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Vacuum Pumps: Advanced Features

Scientists developed vacuum pumps—and their cousins—centuries ago. Until relatively recently, though, the instruments didn’t include many controls.

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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Advanced features modernize this ancient technology

“Uncontrolled vacuum is usually not optimum for most applications and can lead to sample loss, inefficient applications, and a lot of time wasted in manual oversight,” says Peter Coffey, vice president of marketing at VACUUBRAND (Essex, CT). “Scientists are increasingly using electronic controls for vacuum applications.”

Other experts agree. For example, Roland Anderson, laboratory product manager at KNF Neuberger (Trenton, NJ), says, “New options, including speed control and remote-control options, are making vacuum pumps more versatile for use in a wider variety of applications.”

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Tougher technology

Some of the advances in vacuum pumps arise from where they are used. As Kevin Marzano—global vice president, RocKing Piston, Gast Manufacturing, part of the IDEX Corporation (Benton Harbor, MI)—says, “These instruments are used in more and more harsh environments, including high heat and exposure to corrosive materials.” For instance, a vacuum pump might be used to remove waste from medical equipment. To operate under such conditions, developers use, for example, improved coatings around the pump and materials that withstand higher heat.

Even under ordinary conditions, today’s pumps prove more robust. Part of that comes from a transition from AC to brushless DC motors. “The brushless DC motors have a much longer life, are quieter, and can be plugged in anywhere in the world,” says Marzano.

Similarly, Coffey points out, “Traditional pumps employed fixed-speed motors, but variable-speed vacuum pump motors allow vacuum pumps to operate only as much as needed to maintain the desired vacuum level—pumping at full speed to quickly create vacuum and ramping back pumping automatically to maintain vacuum. This can reduce energy used by vacuum pumps in labs by as much as 90 percent.”

One user of a VACUUBRAND pump commented on Amazon, “This pump works great! The installation was a breeze. It pumps down very quickly. I could not be happier unless it was free.”

Determine the duty cycle

The best vacuum pump for a specific situation, Marzano says, depends on the duty cycle. “If it runs for just a short period of time over an eight-hour shift,” he says, “then the pump’s life is not an issue.” If a pump must work much harder, the expected lifetime gets more significant in a purchase decision. “A pump should last 4,000, 6,000, maybe even 10,000 hours,” says Marzano.

For the longest pump life, Anderson says, “Ensure that all fittings and connections are leakproof, install inline traps to prevent liquid and wet vapors from entering the pump, regularly inspect your pump for damage and signs of wear, and perform regularly scheduled maintenance based on experience and manufacturer recommendations.”

In the buying stage, though, don’t forget a couple of other details. “In some cases,” Marzano says, “how a pump connects with other equipment matters. Is it easy to connect and disconnect for service?” Those details could make the difference in getting the best pump for your job.

For additional resources on vacuum pumps, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit