Everybody talks.

According to many manufacturers, that old saying is coming to circulator pump technologies in the very near future.  When asked what the next major step in circulator technology is going to be, Grundfos Senior Program Manager Kirk Vigil is blunt with this first thought.

“Communication,” he says. “The next big step for circulators is the same as what we see in other industries and products. Building management systems and integrated home management is a fast-paced, growth opportunity. People want simple access and control of their environments. I believe we will soon see more circulator solutions that communicate and integrate with other appliances and networks.”

At Bell & Gossett, the company has advanced its ecocirc circulator pump line to be able to talk with other elements of the overall system.

“They have the capability to work on communications,” Bell & Gossett Circulator Product Manager Jack Kang says. “Whether it is a large building management system or even a residential system, we have noticed the industry is heading in that direction. The advent of a smart system might come down the road.”

Another major advancement is the use of internal memory by the circulators. Eugene Fina, a senior product manager with Taco, states circulator pump performance curves are embedded in the speed controller’s memory.

“During operation, pump power and speed are monitored,” he says. “(This) enables the controller to establish the hydraulic performance and position in the head-flow characteristic. This enables the pump to continuously identify required head and flow at any point, providing accurate pressure control without the need for external sensor feedback and without inducing false head.” 

Armstrong Fluid Technology’s Global Director of Configured Building Equipment Brent Ross says the company is driving for the lowest first cost and the lowest life cost over the lifecycle of the building. Ross was party to a recent survey of consulting engineers and the results reveal engineers are looking for the most energy-efficient products available.

“There is no sense in having a pump installed that is very efficient at a particular operating point, but is never operated there,” he says. “We look at the whole load profile of a building, which in today’s world is part load. We optimize the energy consumption of the product over that entire load profile and over the entire system.”

The driving force behind the engineering of circulators at Bell & Gossett is focused on the energy efficiency and applications the industry needs.

“When we look at the market in the U.S. there is a growing need for energy efficiency,” Kang says. “We have designed our circulators to be energy efficient and very applicable in heating or cooling systems.”

Working with engineers

Each of the manufacturers interviewed for this story say conversations with specifying engineers are critical to the development of their product lines. Grundfos’ MAGNA3 — available for both heating and cooling applications — was developed to feature a maximum head of 60 ft. and a maximum flow of 550 gpm.

“We recognize the challenge engineers face in designing buildings and dwelling systems that provide enhanced comfort and convenience, as well as sustainable, energy and fuel savings,” Vigil says. “We also appreciate that our solutions must be cost effective and provide owners a return on their investment.”

Fina adds: “It’s through our regular contact with folks in the field that we get the very early signals of the need for changes in pump design. In a way, it’s like sensing very small seismic tremors long before emerging needs or improvements become the industry-moving trends we so often talk about.”

Additionally, engineers are looking for new alternative solutions to age-old problems in system design. 

“Pumps are central to any water-based system. Asking the right questions with key stakeholders in mind helps us develop products that deliver new innovative solutions,” Kang says. “Giving the customers a chance to give us clues on what features and functions should be part of a pump is important. It goes to helping us deliver a product that is easily identifiable to the industry and makes the product stand as a crucial part of the system.”

Always evolving

Armstrong enhanced its line to include sensorless controls about 10 years ago and has found new applications to install these products in ever since their debut. The sensorless controls automatically adjust pump speed to match the exact flow requirements of the system needs at any moment. Two years ago, the company launched its Parallel Sensorless Pump Control. Now up to six pumps installed in a parallel configuration know how to adjust speed and number of operating pumps to deliver the flow required, saving more than 30% vs. a building management-controlled system, Ross states.

Kang believes that the next step in the evolution of circulator pumps will be how the user experiences the product.

“There is always a fear of technology in the industry,” he says. “We are no longer dealing with a simple pump where you install it and leave it there. There are levels of controls on these pumps that are made for users to hit those efficiency levels.”

Fina agrees and says Taco’s SelfSensing ProBalance pumps provide a simplified construction schedule because the units can be run in constant flow mode for chiller/boiler primary pumps, variable-flow mode for secondary pumps and constant-pressure mode for booster pumps.

“All three modes reduce energy consumption,” he states. “And, by slowing pump RPMs, the pump’s life is increased, too.”

Even with all this information available, the manufacturers continue to want feedback from the engineering community to help them achieve their goals.

“We continually challenge ourselves and ask if we are providing the training, support, materials and products needed, and are we providing them in the best forum possible?” Vigil asks. “How can (we) maintain a better communication network with engineers? What can we do better that ensures we are meeting your needs?”

This article was originally titled “The next step” in the April 2015 print edition of pme.