Cavitation Bubbles Degrade Pump Performance

March 25th, 2018

    Previously we learned how cavitation bubbles cause noise, vibration, and damage to centrifugal pumps.   Today we’ll see how cavitation bubbles degrade pump performance in a centrifugal pump’s low pressure section.

Cavitation Bubbles Degrade Pump Performance

Cavitation Bubbles Degrade Pump Performance

   

    During cavitation multitudes of tiny steam bubbles form and become suspended in the water that’s constantly flowing through a working centrifugal pump.   These bubbles decrease the density of the water because steam bubbles are lighter and occupy less space than liquid water.   This decrease in the water’s density causes the pump to be less efficient, because for any given amount of horsepower that’s conveyed to the pump’s impeller by an external power source, the pump’s ability to promote water discharge is compromised due to the bubbles.

    As an example, let’s say that when the bubbles of cavitation form inside a pump, the pump’s water-bubble ratio is a mixture of 70 percent liquid water and 30 percent steam bubbles.   That’s a lot of bubbles, and they act to restrict water flowing through the pump’s inlet, reducing flow rate by 30 percent.

    As water moves from the inlet towards the spinning impeller, all the steam bubbles implode in on themselves in the high pressure section of the pump.   They return once again to their liquid state and join the rest of the water flowing towards pump discharge, but despite this the pump’s flow rate remains reduced at the discharge.

    We’ll find out why this is true next time when we discuss the engineering principle of continuity.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Rapidly Imploding Bubbles Create Problems

March 12th, 2018

    Last time we learned how both low and high pressures exist within a single centrifugal pump, and if water pressure at the inlet is low enough, the cavitation process begins.   Today we’ll see how these rapidly imploding water vapor bubbles create serious problems in the pump’s high pressure area.

Rapidly Imploding Bubbles Create Problems

Rapidly Imploding Bubbles Create Problems

   

    Water flows from low pressure at a centrifugal pump’s inlet to high pressure upstream when it meets up with the pump’s impeller. This high pressure causes cavitation bubbles formed at the inlet to rapidly implode, that is, collapse in on themselves.   Implosion occurs because pressure outside the bubbles is much greater than the pressure inside them.   This pressure difference exists because the bubbles were formed in the low pressure area of the pump.

    When cavitation bubbles meet up with high pressure areas deep inside the pump, they get squeezed hard and burst rapidly, creating multitudes of shock waves, grinding noise, and vibration so intense it sounds as though gravel, not steam bubbles, are passing through the pump.   The noise and vibration are bad enough, but cavitation has far worse consequences.

    Rapidly imploding bubbles form tiny but powerful micro jets of water which hold an enormous amount of kinetic energy.   When these jets hit the pump’s metal interior, their kinetic energy causes minute fragments of metal to break away.  Over time these tiny water jets wear away enough metal to cause damage to the pump’s interior and interfere with function.

    Next time we’ll see how cavitation bubbles flowing through the low pressure area of a pump degrade its performance.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Centrifugal Pump Impeller Action

March 2nd, 2018

    Last time we discussed how the curved features of a centrifugal pump are key to its functionality.   Today we’ll examine a centrifugal pump’s impeller action and see how it creates a volatile environment inside the pump in which cavitation bubbles flourish.

 Centrifugal Pump Impeller Action

Centrifugal Pump Impeller Action

   

    Inside a centrifugal pump both low and high pressure areas are created, chiefly due to the action of the pump’s spinning impeller.   Low pressure is created at the water inlet in a way very similar to what happens when you pull the plug on your bathtub.   With the plug removed the drain opens and a tiny whirlpool forms, causing water to get sucked into the plumbing for discharge.

    The same thing happens inside a centrifugal pump due to tumultuous internal water movement.   The spinning impeller vigorously moves water from inlet to discharge.   As water is discharged, a void, or vacuum, is created inside the pump, causing water at the inlet to get sucked inside at low pressure, very much like when you suck liquid through a straw.

    As water moves inside the housing, it comes into contact with the rotating impeller itself.  This impeller is comprised of multiple spiral curved blades with a volute shape, made to maximize efficient movement of water.   They use the power of centrifugal force to create a high pressure environment, and water is flung at high speed towards the pump’s outlet, where it is then discharged.

    Next time we’ll see how the coexistence of low and high pressures within the centrifugal pump housing create the problem of cavitation bubbles.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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A Centrifugal Pump’s Curved Features are Key to Functionality

February 21st, 2018

    Last time we learned how centrifugal pumps can create a low pressure environment at the pump’s inlet, which can allow water inside the pump to boil at temperatures far lower than normal.   Ultimately, this results in the formation of tiny but destructive cavitation bubbles.   Today we’ll see how a centrifugal pump’s curved features are key to its functionality.

Centrifugal Pump’s Curved Features are Key to Functionality

A Centrifugal Pump’s Curved Features are Key to Functionality

   

    Even a casual glance at a centrifugal pump will disclose its many curved features.   As the illustration shows, both the housing and internal impeller blades, are curved.   These curves are known as volutes.   The volutes’ dimensions are mathematically generated by engineers to facilitate the precise flow of water from inlet to discharge by way of the pump’s impeller blades.

    Next time we’ll see how a centrifugal pump is home to both low and high water pressure, creating a volatile environment in which cavitation bubbles form and collapse.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Centrifugal Pumps Can Create Vacuums

February 8th, 2018

    Last time we performed an engineering experiment that demonstrated how we can lower the boiling point of water inside a lidded pot without applying heat if we use a vacuum pump to lower the pot’s internal pressure.   We discovered that when pressure was lowered to 0.25 pounds per square inch (PSI), the water inside the pot turned to steam at a mere 59ºF, which initiated the cavitation process.   Today we’ll see how centrifugal pumps can also create vacuums to initiate cavitation.

 

Centrifugal Pumps Can Create Vacuums

Centrifugal Pumps Can Create Vacuums

   

    As we learned in a past blog, centrifugal pumps contain rotating impellers within a housing called a volute.   This housing has an inlet, known as an eye, where water flows into the pump from a pipe, and an outlet, known as a discharge, where water flows out of the pump.   The centrifugal pump creates a vacuum by mimicking the action of sucking soda through a straw.    The spinning impeller draws water into the housing by creating low pressure at the inlet, and if the pressure gets low enough, we’ll recreate what happened in our vacuum pump and pot experiment.   Water will boil at temps far lower than normal boiling point of 212 ºF.   Just as in our experiment, if pressure is lowered to 0.23 PSI, water present at the pump inlet will boil at 59ºF, causing thousands of tiny steam bubbles to form and the pump to cavitate.

    They’re just tiny bubbles, so what harm can they do? We’ll find out next time.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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How Decreasing Pressure Contributes to Cavitation

January 28th, 2018

    Last time we learned how the thermodynamic properties of water contribute to the phenomenon of cavitation, and how liquids exist in three states, solid, liquid, or vapor, depending on temperature and surrounding air pressure.   Our example of an open pot of water being heated on a stove demonstrated that once water temperature rose above 212ºF, it changed to steam, which initiated the cavitation process.   Today we’ll see how decreasing pressure contributes to cavitation.

How Decreasing Pressure Contributes to Cavitation

How Decreasing Pressure Contributes to Cavitation

   

    Cavitation can occur without a heat source.  In our pot example, we can start the cavitation process by simply decreasing the pressure of the air resting on top of the water, thereby also decreasing the water’s pressure.

    Normally atmospheric pressure on Earth exists at around 15 pounds per square inch (PSI).   But if we introduce a vacuum pump to an enclosed space, we can create an internal pressure which is lower than the surrounding atmospheric pressure outside the pot.  In other words, we create a vacuum.   A vacuum is any air pressure lower than atmospheric pressure.   This vacuum environment produces an entirely new set of circumstances under which cavitation can occur.   In fact, creating a vacuum makes it possible to boil water without using any heat!

    As we learned in a past blog on the different forms of heat energy, the boiling point of water varies depending on the location of the stovetop, whether it’s in a place of low altitude, like New Orleans, or higher altitude, like Denver.   But if we apply a tight lid to the pot and isolate its internal atmosphere from surrounding atmospheric pressure, you create a closed environment.   This allows us to manipulate the pot’s internal pressure.   When we attach a vacuum pump to remove air, we reduce the air pressure bearing down on the water inside.   With much of the air removed, pressure inside the pot drops below normal atmospheric pressure existing outside the pot, and we discover that at 0.25 PSI water turns to steam at a mere 59ºF and cavitation can begin.   That’s right, you can boil water without using heat.

