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Maintain Pump Packing

While many situations can cause pump packing problems or failure, they can be prevented through regular inspection and maintenance. With the advent of environmentally friendly synthetic packing maintenance requirements, as well as start-up and break-in procedures, have changed. Most people don't realize how many packing problems can occur.

When starting up a pump, or a pump with new packing, it is important to consider the following factors as they can provide a warning of any potential issues during start-up or maintenance:

Age of the pump & Pump Packing: How old are the pumps? How long did the pump and packing sit prior to start-up? Pumps that sit idle for long periods of time are at high risk of having dry packing. It is advised to check pump packing prior to start-up to ensure packing has not dried out in storage.

Pump/Bearing Temperature: Bearings that continually run at increasing temperatures and do not peak out and start declining are a clear indication that there is a problem, and that the packing needs to be inspected, and potentially replaced, immediately.

Stuffing Box Maintainance

By Rick Kushinski, Service Manager

Probably one of the most overlooked preventive maintenance tasks is to change the stuffing box packing annually.  

Old packing causes problems

As the packing ages, it becomes hard and brittle.  In this state, it loses its ability to provide an adequate seal against the outer diameter of the shaft, as well as the inner diameter of the stuffing box.  This can lead to increased air leakage through the stuffing box at higher vacuum levels or excessive seal water leakage along the shaft at lower vacuum levels. The latter can also contribute to a premature bearing failure if the leak is severe enough to allow water to enter the bearing housing.  When this situation occurs, we commonly find that the packing gland has been tightened to the point of creating too much friction against the shaft, which in turn causes the metalizing on the shaft to overheat and possibly crack - making the situation much worse.  At this point, the pump needs to be removed for repair.

Changing the packing annually will make the task much easier to accomplish, as the packing will still be pliable. It is also very important to remove all of the packing, and replace it with new parts. Many times, when pumps come in for repair, we find that the shaft packing rings that are easily accessible, the first two or three, have been changed out but the remaining rings were left in. This will lead to the same problems mentioned earlier.  

Another Tip

While this task is being performed, make sure that the drip tray between the stuffing box and the bearing housing is not full of debris and that the drain is clear. A clogged drain will allow water to build up in the drip tray and possibly enter the bearing housing and contribute to a premature bearing failure.  

Repacking a Pump 

When repacking make sure the slits in the packing are staggered. The goal is to stop an excessive leak at start-up or after repacking, not to prevent the water from getting to the outer rings.

The packing drip is decided by the two outer rings. Adjusting the gland in only these rings will compress the packing and make it tighter on the shaft. The last ring opening or slit should be at the bottom of the shaft, and the gland should be started or registered in the stuffing box. You do not want it to drop on the shaft.

To start the gland in the stuffing box, cut ¼ inch from the new ring and flatten it a bit. This will allow it to go into the stuffing box more easily. Do not force the gland into the packing box, as it will put too much pressure on the shaft and packing. Most of the packing is graphite impregnated Teflon and can wear into a shaft and groove it if you are not careful.

Install the first three rings into the stuffing box and use the gland to make sure they are seated correctly. Then install the fourth ring, start the pump and adjust the packing. If you can get the last ring in go ahead and install it – but make sure there is a drip, or that the packing is running at a temperature where you can leave your hand on it.

Packing that is too hot, or does not peak and then drops to a normal operating temperature is a cause for concern and may lead to packing or bearing failure. Check to make sure there is a slow drip, as no drip and high packing temperature may indicate that the packing is too tight and should be adjusted. 


Start-up & Break-in Tips 

When starting a new pump, or a pump with new packing, the following tips that will help extend the life and performance of your pump packing:

  • Ensure that the gland is loose, but not riding on the shaft
  • Let it leak for at least 30 minutes while the equipment is broken in
  • An optimal leak is approximately one drip per second, to achieve this adjust one end of the pump at a time, monitoring the pump and its operating temperatures
  • Adjustments should be made by turning gland nuts one flat at a time, on both sides of the shaft, and letting it run for at least 20 minutes
  • Some pumps will not drip at all, in such cases, it is crucial to monitor pump temperature. If the pump is running at 54°C; or below, the packing is fine
  • If the shaft is grooved from overtightening, it will be difficult to adjust the pump packing. To avoid overtightening, allow the seal to break in, then tighten as noted above
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