Computational Fluid Dynamics for Centrifugal Pumps

Pumps are important for many common systems which deal with water, such as heating circulating flows, consumer or industrial water supply, fountains, and fire protection systems.

Pumps are classified into two major categories: Rotodynamic pumps and positive displacement pumps (piston pumps). Rotodynamic pumps can be further classified as axial pumps, centrifugal (radial) pumps, or mixed pumps.

Centrifugal pumps are the devices which impart energy to the fluid (liquid) by means of rotating impeller vanes, and the fluid exits radially from the pump impeller. Such pumps are simple, efficient, reliable, relatively inexpensive, and easily meet the pumping system requirements for filtration. This is a great pump choice for moving liquids from one place to another using pressure.

Types of Rotodynamic Pumps
Figure 1. Types of Rotodynamic Pumps

Centrifugal Pump Design

A centrifugal pump is a very common component in turbomachines, but as with any component, it still needs continual improvement in the design methodology, from conceptual level to the final product development including testing at different levels. The challenge is to design a pump with improved efficiency while minimizing the possibility of cavitation.

Need of Numerical Simulation

Years ago, engineers performed prototype testing at each level of design to check the performance (which was very costly and time consuming). Now with advancements in the computation technology and resources, it is comparatively easier to design high efficiency pumps within a short duration of time. These simulations can be done with a computer, so, the number of physical prototypes required is greatly reduced. The main advantage of numerical simulation is that it allows engineers to virtually test the CAD model early in the design process, and provides flexibility for engineers to iterate the design until getting the required performance.

Computational Fluid Dynamics for Centrifugal Pumps

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) replaces the huge number of testing requirement. This not only shortens the design cycle time but also significantly reduces development cost.

In a CFD model, the region of interest, a pump impeller flow-path for example, is subdivided into a large number of cells which form the grid or mesh. The PDEs (partial differential equations) can be rewritten as algebraic equations that relate the velocity, pressure, temperature, etc. in a cell to those in all of the cell’s immediate neighbors. The resulting set of equations can then be solved iteratively, yielding a complete description of the flow throughout the domain.

To accomplish CFD simulations, there are several software programs available, but user must select a very well validated software that can provide and easy user interface, automatic mesh generation and flexibility to modify the geometry to perform optimization without needing to move to some other software platform.

In the current trend, automatic mesh generation tools like AxCFD™ are employed in the AxSTREAM® software platforms which reduces the turbomachines meshing complications and generate good quality mesh in considerably short timeframe which can capture the accurate flow features needed. Figure 2 shows the discretized impeller and pressure contour after CFD analysis.

Discretized Impeller and Pressure Contour After CFD Analysis
Figure 2. Discretized Impeller and Pressure Contour After CFD Analysis

AxCFD™, in AxSTREAM® platform, provides user an opportunity to perform CFD analysis by applying standard methods of full three-dimensional CFD, axisymmetric CFD (meridional), and blade-to-blade analysis. User can even perform optimization of the blade profiles and other geometrical parameters within the AxSTREAM® platform and perform CFD simulation without altering any CFD settings.

Applications of Centrifugal Pumps

Centrifugal Pumps are the most popular and commonly used type of pump for the transfer of any type of fluid. The volumetric flow rate range of centrifugal pumps can vary from several tens of ml/hour to  one hundred thousand m3/hour , while the pressure can be normal pressure to nearly 20MPa; and the liquid temperature can be as low as -200℃ or as high as 800℃. The fluid being transferred can be water (clean or sewage), oil, acid or alkali, suspension or liquid metal, etc. Therefore, centrifugal pumps are used across numerous industries:

  1. In the oil and gas or chemical industries, converting crude oil to products requires a complex process. Pumps play an important role in transferring these liquids, providing the required pressure and flow rate for chemical reactions. Sometimes, pumps are used to adjust temperature in certain parts of the system.
  2. In agriculture, centrifugal pumps are used in the majority of irrigation machinery. Agriculture pumps make up half of the total amount of centrifugal pumps being used today.
  3. In mining and metallurgy industries, centrifugal pumps are the most widely used equipment, for draining, and cooling of water supplies, etc.
  4. For power generation, the nuclear power plants need large amounts of primary, and secondary system pumps, while the thermal power plants also need boiler feed pumps, condensate pumps, loop pumps and as well as ash pumps.
  5. In military applications, the adjusting of airplane wings and rudders, turning of turret on ships and tanks, the up and down of submarines, all rely on pumps for hydraulic fluids.
  6. In shipbuilding, there are more than 100 different types of pumps in one typical ocean ship.
  7. Other applications include municipal water supplies and drainage; water supplies of locomotives; lubricating and cooling of machining equipment; bleach and dye transfer of textile industry; and milk and beverage pumping and sugar refining in the food industry.


Centrifugal pumps can be classified based on the number of impellers in the pump:

A single-stage pump, with only one impeller, is commonly used for high flow and low to moderate total dynamic head, as in Figure 1.

