Brief History of Pumps

27 April 2022

Fifty years ago, Trade & Technical Press launched a new magazine to report on technical developments in pumps. The original title of Pumping was short-lived, being soon supplanted by the pan-European Pumps, Pompes, Pumpen in 1965 as the magazine linked up with the fledgling Europump association. Over the next seventeen years, the pump industry became increasingly international and in 1982, the publisher decided to mark this trend by re-launching the magazine as World Pumps.

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The thirtieth anniversary year saw Trade & Technical Press acquired by Elsevier Science Ltd who incorporated the magazine into its Elsevier Advanced Technology Division. Since then, a number of editorial changes have brought with them new approaches as the industry matures. There have been reviews of software and web pages, eventually eclipsed by sheer numbers. An annual International Buyers’ Guide has been published since 1997, and is now supplemented by an on-line version. Since 2003 World Pumps has worked with BPMA on the annual prestigious Pump Industry Awards. The magazine now features regular contributions from the Hydraulic Institute, underlining its international credentials.

Man has been using pumps of some type for 4000 years, which makes 50 years a very short time in the history of pumping. Indeed, looking back at the most significant developments in technology, the last fifty years seem relatively insignificant. By 1959, all the major pump designs had been introduced and mostly developed into commercial products. So what has World Pumps been writing about for the past 50 years?

Driving trends

One trend has been the increasing importance of niche positive displacement pumps, particularly rotary types. Peristaltic, progressing cavity and rotary lobe pumps have all risen in profile as their capabilities have been introduced to new markets by improved communications. Increasing competition has meant that users have been more inclined to experiment in the search for the ideal pump for difficult duties.

The trends that have affected all of us have also had their impact on the pump market. Increased environmental awareness gave a real boost to pumps without shaft seals. Magnetic drive and canned motor units have thrived and even produced a hybrid combining the two technologies. Pump shaft sealing has also changed dramatically. Asbestos in packing is outlawed and today the vast majority of new pumps are supplied with mechanical seals, often in factory-assembled cartridge format to avoid the risk of face damage during handling.

Materials have also developed. Sea-water pumps have seen gunmetal and aluminium bronze replaced by highly alloyed super-austenitic and super-duplex stainless steels. New non-metals have made possible tiny pumps for human implant. Ceramics and tungsten/silicon carbide have vastly reduced wear rates in pumps of all sizes. Even large sub-sea variable speed super-synchronous drive motors for pumps are now possible.

Overtaken by computers

Electronics and computers have overtaken all our lives and inevitably have entered the physical world of pumps in the form of variable speed drives (VSD's), SCADA systems and condition monitoring equipment. Integral VSDs on in-line pumping units now dominate the building services market. Pump selection software has speeded up the process of choosing a pump, as well as opening opportunities in marketing. For the designer, CAD and CFD have reached new heights. They can now interact but they still have some way to go before they fully replace personal expertise.

Life cycle costing has become a part of everyday life and has shown that energy costs usually eclipse all other lifetime costs. Vast savings are frequently realised by system improvement but appropriate legislation is practically impossible to formulate. Although pump efficiency improvements give relatively small returns for large outlays, legislation for raising efficiency now exists in Korea and China. The European Commission, as part of its Energy Using Products Directive, has targeted the raising of efficiencies of water pumps. Europump has been instrumental in assisting the EC in this task and has proposeda method for eliminating bad performers.

We are all aware that in recent years, discussions about the pump industry have been dominated by talk of mergers, takeovers and disposals. Indeed, as we consider the major pump makers of 2009, it is hard to name one which has not changed markedly since 1959.

Comings and goings

ITT, IDP, Sterling Fluid Systems, Grundfos, Wilo and ABS have changed almost beyond recognition. Established independent makers like Harland, Flygt, Worthington and now Weir Pumps have disappeared, whilst newer names like Textron, Constellation Capital, IDEX, Pentair and Flowserve have arrived on the scene, continuing the trend for the biggest companies to get bigger.

Other interesting changes include diversification. For example, after more than 50 years of providing submersible motors to pump makers, Franklin Electric has ‘pulled the plug’ and now buys pump companies to produce its own units.

Mind you, it is also interesting to note from the chronology of the pump industry listed below, that even in the early years of this magazine mergers and acquisitions were not unknown and ever since there has been a continuous environment of change.

Global marketplace

Probably the biggest single change in this industry has been the transition from a local to a global marketplace. Fifty years ago we had only national trade associations but today the significant impetus in inter-company relations is at intercontinental level. The Europump Association has grown massively in stature and effectiveness in its 49 years, and now works in close partnership with the Hydraulic Institute in the US. This partnership reflects ever closer cooperation between pump manufacturers' associations, a development that mirrors this magazine's evolution from national through European to global coverage.

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