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Characteristics of Centrifugal Pumps

Pumps are generally grouped into two broad categories—positive displacement pumps and dynamic (centrifugal) pumps. Positive displacement pumps use a mechanical means to vary the size of (or move) the fluid chamber to cause the fluid to flow. On the other hand, centrifugal pumps impart momentum to the fluid by rotating impellers that are immersed in the fluid. The momentum produces an increase in pressure or flow at the pump outlet.

Positive displacement pumps have a constant torque characteristic, whereas centrifugal pumps demonstrate variable torque characteristics. This article will discuss only centrifugal pumps.

A centrifugal pump converts driver energy to kinetic energy in a liquid by accelerating the fluid to the outer rim of an impeller. The amount of energy given to the liquid corresponds to the velocity at the edge or vane tip of the impeller. The faster the impeller revolves or the bigger the impeller, then the higher the velocity of the liquid at the vane tip and the greater the energy imparted to the liquid.


Creating a resistance to the flow controls the kinetic energy of a liquid coming out of an impeller. The first resistance is created by the pump volute (casing), which catches the liquid and slows it down. When the liquid slows down in the pump casing, some of the kinetic energy is converted to pressure energy. It is the resistance to the pump’s flow that is read on a pressure gauge attached to the discharge line. A pump does not create pressure, it only creates flow. Pressure is a measurement of the resistance to flow.

Head—Resistance to Flow

In Newtonian (true) fluids (non-viscous liquids, such as water or gasoline), the term head is the measurement of the kinetic energy that a centrifugal pump creates. Imagine a pipe shooting a jet of water straight into the air. The height that the water reaches is the head. Head measures the height of a liquid column, which the pump could create resulting from the kinetic energy the centrifugal pump gives to the liquid. The main reason for using head instead of pressure to measure a centrifugal pump’s energy is that the pressure from a pump will change if the specific gravity (weight) of the liquid changes, but the head will not change. End users can always describe a pump’s performance on any Newtonian fluid, whether it is heavy (sulfuric acid) or light (gasoline), by using head. Head is related to the velocity that the liquid gains when going through the pump.

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