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Some of the remaining packing companies are touting their space-age packing materials. They continue to make packings with aramid fiber...you know, the "bullet proof vest" material... Puleez!! And composite yarns and graphite fibers. Let's take some space-age synthetic fibers, braid them into a square-shaped rope (HUH??), cut them with a knife (the same device used to cut stopa), load the rings into the ages-old stuffing box, and press them with a couple of gland nuts and an adjustable spanner wrench. Say what?? If this makes sense, then I'll develop and market a battery-operated slide rule. Duh!!
Have you ever heard of packing that acts like a mechanical seal? The packing thinks it's a mechanical seal? Counterflow? I once knew a packing salesman who won an award from a packing company for the "Least Amount of Counterflow Returned to the Factory in a Calendar Year". I bet there are thousands of pounds of that stuff still on ex-distributor's shelves. How about packing that pumps the liquid back toward the impeller? Spring loaded packing? I fell into that trap once. Packing that doesn't have to be flushed? Packing braided with graphite yarns and ceramic yarns just like the faces of a mechanical seal? Packing that doesn't use a lantern ring? Packing that doesn't score the pump sleeve? Let it die.
I'm depressed and I'll miss pump packing, especially the older styles. Does anyone remember blue asbestos for acid pumps? The old stand-by was basic graphited-asbestos for industrial water pumps. How about asbestos braided with Teflon yarns for caustic soda pumps. Does anyone remember loose asbestos and graphite compound in a can? It wasn't even braided. You would mold it into shape. Packing is just not the same since they did away with asbestos. The newer packings are okay, but they'll never totally replace asbestos packing.
I got started into this industry by packing pumps in a Birmingham steel mill back in the mid-1960s. There was a time in my career when I wanted to pack a pump as good as my boss. His name was L & N. That's because he had worked 30 years for the L & N Railroad and was drawing a railroad pension. Then he went to work for Republic Steel and was completing another 25 years, and planned to draw a steel workers pension. L & N gave me my first pump packing lesson when I was an impressionable apprentice. L & N told me to load the rings, tighten the packing gland, and then start the pump. Then he said, "When you see the puff of smoke, back-off a little on the gland." Well, it seemed logical when I was 18 years old and I admired L & N.
We need to accept pump packings' death and say good-bye. Packing will continue in valves. But even its days are numbered in valves. I already see where some actuated control valves are offering optional bellows-type mechanical stem seals with 0 ppm fugitive emissions. The environmental, energy conservation, and pollution laws are already aiming at valve stem packing. It's just a matter of time.
WINDS OF CHANGE
Pump shaft packings will not totally disappear. They will become an adornment to the industry. Think of it this way: electric bulbs have replaced candles for lighting, but candles have not totally disappeared. They come in handy when the power goes out. They come in handy when camping in the woods. Some stores exist by only selling fancy candles that no one will ever put a match to. So candles have not totally disappeared. They have become an adornment.
It's the same thing with horses. The automobile has replaced the horse for personal transportation, but horses still exist-as adornments. I went for a romantic ride a while ago in a horse-drawn carriage in downtown Nashville. Halfway around the block, we were blasted in the face by foul smelling intestinal gas. The carriage driver turned around and apologized for the odor. Personally, I thought the horse was to blame. Glad I wasn't lighting a cigarette at that moment. But I digress...
EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN
One of the interesting aspects of the democratic process is that a politician can make a statement or support a position on an issue and please 51% of the constituents. At the same time, the politician will draw the ire from 49% of the constituents. The majority will mostly remain quiet and enjoy the benefits of the position. The 49% minority will raise a tremendous scandal and become a vocal thorn in the politician's backside. I stated what everyone already knows, but I'm probably going to take some heat at the same time. Would you expect anything less from The Pump Guy?
Pump packing is discussed thoroughly in my new book entitled Know and Understand Centrifugal Pumps. I promise you, it's not your standard reference volume on pumping applications. The book is available from Elsevier Publishing as you read this article. ISBN #1856174093. Contact the Pump Guy if you would like to purchase the book in Spanish. If you're interested in pump reliability training, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Pump Guy is Larry Bachus, a writer, inventor, and lecturer based in Nashville, Tenn. You can contact the Pump Guy at email@example.com.
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