Since all pumps require well-developed inlet flow to meet their potential, a pump may not perform or be as reliable as expected due to a faulty suction piping layout such as a close-coupled elbow on the inlet flange. When poorly developed flow enters the pump impeller, it strikes the vanes and is unable to follow the impeller passage. The liquid then separates from the vanes causing mechanical problems due to cavitation, vibration and performance problems due to turbulence and poor filling of the impeller. This results in premature seal, bearing and impeller failure, high maintenance costs, high power consumption, and less-than-specified head and/or flow. To have a well-developed flow pattern, pump manufacturer's manuals recommend about 10 diameters of straight pipe run upstream of the pump inlet flange. Unfortunately, piping designers and plant personnel must contend with space and equipment layout constraints and usually cannot comply with this recommendation. Instead, it is common to use an elbow close-coupled to the pump suction which creates a poorly developed flow pattern at the pump suction.
With a double-suction pump tied to a close-coupled elbow, flow distribution to the impeller is poor and causes reliability and performance shortfalls. The elbow divides the flow unevenly with more channeled to the outside of the elbow. Consequently, one side of the double-suction impeller receives more flow at a higher velocity and pressure while the starved side receives a highly turbulent and potentially damaging flow. This degrades overall pump performance (delivered head, flow and power consumption) and causes axial imbalance which shortens seal, bearing and impeller life.
Read more about this topic: Cavitation
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