Centrifugal Pumps

     Last week we focused on various types of positive displacement pumps.  Today we’ll take a look at centrifugal pumps.  See Figure 1.

Figure 1 – A Centrifugal Pump

     Just like the positive displacement pumps we talked about last week, centrifugal pumps have rotating parts as well, but that’s where their similarities end.  Unlike positive displacement pumps that take “bites” out of liquid before trapping it between moving parts, centrifugal pumps rely on kinetic energy to move liquid in a continuous stream.  Kinetic energy is the energy of motion, and in the case of the centrifugal pump kinetic energy is developed by rotating parts within the pump and transferred to the liquid contained within the pump.  In other words, the liquid is moved through the pump by means of centrifugal force.

     To illustrate this concept, we can tie a rope to the handle of a bucket that has a small hole punched in the bottom.  Now, you know what will happen if you fill the bucket with water…  There’s a hole in the bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza…  That’s right, the water will just dribble out of the hole, thanks to gravity.  But before we fix the hole as Liza suggests, let’s do an experiment.  Pick up the rope and spin the bucket around as fast as you can in a circle.  You’ll notice that this rapid spinning creates centrifugal force, resulting in a rather powerful stream of water shooting from the hole.  The faster you spin the bucket, the stronger the stream.

     When it comes to centrifugal pumps, the idea is basically the same.  The objective is to forcefully spin water around in a circle, thus ejecting it from the pump.  This is accomplished with a rotating part called an impeller.  See Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Cutaway View of a Centrifugal Pump    


     In our illustration the impeller is attached to a shaft that’s powered by some source of mechanical energy, such as an electric motor.  The water enters the pump at the center of the rotating impeller, referred to as the “eye.”  The water then slides over the face of the impeller, moving from the center to its edge due to the action of centrifugal force.  That force pushes it off the impeller and into the pump housing.  You’ll note that the housing has a special shape, called a “volute.”  This volute looks a lot like a spiraled snail shell.  The shape of the volute helps direct the water coming off the impeller into an opening in the side of the pump where it is discharged.  The faster the pump impeller rotates, the more kinetic energy the water picks up from the impeller.

     This ends our discussion on pumps.  Next time, we’ll move on to a new topic of discussion, braking systems.


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2 Responses to “Centrifugal Pumps”

  1. Raymond J. says:

    This is fantastic article, thanks so much. I’m an engineering student and this really helps me put things into perspective. Just for your readers benefit, I also just ran across this interesting article on understanding the basics of positive displacement pumps. Thanks again for your help, keep up the great work!

  2. Thank you, Raymond. I am glad I helped you out.