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Centrifugal Pump

A centrifugal pump is one of the simplest pieces of equipment. Its purpose is to convert
energy of an electric motor or engine into velocity or kinetic energy and then into pressure of
a fluid that is being pumped. The energy changes occur into two main parts of the pump, the
impeller and the volute. The impeller is the rotating part that converts driver energy into the
kinetic energy. The volute is the stationary part that converts the kinetic energy into

Centrifugal Force

Liquid enters the pump suction and then the eye of the impeller. When the impeller rotates, it
spins the liquid sitting in the cavities between the vanes outward and imparts centrifugal
acceleration. As the liquid leaves the eye of the impeller a low pressure area is created at the
eye allowing more liquid to enter the pump inlet.

Centrifugal Pumps are classified into three general categories:



Radial Flow - a centrifugal pump in which the pressure is developed wholly by

centrifugal force.

Mixed Flow - a centrifugal pump in which the pressure is developed partly by

centrifugal force and partly by the lift of the vanes of the impeller on the liquid.

Axial Flow - a centrifugal pump in which the pressure is developed by the propelling
or lifting action of the vanes of the impeller on the liquid.

Positive Displacement Pumps are classified into two general categories and then
subdivided into four/five categories each:



o VANE - The vane(s) may be blades, buckets, rollers or slippers which
cooperate with a dam to draw fluid into and out of the pump chamber.
o PISTON - Fluid is drawn in and out of the pump chamber by a
piston(s) reciprocating within a cylinder(s) and operating port valves.
o FLEXIBLE MEMBER - Pumping and sealing depends on the elasticity of
a flexible member(s) which may be a tube, vane or a liner.
o SINGLE SCREW - Fluid is carried between rotor screw threads as they
mesh with internal threads on the stator.
o Progressing Cavity - Fluid is carried between a rotor and flexible

o GEAR - Fluid is carried between gear teeth and is expelled by the
meshing of the gears which cooperate to provide continuous sealing
between the pump inlet and outlet.
o LOBE - Fluid is carried between rotor lobes which cooperate to provide
continuous sealing between the pump inlet and outlet.
o CIRCUMFERENTIAL PISTON - Fluid is carried in spaces between piston
surfaces not requiring contacts between rotor surfaces.
o MULTIPLE SCREW - Fluid is carried between rotor screw threads as
they mesh.

Know how they work!

Soft packing stuffing boxes and pump glands appear so simple and are so
common-place that we continue to cope without taking a few moments to
understand why they fail or how to improve their performance.

When I first worked as a maintenance technician it did not occur to me to

wonder why it was that the metal shaft sleeve wore away at almost the
same rate as the fiber packing. Later, charged with the responsibility of
advising maintenance engineers I was faced with worn out shaft sleeves
on a daily basis. The type of fiber made no difference, the metal sleeve
became damaged against hemp, cotton, aramid, teflon, and especially
asbestos and, later, the asbestos substitutes. It appeared to make no
sense to have a soft material damage a metal surface so badly as to cause
grooves and ridges in what was to become a familiar pattern.

The packing fibers available come lubricated with a variety of greasy

materials or the packings are made of inherently lubricated materials such
as teflon, or carbon fiber, often loosely braided materials contain fillers
such as the silicone filler in braided teflon packing, and the search for the
answer as to why the shaft becomes worn starts here.

Fillers, grease, graphite grease, tallow, and the other materials used serve
two functions in packing materials.
• The grease provides a lubricant at the shaft / packing interface.
• The material acts as a filler to prevent leakage occurring through the
interstices of the packing itself.

Now take the packing material and place it in the pump stuffing box.

Cut to size, the packing pieces are eased down the shaft to the neck ring.
The cut ends are staggered to prevent leakage through them, the lantern
ring is placed in position, the final three pieces of packing tamped in place
by the gland plate and the work is done.

The next stage is to adjust the gland to ensure that it leaks. The leakage
rate is controlled by the pressure exerted by the gland plate on the end of
the packing set and the leak is allowed to develop along the shaft /
packing interface to provide a cooling medium, removing the friction heat
generated by the rotation of the shaft in the packing set. Two further
things happen here. The grease in the packing melts slightly and is washed
away by the flow of liquid along the shaft, and wear at the surface of the
packing begins. A cycle is beginning which leads to the destruction of the
packed gland as an effective leakage control device. The packing volume
decreases as the lubricant is lost. Inevitably this causes the leakage rate
to increase. As the rate increases more material is lost until the gland is
tightened to reduce the leak to a minimum.

In very few cases can an engineer claim that the fluid passing through his
pumps is not contaminated by dirt particles. Iron oxides, chromium oxides,
grit, aluminum oxides, mica, and many other minute contaminants will
exist in all system fluids. These solids, being denser than the pumped
fluids, will be centrifuged and concentrated at the outer edge of the volute
casing at just the point where the lantern ring tapping is sited. This
contaminated fluid is then passed, at pressure, directly into the pump
gland. Whatever material is used to seal a stuffing box if it is cooled by
fluid contaminated by solids its surface will change producing an effective
grinding surface. To improve the life of the stuffing box gland,
contamination from the cooling water has to be avoided..
The gland packing has been wearing away. Through loss of lubricant it has
lost volume, and the packing surface is exposed. The fluid passing through
the gland, providing a cooling stream, is contaminated with various oxides
and grit. The flow is increasing. A passing engineer notices it and takes
appropriate action. The gland plate is tightened, pressure is exerted on the
packing material to make it deform to reduce the clearance between it and
the shaft. For a moment the flow of fluid is stemmed and the packing
clamps down on the shaft trapping any solids moving through the gland at
that moment. The interstices of the packing fill up with debris. The packing
surface is now beginning to be converted from its original state into one
consisting of oxides. The shaft sleeve itself may be contributing. Stainless
steel ss316 or ss304, continually polished by the action of the packing
replaces its surface of chrome oxide instantaneously, oxide which is taken
up into the packing material. The build up of oxides on the surface of the
packing changes the nature of the gland dramatically.

