Pump and seal Training

Setting up a training department for seals, bearings and pumps. 17-02

I often get e-mail inquiries asking about how to set up a pump and seal training program within a company. The inquiry almost always refers to a “hands on program” implying that this should be the program of choice. Is there a way to set up such a program?

Sure you can! You can teach lots of “hands on” skills such as:

  • Pump and driver alignment.
  • Vibration analysis
  • Dynamic balancing of pump rotating components.
  • The correct method of making impeller adjustments with open impeller design pumps
  • Mechanical seal installation
  • Pump bearing Installation

But, if you want to teach troubleshooting skills, you need a different plan. This is knowledge training and “hands on ” doesn’t enter into it. Here are a few examples of “knowledge training”:

  • The student has to know what “Good pump or seal life” is. Each time a pump comes into the shop someone has to make the decision, “Did we get good life with this piece of equipment?” If we did, then it’s just a matter of replacing worn parts, but if we experienced a premature failure, someone has to do the trouble shooting and take corrective action so that the failure will not occur again. Do you have anyone capable of answering the question; “did we get good life?”
  • Mechanics have to know how to read a pump curve and then correlate that information with the gage readings on the pump and piping. Gages read pressure in pounds per square inch. Pump curves do not plot pressure; they show how much head the pump will produce at a certain speed or with a certain impeller diameter. Do your people know how to convert pressure readings to head and head readings to pressure? If they cannot make these conversions easily, how will they be able to determine where they are on the pump curve, or know if the pump is performing properly?
  • There are at least four types of cavitation. The mechanics must be able to identify the different types and know how to stop the cavitation, or it will lead to premature pump failure. He also has to be able to calculate the amount of NPSH he has available so he can compare it to the amount required by the pump manufacturer at the pump’s running capacity.
  • There are at least ten different types of corrosion associated with stainless steel pump and seal components.
  • The student must know the many reasons why a pump will not put out enough head or capacity. There’s a lot to learn about that subject.
  • He must know why a pump uses too many amps and what to do about it
  • The best troubleshooter in the world can only see two things when he looks at a failed piece of rotating equipment. He can see rubbing and damage. That’s all! The student must be trained to recognize the different rub marks that are associated with: operating off the BEP, misalignment, pipe strain, thermal growth, unbalanced rotating components etc. Operators can use their senses to trouble shoot because they can smell things burning, see leakage or smoke, hear unusual noises and feel vibration. The mechanics cannot do this. He is looking at a pump that has been brought into the shop. All he can do is look for damage and rubbing.
  • Failed seals and bearings are the main cause of poor pump life. The student must understand why these components frequently fail
  • It’s impossible to troubleshoot “mystery materials” but everyday I see people looking at failed seals without a clue as to what materials they are looking at. Which grade of stainless steel is that? Which grade of Viton O-ring is this? Are those hastelloy C springs? There are at least five grades of ceramic faces being sold today and they are not all the same. Which one are you using?

This knowledge training is a very big subject and it would be a miracle if you had anyone in your facility capable of teaching it to your mechanics. I hear of people in the shop with thirty years of experience. After asking these experienced people a few questions I usually find that they don’t have thirty years of experience. What they really have is one year of experience thirty times!

Want a simple proof of what I am saying? Here is a quick test. Go to your shop and inspect seals that’ve been removed from your pumps. If the seal ran properly and got good life, the sacrificial carbon face will have been worn away. Like an automobile tire tread, the carbon seal face is the only part of a seal designed to wear. If carbon remains, the seal experienced a premature failure. You’ll lucky if you can find even one worn out seal in your facility.

Look at the condition of the pump shaft under the grease, or lip seals that are supposed to be protecting the bearings. The shaft will be cut or grooved in this location. Ask your most experienced people why the shaft is grooved. See if you can find a shaft that is not damaged in this location. If they tell you the groove is being caused by dirt or solids trapped between the seal and the shaft, you’re being told an untruth.

If you had anyone capable of teaching these subjects you would not find used mechanical seals with carbon seal face remaining or grooved shafts. If the potential teacher knew how to fix those problems they would have done it by now.

So what do you do to get your mechanics trained? To begin with, forget about training everybody. Stick with the “hands on “stuff. There are plenty of outside firms that will teach your people alignment, vibration analysis, dynamic balancing, seal installation etc… Hopefully they learned their mechanics craft with some program initiated by your company.

You only need one or two people capable of doing real troubleshooting. Once they have determined the cause of the premature failure I am sure you have plenty of capable mechanics that have the physical skills to change the necessary components or modify the hardware to make it work once they know what has to be done.

The knowledge skills are different. Select your best students and get them to the appropriate seminars. Buy them good books and send them to the manufacturer’s facilities for training on specific pieces of hardware. It’ll be a big investment and you’ll have a hard time holding on to those people once they become skilled, but there’s no shortcut to knowledge.