One application used a pump flow algorithm in place of a conventional flow meter to protect pumps in parallel operation.
by Robert X. Perez & Glenn Everett
January 27, 2017

Parallel operation is a setup in which two or more pumps take suction from the same suction header and deliver liquids into the same discharge header. In theory, if the two pumps and piping are identical in design, they should pump at approximately the same flow rate. However, differences in piping, pump performance and internal wear often lead to flow discrepancies in pumps operating in parallel.

Indiscriminate parallel operation of centrifugal pumps may lead to significant flow imbalances that can result in pump vibration, pulsations, overheating and failure.

Pump users should always confirm that pumps are similar in performance capabilities before operating them in parallel. Individual flow meters can help ensure that pumps are operating at a safe flow when in a parallel arrangement. A total flow meter for a group of pumps is more common.

In one scenario, two centrifugal pumps—nine-stage, 125-horsepower (hp) vertical turbine pumps—are installed side by side. They transfer pipeline liquids collected upstream of a compressor station into another pipeline. These pumps were never intended to operate in parallel. Normally, one of the pumps can handle all liquids reaching the station.

One of two nine-stage, 125-hp vertical turbine pumpsImage 1. One of two nine-stage, 125-hp vertical turbine pumps that are rated for 350 gallons per minute (gpm) and 3,550 revolutions per minute (rpm) (Images and graphics courtesy of Enterprise Products)

After the pumps had been operating for some time, personnel discovered that one pump was not sufficient to handle all the liquids. Operators sometimes had to shut down the compressors downstream of these pumps because of the high risk of damage resulting from liquid carryover. For this reason, facility personnel decided to operate both pumps simultaneously in order to handle upset conditions.

On paper, these pumps appeared to be identical, so personnel believed that parallel operation would result in a balanced flow condition. However, the team knew that one or both could operate at unsafe conditions because of internal wear, slight differences in pump construction, changing process conditions and other factors. So personnel allowed parallel operation only when flow measurements were available for each pump.

To properly protect the pumps, the team needed to install individual flow meters. Personnel considered different pump flow measurement options including an orifice flow meter, a compact flow meter such as an Annubar flow meter, and calculated flow using motor power and pump differential pressure.

Because of the lower cost and minimal impact on the site, the team elected the option of calculated flow using motor power and pump differential pressure. Because digital pressure transmitters were already installed and a local programmable logic controller (PLC) was available, all the team needed was local power meters to estimate pump flow.

Equation 1

The team began their analysis using Equation 1, which was developed to approximate the efficiency of a centrifugal pump in the field. This equation can determine a motor-driven centrifugal pump’s efficiency under process conditions. This equation does not require the fluid’s specific gravity, which is useful when the specific gravity of the pumped liquid is not known.

Equation 2

Pump Performance DataTable 1. Pump performance data

Rearranging terms produces Equation 2, which allows operators to estimate the pump’s ideal flow using the kilowatt (kW) load on the motor, the motor’s efficiency and the pump’s differential pressure. The ideal flow is the expected flow for a pump with 100 percent efficiency. To obtain an actual pump flow, an equation that relates the ideal pump flow to the estimated pump flow must be derived.

First, begin with the pump performance data in a tabular format (see Table 1).

Next, create a column titled “Flow/Eff” with a calculated value of flow divided by efficiency, which will be called ideal flow. Using Excel, plot the flow (Q) versus the ideal flow (Q/ηp). Finally, insert a trend line with the equation for the relationship between flow and ideal flow.