Our engineer has adjusted the gland plate and reduced the flow of fluid
leaking out of the pump gland. The packing set has deformed to reduce the
leak path. The deformation is not uniform. The action of the gland plate is
to provide a force directed along the shaft which has to be translated into
a radial force to effectively deform the packing. The friction at the outer
edge of the stuffing box possibly supplemented by vulcanization of the
packing material with the metal surface of the stuffing box, prevents the
packing from sliding easily. Consequently, the first two rings of packing,
experiencing the most force, are unable to transmit the axial force evenly
down the length of the stuffing box and invariably this results in an over-
tightening of this area of the gland in order to effect sufficient pressure
throughout the gland.

Combine the over-tightening of the front end of the gland with the oxide
impregnated gland packing and we are beginning to re-shape our shaft
sleeve. But there is more to come.

As the rest of the packing set is adjusted by the overtightened first two
rings the lantern ring is gradually pushed down the shaft. The packing
pieces between the neck ring and the lantern ring are squeezed allowing
the lantern ring to move further until in extreme cases it is cut off from its
fluid supply. The gland is failing fast. Cut off from its coolant the gland can
now overheat, causing rapid failure. Often before this occurs a partial
repacking of the gland has taken place. New packing pieces have been put
into the gland replacing the badly worn first three rings. But their life is
limited because the rings placed into a worn stuffing box need to be
deformed to accommodate the increased radial width of the stuffing box,
and the cycle continues until the shaft sleeve is destroyed. .

The purpose of the lantern ring is to provide a balancing pressure within

the packing set and to allow the cooling water to flow evenly around the
gland. The pressure within the gland is greater than the pump suction
pressure but less than the discharge pressure of the pump and is easily
calculated from

SP+ (DP-SP)/4


SP = Suction pressure

DP = Discharge pressure.

Fluid is taken from a tapping in the volute casing and piped directly into
the lantern ring. This is a convenient pressure source readily to hand and
self contained within the pump unit but consider the action of the pump
impeller. Rotating at high speed the impeller acts as a very efficient
centrifuge. Any dirt particles entrained in the fluid will be flung to the
outer limits of the volute casing, leaving the less dense fluid clean until the
streams re-unite at the impeller throat on their way out of the pump. As all
the particles of dirt are at the periphery of the impeller clean fluid exists at
the impeller center.

The stuffing box pressure is greater than the suction pressure of the pump,
but less than the volute pressure. The state of the fluid within the volute
casing at the back of the impeller is relatively clean having been
centrifuged by the spinning action of the impeller. To prevent
contamination of the gland is therefore, a simple matter of reversing the
flow of fluid through the gland, using the volute casing pressure to
produce a flow back through the gland to the suction side of the pump.
Leakage will be controlled in the same way as before but the gland, being
supplied with clean fluid, will no longer be subject to contamination to the
same degree as before and a longer interval between adjustments and
replacements of the gland packing can be expected.

Mechanical Seals
Why use a mechanical seal? After all is said and done, its easy to stuff a few extra
bits of packing into a leaking stuffing box, and it doesn't require any skilled help to
achieve this, does it? In this section we take a look at some of the reasons why you
should be using seals. The Economic case and the Environmental case as well as
considering some of the seal types available for general use.

It takes a lot of skill to pack a pump properly with soft packing.

There are two basic cases to be made out for the use of rotary, fluid sealing

The Environmental Case

We all have a responsibility to conserve and
protect. Conserve scarce commodities and to
protect the environment from pollution. A major
spill is news because it is dramatic but every
day, millions of glands leak chemicals into the
environment. You can stop those leaks and
avoid cleanup costs.

Have you thought about what that gland

packing is doing to the shaft of your pump? It
works as a brake, gripping the shaft and
causing more power to be absorbed in the unit.
The extra power consumption of the gland
contributes to the "green-house" gases effect
because more power has to be generated at the
power plant to drive your pump.

As an experienced engineer you will know that

the overall thermal efficiency of the power plant
is much less than 35%, so if you can reduce
your take-off by reducing the demand by
replacing your glands with seals, less fuel is
going to be consumed. Less fuel less emissions
and less overall cost of running your plant. There is lots more to think about
but space is limited so let's get on.

The Economic Case

If you are not convinced that environmental pollution
is your problem, loss of hard cash from your pocket
or that of your company should be!

Water is becoming a scarce commodity. Let me

re-phrase that - clean water is becoming a
scarce commodity. For example, boiler feed
water has to be at a high standard of
cleanliness and chemicals are added to it to
ensure that the water quality remains high. Make-up water is usually cooler
than the water circulating in the system so additional fuel is required to
heat the makeup water. It all costs money. Water is paid for on amount
used. More cost! But you'll look at the pump in the corner dripping away and
think that doesn't seem too bad. Ever done the mug test? A coffee mug
holds 300cc. It is a simple matter to collect the leakage and note the time it
takes to fill one mug.

Leak Chart

One drip/second 5,256 Litres / year

3 mm stream 315,360 Litres / year

6 mm stream 630,720 Litres / year

One drip a second is the standard rate for a properly adjusted packed gland : it leaks
water, chemicals, and heat. Leaks usually get worse so look at the chart and now tell
me if a leaking gland is inconsequential! Let's do another sum - how many leaking
glands are there in your plant? Not all packed glands hold back water ... there may
be more costly fluids leaking away. Each leaking gland is contributing to hard cash
overhead expense. Packing is cheap, to buy, to fit, but its running cost is hidden and
can be very expensive.

A mechanical seal appears expensive to buy when compared with a packing ring, but
properly installed a seal will run for many years. The optimum life of a seal is the
period between major overhauls of the pump unit. A seal that fails early by this
criteria is in need of investigation. The criteria for a failed seal is one in which the
running faces are not worn down to their designed minimum. However, an engineer
does not want to spend money on a super seal that will last virtually forever because
that will also not prove to be cost effective. When a seal fails it is possible, with
experience, or the aid of this web site, to determine the cause of failure and to
rectify that fault. This I promise!

I was asked to select a seal for a water pump working in a quarry. The engineer had
been plagued with seal failures for many years on this pump. His success criteria
was that the seal should run from tear down to tear down (12 months). I selected a
seal which was ten times more expensive than the one he had been using. It was
fitted over the Easter Holiday 1982. Over a year later actually the week after the
Easter holiday 1983 he rang me to say that the seal had failed. I reminded him of my
promise that the seal would run for 12 months trouble free. He calmed down and
started remembering, I told him that actually he had gotten an extra week over my
promised 12 months! The increased price of the seal was around $400 but the saving
in cost through not having to replace the seal several times in a year was over
$1,500. The whole plant soon became converted to seals because it is possible to
show a cost benefit analysis for every application.

It is often the thought that seals are expensive that prevents the engineer from
opting for them. The same applies to pump manufacturers. Ever wondered why your
plant is fitted with a particular pump make, each with a packing gland? In a word,
competition. In the enlightened 1990's whole life costing is becoming the way to
assess a particular project's initial cost, but in the real everyday world engineers are
facing the consequences of short sighted least cost solutions to immediate problems.
But now you do not have to continue living with these problems if you look at the
situation of your plant leakage in a business-like manner.

This web site does not represent any one company manufacturing seals. There are
good logistical and economic arguments for standardizing on one manufacturer so
long as they are major enough to run through all the applications you are likely to
need. Whilst working for one of these majors in Saudi Arabia I found that it was
common to find whole refineries using one manufacturers' seal. Long way from
home, gutsy job, $millions at stake in oil revenues every day, it made a lot of sense
for the engineers concerned. Only one company to deal with, lucky for some of them
it was mine and my expertise was part of the deal! But there are many designs of
seal and some I would think of as cheap and not so nice could give some of you
excellent service. So this is not about price, but very much concerns cost. Balancing
the cost of the seal installation against the outcome compared with the alternative.
There is a wide range of materials to choose from. The range encompasses small
variations in generic materials such as carbon, or o-rings and different metals used
to cope with the conditions that faces the seal. I am not encouraging you to
experiment blindly but to think the problem through and choose your materials

We are not going to look at the materials in detail here. For that information
pop over to seal troubleshooting

I have not listed all seal types, the contact-less gas seals for instance are
not covered here, this is because they fall outside the general seal types I
aim to cover. For details on highly specialized seals of this and other types
contact your favored manufacturer for details. In the links section of this
site you will find hyper links to some manufacturers.

Now go look at the various seal types that are available to you for general
use. In these sections you will find explanations of seal types and some of
the problems associated with them.

Installation Checks

Face the facts, seals fail. They do not wear out. Most often something comes
along to disturb the smooth running of the pump and you are facing a
steady leak which has already destroyed your seal by damaging the seal
faces. But there is another case. The seal that leaks on startup after
maintenance. A seal that lasts a week without letting go is generally
thought to be OK. By the way that's a ROT (Rule of Thumb). Running
mechanical seals is an art form. There is a lot of science in it but either you
have the knack or you do not (in which case you need this web site bad).

A seal that leaks after maintenance has been badly installed. It is very
unwise to ignore the basic checks listed here because without these checks
there is no certainty that your seal will perform at all, let alone give a
reasonable running life. I hate having to go over a job again after having
fitted it all back together... don't you?

Pre-installation checks.
1. You have the correct seal and all the parts needed for the
2. You have the pump drawing to hand with installation dimensions or
the seal manufacturer's drawing.
3. The pump stuffing box is clean
4. On split casing pumps the gasket does not extend into the stuffing
5. The shaft is free of scratches and burrs, threads are taped, and
keyways are filled flush with the shaft surface to prevent seal
elastomers from being cut on the keyway edge (a dummy wooden key
insert is ideal).

6. All the seal parts are in their protective coatings at this stage.

Pump Checks

Shaft Run-out

Shafts get bent. The spinning impeller has unequal loading on in causing the
shaft to deflect away from the volute throat. Constant deflection causes
weakness and can lead to a permanent offset of the shaft leading to shaft
run out. Shaft run out is bad for seals. It causes them to flex twice on every
revolution of the shaft. At high enough speeds this can cause a vibration in
the seal which allows the seal faces to OPEN. BANG failed seal.

So, look into the dark recesses of your lockers and pull out the Dial Test
Indicator (DTI) or Clock Gauge that lurks there, unloved & unused and
check the shaft of your pump for any damaging shaft deflections.

Single stage overhung pumps should be checked near the seal running
position but multi stage pumps should be checked at suitable intervals
along the shaft as well as at the seal running position.

The run out should not exceed 0.002 inches or 0.05 m.metres.

Shaft Sleeve Concentricity.

You have checked the shaft for run-out and because the seal elastomer has
a tendency to wear a fret ring on the shaft a shaft sleeve is fitted to protect
the shaft. When a new shaft sleeve is fitted, and this should be with every
new seal, it is a good idea to re-run the shaft run-out check to ensure that
the sleeve is concentric with the shaft.

The run out should not exceed 0.002 inches or 0.05 m.

A note about shaft sleeves. It is a false economy to omit to change the shaft
sleeve when replacing a mechanical seal.

I was called out to a cooling water pump supplying a 100Mw Power station.
The shaft size was 230mm and it took three men two days to strip and
rebuild the seal box. The shaft sleeve cost $4,000 and the seal cost $10,000.
The new seal had been fitted onto the old sleeve and leaked immediately on
startup. The seal faces were intact but having been run for 24 hours in that
condition another new seal assembly was required. On examination it was
found that the o-ring contacting the shaft sleeve surface had worn a groove
(Fretting damage) and the new o-ring was unable to seal against this
damaged surface. The extent of the damage was not immediately obvious to
the eye but by carefully measuring the surface the fault was found. Amount
saved on first installation $4,000, total cost of seal change $25,500, and it
should have cost $15,500. Believe me, skimping on the job is not the same
as saving hard cash.

Axial Shaft Movement

Set up your DTI to measure the amount of axial movement of the shaft. The
amount will vary according to the type of pump, its bearing configuration,
and the type of thrust bearing in use.

Essentially there are four types of thrust bearings

• Deep groove ball bearings

• Roller bearings
• Michell, Kingsbury, or thrust pad bearings, usually made of white
metal bearing surfaces.
• Balance piston thrust absorbing arrangement. This type is often found
on high pressure multi-stage water pumps where the hydraulic forces
are partially balanced by the impellers and controlled leakage past a
balance piston provides the final stage of rotating unit positioning.

The basic principle is that the shaft should be set to its running position
before attempting to fit the seal. In the case of cartridge seals, the seal
cover plate should be fixed to the pump casing, the shaft positioned, and
then the seal locking screws tightened to the shaft. Non cartridge types
need to have a datum mark scribed onto the shaft relative to the seal plate
position and then the fitting dimension marked from this point.

A note about fitting position. It is not good practice to fit a new seal by
looking at the old set-screw marks and then lining up on them. If you want
good seal performance then start out right ... measure the distance
required, don't take short cuts. The last seal could have been fitted
incorrectly, perhaps causing the rebuild that is now necessary. You are
storing up future trouble if you skimp.

Seal Housing Squareness

The seal stationary must be fitted at 90 degrees to the axis of the shaft.
Failing to achieve this will cause the seal head to move to take up any mis-
alignment. This movement offers an opportunity for the seal faces to open
and for the ingress of dirt particles. If you are changing out packing and
up-grading your equipment to a mechanical seal you need to pay close
attention to setting the seal housing closing plate in the correct position.
The basic check is as shown in the diagram.

It is also wise to check the bore of the seal housing at this point for
concentricity with the shaft. Put the sensing tip of the Dial Indicator inside
the bore on the wall of the seal housing and rotate the shaft. A small
amount of misalignment is permitted but the important thing is to check
that the seal body cannot touch the seal housing wall at any point of its

General Checks

While the pump unit is in the shop for maintenance take the opportunity to
ensure that the cooling water jacket is clear of debris, that any other
cooling water arrangement is cleared of any obstruction. Orifice plates
controlling the flow of water to a seal housing should be checked
dimensionally correct. A seal starved of its ration of cooling water will be
very unforgiving and cause you lots of grief in a short time. This kind of
fault is very difficult to diagnose for the average engineer. Even the best
have trouble with this one, too! So check it out now while the doing is easy.

Bearings need to be replaced if they have been running with any pump
leakage around. Moisture ingress into a bearing dramatically reduces a
bearing's useful life. If you are changing out soft packing for a mechanical
seal replace the bearings on the unit too. The leakage from the packing
gland is more than enough to damage the bearings.
Check the impeller for cavitation damage indicating a system problem that
might go un-noticed during normal running conditions. Cavitation can
cause vibration in the pump shaft which will affect the seal 's performance.

I know you will ensure that the impeller sealing rings are replaced or re-
bushed to keep the clearances within design limits. Allowing recirculation
within the pump volute is no way to keep the efficiency of your plant at the
highest level, and it can increase the pressure inside the seal housing which
will cause your seal to wear out faster!

W hy Se als Fa il

Seals fail for a number of reasons. Your job is to pinpoint the reason and fix

Here you are in a situation in which the seal has run for a period well
beyond the installation period. Its leaking and now you have to make a
decision. Has the seal failed or simply worn out? What you decide now will
determine whether you fit a replacement seal or seek out an alternative
type. The basics are simple.

A worn out seal will leak when the seal face has worn away completely.

If we extend this criteria to all leaking seals it becomes sadly obvious that
the majority of seals, perhaps 85% of process seals, fail long before they
are worn out.

This section is devoted to the three main reasons why seals fail. Only three
you say? Three main reasons and lots of routes to them.

Seals fail because ...

• The seal faces open.

• Heat causes a problem.
• The chemical environment causes a material failure.

OK so there is another category ... the installation failure, but that's covered
in the installation section.

S e a l Fa c e s O p e n

The shaft moves for many reasons, those that affect the seal operation are:


• End play
• Thrust movement
• Temperature growth

• Impeller adjustment


• Bearing wear
• Bent shaft
• Shaft whip
• Shaft deflection (discharge closed)


• System NPSH incorrect causing cavitation

• Harmonic vibration, check the coupling, does it "hum" or "buzz".
Rubber couplings can operate with high degrees of misalignment
without total failure but cause problems for the seal.
• Impeller imbalance
• Slip-stick. Not surprisingly not much is known about what happens
between seal faces in service. There are theories. The faces acquire a
film of liquid that lubricates the seal surfaces, the carbon face wears
slightly depositing a layer of carbon on the stationary face so that the
carbon face runs on carbon , but there is a condition that causes the
faces to vibrate open when pumping non-lubricating fluids. Fluids
near their vapour point, very hot water, can cause these conditions.
The seal faces "chatter " against each other in a slip-stick motion
slipping when the drive lug hits the seal head, bouncing round and
momentarily stopping before being hit by the drive lug again. To be a
sealman you have to believe.
• Poor pump performance. This statement covers a host of sins.
Consider running two or three pumps into one discharge line, the
odds are that the pump performances will not be perfectly matched.
Does it matter? Not really, unless you are concerned about your seal
life, because what is happening here? One or other of the pumps,
because of poor performance now combined with poor system design,
will be experiencing discharge throttling, tending to over load the
impeller at the throat, causing turbulent flow and shaft bending. Look
into other causes of poor pump performance.