    Next time we’ll apply our knowledge of water pressure and temperature to an industrial setting and see how cavitation occurs inside pumps.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Thermodynamic Properties of Water and Cavitation

January 15th, 2018

    Last time we introduced the phenomenon of cavitation, which simply stated is the rapid formation and collapse of vapor bubbles within liquids.   It’s a destructive force that eats away at the metal parts of water pumps, used in power plants and other industrial settings.   To understand how cavitation comes into play, we’ll explore a branch of engineering known as thermodynamics.

    Cavitation doesn’t occur in a glass of water resting on a counter, but bring that water to a boil and the cavitation process will begin.   That’s because cavitation is initiated when liquids change form from one physical state to another, in this case from a liquid to a vapor we commonly call steam.   All liquids exist in three states, namely solid, liquid, and vapor, but in our thermodynamic analysis we’ll only consider two, liquid and vapor, because cavitation can’t occur in solids.

Thermodynamic Properties of Water and Cavitation

Thermodynamic Properties of Water and Cavitation

   

    At normal atmospheric pressure of 15 pounds per square inch (PSI) which exists in the average kitchen, water remains in a liquid state between the temperatures of 32ºF and 212ºF.   Above 212ºF water begins to boil, transforming into steam vapor.   The state in which water exists depends on two thermodynamic properties, namely temperature and pressure.   Change one of these variables and it affects the other, and thereby the conditions under which cavitation will occur.

    We’ll take an in-depth look at this next time when we revisit the topics of pressurization and vacuums.

opyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Boiler Feed Pumps Experience Cavitation

January 3rd, 2018

    Shortly after I graduated with my engineering degree I worked as a power plant engineer at an electric utility.   One day I was walking through the plant and heard a loud racket coming from the boiler feel pumps.   These are the massive centrifugal pumps that deliver pressurized water to the boiler.   The water is transformed into steam to drive steam turbines and spin electrical generators, which ultimately results in electrical power.   The noise was so loud, it sounded like rocks were being ground up.   I asked a coworker what was going on, and he replied matter-of-factly, “The pumps are cavitating.

Boiler Feed Pumps Experience Cavitation

Boiler Feed Pumps Experience Cavitation

   

    So what exactly is cavitation?   We’ll find out next time when we explore the mechanics of this noisy phenomenon as it applies to boiler feed pumps and other centrifugal pumps.

opyright 2017 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Do Time Machines Use Flywheels?

December 28th, 2017

    The New Year is upon us, which makes me think about time travel and H. G. Wells’ time machine, and that makes me think about flywheels.   We’ve been talking about crankshafts and flywheels in our just-ended blog series, and when I look at this image of Wells’ famous time traveling device, I can’t help but wonder, Do Time Machines Use Flywheels?   Happy New Year everyone!

Do Time Machines Use Flywheels?

Do Time Machines Use Flywheels?

   

   

opyright 2017 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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Reciprocating Engines Maximize Efficiency When They Employ Flywheels

December 21st, 2017

   Last time we had a look inside a marvelous piece of engineering machinery known as a crankshaft.   It plays a key role in converting the reciprocating linear motion of a steam driven engine into the rotary motion required to power externally mounted devices that are attached to it.   Today we’ll finish up our blog series on flywheels when we see how using one in conjunction with a crankshaft facilitates a more even transmission of energy.   Reciprocating engines maximize efficiency when they employ flywheels.

   We learned that the energy in the steam supply decreases as the piston moves in its cylinder, which means a concurrent decrease in the engine’s horsepower and its ability to power machinery.   Without an intervening action, the reciprocating steam engine would stall.   Now, let’s see how adding a flywheel to the crankshaft can solve the problem.

Reciprocating Engines Maximize Efficiency When They Employ Flywheels

Reciprocating Engines Maximize Efficiency When They Employ Flywheels

   

   As we’ve learned before, a flywheel stores up kinetic energy while the engine powering it is performing at full horsepower, but if that power should drop off or cease to be produced, the flywheel gives up the kinetic energy stored inside it so as to keep externally mounted machinery operating until that stored energy is exhausted.   This is all made possible because flywheels are designed to have moments of inertia sufficient to positively contribute to its storage of kinetic energy.   This inertia is a numerical representation of the flywheel’s resistance to change in motion.   Please review our past blog on the subject to refresh your memory.

   The overall effect is that while the engine is operating, there’s an even flow of energy between the engine and flywheel and horsepower is supplied to keep machinery mounted to the crankshaft operating.   Any diminishment in the power supplied will be compensated for by the flywheel’s stored kinetic energy.

   Next time we’ll introduce a new topic, a phenomenon known as cavitation.

opyright 2017 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog

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