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Sherlock Ohms

Case of the Powerless Pump

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Tim
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Looks can be deceiving
Tim   12/16/2011 6:29:20 AM
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Good job double checking something that your eyes and ears were telling you.  Sometimes it is good to take a step back and ask if what you are seeing is the whole situation.

Jennifer Campbell
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Gold
Re: Looks can be deceiving
Jennifer Campbell   12/16/2011 2:54:47 PM
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That's good advice Tim, and is generally the case on many of our Sherlock Ohms stories.

Noswad
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Re: Looks can be deceiving
Noswad   12/16/2011 4:16:57 PM
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Elementary my dear Watson.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Looks can be deceiving
Rob Spiegel   12/16/2011 5:14:46 PM
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Yes, good observation, Tim. Jennifer is right about how these Sherlock postings show some excellent deductive logic. It's not named "Sherlock" for nothing. What I find most impressive is that many of the solutions arise when the Sherlock involved refuses to make any assumptions.

Charles Murray
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Weird
Charles Murray   12/16/2011 5:21:27 PM
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My first reaction would have been that the breaker had gone haywire. Pump running backwards? It woudn't have crossed my mind.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Weird
Rob Spiegel   12/16/2011 5:24:38 PM
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I agree, Chuck. That's what makes these Sherlock so much fun. And it's always the super simple answer that wins -- like the magnet that isn’t magnetized or the resistor what was marked incorrectly.


TJ McDermott
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Re: Weird
TJ McDermott   12/18/2011 5:11:03 PM
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Man, the weird can be dangerous too.  A pump that reports shorted, yet still runs make you begin wondering if the wiring is correct.  If not, then all bets are off as to where that high voltage comes from.

William K.
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Platinum
The powerless pump
William K.   12/17/2011 8:19:48 AM
Actually, the pump being driven by flow was my initial guess. Of course, I have a bit of experience with controls for pumping systems.

I had an interesting diagnostics challenge a while back that involved a large pump driven by a large motor. It was in a hydraulic power unit that we had loaned a customer while we were repairing their failed power unit.

The complaint was simple: the pump will not start. Because the customer was an hours drive away, I first asked a few questions, then asked them to have their electricial check the 3 100 amp fuses in the 480 volt power feed circuit. He reported that one 100 amp fuse had failed, I suggested that he replace it and try starting the system again, He replaced the fuse and the replacement fuse failed as soon as they tried to start the motor. So now I had to head over to the customers site and find the problem. My approach was first to do a complete inspection, since that sort of short circuit shaould provide some evidence of itself. But all of the visible wiring looked good. Next, I did a resistance check at the motor terminals of the starter-overload assembly, which showed an open circuit in one phase. That was a good clue. I opened the connection box on the side of the motor and found that, because it had been assembled with the splice pressing against the cover of the box, the one connection had slowly cold-flow, penetrated the tape wrapping and contacted the box cover, short circuiting the phase to ground and evaporating part of the connection. The repair was simple, which was to cut off the damaged end, install a split-bolt splice instead of the lug and bolt splice, and tape the new connection. Then I was careful to position the wires in the splice box so that they did not press against the cover, and replaced the cover. After installing a new 100 Amp fuse, the systm started and ran correctly.

Note that I did switch off the service to the system before I started working on it.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The powerless pump
Rob Spiegel   12/19/2011 2:59:08 PM
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William K,

Your story would work as a Sherlock Ohms blog. Could you send along a short bio? And also your permission?

You can reach me at: rob.spiegel@ubm.com

Thanks much.

Tool_maker
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Platinum
A clock running in reverse
Tool_maker   12/19/2011 6:56:32 AM
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A million years ago we had a wedding present electric clock hanging on the wall, which I knocked to the floor. I rehung it, but it refused to run, so I took the usual first trouble shooting step and violently shook it. The second hand started moving, but it was going backwards. I unplugged the clock and retried it with the same results. The clock kept perfect time, in reverse. It was kind of cool and drove visitors nuts when I could tell time, by reading upside down.

It ran that way for about a year when I plugged DC converter for a tape recorder in the same outlet. The clock made some kind of weird noise, stopped and then restarted going the right direction. I have no idea as to what happened or how to explain it, but that is what happened.

