Pumps are designed to work with a full flowing water supply, but in some cases a flooded inlet is not enough to maintain pressure required to prevent cavitation. The inlet, or suction side of a pump is the point of lowest pressure in a given pump. For positive displacement pumps, the lowest pressure occurs just prior to rotor meshing; for centrifugal pumps, lowest pressure is near the eye of the impeller.
Cavitation is possible in all pump types and since its principles are essentially the same, we will focus on centrifugal pumps. The eye is where fluid is drawn into the impeller and where the rotation of the impeller begins to act on the fluid. When pressure acting on the liquid (Net Positive Suction Head Available) is too low, bubbles form, and as the liquid accelerates because of impeller rotation, pressure increases and the bubbles collapse.
Under normal atmospheric pressure conditions, fluids have predictable vapor pressure. As the pressure inside the pump falls below the liquid's vapor pressure, bubbles form. The bubbles collapse when they reach areas of the liquid where the pressure is above the vapor pressure. In the case of cavitation, this formation and collapse is both rapid and violent. Disrupted or poorly executed processing lines can cause suction or discharge pressure to fall, which leads to cavitation.
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