Help for the Pump How Wireless Technology Takes Pump Monitoring to Extremes

Author / Editor: Marianne Williams / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Learn how wireless technology has reduced the cost of applying predictive maintenance technologies to pump installations — helping to increase plant reliability, and protecting production targets, equipment and personnel.

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Pumps are a critical component in many process industries.
Pumps are a critical component in many process industries.
(Picture: Emerson Process Management)

Pumps are a critical component in many process industries. For example, in a typical refinery there are about 200 pumps in use at all times with functions that range from crude unit feed to downstream applications. However, despite their importance, in many refineries only a small percentage of these pumps are continuously monitored for potential signs of failure.

Pumps can fail for a variety of reasons, for example normal mechanical wear can result in the failure of seals, bearings or other internals. Changes to process variables can affect pump performance or cause cavitation damage. Misaligned or imbalanced installation of pumps can also contribute to problems.

Industry estimates show that pump failures can cause production losses of up to 0.2 % and that pump repairs consume up to 7 % of the total maintenance budget. At its worst, a critical pump failure can lead to lost revenue, safety and environmental incidents that bring negative publicity, agency audits, remediation costs, and hefty fines.

To extend operational life, some critical pumps in the process industry employ an oil reservoir which is used to circulate oil through the pump bearing housing to cool and lubricate the bearings. Oil is returned to the reservoir and maintaining the correct level of oil is essential to the performance of the pump. Should the oil level fall below a safe limit, the bearings will be starved of lubricant rapidly causing wear and overheating, which usually results in pump failure.

The traditional method of monitoring the oil level in a lubrication reservoir is to perform a manual check using a sight glass or dip stick. This requires operators to go into the field and carry out time consuming checks and manually update records. At best these rounds may be carried out daily, but it is more likely that they are made weekly or even monthly. This means that a significant loss of lubricating oil may go unnoticed and only discovered when the pump overheats or fails.

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