After 10 or so years the clock died a painless death and went to the big appliance store in the sky.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: A clock running in reverse
Rob Spiegel   12/19/2011 2:37:40 PM
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That's a pretty good story, Tool Maker. If you expand it just a touch, we could use it as a Sherlock Homes blog. I would also need a short bio (two or three sentences).

Send it to rob.spiegel@ubm.com

Thanks.

jim01
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Iron
3 phase problem
jim01   12/19/2011 11:13:10 AM
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I had to pass on my experience a few years ago with a 3 phase problem. Our family owned a Baskins Robins Ice cream store and my problem. It was a very warm August day and we had an order for an ice cream wedding cake to serve 200 people.  This is a task that requires it to be assembled in the walkin freezer.  The freezer is 8 x 10' and powered by a 220v 3 phase unit.  The temperature is kept at -5 F.  This was three days after an ice cream delivery and the freezer was quite full, not leaving much room to work.  Made a table out of stacked up ice cream 3 gal. tubs.  At this temperature even with my Nan Nook of the north furry coat on you can't stay in more than 7 or 8 minutes with the blower blasting away on you.  When you go in and out of the freezer the temperature rises 8 to 10 degrees and takes a few minutes to recover. (observing the freezer thermometer).  I noticed that the temp. was not recovering and it was getting up to about 20 F.  The blower fan was working OK, but the compresson on top of the freezer didn't sound right.  Checking the fuses found one of them blown.  Replacing it, it blew right away.  There are two boxed on each side of the blower unit inside of the freezer, the one by the door had the low voltage circuitry.  Everything looked OK there.  The one in the back was just the power in connections.  Opening that one up I found that one of the connections on the terminal strip had broken away from the strip and the two wires still screwed together had fallen away from the strip and shorted out against the box cover with a blackmark from the short.  Some electrical tape and tying up the wires solver the problem.  Powered up with a new fuse and tha compressor sounded like it's old self.  Finished the cake on time.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: 3 phase problem
Rob Spiegel   12/19/2011 3:05:17 PM
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Hi Jim,

Your freezer story would be a good one for Sherlock Ohms. Could you send your OK for us to use it? Also, we would like to include a short two- or three-sentence bio.

You send it along to rob.spiegel@ubm.com

Thanks.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: 3 phase problem
Rob Spiegel   12/19/2011 3:08:47 PM
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The whole notion of wandering by a mechanism and having it not sound right is slowly disappearing in plants. I keep hearing that the plant operators who could listen and hear whether everything was running right is becoming a detection method of the past. With the boomer retiring and leaving after decades, they're taking their knowledge. This is being replaced by diagnostic and prognostic tools. But some say this ability can't be replaced at all.


William K.
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Platinum
The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
William K.   12/19/2011 5:17:03 PM
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Rob, you are certainly correct about the loss of many of these cognitive skills in many areas. One reason is job mobility, in that many don't stay in an area long enough to learn very much.

Another big culprit is the ISO-9000 mentality, which is intent on reducing every task to a simple easy set of steps that can be done by a cheaper labor source. That is not the published intent, exactly, except that one stated goal is to assure that no employee is "indespensible". 

My goal for most of my jobs has been to be valuable enough to be considered indespensible. Not that I ever "keep secrets" as a means of increasing my value, since that does not work, but that I work at providing enough value that the management can see that I am a valuable asset, to be retained, hopefully. It works in places where the management is not far separated from the process, but where the managers are isolated bean shufflers employee value means a lot less. 

Sometimes those organizations do reap the grief that they deserve.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
Rob Spiegel   12/20/2011 3:23:10 PM
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I understand what you mean about doing a job so well you make it secure. However, sometimes considerations outside your control can show up. Say a vendor comes in with a way to commoditize your functions. The vendor doesn't know you or your value, but the vendor may understand your function well enough to automate it. 

 

 


William K.
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Platinum
Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
William K.   12/21/2011 10:42:31 AM
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Rob, If a vendor were able to somehow commoditize my functions, it is quite probable that they would need to charge so much for that service that it would be non-competitive with my cost. At least that is what I hope to have be the situation. Of course, while all of my capabilities are available to my employer, I don't usually identify them all to any vendor that I think is attempting to unseat me. The loyalty does indeed go to the organization that signs the paycheck, after all. 