Other causes

The seal runs against a stationary component. The stationary is usually

fitted into the seal plate which is bolted to the pump and sealed with a
gasket. Now, I do not want to sound too pedantic here but you have to
realize that the seal stationary has to be fitted square to the axis of the
shaft and in proper alignment with the axis of the pump shaft. The
stationary has to be fitted into the seal-plate square. None of this is easy to
achieve and each error compounds the next. The rotating head has to follow
any misalignment from square that the stationary carries. Every rotation of
the shaft causes the rotating seal head to move back-and-forth twice.
Interfere with that movement and the faces are open.

Difficult as it is to get the stationary fitted correctly, should you achieve it

then other factors come into play to limit the excellence of your work.
Stress imposed by pipe strain, coupling misalignment, or plain thermal
growth put the pump casing out of shape just enough to cause the seal to
work harder.

All of the items described mean that the shaft and seal are in constant
relative movement. If anything interferes with the free movement of the
seal, the faces open.

When the faces open, dirt in the liquid penetrates the lapped surfaces,
embeds in the soft face which gradually changes to a grinding surface to
score and wear away the hard face of the stationary ring. Have you noticed
this effect? Do you look at your failed seals? You should, because on those
faces lie clues to help you find the faults opposing long seal life. Well when
we have gotten through this section and onto the tell tale signs I bet you
will take a bit more notice of your failed seal bodies.

The main reasons why seal faces open are:

• The elastomer sticks to the shaft. Spring loaded elastomers will stick
to the shaft, O-rings will flex by 0.005" (0.13mm) and then roll. O-
rings will fret a shaft but spring loaded elastomers (teflon wedges,
chevrons, etc.) can cause serious surface damage to your shaft or
sleeve leading to early seal failure. A leak under the seal head looks
very much like a face leak.
• The shaft is out on machining tolerance. Correct tolerance is +0.000"
to -0.002" from nominal. A packing sleeve is not machined to any
close tolerance, after all it is going to wear against the packing so its
external dimension is not too important. An oversize sleeve or shaft
will cause the seal to hang-up, an under size shaft or sleeve will
prejudice the ability of the elastomers to seal the head to the
• The surface finish on the shaft/sleeve is too rough. A lathe finish is
not good enough. The finish should be at least 32 RMS and for that a
ground finish is required.
• Have you got a hardened shaft on your pump unit? The seal set
screws will not "bite" into the shaft and could slip causing the setting
dimension of the seal to alter.
• The pumped fluid changes state. Sea water, brine pumps, sugary
solutions, cause crystallizing when the salts come out of solution or
the sugars become caramelized. Other coking substances, heat
transfer oil, tar, cause similar problems. You will see the build up of
material around the leak site.
• Solids can cause the seal head to stick to the shaft or restrict the o-
ring flexibility. Take a look at the double seal arrangement, back to
back version. Used on some services the O-ring could very quickly
become clogged preventing the seal head from moving to
accommodate wear of the faces.
• Incorrect setting length at installation. You may never figure this one
out. Just make sure that the fitting dimension is correct when
installing the seal. Otherwise sometime in the future the seal will let
go, usually after the pump is stopped, and the faces will look good but
only partly worn. What has happened is that the spring pressure has
reduced to the point where the seal leaks during idle periods. This can
be difficult to spot, unless you know what to look for ... and when.
• Fretting. Very small movements between components causes a
polishing action. The polishing action removes the surface molecules.
On pump shafts made of stainless materials the surface of the metal
consists of chromium oxide. Elastomers moving very slightly against
this surface wipe away the oxide which immediately reforms. The
oxide is carried into the wiping surface changing its character
completely. A rubber ring coated with chromium oxide becomes more
efficient as a polishing, grinding surface and removes material at a
faster rate. A "fret" ring is characterized by a polish mark on the shaft
surface at the point where the seal elastomer seals against the shaft.
If worn badly enough the fret ring can cause a new seal to fail on
installation because the elastomer cannot seal effectively due to the
damage on the surface.
• Distortion of the stationary face. This is not common but the
stationary could be badly fitted leading to over tightening, especially
the silicon carbide grades which are designed with a lip to be clamped
in the seal plate. Failure under these circumstances may be confused
with cracking due to heat checking of the component. S.C grades of
99.9% only heat check if they are tightened un-evenly, so check out
your grade and suspect poor fitting if its a high grade material failing
by cracking. With other materials such as tungsten carbide, or plated
surfaces, such as stellite, consider the distorting effect of poor
clamping if no other solution presents itself.
• Face Mis-centering or run-off. This is not common and is easy to
diagnose. The faces are not concentric and the rotating head comes
off the stationary track and picks up dirt. Scoring of the stationary
and an off center running track gives you all you need to know.
• Incorrect grade of O-ring material. Lots of things happen to
elastomers so check out the ones on your seal, are they swollen,
hard, squashed, shiny, cracking?
• The seal hits something, it is prevented from moving to accommodate
o Lots of possibilities here, so I list a few.

