Since its invention 65 years ago, air-operated double-diaphragm (AODD) pump technology has been a loyal soldier in the constant battle to deliver reliable, durable, safe, cost-effective and efficient performance in utilitarian pumping applications, from dewatering mines to producing pharmaceuticals. The plug-and-play reliability of AODD pumps has helped them earn a “set it and forget it” reputation among its many devoted users.
That capability has also prompted some AODD pump users to term the machine a “run to failure” piece of machinery. This means that after it is initially turned on, since it requires very little maintenance, it just runs and runs until it cannot run anymore; at which point, it is simply replaced with a new model, starting the whole process over again.
Attitudes have evolved regarding pump monitoring over the past six decades, however. Specifically, the “run to failure” mindset among industrial pump users has generally become a thing of the past for a number of notable reasons: a former understanding of the true cost of equipment downtime; higher pump purchase costs combined with tightening capital-investment budgets; the health and safety risks that malfunctioning pumps can pose to people and the environment; rising maintenance costs for labor and time; and regulatory agencies that are becoming more diligent in demanding that leaks of hazardous and dangerous products occur less often.
All of these factors prompted the developers of many types of pump technologies to invent ways that their machines could be monitored without the need of a technician to actually be on-hand to visually gauge and record the pump’s performance levels. With that, significant breakthroughs have been made in cloud-based remote monitoring technology for a number of popular pump technologies, especially those that are more complicated to operate and have correspondingly higher purchase, maintenance and repair costs, which makes it less cost-effective to simply replace them when a breakdown occurs.
A new digital age
One technology that has not been included in this trend toward taking advantage in the advances in remote monitoring capabilities is the AODD pump. Again, this has mainly been due to the factors listed above: low purchase cost, a design with few moving parts that can wear or fail, simple and reliable operation, and easy replacement when failures do occur.
However, referencing again some of the aforementioned factors, with capital budgets getting squeezed, optimizing performance and service life becomes more important. It is also important to note that pumps that operate efficiently will not only last longer but will also — in the case of AODD pumps — require less air to run, which makes them more cost-effective while reliably delivering the flow rates that the user requires.
So, it was a landmark day in the long, cherished history of the AODD pump when, in 2020, the technology’s first remote diagnostic performance-monitoring system was introduced to the market. Specifically, this technology enables the quick identification of operational inefficiencies within the pump’s performance sooner and more reliably, creating real-time operational visibility and significant cost savings for the operator through continuous 24/7/365 cloud connectivity. This new diagnostic AODD pump-monitoring technology also possesses the ability to communicate directly with the user, while compiling expansive amounts of operational data that can be used to accurately predict when a breakdown might occur or preventative maintenance might be required.
This remote-monitoring technology for AODD pumps has five basic components:
Leak-Detection Sensor: This is installed between the pump’s ADS and muffler where it monitors whether the pump has begun leaking, usually around the diaphragms, and sends an alert to the user if leakage has begun.
Gateway Node: This is preconfigured for the specific pump and stores the information gathered by the Monitoring Device and Leak Detection Sensor; up to 10 interconnected pumps can be synced to the Gateway Device as long as they are located within 150 feet of each other.
Data Storage: The pump’s second-by-second operational data is sent to the cloud, where it is stored and made available for review by the operator.
User Interface: This enables the pump’s gathered operational information to be viewed by the user anywhere in the world, providing insight into performance history that can help the user predict when a failure may occur or if and when any type of preventative maintenance may be necessary.
A team effort
All of these components work in harmony to provide a full picture of how the pump is operating: the Monitoring Device compiles stroke rate and stroke count information to monitor performance, while the Leak Detection Sensor monitors for leak-detection warnings, if necessary, all in real time. At the same time, the Gateway Node encrypts the performance data and securely transmits it to the cloud for analysis and storage via a global cellular-data service. All of this critical performance data is readily accessible at the User Interface via either a mobile smartphone app or a web-based computer dashboard — again, from anywhere in the world.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the capabilities of some of these components:
- The ability of the Monitoring Device to observe the pump’s stroke rate enables it to detect when any abnormal pumping conditions may arise; for example, when a pump that typically operates at a rate of 70-80 strokes per minute begins producing 115 strokes per minute. When this happens, the operator is alerted, letting him or her know that either something has changed in the facility’s system that needs to be addressed or something has changed in the pump’s operation that may require review or repair.