My situation has not been such that my employers would be seeking to do that anyway, since I was either part of a small company or of a small team of people with specialized knoledge and skill sets.

To avoid being treated like a jellybean it is prudent to not be in the jar with jellybeans.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
Rob Spiegel   12/21/2011 3:47:08 PM
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Love that last line, William. I understand what you're saying, I suppose it comes down to judgment and comprehansion. Neither one of those can be comomodtized. 

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
jmiller   12/29/2011 2:15:16 PM
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And often a good vendor will sell someone in the company on how they can do what you do at less cost.  However, that tends not to work because at some point the company will need someone to come in on a weekend or go outside of the scope of what the vendors deliver or just maybe fill in for another key function that is gone.

These tend to be the times when short sighted management results in a company that can't do what they need to do.  All the more reason for managers to completely understand all the functions of their team members as well as focus on relationships with those employees.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
Rob Spiegel   12/30/2011 11:27:45 AM
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Good points Jmiller. Good vendors will work to make sure their solutions provide real value and not trouble or backfires along the way. A good vendor is going to be involved with a customer over a prolonged period, so any solution that saves $$ in the short term but produces difficulties down the road is not in the vendors interest any more than it's not in the customer's best interest. The major vendors in the automation and control industry seem to have strong long-term relationships with their customers, where it's more like a partnership.

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
Ann R. Thryft   1/6/2012 3:28:53 PM
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I'd bet there's a connection between the commoditization/automation of the complex, high-quality thought processes that, apparently, only humans can do, such as William K describes, and the refusal of so many managers to look at unpleasant facts on the ground that affect their profits, as we've discussed in several different blog threads, and most recently written up in TJ's excellent article on Responsibility & Integrity:

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1365&doc_id=237257


jmiller
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Platinum
Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
jmiller   1/24/2012 5:07:15 PM
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The value of a vendor/customer relationship is so beneficial to both parties.  It's too bad that more industries don't follow the example and work more with vendors.  Often, there are groups within a company that's sole focus is to remove cost from the product, often by changing vendors.

I've seen cost improvement projects that saved dimes worth of cost and results in dollars worth of additional service cost.

rosek
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Silver
Re: The powerless pump, or, "It Sounds Wrong, Captain"
rosek   12/21/2011 9:30:36 AM
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@ William K - You are correct about your assessment of the ISO 9000 mandates - just another check in the box to assure some accountant that everything is as it should be - a sad state of affairs, indeed!

ab3a
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Platinum
It isn't that hard to listen
ab3a   1/9/2012 1:02:10 PM
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I've worked at a water pumping station where the discharge valves are very slow and thus can cause the pump to run backward for some time while the power is off. 

When centrifugal pumps run backwards they're not balanced as well as they are when they spin forward. In fact, the reinforced concrete floor to which pumps I worked with shook when they spun backward.  That doesn't happen when they're rotating in the correct direction.

Another thing is that modern VFD controls have the ability to do a flying start without hurting anything or even popping a breaker. We'd have used them on this job except that ten years ago, while the design was going on, medium voltage flying start features were still quite expensive. 

In some respects, the new stuff is making much of the older tricks irrelevant.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: It isn't that hard to listen
Rob Spiegel   1/9/2012 2:56:57 PM
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Hey, ab3a, it sounds like your story could make a good Sherlock Ohms posting. If you told the story, blow-by-blow, it would probably be long enough.

If you're interested in putting this into a story, let me know:

rob.spiegel@ubm.com

We would also need a short bio to include with the posting.

paddlej
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Iron
love this article, great work
paddlej   2/20/2012 1:04:31 AM
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Fantastic article, well done. I can't emphasize it enough the importance in working with reputable pump manufacturers when designing a system. The supplier can analyze your system and recommend what is needed. Then, you always have someone to go back to in case something goes wrong. Again thanks for the story, and keep up the great work.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: love this article, great work
Rob Spiegel   2/21/2012 11:59:04 AM
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Thanks, Paddlej. I agree that good suppliers can help with trouble shooting, especially when things don't make sense. Do you have any stories about trouble shooting? We're always looking for new Sherlock Ohms case studies. If you do, please send it to: rob.spiegel@ubm.com

Also, please send along a short bio.

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