Industrial Pump Failures – What Causes Them and How to Predict Them

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Industrial pumps account for an estimated 7 percent of maintenance costs of a plant or refinery, while their failures are responsible for 0.2 percent of lost production (UpstreamPumping). This may seem like small figures, but according to The Freedonia Group, Cleveland, the United States’ demand for oil and gas infrastructure equipment exceeds $12.1 billion. That means in America alone, with its roughly 150 large refineries, there are over half a billion dollars invested in pumps in the oil and gas industry! It also lends credence to the idea that the health of the oil and gas industry depends on its equipment to run efficiently.

The general practice is for most pumps to be left in place until it breaks, maximizing its life value. But according to one estimate, the optimal run life of an electrical submersible pump is five years, compared to the average run life of only 1.2 years. This is a major issue, since electrical submersible pumps are used for 60 percent of oil and gas production. While a pump failure in a refinery may only affect one part of a process, pump failures in an oil field can shut down a well or pipeline.

So what causes that 3+ years of operational lifetime discrepancy? It is very easy to say nearly all the faults lies with user error. But there are just so many things that can go wrong. Often times, centrifugal and positive-displacement pumps are treated the same, so the fixes will actually cause problems over time. Pumps will at times operate at improper speeds, be misaligned, or simply be the wrong size (but still installed). And there can always be contamination in the lubricant. See the flowchart at the top to see what each problem eventually leads to and the impact on the business. For more in depth details on common pump failures and what to look for, visit Efficient Plant.

But to truly avoid the headaches, you need to predict the failures instead of fixing them. To do that with any great levels of accuracy, a business would need to employ a predictive maintenance solution driven by AI and machine learning. And along the digital transformation journey, be sure to adopt a wireless sensor and warning system! After all, these machines are often at a remote location and takes time to get to.

Regardless of the solution you end up going with, you need to have sensors in place to monitor vibrations, seals, cavitations, and any other necessary warning signs (dependent on your pump and infrastructure). Without accurate data points, whether you are running a digital and wireless predictive maintenance solution or a manual one, it’ll always be guesswork. If you’re considering going digital, take a look at the general predictive maintenance road map to see if your business is ready to operate with greater transparency and intelligence!