D.J. Molenkamp explains why diffuser pumps offer advantages over volute pumps
The working principle of centrifugal pumps is based on adding energy to the working medium using a rotating impeller. This process, in addition to increasing the static pressure, also increases the velocity of the fluid. The added energy in the form of velocity (or dynamic pressure) can be partially converted into static pressure by properly slowing down the fluid. This is often done by using a volute, which is a spiral-formed casing around the impeller, collecting and guiding the fluid towards the discharge pipe while gradually decreasing its velocity.
A volute pump casing combines two functions: providing the hydraulic flow path and the pressure casing for the fluid. In diffuser pumps, these functions are split into two separate parts. A casing (or collector) is used for creating the pressure boundary, while the velocity-pressure conversion is done by employing a diffuser, which is a ring with multiple diverging channels, placed around the impeller. This provides more guidance for the decelerating flow, which can be beneficial from several points of view.
Especially for pumps made for operation at relatively low flow rates, diffuser pumps outperform volute pumps efficiency wise. In addition to the higher maximum efficiency, the efficiency does not collapse as fast when operating in part load conditions. Furthermore, diffuser pumps mostly have higher head rise to shut-off (HRTSO) and greater steepness and stability of the head curve, which is especially required for pumps operating in the American Petroleum Institute (API) market and for parallel operation.
Cancelling out radial loads
Diffuser pumps are not just advantageous from an efficiency standpoint. The multi-channel diffuser geometries show more axial symmetry than the asymmetric volute shapes. As this axial symmetry is also present in the pressure distribution of the flow field, most of the radial loads are cancelled out. Also, due to a series of diffuser vanes as opposed to a single volute tongue, pulsations from the passing impeller blades and other unsteady flow phenomena are greatly reduced. Lower unsteady behaviour means lower vibration and noise levels, which is especially noticeable at off-design operating conditions. The reduced loading and vibrations in turn lead to longer mean time between maintenance, mean time between failure and lower minimum continuous safe flow rates. Although diffuser pumps are generally more expensive than their volute counterparts, the higher investment can be easily returned by the longer life-cycle of the pump, lower spare part cost and the significant reduction in down-time of the entire process.
Greater design freedom
Another advantage arises from the fact that the diffuser is a separate part from the pump (pressure) casing. A lot of design flexibility is introduced because a single casing can fit a wide range of diffuser geometries. As the diffuser channels are machined, they do not suffer from the limitations of a casting process, which is the case for volute casings. This also provides the opportunity to make custom diffusers for every order, which can be done very rapidly. Doing this for a volute would be an almost impossible task, as designing a volute is more complex and casting patterns would have to be made and stored for every single volute. This means that volute pumps will mostly be a compromise: due to the limited number of volute pumps in a range, the customer duty point will deviate from the best efficiency point of the pump. This problem can be circumvented using diffusers. By trimming the impeller diameter and creating a custom diffuser geometry, the required pump performance can be achieved where the best efficiency point is located exactly where the customer needs it. This even provides possibilities for retrofitting existing diffuser pumps with a new impeller and/or diffuser, in order to completely change the duty point of the pump, increasing the life cycle of the pump even further.