Case Study: Eliminating High Vibration Due to Natural Frequency

April 5, 2012
Smith Pump Company recently was called to a pump station to solve a problem with high vibration on three 350HP vertical turbine pumps. The pump station was fairly new and had only been in operation for a year or two. Two of the three pumps were operated on a variable frequency drive (VFD).  The first step we performed in the field was a bump test. A bump test measures the unit’s natural frequency and is very important on a vertical turbine. The unit, store mainly the vertical motor, for sale will vibrate the most when it runs at its natural frequency. For example, if you measure the unit’s natural frequency to be 1800 cpm and the pump’s speed is 1800 rpm, you will have high vibration. To save time, we will only present the data for Pump #2. The bump test for Pump #2 measured in line with discharge was 1500 cpm. Pump #2 operates on a VFD and has a full speed of 1800 rpm. The 1500 cpm corresponds to running the pump at 50 HZ. The owner of the pump station wanted to operate the pumps between 50 to 60 HZ. After performing the bump test, we ran the pumps and measured vibration with the VIBXPERT analyzer. On pump #2 at 50 HZ, we measured 0.47 in/sec rms at the top of the motor. To compare, the Hydraulic Institute allows 0.17 in/sec rms for vertical turbine pump of this size. We knew high vibration was caused by the natural frequency of the unit based on the bump test data. On vertical turbine pumps, you can move the natural frequency up and down by making modifications to the discharge head. These particular discharge heads were built very stiff with a total of eight 1” thick stiffeners on the outside of the head body and four 3/4” thick stiffeners on the inside of the head body.

Existing Discharge Head

Solidworks Model of Existing







Smith Pump modeled the discharge head in Solidworks. Since the measured natural frequency was 1500 cpm, and the pump operating range was 1500 to 1800 rpm, we wanted to lower the natural frequency below 1500 cpm. We knew by removing stiffeners from the discharge head we would lower the unit’s natural frequency. We removed stiffeners and ran a finite element analysis to determine how much we would lower the natural frequency. Our model study showed that by removing all the external stiffeners and half of all the internal stiffeners we would lower the natural frequency by 30%. Pump #2 was removed and its discharge head modified by removing stiffeners.  

Solidworks Proposed Model

Discharge Head Installed Stiffeners Removed








Pump #2 was put back into service with its modified discharge head and vibration testing was performed. The new bump test data gave a measurement of 86 cpm in line with discharge. The vibration measured at 50 HZ at the top of the motor was 0.05 in/sec rms. The vibration dropped from 0.47 to 0.05 in/sec rms.

In conclusion, determining a unit’s natural frequency is very important when designing a vertical turbine pump. Every fabricated steel discharge head that Smith Pump makes is modeled in Solidworks and goes through a finite element analysis to make sure the unit’s natural frequency (mainly discharge head and vertical motor) is 25% away from any running speeds.  In this example, the discharge head (built by others) was too stiff and had a natural frequency at the pump operating speed causing high vibration.  Since Pump #2 was so successful, we are currently modifying Pumps #1 and #3 the same way. Common sense tells us that the stiffer and stronger the discharge head the better, but this case study clearly shows us that is not the case!

Special thanks to our customer Josh Jurgensen, service engineer at Smith Pump Company for sharing this case study with us!

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