1. The shaft is bent and hitting the stationary face. You will notice
this pretty quick, but bear in mind that the running clearance of
the seal components and the shaft may be quite tight, so a
small shaft displacement may not be obvious, the seal will
show you what is happening.
2. Solids in the seal chamber hitting the seal.
3. Incorrectly fitted gasket extending into the seal chamber. Split
casing pumps can suffer this problem.
4. The shaft is not concentric with the seal chamber.
5. Insufficient clearance in the seal chamber. Check this out if you
are changing seal type or intend using different materials to
cope with other problems.
6. A seal box recirc line is directed at the seal faces. Most seal
chambers have a radial flow insert when most seal
manufacturer's will tell you that a tangential flow insert is
safer and causes less disturbance to the seal faces.

Heat Causes Seal Failures.

• Heat affects the elastomer. This the part most sensitive to extremes
of temperature.
• Heat can change the state of the fluid being pumped.
• Raising the temperature of corrosive liquids increases their potency.
A 16 deg F rise doubles the corrosion rate of most acids.
• Differential expansion rates can destroy plated seal surfaces. Low
grade silicon carbide will crack with sudden changes in temperature.
• Differential expansion of shaft and pump casing can change the face
loading by altering the fitting dimension.

We now have the over-view of heat related failures so let us look in more
detail at what is happening.


A wide range of elastomers are in use and many of them are rubber
compounds. Teflon materials have a predetermined heat range of up to 226
deg C beyond which Teflon breaks down and burns making small amounts of
phosgene gas. Teflon should not be used in temperatures close to its
ultimate limit because it is a heat insulator and local heat production may
cause it to reach its ultimate temperature.

Rubber compounds are made by baking the material until it is cured to a

predetermined hardness or durometer. The various materials formed in this
way, nitrile, viton, buna-n, and others, are commonly found in sealing
applications. Less common is Kalrez a specialized compound with a high
resistance to chemical attack. Formed in a heat setting process, these
materials continue to be affected by the heat applied during the life of the
seal. At temperatures beyond the range of the rubber seal the material
continues to harden. As it hardens the shape of the seal takes on the shape
of the groove if an O-ring or splits appear in rubber bellows as flexibility is
lost. O-rings take on a "compression" set and appear oval and feel hard to
the touch. O-rings are manufactured with a 10% tolerance oversize to allow
for some thermo-setting in service. At higher temperatures the elastomer
life to full compression set will depend upon the temperature and time at
this temperature. The point for you is that exceeding the range of the
rubber parts of your seal will shorten the working life of the seal and you
need to bear this in mind.
An odd case, in Saudi Arabia I was called to a refinery that had been under
construction for several years and pumps had been installed, but not run,
for varying periods. Pumps under going test runs were leaking along the
shafts. Investigation showed that over time in ambient temperatures of 55
deg C the seal elastomers had baked hard and vulcanized to the metal parts.
All seals had to be changed.

Heat is generated from the friction running at the seal faces. Depending
upon the type of face material and the seal box environment a rise of
around 25 deg C above the seal fluid temperature can occur. Look at your
seal types, where is the elastomer in relation to the seal faces. The nearer
the elastomer is placed to the running faces the greater the additional heat
it will experience. The use of low friction seal face combinations will reduce
this effect. The carbon / ceramic combination has the lowest friction rating
with hard faces such as tungsten / tungsten faces the highest.

Unbalanced seals, because the face weight is varying with the system
pressure, can experience greater rises in face generated heat creating
damage to the elastomer.

Excessive heat producing a temperature rise of 55 Deg C on a Viton O-ring

will reduce its useful life to less than 1000 hours running time. For a seal
that is expected to run for one year that is an 88% reduction in useful life.
An 82 deg C rise will reduce the life of the seal by 97%.

Loss of water to a cooling water jacket, loss of any cooling arrangements

puts your seals at risk.

I was called to a split-casing boiler feed pump that was experiencing out-
board seal failure. Normally I would expect more problems with the in-
board (coupling end ) seal due to less opportunity to dissipate the heat soak
along the shaft. Examination of regular temperature recordings made of the
cooling water system and seal box temperatures revealed that the out-
board seal was being starved of cooling water flow. Dismantling the orifice
plate controlling the flow to the in-board seal showed excessive wear
enlarging the orifice and allowing through a larger proportion of the flow.
Replacing the orifice plate solved the problem. All can seem well with your
equipment but the seals will always let you know first when problems are

Changing state of the fluid

Liquid gases and other volatile fluids can vaporize and freeze water out of
the air on the outside of the seal restricting movement. Shortly before I
took up my post in Saudi Arabia a liquid propane pump blew its seal open
due to a build up of ice around the seal faces. Liquid released into the
atmosphere created a vast cloud of highly flammable gas. Fortunately no
one was hurt and no explosion occurred but it was a close thing. It was
thought appropriate to fit a double seal with a barrier fluid for future
Liquids changing state to a gas experience enormous volume increases.
Water increases in volume by 1700 times, so a small drop vaporizing across
a seal face will explosively blow apart the faces. Boiler feed pumps and
other hot water pumps can be heard "popping" or "puffing" if the seals are
not working correctly. As the water droplets expand and open the seal faces
more water rushes in to cool the area, collapsing the steam bubble and
causing the faces to snap shut. Another small droplet penetrating the faces
vaporizes and causes the faces to open again. Water treatment crystals,
entrained oxides, other dirt particles are trapped between the faces as they
close. Your seal is on its way to the scrap yard.

Some fluids crystallize with additional heat. Sea-water, brine, and similar
fluids leaking past your seal and drying out around the seal plate can build
up to affect the seal head and prevent it from moving. Crystals can also
score the running surfaces of the seal causing damage leading to failure.

Hydrocarbons form coke as they partially burn or vaporize. Coking causes a

hard solid to form around the seal effectively stopping it from moving freely.
A similar effect is seen in food plants handling product containing sugar.
Sugar escaping across a seal face can crystallize, or simply burn and coke.
The signs are un-mistakable on the seal face.

