A rotary vane pump is a positive-displacement pump that consists of vanes mounted to a rotor that rotates inside a cavity. In some cases these vanes can have variable length and/or be tensioned to maintain contact with the walls as the pump rotates. It was invented by Charles C. Barnes of Sackville, New Brunswick, who patented it on June 16, 1874. There have been various improvements, including a variable vane pump for gases (1909). They are considered less suitable than other vacuum pumps for high-viscosity and high-pressure fluids, and are complex to operate. They can endure short periods of dry operation, and are considered good for low-viscosity fluids.
The simplest vane pump has a circular rotor rotating inside a larger circular cavity. The centers of these two circles are offset, causing eccentricity. Vanes are allowed to slide into and out of the rotor and seal on all edges, creating vane chambers that do the pumping work. On the intake side of the pump, the vane chambers are increasing in volume. These increasing-volume vane chambers are filled with fluid forced in by the inlet pressure. Inlet pressure is actually the pressure from the system being pumped, often just the atmosphere. On the discharge side of the pump, the vane chambers are decreasing in volume, forcing fluid out of the pump. The action of the vane drives out the same volume of fluid with each rotation. Multistage rotary-vane vacuum pumps can attain pressures as low as 10−6 mbar (0.0001 Pa).
Vane pumps are commonly used as high-pressure hydraulic pumps and in automobiles, including supercharging, power-steering, air conditioning and automatic-transmission pumps. Pumps for mid-range pressures include applications such as carbonators for fountain soft-drink dispensers and espresso coffee machines. Furthermore, vane pumps can be used in low-pressure gas applications such as secondary air injection for auto exhaust emission control, or in low-pressure chemical vapor deposition systems.
Rotary-vane pumps are also a common type of vacuum pump, with two-stage pumps able to reach pressures well below 10−6 bar. These vacuum pumps are found in numerous applications, such as providing braking assistance in large trucks and diesel-powered passenger cars (whose engines do not generate intake vacuum) through a braking booster, in most light aircraft to drive gyroscopic flight instruments, in evacuating refrigerant lines during installation of air conditioners, in laboratory freeze dryers, and vacuum experiments in physics. In the vane pump, the pumped gas and the oil are mixed within the pump, and so they must be separated externally. Therefore, the inlet and the outlet have a large chamber, maybe with swirl, where the oil drops fall out of the gas. Sometimes the inlet has a venetian blind cooled by the room air (the pump is usually 40 K hotter) to condense cracked pumping oil and water, and let it drop back into the inlet. When these pumps are used in high-vacuum systems (where the inflow of gas into the pump becomes very low), a significant concern is contamination of the entire system by molecular oil backstreaming.
Variable-displacement vane pump
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One of the major advantages of the vane pump is that the design readily lends itself to become a variable-displacement pump, rather than a fixed-displacement pump such as a spur-gear (X-X) or a gerotor (I-X) pump. The centerline distance from the rotor to the eccentric ring is used to determine the pump's displacement. By allowing the eccentric ring to pivot or translate relative to the rotor, the displacement can be varied. It is even possible for a vane pump to pump in reverse if the eccentric ring moves far enough. However, performance cannot be optimized to pump in both directions. This can make for a very interesting hydraulic-control oil pump.
A variable-displacement vane pump is used as an energy-savings device and has been used in many applications, including automotive transmissions, for over 30 years.
- Externals (head, casing) – cast iron, ductile iron, steel, brass, plastic and stainless steel
- Vane, pushrods – carbon graphite, PEEK
- End plates – carbon graphite
- Shaft seal – component mechanical seals, industry-standard cartridge mechanical seals, and magnetically driven pumps
- Packing – available from some vendors, but not usually recommended for thin liquid service
- Mario Theriault, Great Maritime Inventions 1833-1950, Goose Lane Editions, 2001, p. 53.
- Bill Snowdon, "Charles C. Barnes: Farmer, Fisherman, Ship-builder, Inventor", in The White Fence, Issue # 54, February 2012, Tantramar Heritage Trust"
- CA 3559A, Charles C. Barnes, "Rotary Pump", published 1874-06-15
- US 878528, Hoffmann, C., "Rotary pump for gases", published 1906, issued 1908
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