6 Jun

Centrifugal pumps are the most common type of pumps found in DOE facilities. Centrifugal pumps enjoy widespread application partly due to their ability to operate over a wide range of flow rates and pump heads.


Centrifugal pumps basically consist of a stationary pump casing and an impeller mounted on a rotating shaft.  The pump casing provides  a pressure boundary for the pump and contains channels to properly direct the suction and discharge flow.  The pump casing has suction and discharge penetrations for the main flow path of the pump and normally has small drain and vent fittings to remove gases trapped in the pump casing or to drain the pump casing for maintenance.

Figure 1 is a simplified diagram of a typical centrifugal pump that shows the relative locations of the pump suction, impeller, volute, and discharge.  The pump casing guides the liquid from the suction connection to the center, or eye, of the impeller.  The vanes of the rotating impeller impart a radial and rotary motion to the liquid, forcing it to the outer periphery of the pump casing where it is collected in the outer part of the pump casing called the volute.  The volute is a region that expands in cross-sectional area as it wraps around the pump casing.  The purpose of the volute is  to collect the liquid discharged from the periphery of the impeller at high velocity and gradually cause a reduction in fluid velocity by increasing the flow area.   This converts the velocity head to static pressure. The fluid is  then discharged from the pump through the discharge connection.

Centrifugal pumps can also be constructed in a manner that results in two distinct volutes, each receiving the liquid that is discharged from a 180o  region of the impeller at any given time. Pumps of this type are called double volute pumps (they may also be referred to a split volute pumps). In some applications the double volute minimizes radial forces imparted to the shaft and bearings due to imbalances in the pressure around the impeller.   A comparison of single and double volute centrifugal pumps is shown on Figure 2.


Some centrifugal pumps contain diffusers. A diffuser is a set of stationary vanes that surround the impeller. The purpose of the diffuser is to increase the efficiency of the centrifugal pump by allowing a more gradual expansion and less turbulent area for the liquid to reduce in velocity. The diffuser vanes are designed in a manner that the liquid exiting the impeller will encounter an ever- increasing flow area as it passes through the diffuser. This increase in flow area causes a reduction in flow velocity, converting kinetic energy into flow pressure.

Impeller C lassification

Impellers of pumps are classified based on the number of points that the liquid can enter the impeller and also on the amount of webbing between the impeller blades. Impellers can be either single- suction or double-suction. A single-suction impeller allows liquid to enter the center of the blades from only one direction. A double-suction impeller allows liquid to enter the center of the impeller blades from both sides simultaneously. Figure 4 shows simplified diagrams of single and double-suction impellers

Impellers can be open, semi-open, or enclosed. The open impeller consists only of blades attached to a hub. The semi-open impeller is constructed with a circular plate (the web) attached to one side of the blades. The enclosed impeller has circular plates attached to both sides of the blades. Enclosed impellers are also referred to as shrouded impellers. Figure 5 illustrates examples of open, semi-open, and enclosed impellers.

The impeller sometimes contains balancing holes that connect the space around the hub to the suction side of the impeller.                                       The balancing holes  have a total cross-sectional area that is considerably greater than the cross-sectional area of the annular space between the wearing ring and the hub.  The result is suction pressure on both sides of the impeller hub, which maintains a hydraulic balance of axial thrust.

Centrifugal Pump Classification by Flow

Centrifugal pumps can be classified based on the manner in which fluid flows through the pump. The manner in which fluid flows through the pump is determined by the design of the pump casing and the impeller. The three types of flow through a centrifugal pump are radial flow, axial flow, and mixed flow.

Radial Flow Pumps

In a radial flow pump, the liquid enters at the center of the impeller and is directed out along the impeller blades in a direction at right angles to the pump shaft.  The impeller of a typical radial flow pump and the flow through a radial flow pump are shown in Figure 6.

Axial Flow Pumps

In an axial flow pump, the impeller pushes the liquid in a direction parallel to the pump shaft.   Axial flow pumps are sometimes called propeller pumps because they operate essentially the same as the propeller of a boat.  The impeller of a typical axial flow pump and the flow through a radial flow pump are shown in Figure 7.

Mixed Flow Pumps

Mixed flow pumps borrow characteristics from both radial flow and axial flow pumps. As liquid flows through the impeller of a mixed flow pump, the impeller blades push the liquid out away from the pump shaft and to the pump suction at an angle greater than 90o.   The impeller of a typical mixed flow pump and the flow through a mixed flow pump are shown in Figure 8.

