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An Introduction to Centrifugal Pumps: How do they work?

What Is a Centrifugal Pump?

Pumps are usually identified by the mechanism they use to move liquids. In the case of centrifugal pumps, they use rotational kinetic energy (in the form of an impeller connected to a motor or engine) to transport liquids from one point to another.

Sometimes you’ll see centrifugal pumps referred to as centrifugal transfer pumps or kinetic pumps, but, generally, they’re all referring to the same thing: a pump that uses a shaft-driven impeller that rotates inside a casing.


How Do Centrifugal Pumps Work?

As you might imagine, this pump’s namesake comes from what you might know as centrifugal effect, as described in Newtonian mechanics, where an object moving in a circle tends to travel away from its rotation point. So, the way centrifugal pumps transport liquid is based on this principle.

All centrifugal pumps have a shaft-driven impeller that rotates inside a casing. While the pump is operating, the impeller—submerged in water—spins rapidly. The centrifugal effect applied to the water from the impeller’s rotation forces the water through a discharge port. The pump continuously replaces the discharged liquid with more liquid pushed up through a suction port or inlet.

Although all centrifugal pumps use an impeller to move liquids, not every centrifugal pump uses the same type of impeller.


3 Types of Centrifugal Pump Impellers

Three common types of impellers kinetic pumps use are radial vane impellers, axial flow impellers, and mixed flow impellers. Each of these impellers affects flow and pressure slightly differently, which changes how well-suited they are for different applications.

Watch our Quick Tech Tip video about impellers to learn more.

Radial vane impellers energize the incoming flow and direct it radially outward. As a result, radial flow pumps typically deliver high pressure.


Axial flow impellers energize the incoming and continue directing it axially out of the pump, usually without changing the direction of the flow. As a result, axial flow pumps typically deliver high flow.


As the name suggests, mixed flow impellers (or Francis vane impellers) combine radial and axial discharge flow directions. These impellers are by far the most common in centrifugal pumps since they can accommodate both high-pressure and high-flow requirements in most applications (with the correct horsepower).


Centrifugal pumps are unique because they can provide much higher flow rates than most positive displacement pumps. Their flow rates can vary considerably with changes in a particular piping system’s Total Dynamic Head (TDH) or with a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD). This allows centrifugal pumps to cover a broad range of liquid pumping applications.


Typical Applications for Centrifugal Pumps

Centrifugal pumps are the tool of choice for various applications in domestic, municipal, commercial, and industrial markets.

Some common applications include (but are not limited to):

  • Agriculture
  • Food and beverage manufacturing
  • Power generation plants
  • Oil and gas (petrochemical) operations
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Water supply and treatment for industrial and residential areas
  • Wastewater treatment (sewage/slurry disposal)


At John Brooks Company, we provide standard and custom-built centrifugal pump solutions for a wide range of commercial, municipal, and industrial processes, including agriculture, food manufacturing, oil and gas, mining and mineral processing, and more.

With a massive selection of centrifugal pumping systems from leading manufacturers and the valuable input from our application experts and equipment specialists, we guarantee the best fit for your unique application.

Contact us today to learn more or to book a consultation with one of our experts.