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A beginner's guide to pumps & systems.

Engineers and experts involved in the design, development, instrumentation, automation and operation of pumps and pumping systems have responsibilities and tasks beyond more than just the technical aspects. There are a wide range of facets related to safety, reliability, commercial viability, nontechnical matters, etc., which can seriously affect the pumps in different stages of development or operation. All these should be considered by engineers, managers and experts. This article discusses some of the common mistakes and lessons learned in previous pumps and pumping systems. The focus is on practical notes and useful guidelines.   

Lessons Learned & Previous Mistakes

Although for many modern pumps and their systems “lessons learned” lists have been designed through many engineering and expert hours and resources, these lists have not been so useful in preventing previous mistakes. Too often, lists of lessons learned and mistakes are left somewhere in the documentation system and not taken seriously. These lists usually do not tempt young engineers and operators to find, read and fully implement them in every coming assignment. There is usually a lack of internal control by different parties (engineers, vendors, contractors, operators, etc.) to prevent past mistakes and fully implement all previous lessons learned. Another concern is those mistakes and lessons learned are not properly classified, published and shared with the industry.

1. Fast, Cheap & Correct

It is not usually possible to do a job fast, cheap and correct. You may have do it quickly at a reasonable price, but it might not be 100% correct. You may do it correctly at a low cost, but it likely won’t be done fast. It might be fast and high-quality, but it will no doubt be done at a premium. In other words, when there is an unrealistic time frame, insufficient budget or a lack of testing/data, there are always risks involved.

2. Operational Flexibility & Automation

Operational flexibility is extremely important for many pump systems. This can significantly affect the overall pump sizing, selection and the control and operation details. Automation is a modern requirement for all systems, including pump systems. Automated operation is cost-effective, efficient, advantageous and easy to manage. Modern automation concepts are reliable and efficient. These, combined with modern instrumentation and monitoring systems, provide a good opportunity for more reliability and availability. However, too much automation is just as bad as a lack of automation. The principal idea of automation is to leave ordinary, repetitive tasks to control systems and provide operators with tools to do operation better.

3. Standardization

There have been many reasons for standardization. One is, many hours and resources are needed to design any system. In the case of standardization, the produced design can be useable in the future for more than just one specific application. For instance, standardization principles can be used to minimize the types and sizes of parts, components, machineries, instruments and subsystems, encouraging commonality.

4. Review & Key Experts

The bulk of the design review of pump systems is done by design experts and engineers. However, there are two important groups of people that should be included for each section of the design review. The first category is the people who are experts in the specific pump under review. The second group are commissioning, operators and maintenance people who will start up, operate and maintain the pump system under the design review. In many cases, the operation companies will not have selected the operation team at the detail design stage (the time of review). This is a common shortfall. It is wise for operator companies to assign operation leads and superintendents as soon as possible and have their input on all key matters. A similar principle is applicable for the commissioning team. The exchange of data and information between an engineering team and commissioning leads is critical.

There should be lines of communication established to help key people stay in contact with each other and transfer vital data, feedback and experiences. The following are some examples:

High-level requirements by client representatives:
It is usually useful if client representatives establish and explain their high-level requirements and expectations to engineering firms, vendors and contractors. Of course, some of the expectations might not be achievable, and some others might not be reasonable when considering technical issues, budget constraints or schedule limitations of the pumping system. However, it is useful to discuss these matters as early as possible. Some owner/client expectations might not be achievable in the way initially thought, but alternatives might be formulated that can achieve those expectations at a reasonable cost and delivery time. This will require time and effort. It is imperative not to rush to oppose owner/client expectations. Rather, try to spend some time and resources to find a way to achieve them in a reasonable way.

Operator’s feedback to engineers:
If there was a problem in operation, the best way (and usually the only way) to inform the engineering team and ask them to rectify it is through the operator’s feedback to engineers. Otherwise, the engineering team will assume everything was fine and will continue down the same path.

Communication with commissioning team:
The communication between the engineering team and commissioning leads is vital, as the commissioning team needs the details and documents of the system to prepare for their tasks. The commissioning team’s feedback to the engineering team is also important when considering provisions for a smooth and hassle-free commissioning and startup.