Drum pumps reduce the risk of spills, injuries, and harmful VOCs
By Danny Smith, Director of Strategic Markets, Ti-SALES
Moving a liquid from one container to another: it’s a mundane, everyday task that most people think very little about. But think twice before you tip over that 55-gallon drum! While pouring directly from container to container may seem like the obvious method, it carries a host of health and safety risks.
- To start, liquids are heavy! Sodium hypochlorite, commonly used in water treatment, weighs approximately 10 pounds per gallon. Including the plastic drum, a full 55-gallon barrel of hypo weights as much as 575 pounds; even for a strong adult, that much weight is impossible to maintain control of during a pour.
- Even with a smaller, lighter container, liquids can splash and spill. Spilled corrosive liquids can injure the operator or others if they contact unprotected skin; many chemicals can also emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause immediate harm and contribute to chronic respiratory ailments.
- Working with flammable liquids (such as methanol, commonly used in wastewater treatment) presents yet more risk: even wiping down a spill can create heat or static charge, risking igniting the liquid.
To avoid these risks – and save your back! – use a drum pump (also called a container pump). Drum pumps give you much greater control over the liquid being transferred, reducing the risk of spills or inhalation of dangerous fumes.
What is a Drum Pump?
A drum or container pump is a specialized tool for transferring liquids, generally consisting of a handheld motor, immersible pump tube, and a hose connection. Most motors are electric, with battery-powered options for when electricity is not available. Air motors are less frequently used, but are very high-powered, making them ideal for high-viscosity liquids.
A pump’s strength is expressed as its “feet of head” or “total dynamic head” (TDH), a unit of pressure describing how high of an elevation change the pump can move liquid. 2.31 feet of head is equal to 1 PSI (pounds per square inch). A pump with 100 feet of total dynamic head (100 ÷ 2.31 = 43.29 PSI) can pump liquid up 100 feet vertically; however; the higher the delivery pressure, the lower the flow rate. At that maximum elevation, the flow is zero (0), or a “dead head.”
Most drum pumps use an axial impeller (a propeller) located at the end of the pump tube, providing smooth flow, constant pressures, and high efficiency. The liquid is pushed up the length of the tube and discharged via the hose outlet. (More powerful pump types include centrifugal immersion pumps and air-operated diaphragm pumps; these are generally only used for high flow rates or when continuous flow is needed.)
It’s important to size your drum pump to the container it’s being used on; if the pump tube is too long, the weight of the motor can cause the pump to tip over.
- A 15-gallon container pump will have an immersion length of 27” (700 mm).
- A 55-gallon drum pump will have an immersion length of 39” (1,000 mm).
- A pump for 275-gallon totes (also called intermediate bulk containers or IBC totes) will have an immersion length of 47” (1,200 mm).
It’s also important to wear appropriate PPE/personal protective equipment when using a drum or container pump, including gloves and eye protection. When pumping methanol or other flammable liquids, grounding equipment is crucial to prevent a buildup of static that could ignite the liquid.
How to Choose a Drum Pump
Chemical compatibility is the most critical part of choosing an appropriate drum pump. The material that encounters the pumped fluid must be resistant to corrosive liquids, among other considerations.
- Polypropylene (PP) pump tubes are used for acids and alkalis, including boric acid, calcium chloride, and ammonia solution.
- Polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) pump tubes are used for highly concentrated acids such as sodium hypochlorite.
- Stainless steel pump tubes with grounding equipment are used for flammable liquids such as methanol.
If you need a high level of precision, or if you’re pumping into a small container where spills are a greater risk, make sure your pump has a variable-speed motor. Multiple speeds give you more control over the amount you’re pumping; being able to start with a slow flow reduces splashing. (As a note, many drum pumps are designed with interchangeable motors and immersion tubes, giving the user great flexibility!)
Drum pumps can also be used with high-viscosity liquids; in those circumstances, a pump with a semi-axial impeller is ideal, creating higher pressure and lower flow. (For very high viscosity liquids, a progressive cavity pump may be necessary. We don’t generally see the need for this in waterworks – it’s more common on the industrial use side.)
One last recommendation: choose a drum pump with long-term reliability. When you’re transferring corrosive liquids – or even more seriously, flammable liquids – operator safety is critical. A quality drum pump, properly maintained, will remain safe throughout a long life of use.
If you’re looking to get even more functionality out of your drum pump, consider adding on one of many useful accessories available:
- Flow meters allow for maximum precision during pumping.
- A barrel adapter, sized to fit a standard port or bung, keeps your drum pump stable during transfer and prevents fumes from escaping the barrel.
- A variety of filters and strainers keep any debris or particles from being transferred along with your liquids.
- Several types of liquid saver kits can be used when it’s important to get “the very last drop” – this kit from Flux Pumps leaves less than 0.02 gallons residual in a 55-gallon drum!
Flexible, convenient, and easy to use: drum pumps are hands-down the best way to transfer liquids from totes, drums, and other containers. Most importantly, they’re the SAFEST way to transfer liquid chemicals, including flammable and corrosive liquids as well as those that create harmful gases. Think twice before you tip that drum!
If you’re looking for a drum or container pump, we’d be happy to help – give us a call and we’ll make sure you get just the right pump to meet your chemical transfer needs and make your day-to-day that much easier.
As Ti-SALES’s Director of Strategic Markets, Danny Smith focuses on identifying and evaluating complementary product lines to expand Ti-SALES’s existing solution offerings. Danny has over 30 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry, with specialized expertise in the area of water treatment and chemical feed equipment.