M ulti-Stage Centrifugal Pumps

A centrifugal pump with a single impeller that can develop a differential pressure of more than 150 psid between the suction and the discharge is difficult and costly to design and construct. A more economical approach to developing high pressures with a single centrifugal pump is to include multiple impellers on a common shaft within the same pump casing.  Internal channels in the pump casing route the discharge of one impeller to the suction of another impeller. Figure 9 shows a diagram of the arrangement of the impellers of a four-stage pump.  The water enters the pump from the top left and passes through each of the four impellers in series, going from left to right.  The water goes from the volute surrounding the discharge of one impeller to the suction of the next impeller.

A pump stage is defined as that portion of a centrifugal pump consisting of one impeller and its associated components.   Most centrifugal pumps are single-stage pumps, containing only one impeller.  A pump containing seven impellers within a single casing would be referred to as a seven-stage pump or, or generally, as a multi-stage pump.

C entrifugal Pump Components

Centrifugal pumps vary in design and construction from simple pumps with relatively few parts to extremely complicated pumps with hundreds of individual parts.  Some of the most common components found in centrifugal pumps are wearing rings, stuffing boxes, packing, and lantern rings.  These components are shown in Figure 10 and described on the following pages.

Wearing Rings

Centrifugal pumps contain rotating impellers within stationary pump casings.  To allow the impeller to rotate freely within the pump casing, a small clearance is designed to be maintained between the impeller and the pump casing.  To maximize the efficiency of a centrifugal pump, it is necessary to minimize the amount of liquid leaking through this clearance from the high pressure or discharge side of the pump back to the low pressure or suction side.

Some wear or erosion will occur at the point where the impeller and the pump casing nearly come into contact.This wear is due to the erosion caused by liquid leaking through this tight clearance and other causes. As wear occurs, the clearances become larger  and  the  rate  of  leakage  increases.Eventually, the leakage could become unacceptably large and maintenance would be required on the pump.

To minimize the cost of pump maintenance, many centrifugal pumps are designed with wearing rings. Wearing rings are replaceable rings that are attached to the impeller and/or the pump casing to allow a small running clearance between the impeller and the pump casing without causing wear of the actual impeller or pump casing material. These wearing rings are designed to be replaced periodically during the life of a pump and prevent the more costly replacement of the impeller or the casing.

Stuffing Box

In almost all centrifugal pumps, the rotating shaft that drives the impeller penetrates the pressure boundary of the pump casing.  It is important that the pump is designed properly to control the amount of liquid that leaks along the shaft at the point that the shaft penetrates  the pump casing.There are many different methods  of sealing the shaft penetration of the pump casing.  Factors considered when choosing a method include the pressure and temperature of the fluid being pumped, the size of the pump, and the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluid being pumped.

One of  the simplest  types  of  shaft seal is  the stuffing box.    The stuffing  box is  a cylindrical space in the pump casing surrounding the shaft.  Rings of packing material are placed in this space.  Packing is material in the form of rings or strands that is placed in the stuffing box to form a seal to control the rate of leakage along the shaft.   The packing rings are held in place by a gland.  The gland is, in turn, held in place by studs with adjusting nuts.   As the adjusting nuts are tightened, they move the gland in and compress the packing.   This axial compression causes the packing to expand radially, forming a tight seal between the rotating shaft and the inside wall of the stuffing box.

The high speed rotation of the shaft generates a significant amount of heat as it rubs against the packing rings.  If no lubrication and cooling are provided to the packing, the temperature of the packing increases to the point where damage occurs to the packing, the  pump  shaft,  and  possibly  nearby  pump  bearings. Stuffing  boxes  are  normally designed  to allow  a  small amount  of  controlled  leakage along  the shaft  to provide lubrication and cooling to the packing.  The leakage rate can be adjusted by tightening and loosening the packing gland.

Lantern Ring

It is not always possible to use a standard stuffing box to seal the shaft of a centrifugal pump.  The pump suction may be under a vacuum so that outward leakage is impossible or the fluid may be too hot to provide adequate cooling of the packing.  These conditions require a modification to the standard stuffing box.

One method of adequately cooling the packing under these conditions is to include a lantern ring.   A lantern ring is a perforated hollow ring located near the center of the packing box that receives relatively cool, clean liquid from either the discharge of the pump or from an external source and distributes the liquid uniformly around the shaft to provide lubrication and cooling.  The fluid entering the lantern ring can cool the shaft and packing, lubricate the packing, or seal the joint between the shaft and packing against leakage of air into the pump in the event the pump suction pressure is less than that of the atmosphere.

Mechanical Seals

In some situations, packing material is not adequate for sealing the shaft.  One common alternative method for sealing the shaft is  with mechanical seals.                       Mechanical seals consist of two basic parts, a rotating element attached to the pump shaft and a stationary element attached to the pump casing.                                                    Each of these elements has a highly polished sealing surface.   The polished faces of the rotating and stationary elements come into contact with each other to form a seal that prevents leakage along the shaft.


