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Cat Pumps provide greater flexibility and improved throughput in metal powders production

31 January 2013

The West Midlands has long been recognised as a manufacturing region of excellence in the metals industry it is here that ECKA Granules, one of the leading international manufacturers of metal powders, operates the most modern facility in its market sector. Its Wednesbury plant consists of atomisation lines with the capacity to produce in excess of 3,000 tonnes per annum of Nickel, Cobalt and Stainless Steel powders for the thermal spray, surface coating and welding industries.

In order to keep its competitive edge and be at the forefront of the developments the company is constantly looking at ways to improve production. At the end of 2011, it invested in a new pumping system in order to achieve greater flexibility in its water atomisation line. This investment involved the introduction of three Cat Pumps Series 3545 triplex plunger pumps.

The batch production process takes over three hours and the ECKA operates 24 hours a day. The process of making metal granules and powders by casting is a traditional technology that involves melting metals in 500kg induction furnaces. The alloy, or liquid metal, is then poured through a crucible into a water cooled chamber to produce the required size of liquid droplets. Inside the chamber the metal droplets are quenched to solid granules by water and air or onto a water-cooled metal plate. The hot water resulting from the process is removed from the granules by vacuum pump and is returned into the water pumping system and cooled back down to ambient by chillers. By controlling the process parameters the shape of the granules can be varied from needle, irregular to spherical. The constant availability of water at predetermined pressures to the spray nozzles which quench the molten metal is essential to the whole process. The higher the water pressure used in the atomisation process, the finer the granules or powders. This places a high level of importance on the water supply system and the pumps involved. It is also an unforgiving working environment.

ECKA uses a closed water loop system in order to optimise the use of the water which contains biocides and inhibitors. The water is pumped into the atomisation process at temperatures between 10ºC and 16ºC. However, when it returns into the closed loop the temperature has risen considerably so is has to be chilled before it can be re-circulated.

In late 2011 ECKA introduced three Cat Pumps to augment the existing high pressure pumping system, which relied upon two pumps operating in tandem to generate the required water volume and pressures up to 190 bar. Whereas these pumps were efficient at generating the high pressures required for producing fine powders, when it came to the lower pressures, typically around 70bar, required for larger granules, these pumps were inefficient. In order to achieve greater efficiency and produce greater levels of product throughput it was decided to introduce Cat Pumps triplex plunger pumps as these would give the pressure and flowrates required. The smooth pulse-free performance Cat Pumps ensures that the pressure through spray nozzles in the atomising chamber is constant, as any variation would impact on the size of the granules.

The pumps specified were the Model 3545 and they provide a flow rate of 405l/m at pressures up to 70 bar. A forged brass model, the 3545 contains a special flushed inlet manifold that accommodates an external flush for added cooling and lubrication with low lubricity fluids. Its lubricated Lo-Pressure seal provides double protection against external leakage. Whilst the triplex plunger design does give a smooth product flow, Cat Pumps fitted all three pumps with pulsation dampeners to ensure the exact flow required for the granule size would be provided.

This was the first time that ECKA have used triplex pumps and to date, their experience has been more than measure up to expectation. ECKA selected Cat Pumps Model 3545 it has a reputation for being able to operate in harsh conditions and providing the high levels of performance that the powder manufacturing process required.

“We needed a solution that would give us greater efficiency and improve productivity without compromising on product quality,” says Andrew Baker, ECKA Granules. “Cat Pumps impressed us with their recommendations and produced a cost-effective package that met the brief. After more than six months of operation, we have seen the improvement in productivity that we wanted to achieve and the pumps have provided the service and reliability that we required.”

For further information, please contact Brian Hubbard:

Cat Pumps (UK) Limited

1, Fleet Business Park
Sandy Lane,
Church Crookham
FLEET, Hampshire, GU52 8BF
Tel: 01252 622031
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