish to determine how low in pressure the tank from which this pump draws water can go
before we run into cavitation concerns.

Schematic
The system is as shown. We imagine that the
elevation difference between the water surface and
the pump inlet is negligible.

Anticipated Results:
We expect cavitation at only a few psi of tank pressure.

Analysis:
This is a double-suction pump so the criterion
we will apply is:
Sc  4 at incipient cavitation. So,
1
NQ 2

3 4
 P  Psat  4 at incipience. Solving:
 
  
4 2
N 3Q 3
4  Psat  Pincipient
4 3
Computing:

121 4 3  6.9 2 3 ft 2 62.4Lb m Lb f sec 2 ft 2


4 2 4
 0.363psia  p incipience   4.59  0.363 psia  4.95psia
sec 3 sec 3 ft 3 4 3 32.2Lb m ft 144in 2

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon
Conclusions:
Pincipient = 4.95 psia = 137 in H2O absolute. When the tank pressure drops below 5 psia, we
expect to see cavitation problems. We can correct this situation by:
1. Venting the tank to atmospheric pressure -- if
allowed.
2. Dropping the pump to a low elevation so that it
has a higher inlet pressure (see sketch)
3. Designing the pump to have an inducer (see
figure 38, below).
We can endure the situation by putting in an
over-designed pump (to make up for the reduced
efficiency) and allow the pump to ingest air along
with the water.

Exercise
For the pump specified at the top of page 17 of the notes on “Centrifugal Pumps and Fans,”
(1) determine, via a critical specific speed calculation, whether we should be concerned about
o
cavitation. Assume that the pump draws water from a 14.7 psia reservoir at 80 F.
(2) You know enough about the pump to compute the local static pressures at points 1 (rotor
inlet) and 2 (rotor exit). Compare these two pressures to the fluid saturation pressure at the local
temperature to check the conclusion you drew from the critical specific speed calculation.

Cavitation Damage
Figure 1, below, shows cavitation damage on an axial-flow pump. The impeller shown is
rotating counterclockwise. The damaged surfaces are on the trailing edges where the pressure has
risen and the bubbles, generated on the upstream portion of the suction surface, have collapsed
and loaded the surface with unsteady dynamic forces. These forces broke the grain boundaries of
the metal and caused pieces of the blade to break off of the surface, leaving pits, or erosion
damage.

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon
Figure 20 (above) shows impeller damage due to cavitation. On the suction side of the vane, the
pressure is depressed and the bubbles are formed. Farther downstream, some work has been done
on the flow to raise the pressure and the bubbles have collapsed. It is in the collapsed bubble
region where we see the cavitation damage.

Figure 2 shows cavitation damage on the pressure side of the impeller due to discharge
recirculation. In this region, the flow has separated on the suction side and the flow velocity has
increased in the passage causing regions of low pressure, and bubbles. Cavitation damage is seen
on the pressure side where sufficient work has been done on the fluid to raise the pressure and
collapse the bubbles.

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon
This is when there is strong recirculation due to low flow rates. Regions on the pump curve
where we might see this are indicated in the figure below:

Reference: Pump
Handbook.

Solutions may be:


 Increase outlet capacity.
 Install a bypass between the discharge and the suction of the pump.
 Bleed air into the suction of the pump to reduce the intensity of the noise, vibration and
cavitation damage.
 Substitute a harder material for the impeller to reduce the rate of cavitation damage.

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon
Figure 38 shows an inducer. It is designed to mildly raise the flow pressure while withstanding
cavitation. Below is a picture of cavitation at an inducer inlet. The bubbles have collapsed farther
downstream where some work has been imparted to the flow and the pressure has been raised.

Em

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Mechanical Engineering, ME8462, T. W. Simon
Empirical Support for Design
I have found two ways in which the manufacturers have given the design data for a pump to
allow computation of nearness to cavitation.
1. NPSH data. Below is a figure which shows how NPSH changes with location on the pump
curve. In this curve, the author is showing the value of putting a suction nozzle on the intake of
the pump. This is from taken from Stepanoff 2nd Ed “Centrifugal and Axial Flow Pumps,” Krieger
Pub Co.

2. Others use the dynamic depression coefficient as in the figure below taken from Stepanoff 2nd
Ed “Centrifugal and Axial Flow Pumps,” Krieger Pub Co.

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