Positive Displacement Pumps

An introduction tutorial to the basic operating principles of positive displacement pumps

Positive Displacement Pumps has an expanding cavity on the suction side and a decreasing cavity on the discharge side. Liquid flows into the pumps as the cavity on the suction side expands and the liquid flows out of the discharge as the cavity collapses. The volume is constant given each cycle of operation.

The positive displacement pumps can be divided in two main classes

  • reciprocating
  • rotary

The positive displacement principle applies applies whether the pump is a

  • rotary lobe pump
  • progressing cavity pump
  • rotary gear pump
  • piston pump
  • diaphragm pump
  • screw pump
  • gear pump
  • vane pump
  • regenerative (peripheral) pump
  • peristaltic

Positive Displacement Pumps, unlike a Centrifugal or Roto-dynamic Pumps, will produce the same flow at a given speed (RPM) no matter the discharge pressure.

  • Positive Displacement Pumps are "constant flow machines"

A Positive Displacement Pump must not be operated against a closed valve on the discharge side of the pump because it has no shut-off head like Centrifugal Pumps. A Positive Displacement Pump operating against a closed discharge valve, will continue to produce flow until the pressure in the discharge line are increased until the line bursts or the pump is severely damaged - or both.

A relief or safety valve on the discharge side of the Positive Displacement Pump is therefore absolute necessary. The relief valve can be internal or external. The pump manufacturer has normally the option to supply internal relief or safety valves. The internal valve should in general only be used as a safety precaution, an external relief valve installed in the discharge line with a return line back to the suction line or supply tank is recommended.

Reciprocating Pumps

Typical reciprocating pumps are

  • plunger pumps
  • diaphragm pumps

Plunger pumps comprise of a cylinder with a reciprocating plunger in it. In the head of the cylinder the suction and discharge valves are mounted. In the suction stroke the plunger retracts and the suction valves opens causing suction of fluid into the cylinder. In the forward stroke the plunger push the liquid out the discharge valve.

With only one cylinder the fluid flow varies between maximum flow when the plunger moves through the middle positions, and zero flow when the plunger is in the end positions. A lot of energy is wasted when the fluid is accelerated in the piping system. Vibration and "water hammers" may be a serious problem. In general the problems are compensated by using two or more cylinders not working in phase with each other.

In diaphragm pumps the plunger pressurizes hydraulic oil which is used to flex a diaphragm in the pumping cylinder. Diaphragm  valves are used to pump hazardous and toxic fluids.  

Rotary Pumps

Typical rotary pumps are

  • gear pumps
  • lobe pumps
  • vane pumps
  • progressive cavity pumps
  • peripheral pumps
  • screw pumps

In gear pumps the liquid is trapped by the opening between the gear teeth of two identical gears and the chasing of the pump on the suction side. On the pressure side the fluid is squeezed out when the teeth of the two gears are rotated against each other. The motor provides the drive for one gear.

The lobe pumps operates similar to the gear pump, but with two lobes driven by external timing gears. The lobes do not make contact.

Progressive cavity pumps consist of a metal rotor rotating within an elastomer-lined or elastic stator. When the rotor turns progressive chambers from suction end to discharge end are formed between the rotor and stator, moving the fluid. 

Related Topics

  • Pumps - Piping systems and pumps - centrifugal pumps, displacement pumps - cavitation, viscosity, head and pressure, power consumption and more

Related Documents

  • Classifications of Pumps - Selecting between Centrifugal Pumps and Positive Displacement Pumps
  • Water Hammers - Rapidly closing or openingĀ valves may cause pressure transients in pipelines known as water hammers

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