Why Use an Inducer?
Suppose you want to build a turbopump to increase the pressure of your working fluid. However, you find that the fluid that you are working with keeps vaporizing in the impellers you design, causing all sorts of performance issues. What can you do in this case? One solution is to design an inducer for your turbopump.
Axial inducers are used in turbopumps upstream of the impeller to avoid cavitation, reduce the inlet pressure requirement, and/or allow for operation at higher turbopump rotational speeds for a given inlet pressure . For a turbopump to function properly, the inlet pressure of the pump must be high enough to avoid cavitation. Cavitation is a phenomenon where vapor bubbles which form in the flowing fluid collapse suddenly – potentially causing surface damage of the impeller, performance degradation, as well as catastrophic failure.
The cavitation phenomenon can be visualized in the below image. The inlet flow (flowing from the left side of the image) hits a blunt body in the fluid channel. This causes the pressure to locally drop and vapor bubbles to form. As the fluid continues to flow (towards the right side of the image), the vapor bubbles collapse once the fluid pressure has sufficiently increased.
Now that we understand the problem, how can we make sure these cavitation effects won’t happen in our pump? To predict when cavitation will occur, two parameters are commonly used. The available net positive suction head (NPSHa) describes how much greater the local inlet static pressure is relative to the local inlet vapor pressure. Essentially, NPSHa indicates whether the conditions for cavitation to occur are met. The required net positive suction head (NPSHr) describes the inlet head corresponding to a certain drop in performance capability. A typical NPSHr parameter is the standard 3% NPSH (NPSH3) which describes the inlet pressure corresponding to a 3% drop in head rise capability of the pump at a particular flow rate. Generally, NPSHr is measuring whether there is enough cavitation present to cause a noticeable decrease in the pump’s performance. If the NPSHr is much greater than NPSHa, then significant performance decreases due to cavitation may occur. That is to say, when the available net positive suction head is insufficient, bad things can happen, ranging from performance degradation to outright damage and failure.