by Randy Lewis of P.R. Lewis Consulting, LLC

New resin and Kevlar bulk molding compound adds strength to pump wear parts

For years, the pump industry has had problems with centrifugal pumps. The continual wear of rings and bushings has been an issue. Despite many efforts to improve life and quality of these products, none have measured up to expectations. Now new wear rings and bushings can be molded and machined from proprietary bulk molding compounds produced by a molding producer in Salisbury, N.C., that can improve these components.

centrifugal pumps’ high-speed shafts rotate the impellers. The impellers force liquid from a supply source through the pump to the user. The housing of the pump must remain stationary. The bushing guides and supports the high-speed/high-torque shaft at the interface between it and the stationary housing. 

Until recently, the friction at this interface has caused either the shaft or the bushing to wear, and the pump became unbalanced and rapidly lost efficiency. Replacing either the shaft or the bushing because of this wear is the main problem and cost in keeping these pumps in operation.

Centrifugal Pump History

Overcoming wear has vexed centrifugal pump manufacturers for years. In early days both the pump shaft and bushings were made of cast iron. They were replaced with brass or bronze to increase the service life of the pump. However, seawater, boiler chemicals, unfriendly environmental conditions as well as other contaminants attacked these metals and caused pump failure. 

Converting the shaft and housing to stainless steel solved the corrosion problem for these components, but the material did not work well as a bushing. Because of the relatively higher cost of the pump shaft and housing versus the cost of the bushing, manufacturers and the industry chose to make the shafts and housings of harder stainless steel and sacrifice the bushings to wear. Therefore, the service life of a centrifugal pump depends on, and is limited by, the life of the bushings that interface with the moving and the stationary parts of the pump.

Copper-based metal bushings, when used in conjunction with stainless steel, are a problem due to the higher relative coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of the copper-based materials. As the softer metal expands, the gap between the shaft and bushing widens, inducing vibration. When cool, the gap shrinks onto the shaft, and the wear increases.

Non-metallic bushings, usually made of thermoplastics, have the necessary toughness but not the dimensional stability required for a pump bushing. All thermoplastic-based bushings, by definition, can be re-melted. As a result, as the temperature inside the pump rises, thermoplastics begin to melt and lose their dimensional stability. Adding glass fiber and other hard fillers in an attempt to achieve the needed dimensional stability causes excessive shaft wear because these materials are harder than the stainless steel that makes up the shaft.

Other attempted nonmetallic solutions include:

  • Impregnated graphite carbon—this material produces good wear characteristics, CTE and chemical resistance, but is extremely delicate and easily damaged during assembly. In addition, any foreign matter in the liquid damages the bushing when in operation.
  • Glass filled Teflon (TFE) fluorocarbon—this material has excellent chemical resistance and wear resistance, but has 10 times the CTE of stainless. After several heating and cooling cycles the bushings simply “fall out.” The bushings’ stress relieves, and the force of the liquid pushes it out of the pump. 
  • Phenolic impregnated linen—being a thermoset plastic, this material has natural hardness and low CTE. The material meets all the requirements for a pump bushing, except that it is not naturally lubricious and wears quickly. Neither the linen filler nor the resin is sufficiently wear resistant.
  • Wear-resistant, glass-filled bulk molding compound (BMC)—the glass and other fillers that provide hardness and wear resistance to the bushing will abrade the shaft.

The search for materials was started in 2008 to satisfy a wish list of pump wear components with wide reaching and ambitious targets. The goals were to develop material that can stand up to the centrifugal pump environment in all applications without wearing either the bushing or the shaft.

This component should:

  • Be machined to a smooth surface so tight tolerances can be obtained around the pump shaft over a wide and changing temperature range to eliminate vibration
  • Be tough and hard so that foreign material inadvertently carried in the liquid does not damage the bushing
  • Provide excellent chemical resistance so that it is not attacked by what is purposely or inadvertently pumped with the liquid
  • Be soft enough not to wear the shaft but tough enough to withstand press fit assembly
  • Offer good adhesion between the resin and fibers so that the hold is stronger, therefore leaving a smooth and dimensionally accurate machined surface
  • Have low water absorption so that it does not absorb liquids, which could cause expansion or contraction

Simply stated, the ideal bushing should be molded from a material that is tough, soft, hard, flexible, stiff, thermally-stable and easily-machined. It should not absorb liquids and must be cost effective.

Molded and machined Kevlar-based wear rings