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Diaphragm Pumps

The Arrival of Diaphragm Pumps as Mainstream Process Pumps

| Author / Editor: Wallace Wittkoff / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Their ability to automatically achieve a deadhead condition through the simple adjustment of air pressure without the creation of additional heat or product shear has been a driving force in making AODD pumps a mainstream choice for many food-manufacturing processes.
Their ability to automatically achieve a deadhead condition through the simple adjustment of air pressure without the creation of additional heat or product shear has been a driving force in making AODD pumps a mainstream choice for many food-manufacturing processes. (Picture: Wilden)

From specialized processes that require system-pressurization pumps, to very flexible flow regimes, to most delicate pumping of fluids/products produced: This article shows that the diaphragm pump is no longer in the fringes of processing but at the heart of the operation to deliver the highest quality product at the greatest yield as efficiently as possible.

In the evolution of pumps, the air-operated diaphragm pump is a more recent technology, if you consider 60 years since its invention recent. This compares with the lobe, centrifugal and gear technologies that were developed more than 100 years ago. Speaking of recent diaphragm-pump developments, the quaternary (four-piston) diaphragm pump, one that is mechanically driven, was invented merely over a decade ago by the founders of today’s Quattroflow Fluid Systems. As such, we see how an even recently entirely new pump class can revolutionize mainstream fluid transfer, in this case, in the biotechnology sector.

But, first, back to air-diaphragm pumps. They were born out of necessity in 1955 thanks to Jim Wilden, namesake of today’s Wilden brand, part of PSG, a Dover company. This pump technology was developed and applied where no other pump was capable of doing the job at the time. In this case, it was the sludge produced in steel mills that needed a pump that was both continually self-/dry-priming and could handle the abuses of particulate-laden sludge. Over time, however, it became clear that the virtues of this technology, such as self-priming, deadheading, low shear and particulate handling, could assist in the transfer of more refined and costly fluid chemistries.

The hygienic industry, in which purity and cleanability are extremely important in the manufacture of biotech, pharmaceutical, food, beverage and personal-care products, is one where refined air-diaphragm pump technology is now playing a prominent role. At first, the air-diaphragm pump was adapted because of its ability to remove thick products from containers for further processing. Today, for example, drum-unloading operations remain a staple application for these pumps.

The sheer number of air-operated diaphragm pump suppliers offering hygienic pump models rivals centrifugal pumps and lobe pumps. Frost & Sullivan estimates that 21 % of the market of diaphragm-operated pumps (air, dosing, motorized) go into the hygienic industry, compared to 12 % for centrifugal and 13 % for lobe pumps on a value basis globally.

As one engineering manager of a large food-processing multinational that is known for its sauces has said: “We would bring air-operated diaphragm pumps into our process designs as a last resort when nothing else would work. Now, we use it as our first pump of choice and consider other pumps if the application does not fit a diaphragm pump.” In this case, because of the high variability of product formulations produced, some very thick, some very thin, high and low flows, with and without big particulates, requires a pump with broad capabilities; a key ability of this type of pump technology.

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