Digital twin technology and packaged pump systems can be smart solutions.
by Todd Loudin
November 8, 2017

With pumps being such a vital element in numerous processes, significant research and planning can be critical to pump performance. Simple items such as the following should be researched prior to installation:

  • safety and operational instructions
  • recommended piping layout and pump location recommendations
  • required auxiliaries or components required for safe pumping and optimal pump life
  • recommended auxiliaries
  • lifting and rigging recommendations
  • electrical requirement of both the pump and variable frequency drive (VFD)
  • location of the pump in the process
  • proper piping installation upstream and downstream of the pump
  • system operational procedures to ensure accidental obstructions don’t dead head the pump

There are numerous brands and styles of pumps used today. One of the problems with so many different styles of pumps is that what is good for one pump may be detrimental to another. A back pressure valve is great for a diaphragm pump but can lead to shorter hose life in a peristaltic pump. A peristaltic pump can run dry for days or months with no issues, but a progressive cavity pump may be severely damaged with just one minute of run-dry time.

Depending on either contractor or plant personnel, the level of expertise with various styles of pumps can vary. One set of recommended installation instructions provided by one pump manufacturer does not apply to all brands and styles of pumps in a plant or process. Experience by the contractor or plant personnel may be the difference between a pump that performs to expectations and one that doesn’t. Diligent planning can be done with study of the pump manufacturer’s recommendations and requirements as well as physically talking with the pump manufacturer’s engineer to get their best practices. If there is equipment that is “recommended” by the manufacturer, ask why and what it helps to do. In some cases, the recommended components may help the pump to survive a 25 percent improvement in mean time between failures (MTBF).

system monitoringFigure 1. A system monitoring a complete filtration process for optimum performance and valuable feedback on the condition of multiple assets in this small system. This system is in operation at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland. (Courtesy of Flqwrox)

In today’s environment, there is a growing accessibility to smart pumping solutions. Experienced pump service engineers from many pump manufacturers have been called to plant sites to help diagnose process issues and solve pumping issues. In nearly 70 percent of the cases, the issues have nothing to do with the pump but rather involve process or operational issues. Too often, when they arrive there is little information provided. With pumps equipped with intelligence, these problems can be diagnosed well before failure and without the cost of an expensive service engineer on site. Minor issues can be detected early and corrected before catastrophic failure or downtime can occur.

A smart pump typically includes vibration sensors for both motor and main bearings, gear box lubricant temperature monitoring, suction side supply pressure, discharge pressure, suction fluid temperature and VFD analytics. A bearing issue is typically detected far in advance and allows the owner to replace the failing bearing before there is housing damage. Therefore, an issue can be resolved with a few hundred dollars rather than expensive repairs or replacement of the pump housing. In many cases, the maintenance team will not believe there is an issue. But this is their chance to salvage an asset for little cost and very little or no process downtime.

Some companies offer their smart solutions for other manufacturer’s pumps or equipment, customers with problems of hard to maintain assets, remote assets that are hard to access and even for total plant intelligence. This is called digital twin technology. Some companies are using digital twin technology for optimizing asset performance before the asset is physically manufactured. Others are using digital twin technology to create the asset in the digital world and then tie in real time monitoring of a valuable asset. Access to the asset can be 24/7 for anyone. All that is required is a connection to the internet from any smartphone, tablet or computer, and the owner can have unlimited access from any location. Also, intelligent document management systems can be integrated with digital twin technologies. All documents pertaining to a given asset can be instantly accessible to plant personnel on their smart devices that have an internet connection. Spare parts can also be visible from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system so that plant personnel know part availability without having to reach out to ERP operators.

Companies employing digital twin technology in their processes can achieve some remarkable savings. For instance, process downtime can be reduced to a point where the process owner could achieve a full month of additional production. Maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) costs can decrease by as much as 10 percent, profits can increase 5 to 10 percent and fuel and energy savings may be reduced by as much as 2 to 3 percent. Pumps are vital elements for maintaining process stability. Digital twin technology is valuable for monitoring high value assets and environments or equipment where safety is at a very high level of concern.

Another trend is the use of complete pumping systems supplied by pump manufacturers rather than individual pumps delivered to the site and then installed by contractors or plant personnel. These systems place the pump on a pre-manufactured structure with all auxiliaries, piping and electrical assembled as a complete unit. These packaged pumping systems offer some valuable features. First, the system is assembled so the pump systems are plug-and-play. Drop the packaged pump system in the proper space and connect the piping and electrical and the system is ready to go. A factory assembly test (FAT) is typically performed before the system is shipped. All auxiliaries, safety devices and recommended procedures are adhered to on the system to help provide the pump the best environment for the pump to be successful.

These packaged pump systems help to minimize the outside influence of improper installations and improve pump performance. The manufacturer of the pump systems lays out the pump and auxiliary configuration to maximize asset performance. An advantage of a complete system manufactured by one company is that there is only one company to call in the event of a problem or issue. If pumps are purchased and installed by both mechanical and electrical contractors, users may be in a situation where the all three parties (pump manufacturer, electrical contractor and mechanical contractor) point fingers at each other as the cause of issues. With a packaged pumping system, users have one person to call and hold accountable to make the system correct.

It is estimated that the digital world will continue to grow at staggering levels. Well-packaged systems are proving to have significantly greater reliability and lower cost. In the Internet of Things, there will be as many as 100 billion devices connected by 2025. In 1995, there were fewer than one million. The question becomes how quickly it can be deployed by multiple sectors of industry. It is an ideal time to research suppliers employing these technologies and begin to deploy technology into those high-valued critical assets.