- By compiling stroke counts, the Monitoring Device collects detailed information on how long the pump has operated and how much longer it might be expected to continue to operate effectively. For instance, if it is known that a previous pump used in the same application lasted 275,000 strokes before a diaphragm rupture occurred, a warning threshold of, say, 250,000 strokes can be created so the user will know to check on the pump at that time. This capability provides unprecedented information to the user that can be used to establish a laser-targeted preventative maintenance schedule that can help predict when a diaphragm rupture or other operational hiccup might occur, which allows the user to take steps to ensure it does not.
- While AODD pumps are seal-less, they will leak when a diaphragm rupture occurs, which most often results in unwanted and potentially dangerous product discharge through the pump’s muffler. To combat that unwanted occurrence, the Leak Detection Sensor is equipped with a float switch that will trigger an alert that is sent to the user as soon as the product leaks into the unit’s leak-detection housing. This early-warning system enables the user to address the problem immediately, eliminating the chance that a pump can leak unnoticed for hours or even days; all of which will result in costly and dangerous spills.
- The User Interface gives real-time fingertip access to all of the pump’s operational data, along with any warnings that may require immediate attention. The User Interface is fully customizable so each pump’s stroke rate and stroke count parameters can be set individually. The interface can also be configured so that multiple team members have access to the same information, all operating and maintenance histories can be reviewed whenever needed, SMS and email alerts can be customized, and color-coded indicators provide an at-a-glance insight into real-time operational and alert status.
Assessing the true benefits
When considering the simple and reliable performance of AODD pumps, it does not seem like remote performance monitoring will make that much of a difference. But how many operations rely on just one pump? In fact, it is far more likely that a fleet upward of 50 AODD pumps may be used even in just a typical operation. Many of these pumps also may run for days without observation or be located in a faraway corner or hard-to-reach location within the facility.
In a case such as this, a facility that produces 5 million gallons of paint annually can have a roster of AODD pumps that are situated in a remote corner of the facility. A single pump failure can result in the leakage of 5,000 gallons of paint onto the floor. If this were to occur, taken together the cost of lost product ($16,000), cleanup ($4,000), labor ($3,000), equipment replacement ($1,000) and Hazmat remediation and disposal ($5,000) can mean a total loss to the producer of nearly $30,000. The installation of a remote monitoring system can prevent this spill incident from occurring through notification to the user that a potential failure or breakdown was possible.
Remote monitoring of AODD pumps can also prevent the replacement of a pump or its components while they still have some service life left in them. This premature replacement usually occurs when the user reviews performance records and sees that the AODD pumps in use, for instance, have historically needed to have their diaphragms replaced every six months. However, an AODD pump outfitted with a remote monitoring system may show that its actual operational diaphragm life is closer to 12 months. For a ceramics manufacturer that deploys 100 AODD pumps, this can reduce parts and labor costs by 50% per year, or in this example, as much as $50,000.
While AODD pumps have proven to be one of the simplest to operate, most reliable and cost-effective, and safest technologies in a wide range of industrial pumping applications since their invention in 1955, the simple truth is that at some point every one of them will cease operating as efficiently as expected or simply break down. In the past, that meant nothing more than replacing the old pump with a new one, but the creation of an innovative remote monitoring system for AODD pumps can help their users wring every last ounce of performance out of them, efficiently and safely, before they need to be retired.
This digital, cloud-based pump-monitoring technology uses next-generation diagnostics to give AODD pump users the ability to know exactly how — anytime and from anywhere — their pumps are operating and if any performance-related issues may be looming on the horizon. The end result is a manufacturing or processing operation that attains and maintains the highest levels of efficient AODD pump performance, reliability and safety.
Erik Solfelt is the Diaphragm Pump product manager for Wilden — headquartered in California and a leading manufacturer of air-operated double-diaphragm (AODD) pumps. He can be reached at (909) 422-1741 or [email protected]. Wilden is a product brand of PSG, a Dover company. PSG is comprised of several leading pump companies, including Abaque, All-Flo, Almatec, Blackmer, Ebsray, EnviroGear, Griswold, Mouvex, Neptune, Quattroflow, RedScrew and Wilden. Find more information at wildenpump.com and psgdover.com.