Vacuum pumps are used for a wide range of applications in a variety of industries, but not all vacuum pumps are created equal. Before selecting a vacuum pump, take a look at the following questions. Knowing the answers will not only help you streamline your purchasing timeline, it will also ensure you get the right vacuum pump for your application.
A Atlas Copco GHS VSD+ vacuum pump. Industrial vacuum pumps are used in a wide variety of applications.
1. What’s the required operating pressure?
Understanding the required operating pressure for your application is vital. Operators almost universally know this. But when purchasing new or replacement equipment, some conflate required operating pressure with ultimate pressure. Operating pressure is the pressure required for a certain process, while ultimate pressure is the deepest operating pressure a given pump can produce. If a machine specification states the ultimate pressure as 0.01 mbar, this does not necessarily mean this is the normal operating requirement for a process.
2. What is the required flow?
Flow can be expressed in a few different ways. Some of the more common terms are SCFM and ACFM. Understanding the difference between the two is critical. SCFM, or standard cubic feet per minute, is an expression of flow at a specific set of conditions. SCFM assumes that the temperature is 60°F, the pressure is 14.7 psia and the relative humidity is zero percent. ACFM, or actual cubic feet per minute, is the flow at actual conditions. Mixing these terms up can result in greatly undersized or oversized equipment.
3. Is contamination a risk?
Because vacuum pumps pull the process toward the system rather than pushing air away, it’s vital you discuss how wet or dry your application is with any vacuum pump provider, as each poses certain risks to a vacuum pump system. Wet or humid applications are extremely common, especially in the food packaging industry. With some processes, there’s a chance the moisture will be pulled back into the pump. That information helps vacuum pump providers specify the correct technology and protect the vacuum pump from contamination, adverse reactions or premature failure.
Dry applications also pose potential issues. Some operators use vacuum pumps to move bulk material for concrete, plastic pellets, etc., which can ultimately end up in the pump without adequate filtration. Regardless of how wet or dry your process is, knowing how the vacuum pump will be used will ensure that the correct protection is in front of the pump.
If contamination does occur, it can cause any number of unfavorable effects. The oil used for lubrication, cooling and sealing can be damaged, causing the pump to malfunction or operate on a less-than-efficient level. Contamination can also harm the pump itself, leading to more required maintenance and a shorter lifespan.
4. What are the evacuation time and pressure parameters?
Evacuation time is the amount of time it takes to create the required level of vacuum. Whether you require two seconds or 10 seconds depends on your application. In some delicate applications, drawing a vacuum too quickly can lead to damage. For example, the suction cups that lift eggs from the conveyor belt and place them into cartons cannot draw too quickly or deeply without breaking the shells. This holds true for other sensitive materials, like paper, which will dent or tear with too much suction.
On the other hand, some applications require a high level of vacuum to successfully execute various processes. Either way, product quality can be directly affected if the wrong equipment is used or not correctly applied.
5. Is there temperature-related information to consider?
Like the wet/dry nature of your process, the temperature of the application can affect the health of your vacuum pump system. Because the air is being pulled into the system, extreme temperatures impact vacuum pump functionality.
Welding operations are frequently done under vacuum because it reduces contamination, but the gas is much hotter than average vacuum processes. Without proper protection, high heat can ruin the oil responsible for cooling the system, lubricating the pump and creating a seal. By shortening the life of this oil, you can cause permanent damage to equipment.
Cooler than average temperatures can also present a challenge. Some production facilities in the food industry are kept at reduced temperatures, significantly colder than typical ambient air. Air entering a vacuum pump system at that temperature can make the oil thicker and more viscous, thereby reducing its cooling properties and leaving the system vulnerable to complications.
6. Are initial capital costs or running costs more important?
Every company is concerned with initial capital costs and running costs. Knowing which is more important to you will help determine your ultimate vacuum pump purchase. If limiting upfront capital costs is your primary concern, manufacturers can generally offer lower cost alternatives. However, these may require more maintenance and higher operating costs in the long term.
Large-scale industrial companies may be more interested in the technology and controls a sophisticated vacuum system can offer. These smarter systems tend to be a larger initial capital investment, but they can be integrated into building management systems that provide data on functionality and operational efficiency that can ultimately help reduce energy and maintenance costs.
Have your goals for operation cost, energy savings, connectivity and monitoring on hand when working with a vacuum pump manufacturer. Discussing these early will ensure you get a vacuum pump that meets your facility and wallet requirements.
7. Are there space or location considerations?
Space and location considerations are often overlooked when purchasing a new vacuum pump. Most of the upfront preparation is done around cost, functionality and connectivity, and while these are undoubtedly essential aspects, none of them will matter if your vacuum pump doesn’t fit in your facility.
Whether you have limited floor space or narrow doorways, make sure you communicate this with your vacuum pump provider. Some users worry space restrictions will limit the power of vacuum pump they can install, but that’s not necessarily true. There are many vacuums that can offer higher flows compared to their physical size.
There are many factors at play when choosing a vacuum pump. Most of the time, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. Having as much information as you can about your process requirements, financial goals and space restrictions will help you choose the system that will most efficiently and effectively serve your application for years to come.
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