The important information in this chapter is summarized below.

Centrifugal Pumps Summary

The impeller contains rotating vanes that impart a radial and rotary motion to the liquid.

The volute collects the liquid discharged from the impeller at high velocity and gradually causes a reduction in fluid velocity by increasing the flow area, converting the velocity head to a static head.

A diffuser increases the efficiency of a centrifugal pump by allowing a more gradual expansion and less turbulent area for the liquid to slow as the flow area expands.

Packing material provides a seal in the area where the pump shaft penetrates the pump casing.

Wearing rings  are replaceable rings  that are attached to the impeller and/or the pump casing to allow a small running clearance between the impeller and pump casing without causing wear of the actual impeller or pump casing material.

The lantern ring is inserted between rings of packing in the stuffing box to receive relatively cool, clean liquid and distribute the liquid uniformly around the shaft to provide lubrication and cooling to the packing.


Improper operation of centrifugal pumps can result in damage to the pump and loss of function of the system that the pump is installed in.  It is helpful to know what conditions can lead to pump damage to allow better understanding of pump operating procedures and how the procedures aid the operator in avoiding pump damage.


Many centrifugal pumps are designed in a manner that allows the pump to operate continuously for months  or even years.  These centrifugal pumps  often rely on the liquid that they are pumping to provide cooling and lubrication to the pump bearings and other internal components of the pump.  If flow through the pump is stopped while the pump is still operating, the pump will no longer be adequately cooled and the pump can quickly become damaged.  Pump damage can also result from pumping a liquid whose temperature is close to saturated conditions.


The flow area at the eye of the pump impeller is usually smaller than either the flow area of the pump suction piping or the flow area through the impeller vanes.  When the liquid being pumped enters the eye of a centrifugal pump, the decrease in flow area results in an increase in flow velocity accompanied by a decrease in pressure.  The greater the pump flow rate, the greater the pressure drop between the pump suction and the eye of the impeller.   If the pressure drop is large enough, or if the temperature is high enough, the pressure drop may be sufficient to cause the liquid to flash to vapor when the local pressure falls below the saturation pressure for the fluid being pumped.  Any vapor bubbles formed by the pressure drop at the eye of the impeller are swept along the impeller vanes by the flow of the fluid.  When the bubbles enter a region where local pressure is greater than saturation pressure farther out the impeller vane, the vapor bubbles abruptly collapse.     This process of the formation and subsequent collapse of vapor bubbles in a pump is called cavitation.

Cavitation in a centrifugal pump has a significant effect on pump performance.     Cavitation degrades the performance of a pump, resulting in a fluctuating flow rate and discharge pressure. Cavitation can also be destructive to pumps internal components.  When a pump cavitates, vapor bubbles form in the low pressure region directly behind the rotating impeller vanes.  These vapor bubbles then move toward the oncoming impeller vane, where they collapse and cause a physical shock to the leading edge of the impeller vane.  This physical shock creates small pits on the leading edge of the impeller vane.  Each individual pit is microscopic in size, but the cumulative effect of millions of these pits formed over a period of hours or days can literally destroy a pump impeller.    Cavitation can also  cause excessive pump vibration, which could damage pump bearings, wearing rings, and seals.

A small number of centrifugal pumps are designed to operate under conditions where cavitation is unavoidable.  These pumps must be specially designed and maintained to withstand the small amount of cavitation that occurs during their operation. Most centrifugal pumps are not designed to withstand sustained cavitation.

Noise is one of the indications that a centrifugal pump is cavitating.   A cavitating pump can sound like a can of marbles being shaken.  Other indications that can be observed from a remote operating station are fluctuating discharge pressure, flow rate, and pump motor current. Methods to stop or prevent cavitation are presented in the following paragraphs.

Net Positive Suction Head

To avoid cavitation in centrifugal pumps, the pressure of the fluid at all points within the pump must remain above saturation pressure.  The quantity used to determine if the pressure of the liquid being pumped is adequate to avoid cavitation is the net positive suction head (NPSH). The net positive suction head available (NPSHA) is the difference between the pressure at the suction of the pump and the saturation pressure for the liquid being pumped.  The net positive suction  head  required (NPSHR) is the minimum net positive suction head necessary to avoid cavitation.

The condition that must exist to avoid cavitation is that the net positive suction head available must be greater than or equal to the net positive suction head required.  This requirement can be stated mathematically as shown below.

When a centrifugal pump is taking suction from a tank or other reservoir, the pressure at the suction of the pump is the sum of the absolute pressure at the surface of the liquid in the tank plus the pressure due to the elevation difference between the surface of liquid in the tank and the pump suction less the head losses due to friction in the suction line from the tank to the pump.

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