What are Intelligent Pumps?

By Jyoti Prakash

Industry Trends

The object of an intelligent pump is to automatically adjust operations to match the head requirements of the system, thus enabling the pump to operate more effectively and efficiently.  The inclusion of advanced digital control in pump systems elevates them to the process control domain as the combination provides the ability to regulate and control flow or pressure.  The building automation industry has been the most accepting of intelligent pump technology perhaps due to the wide shifts in load requirement experienced in this sector.  By integrating sensors to monitor a controlled variable, constant pump output can be maintained.

Pumps have outgrown their traditional role as the mechanical workhorses of manufacturing with the addition of digital technology and have entered the process control domain.  In their new role, intelligent pumps have the potential to improve process control, enable better management of their health, and assist plants in reducing total energy consumption.  The value proposition of intelligent pumps is high enough to be a process control game changer, yet overcoming the work culture in the process industries is proving to be the greatest challenge for suppliers as manufacturers and owner-operators drag their feet into incorporating pumps into their control schemes.

Energy Savings Drive Intelligent Pump Adoption

The case for intelligent pumps is compelling.  The potential in energy savings alone can add as much as 20 percent to the bottom line according to the US Department of Energy.  Add to that the ability to improve process control by reducing process variability and intelligent pumps should be a slam dunk.  The frosting on the cake is the asset management aspect that enables users to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to pump system maintenance.  All the attributes manufacturers currently value are available, leading to the question: Are suppliers’ current go-to market strategies for the heavy process industries effective?  Pump suppliers need to reassess their distribution channels in the process industries for intelligent pumps to receive the respect and attention required to grow the market.

Pairing pumps with variable frequency drives (VFD) triggered the evolution of pumps from rotary components of the fluid handling system to more sophisticated dynamic control equipment.  ARC defines an intelligent pump as this combination of pump and VFD with digital control capability.  In the marketplace, the term intelligent pump is morphing to include embedded or attached sensors that collect data and transmit pump performance and/or process for predictive asset management purposes.  The focus of this report is intelligent pumps in the industrial process industries; however, ARC has broadened the scope to include asset management capability using embedded vibration and other sensors in the pump assembly itself.  For this study, asset management capability must be built into the pump system by the pump manufacturer. Third-party add-on asset management systems are not included.

The decision to implement an intelligent pump requires a commitment from maintenance and engineering, instrumentation, and electrical personnel and plant operators that may involve a change in the thinking of each of these groups in terms of installation, configuration, integration, training, and more importantly, adapting standard workforce practices to provide an appropriate environment.  Cultural challenges may in fact be the most difficult to overcome, especially in more conservative industries such as oil & gas, but the energy saving benefits of intelligent pumps will be the impetus to drive the change.

High energy prices are causing manufacturers to be more creative in their efforts to control costs.  In pumping systems, energy accounts for more than one-third of total lifecycle costs. Because of the energy intensive nature of pump systems, the energy saving advantages of intelligent pumps will be a significant contributor to growth.  Tax credits and government economic stimulus packages targeting infrastructure projects, including water & wastewater and energy efficiency projects, are also expected to have a positive impact on the growth of intelligent pumps.  Embedded asset management functionality is becoming increasingly desirable as a less costly alternative to manual data collection and inspection.Intelligent Pump Capabilities


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