By Rob McPherson

Identifying equipment issues prior to equipment failure prevents the need to replace a complete unit. If an operator checks for the following common signs during the operation of a pump or gearbox, it may allow for greater reliability leading to savings in a reduction of unplanned downtime and an economical repair of a unit verses a complete unit replacement.


One common sign of potential equipment failure is misalignment of a coupled pump to the motor or a gearbox to the drive component. A pump can also be damaged if either the inlet or outlet is misaligned due to pipe strain. Misalignment allows the bearings to fail prematurely leading to heavy vibrations as described in the section below. Correct installation, including laser alignment after the unit has ran for a short period of time, will assure proper loads on the bearings per the manufacturer design points. Periodic inspection including alignment checks assist in preventing equipment failure. If a unit is found to be out of alignment after running for a period of time, it is recommended the unit be inspected to assure no additional damage has occurred as a result of the misalignment.


Determining vibration levels at start-up, during operation and timely intervals throughout the life of a unit is an integral part of identifying a problem before it becomes a major failure. Early vibration detection in rotating equipment provides a sign of forthcoming failure. Within a pump, vibration can be a sign of cavitation, impeller erosion, improperly balanced impeller, loose shaft, failed bearings or a coupling issue. Within a gearbox, this early detection can be a sign of a damaged gear or failed bearings.


Decreased efficiencies within an operating system can also be a sign of a problem within a pump. Pumps are designed to run at the best efficiency point (BEP), the point where a pump provides the most cost-effective operation with energy efficiency and maintenance. By using a flow meter, one can monitor the efficiency of a pump system and assist in determining changes within the unit, such as increased wear ring clearances requiring inspection and/or repair.


Monitoring rotating equipment’s lubrication system and completing oil analysis can provide an early indication of equipment problems. Oil can display signs of increased heat, contamination from the product and bearing life. Proper oil analysis can also provide a cost savings in oil usage if the oil shows no signs of problems.

While the above are not the only indicators of forthcoming problems with rotating equipment, each is a place to begin to assist in preventing unplanned downtime and catastrophic failures. Repair costs can be limited the earlier a unit is removed from service and inspected due to misalignment, increased vibrations, decreased efficiencies and oil/lubrication monitoring.

OTP Industrial Solutions is pleased to assist with the inspection of alignment, vibration monitoring and oil analysis. Contact your local OTP sales representative or office location to discuss your rotating equipment needs for additional resources and assistance.

Quarry Pumps with Excessive Vibration

OTP Industrial Solutions for Pump Repair
Written by Tom Bland
September 15, 2009

quarry-pumpsWe received a call from a large stone quarry requesting a budget quote to rebuild a 200 HP, 4-stage vertical turbine pump used for quarry dewatering. We visited the site to review the installation and to gather additional information as to the nature of the problem. While driving deep into the quarry, the site manager explained that these pumps were mounted ten feet above the normal high level and would draw down to 23 feet to the minimum level. The pumps are also mounted on a mezzanine-like structure. This high mounting distance, and the mezzanine mounting was necessary to prevent flooding of the motors should the quarry lose power or experience an abnormally heavy rainfall.

As we climbed the stairs to the top of the structure, the excessive vibration became very evident. In fact, the whole structure had such severe vibration that we questioned the ability of the welds and fasteners to keep it together!

Although the pumps were clearly causing excessive vibration, we decided to confirm the pumps were correctly sized for the job before we assumed that a rebuild was required.

After gathering the necessary information including the pump discharge pressure of 70 psi and the distance from the gauge to the water level, we then compared the actual operating conditions against the design conditions.

The design condition was 2200 gpm at 250 feet of head with a requirement of 34 feet of net positive suction head (NPSH).

Calculated NPSH available:
33 ft. atmospheric pressure
– 1 ft. vapor pressure at 75F
+ 3 ft. minimum submergence of bowl assembly at low level cut-off
35 ft. NPSH available

The NPSH available is barely sufficient for the design condition requirement of 34 feet, but more than ample for higher water levels. But is the pump operating at design condition?

70 psi discharge pressure x 2.31 = 162 ft. head
Distance from gauge to low water level = 23 ft.
Operating condition 185 ft. head

Referring to the pump curve, at 185 ft. hd. this pump will deliver 2600 gpm with 50 ft. of NPSH required! The NPSH required (50 ft.) exceeds the NPSH available (35 ft.) by 15 ft.

At run-out, or maximum flow, of 2860 gpm at 141 ft. head, this pump requires 72 ft. of NPSH. It was clear that cavitation was the cause of the vibration.

Returning to the pump, we throttled the discharge valve to return the pump to the original design condition and as expected, the vibration disappeared. This unit also operates in parallel with additional pumps. When all three pumps are running, the total discharge head (TDH) is sufficient to restrict the flow and keep the pump near the original design point. But operation of this pump alone or with only one additional pump will always require close monitoring and throttling to prevent excessive wear or failure due to cavitation.

By reviewing the installation prior to removal, we prevented an unnecessary rebuild on this VTP pump.

Proper selection of all design conditions is critical to correct pump selection. In this real world example, the VTP pump supplier did not consider that the pump may be operated beyond the design condition. In fact most pumps operate outside of their design condition as they are typically oversized for worst case conditions.

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