Heat can cause impurities to come out of solution and plate onto seal
surfaces, building up hard films or lacquers.

Heat can destroy seal faces.

I have mentioned some of these effects but I think a defined list will help

Plated materials can experience differential expansion. Often materials such

as stellite are plated over stainless steel. The expansion rates are poorly
matched so operating outside of the design limits of the materials will cause
strains to appear in the plating interface, causing cracks to appear. The
cracks will cause the carbon face to wear dramatically fast.

The less expensive ceramic material (85%) will crack if cold shocked.
Sudden changes in temperature of 38 deg C or more will destroy the seal
face. The higher quality ceramic (99.9%) will cold shock if it is under
distorting stress, properly fitted and evenly clamped it will survive sudden
changes in temperature. Get to know which materials are being fitted into
your seal installations.

Carbon rings using fillers and fitted into high temperature pumps can have
the filler material melt out of the carbon causing them to become porous

Poor carbons with voids can blister and pit as the trapped air or gases
expand and blows pieces off the carbon surface.

Lapped seal faces can distort, going out of flat. The effect of touching the
lapped surface with a finger is to coat the surface with dirt and skin oils but
also to distort the surface away from flat by the application of heat from
your hand. Distorted seal faces leak.

Heat increases the corrosiveness of most corrosive


• The carbon part of the seal will show signs of being attacked.
• O-ring grooves can be damaged limiting their ability to seal
• O-rings can become hard or start to crack, or become swollen and
excessively soft.
• Metal surfaces can be attacked and appear pitted which will prejudice
the seals ability to work properly.
• Springs and other highly stressed parts can fail due to increased

Expansion due to heating effects.

All metals expand when heated. A stainless steel shaft 48" long by 4" dia
will grow 0.138" in length when heated through 300 deg F. The working
limit of most carbon seal faces is 0.125" . Seal compression is set at about
0.064" to produce the spring face weight. A seal mounted on a shaft moving
by 0.138" with other expansion effects happening to the pump casing is in
danger of opening. Apart from ensuring the accurate placing of the seal on
the pump shaft there is little to be done to compensate for such movement.
Tell-tale signs of inaccurate setting of the seal will be where you need to be

The shaft diameter will expand too, by about 0.010". The seal material will
expand also but under extreme circumstances this expansion can cause the
seal to hang-up on the shaft. Over-compression of the elastomers will limit
their effectiveness, as well as the other effects mentioned earlier.

M a t e r i a l Fa i l u r e .

Failure of materials is usually a sign of a mis-match of material to

environment. The substantial construction of seals excludes major failure of
some main component, so we concentrate on the effects of environmental
attack on sensitive components.

• Chemical attack on the elastomer will cause it to swell.

• The carbon will appear pitted. Acid attack on carbon is directed
against the impurities. The reaction of the impurities to the acid
solution cause holes and pits to form, weakening the structure and
producing a porous carbon. A higher grade of carbon is required.
• The springs can break. Stainless steel is known to fail due to chloride
stress corrosion. Many single coil spring driven seals fail because the
spring breaks. They are usually in-expensive and over-engineered,
but they still fail.
• Metals corrode. In seals where metal parts are designed to be thin
due to flexibility requirements, metal bellows seals, welding
techniques used in construction and material compatibility with
mating components and pumped fluids are factors that affect the life
of a seal.
• Set screws clamping onto a hardened shaft material will not grip
properly, allowing the seal body to slip, leading to a range of other
effects, but ultimately to a seal failure.
• Plated seal faces are not corrosion resistant, so the plating material
can be removed from the surface.

This list is not exhaustive however comprehensive it may appear. You will
find some new problem and when you do I want to hear all about it. So do
all the other guys visiting this site. Look forward to hearing from you, I just
know I will in time!

Pump Problems can be either caused by:

1. Mechanical Problem with the Pump


2. Pump System Problem


The Great Majority of Pump Problems are with the Pump System

The Majority of Pump System Problems are on the Suction Side

Pump Problems are usually associated with Noisy Operation

Mechanical Problem

To determine if this noise is a mechanical problem with the pump drain it, close
both suction and discharge valves and run the pump briefly.

If the noise continues you have a mechanical problem.

The mechanical noise can be caused by:

1. Debris in the Impeller

2. Impeller Rubbing
3. Impeller out of Balance

4. Bent or Twisted shaft

5. Bad bearings

6. Coupling Misalignment

7. V-Belt sheave Misalignment

8. Pipe Stress

In any case the problem can be corrected by taking it apart and simply fixing it by
either replacing the damaged parts or correcting the installation.

Items Required:

1. Pump Installation Manual

2. Pump Operation Manual

3. Pump Maintenance Manual

4. Parts List

System Problem

However if the Noise goes away after draining the pump etc. then the noise is
caused by the Pumping System.

Pump System Noise is usually caused by:

1. Cavitation

2. Vortexing

Tools Required

In order to troubleshoot a pump system problem the following tools are required:

1. Combination Vacuum/Pressure Gauge - To Check Pump Suction Reading

2. Pressure Gauge - To Check Pump Discharge Pressure Reading

3. Amp Meter - To Check Horsepower Load

4. Tachometer - To Check Pump Speed

5. Pump Performance Curve - To Check all Readings Against the Expected Pump

Suction Cavitation

Suction Cavitation occurs when the Net Positive Suction Head Available to the
pump is less than what is Required ------------ NPSHA < NPSHR.


