10 Tips for Effectively Troubleshooting Pumps

By Jeff Vollmer, Rotating Equipment Engineer at Engineering & Inspection Services, LLC. August 24, 2015

Google “pump troubleshooting” and you will likely find multiple articles telling you that if your impeller has the wrong clearance, you will have a loss of capacity, or if your impeller is damaged, it could be the result of this or that. I didn’t want to just recreate one of those lists. I wanted to provide tips on how to most effectively troubleshoot on a more universal level, not just how to interpret your data. So here are my 10 tips for effectively troubleshooting pumps at your facility.

  1. Use Your Senses - It is difficult, if not impossible, to properly troubleshoot a pump sitting behind a desk. While there is a portion of troubleshooting that can/should be done sitting at a computer, it is very important that you actually visit the field and touch, listen, smell, and see what is going on. There were many times when I could have saved a lot of time in the long run had I gone out into the field at the start.
  2. Gather Data Early - It is important to gather data as soon as you can; don’t wait. The crucial data you need will likely be short lived and therefore must be gathered immediately. Second, if you think you have enough data, gather more. You can never have too much data, but you can definitely not have enough, and usually once you realize a piece of data is missing, the opportunity to gather it has past.
  3. Witness Equipment Removal and Disassembly - Some of the crucial data for troubleshooting is only found during equipment removal or disassembly operations. This data could easily go unnoticed by the craftsmen working the job. You are more likely to ask questions about things you see during removal or disassembly, especially if it is a piece of equipment you have not seen disassembled before.
  4. Use Continuous Data Collection - Continuous data collection systems (even periodical systems such as operator rounds with data recording) can prove invaluable in troubleshooting pumps. Being able to pull up historical trends of multiple variables (pressures, flow rates, amps, temperatures, etc.) can illuminate patterns or changes from the baseline that can help you determine where to start your investigation/troubleshooting.
  5. Continue to Ask Why - Kids ask why repeatedly until they receive an answer that satisfies them. However, as adults, we tend to stop after the first “why” has been answered. To truly understand the root cause of a problem or a failure, you need to continue to ask why until you no longer can. Once you’ve reached that point, you’ve likely found a root cause.
  6. Learn the Process - I cannot stress how important it is for someone in a maintenance role to understand the complete function of the pump from a process point of view. Understanding why the pump is important to and how its operation affects the process as a whole can help you pinpoint the overall issue and how to go about solving it.
  7. Understand the History - Understanding the history of your equipment is important for understanding what may be going on. Sometimes you’ll find history repeats itself, meaning someone has likely done all the hard troubleshooting work for you. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.
  8. Listen to Your Craftsmen and Operators - Don’t discount someone’s experience. Your craftsmen and operators are the people who see and work with the equipment almost daily; they will likely be able to pinpoint when something isn’t quite right, something that you would likely miss given you aren’t out in the field with the equipment all the time. They are invaluable in your troubleshooting; don’t forget them.
  9. Don’t Discount the Counterintuitive - If the data seems to suggest that the problem is something that is counterintuitive, don’t jump to the conclusion that your data is bad or that you are going down the wrong path. It likely just means your data is incomplete. If something “doesn’t make sense,” don’t necessarily discount it and start to look elsewhere; investigate it. Determine what would have to be true for it make sense, and then try to find the data to support it. It could be something going on that is outside your area of expertise, something you wouldn’t think of or a piece of data you wouldn’t know to gather.
  10. Witness Equipment Assembly and Installation - As with removal and disassembly, witnessing the assembly and installation in the field is equally important. Your craftsmen maintain multiple pieces of equipment every day. They see the same things over and over. While sometimes they will recognize an issue, there are times where they may consider something normal when it should not be. If you are there witnessing the assembly and installation, you are more likely to ask questions which could lead to invaluable data.


  1. Use a Translator - Believe it or not, pumps can talk, and they have a lot to say if you are willing to listen. The issue is that we must translate what they are saying. This method of translation is vibration analysis. If you can, gather vibration data, it will be a valuable resource in your troubleshooting efforts. It is best to have baseline data for comparison, so I’d advise having a vibration collection predictive maintenance program already in place.


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