Single Stage Centrifugal Pump
Figure 1. Single Stage Centrifugal Pump

A multi-stage pump has two or more impellers working in a series to achieve higher total dynamic head.
Read More

Pump Characteristic Curves


A pump is a hardware, which feeds energy to a fluid (e.g. Water) to flow through channels. Pumps are used, for example, to direct water out of the ground, to transport drinking or sewerage water over large distances in combined pipe networks or to discard water from polders. In any practical application, the pump needs to work with its best performance. It is also important to check that the flow rate and head of the pump are within the required specifications, which are normally presented as the Pump Characteristic curves. These plots play an important role in understanding the region in which the pump needs to be operated thus ensuring the life of the pump.

Pump Characteristic Curves

The performance of any type of pump can be shown graphically, which can be based on either the tests conducted by the manufacturer or the simulations done by the designer. These plots are presented as Pump Characteristic Curves. The hydraulic properties of any pump (e.g. Centrifugal Pump) can be described by the following characteristics.

  1. Q-H Curve
  2. Efficiency Curve
  3. Net Positive Suction Head (NPSH) Curve


Pump characteristic curves generated from AxSTREAM
Figure 1 Pump characteristic curves generated from AxSTREAM

Q-H Curve

The Q-H curve gives the relation between the volume flow rate and the pressure head, i.e. the lower the pump head, the higher the flow rate. Q-H curves are provided by the manufacturer of the pump and can normally be considered as simple quadratic curves.
Read More

An Introduction to Centrifugal Pumps

In every modern cleaning system there exists at least one pumping unit. With this in mind, understanding how it works and how to use it efficiently is critical to the successful operation and maintenance of that cleaning system. This blog will discuss centrifugal pumps in this context and take a look at important attributes to bear in mind when working with these systems.

In general, pumps are devices which impart energy to a flow of liquid.  Although there are different types of pumps based on the flow direction, blade designs, and so on, centrifugal pumps are in the majority of those used in cleaning systems.  Centrifugal pumps are simple, efficient, reliable, relatively inexpensive, and easily meet the needs of most cleaning system requirements including spraying, overflow sparging, filtration, turbulation and the basic function of moving liquids from one place to another using pressure.

A centrifugal pump uses a combination of angular velocity and centrifugal force to pump liquids.  The below figure illustrates the working principle of the centrifugal pump.

Centrifugal Pump

The pump consists of a circular pump housing which is usually made up of metals, (stain steels etc.) solid plastic, or ceramics.  The outlet extends tangentially from the diameter of the pump housing.  Inside the pump housing there is a rotating component an “impeller” which rotates perpendicular to the central axis and is driven by a shaft secured to its center of rotation.  The shaft, powered by an electric motor, enters the pump housing through a liquid tight seal which prevents leaking.  Liquid entering the pump through the inlet is swirled in a circular motion and displaced from the rotation center of the impeller by centrifugal force.  The combination of the swirling action (angular velocity) and centrifugal force (radial velocity) pushes the liquid out of the pump through the outlet.

Read More

Leveraging AxSLICE for Centrifugal Pump Upgrades and Retrofits

Often, service companies are faced with the challenge of redesigning existing pumps that have failed in the field with extremely quick turnaround times. While there are quick-fix methods to return these pumps into operation, other more complex problems may require taking a step back and analyzing how this particular pump could be redesigned based on its current operation.  These engineering upgrades could solve recurring issues with failure modes of a certain machine, and they could also solve new capacity demands that are imposed by a customer based on their system’s upstream or downstream changes. While efficiency increases could be beneficial to the overall system, many times it is more important to solve capacity requirements and increase the life of the pump by decreasing the Net Positive Suction Head Required (NPSHr).

In this blog post, we will investigate how to move an existing centrifugal pump through the AxSTREAM platform in order to solve engineering challenges seen on common OEM pump upgrades.  With the use of AxSTREAM’s integrated platform and reverse engineering module, many of the CAE tasks that are common in an analysis such as this one can be realized in record speed. The first step of the reverse engineering process occurs in obtaining the necessary geometrical information for the desired pump. Through AxSLICE, the user can take an STL, IGES, CURVE file, or a generated cloud of points and properly transform this 3D profile into a workable geometry inside the AxSTREAM platform. In a matter of minutes, the user can outline the hub and shroud and transform a blank 3D profile into a profile defined by a series of segments.  Seen in Figure 1, the centrifugal pump is now defined by a hub, shroud, and intermediate section.

Read More

An Introduction to Heating Systems

Blog post for Introduction to heating systems

In the last post, we covered the area of HVAC dealing with air conditioning and refrigeration. For today’s blog post, we’d like to quickly go over the other major topic of HVAC industry – heating systems. In geographical areas where temperature fluctuation tends to be quite extreme, a good working heating system is a vital necessity –especially during the colder winter months. The main challenge of heating systems frequently comes from the heat distribution method. There are a couple types of heating system and it is important to take into account their functionality to decide which is the best type for your application.

The first systems we are going to focus on is central heating,  which is the most common heating system in North American residential applications. This system comes with primary heating applications such as a furnace, boiler, and heat pumps. Each heat source is rather unique and uses different methods of distributing heat into the targeted environment. Furnaces use ducts to blow heated air through in order to disperse the generated energy. Implementation of such technology in the USA is controlled by the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency where it estimates seasonal efficiency, averaging peak and part-load situations. Boilers utilizes hot water which travels up to radiators and gets circulated around in a system –  so instead of using a fan and ducts, appliances which utilizes boiler as a heat source commonly uses pump to flows the hot water to other parts of the house/building. Since circulation is the most recurring challenge in heating appliances, an optimal pump design must be installed into the system to make sure that the heat is distributed evenly to each part of site. Within central heating there is also heat pump system which works as two-way air conditioner (direct and reverse). During the hotter season, heat pumps work to moving heat from indoor (cooler) to outdoor (higher temperature), and vice versa during the colder months. Heat pumps generally use electricity to move heat from one place to another.

Read More

Rotating Equipment Specialist in the Oil and Gas Industry – A Turbomachinery Professional

Turbomachinery is a core subject in many engineering curriculums. However, many graduates joining the oil and gas industry are designated as rotating equipment engineers. Though turbomachinery and rotating equipment are used synonymously, all turbomachinery are rotating equipment but not vice versa. Turbinis in Latin implies spin or whirl, and a natural question that arises is – what are the factors that differentiate turbomachinery?  In a general sense the term, “rotating” covers  the majority equipment used in the industry be it in the upstream, mid-stream or the downstream segment. Yet top rotating equipment specialist in the industry are seen spending their prime time or often being associated with certain unique and specific types of critical rotating machines – the turbomachines.Oil and Gas

In a classical sense, turbomachines are devices in which energy is added into or taken out from a continuously flowing fluid by the dynamic action of one or more moving blade rows. By this definition propellers, wind turbines and unshrouded fans are also turbomachines but they require a separate treatment. The subject of fluid mechanics, aerodynamics, thermodynamics and material mechanics of turbomachinery when limited to machines enclosed by a closely fitting casing or shroud through which a measurable quantity of fluid passing in unit time makes the practical linkage to rotating equipment – those which absorb power to increase the fluid pressure or head (fans, compressors and pumps) and those that produce power by expanding fluid to a lower pressure or head (hydraulic, steam and gas turbines). Further classification into axial, radial and mixed type (based on flow contour), and impulse & reaction (based on principle of energy transfer) is common. It is the large range of service requirement that leads to different type of pump (or compressor) and turbine in service.

Read More

Liquid Rocket Propulsion with SoftInWay

Preliminary Design of Fuel Turbine

Operation of most liquid-propellant rocket engines, first introduced by Robert Goddard in 1926- is simple. Initially, a fuel and an oxidizer are pumped into a combustion chamber, where they burn to create hot gases of high pressure and high speed. Next, the gases are further accelerated through a nozzle before leaving the engine. Nowadays, liquid propellant propulsion systems still form the back-bone of the majority of space rockets allowing humanity to expand its presence into space. However, one of the big problems in a liquid-propellant rocket engine is cooling the combustion chamber and nozzle, so the cryogenic liquids are first circulated around the super-heated parts to bring the temperature down.

Read More

Creating Vacuum – Turbo Molecular Pumps

In Physics, a “Vacuum” is defined as the absence of matter in a control volume. Generally, total vacuum is an ideal extreme condition. Therefore, in reality we experience partial vacuum where ambient pressure is different from zero but much lower than the ambient value.

Depending on the pressure we can have different degrees of vacuum, ranging from low vacuum (at 1×105 to 3×103 Pa) to extremely high vacuum (at pressures <10-10 Pa). For the purpose of comparison, space vacuum might present pressures down to ~10-14 Pa in the interstellar regions.

Vacuum is needed in research and several industrial sectors for a wide range of different applications and purposes. The main way to create vacuum is by first using primary vacuum pumps -machines that relying on the general principles of viscous fluid dynamics.

Read More

An Introduction to Cavitation in Hydro Turbomachinery

A major concern for pump system engineers over the last fifty years has been caviation. Cavitation is defined as the formation of vapor bubbles in low pressure regions within a flow. Generally, this phenomenon occurs when the pressure value within the flow-path of the pump becomes lower than the vapor pressure; which is defined as the pressure exerted by a vapor in thermodynamic equilibrium conditions with its liquid at a specified temperature. Normally, this happens when the pressure at the suction of the pump is insufficient, in formulas NPSHa ≤ NPSHr, where the net positive suction head is the difference between the fluid pressure and the vapor pressure at the pump suction and the “a” and “r” stand respectively for the values available in the system and required by the system to avoid cavitation in the pump.

The manifestation of cavitation causes the generation of gas bubbles in zones where the pressure gets below the vapor pressure corresponding to that fluid temperature. When the liquid moves towards the outlet of the pump, the pressure rises and the bubbles implode creating major shock waves and causing vibration and mechanical damage by eroding the metal surfaces. This also causes performance degradation, noise and vibration, which can lead to complete failure. Often a first sign of a problem is vibration, which also has an impact on pump components such as the shaft, bearings and seals.

Read More