1. The pump sounds like it is pumping rocks!

2. High Vacuum reading on suction line

3. Low discharge pressure/High flow


1. Clogged suction pipe

2. Suction line too long

3. Suction line diameter too small

4. Suction lift too high

5. Valve on Suction Line only partially open


1. Remove debris from suction line

2. Move pump closer to source tank/sump

3. Increase suction line diameter

4. Decrease suction lift requirement

5. Install larger pump running slower which will decrease the Net Positive Suction
Head Required by the pump(NPSHR)
6. Increase discharge pressure

7. Fully open Suction line valve

Discharge Cavitation

Discharge Cavitation occurs when the pump discharge head is too high where the
pump runs at or near shutoff.


1. The pump sounds like it is pumping rocks!

2. High Discharge Gauge reading

3. Low flow


1. Clogged discharge pipe

2. Discharge line too long

3. Discharge line diameter too small

4. Discharge static head too high

5. Discharge line valve only partially open


1. Remove debris from discharge line

2. Decrease discharge line length

3. Increase discharge line diameter

4. Decrease discharge static head requirement

5. Install larger pump which will maintain the required flow without discharge

6. Fully open discharge line valve

Vo r t e x i n g
Vortexing is caused by insufficient surface tension on the liquid


1. Pump makes a growling sound

2. Whirlpool usually visible on liquid surface

3. Loss of Flow


1. There is not enough liquid height above the suction line entrance

2. The velocity at the suction line entrance is too high


Decrease liquid velocity and/or increase submergence in accordance with the

following table

Submergence can be increased by resetting the pump shutoff level higher in the
sump or tank.

Velocity can be decreased by enlarging the suction bottom opening by installing a

suction bell.

Pressure/Elevation Chart
aro Eq E
metr uiv qui
ic ale vale
nt nt
eadi H P
ng ead ress
Inch F
es of eet PSI
0 29.9 3 14.7
2 3.96
1000 28.86 32.76 14.18
2000 27.82 31.58 13.67
3000 26.81 30.43 13.17
4000 25.84 29.33 12.69
5000 24.89 28.25 12.22
6000 23.98 27.22 11.78
7000 23.09 26.21 11.34
8000 22.22 25.22 10.91

Va p o r C h a r t
Water Vapor Pressure Chart

Temperature Vapor Pressure

40 4.4 .1217 .281
50 10 .1781 .4115
60 15.6 .2563 .592
70 21.1 .3631 .815
80 26.7 .5069 1.17
90 32.2 .6982 1.612
100 37.8 .9492 2.191
110 43.3 1.275 2.942
120 48.9 1.692 3.91
130 54.4 2.223 5.145
140 60 2.889 6.675
150 65.6 3.718 8.56
160 71.1 4.741 10.95
170 76.7 5.992 13.84
180 82.2 7.510 17.35
190 87.8 9.339 21.55
200 93.3 11.50 26.65
212 100 14.70 33.96

Fitting Chart
Fitting Losses

Equivalent Length of Pipe in Feet

Pipe Valves

Gate Plug Globe Angle Check Foot

1.5" 0.9 - 45 23 11 39
2" 1.10 6.0 58 29 14 47
3" 1.6 8.0 86 43 20 64
4" 2.1 17 113 57 26 71
6" 3.2 65 170 85 39 77
Elbows Tee Enlrg Contr
45 90 45 90 Strt Side 1:2 3:4 2:1 4:3
1.5" 1.9 4.1 1.4 2.3 2.7 8.1 2.6 1.0 1.5 1.0
2" 2.4 5.2 1.9 3.0 3.5 10.4 3.2 1.2 1.8 1.2
3" 3.6 7.7 2.9 4.5 5.2 15.5 4.7 1.7 2.8 1.7
4" 4.7 10.2 3.8 6.0 6.8 20.3 6.2 2.3 3.6 2.3
6" 7.1 15.3 5.8 9.0 10.2 31 9.5 3.4 5.6 3.4

Friction Chart
Friction Drop Chart

Friction Loss of Water in Feet per 100 Feet of Pipe

U.S. 1"Pipe 2"Pipe 3"Pipe 4"Pipe 5"Pipe 6"Pipe

Vel Loss Vel Loss Vel Loss Vel Loss Vel Loss Vel Loss
10 3.72 11.7 1.02 0.50 0.45 0.07 - - - - - -
20 7.44 42.0 2.04 1.82 0.91 0.25 0.51 0.06 - - - -
30 11.15 89.0 3.06 3.84 1.36 0.54 0.77 0.13 0.49 0.04 - -
40 14.88 152 4.08 6.60 1.82 0.91 1.02 0.22 0.65 0.08 - -
50 - - 5.11 9.90 2.27 1.36 1.28 0.34 0.82 0.11 0.57 0.04
60 - - 6.13 13.9 2.72 1.92 1.53 0.47 0.98 0.16 0.68 0.06
70 - - 7.15 18.4 3.18 2.57 1.79 0.63 1.14 0.21 0.79 0.08
80 - - 8.17 23.7 3.65 3.28 2.04 0.81 1.31 0.27 0.91 0.11
90 - - 9.19 29.4 4.09 4.06 2.30 1.00 1.47 0.34 1.02 0.14
100 - - 10.2 35.8 4.54 4.96 2.55 1.22 1.63 0.41 1.13 0.17
110 - - 11.3 42.9 5.00 6.00 2.81 1.46 1.79 0.49 1.25 0.21
120 - - 12.3 50.0 5.45 7.00 3.06 1.72 1.96 0.58 1.36 0.24
130 - - 13.3 58.0 5.91 8.10 3.31 1.97 2.12 0.67 1.47 0.27
140 - - 14.3 67.0 6.35 9.20 3.57 2.28 2.29 0.76 1.59 0.32
150 - - 15.3 76.0 6.82 10.5 3.82 2.62 2.45 0.88 1.70 0.36

Valves and Fittings

Viscosity Pipe Chart
Pipe Pressure Drop Chart