A History of Mather & Platt Ltd.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business EnterpriseLink to full frames site if you have arrived on this single page.
Centrifugal Pumps

The story of pumps, even more than the story of textile machinery, illustrates the dependence of industry on progress in scientific research. Many of the famous mechanical engineers of the eighteenth century were pump-makers, and although it is usually not possible to trace a direct line of descent from the first pump-making engineers to the great modern engineering firms, (1) Mather & Platt is something of an exception. Before William and Colin Mather took over the management of Salford Iron Works, their predecessors were makers of hydraulic machinery, including pumps for various purposes.

Mather and Platt soon interested themselves in centrifugal pumps “Arrived. at the works 6.a.m.”, wrote William Mather in his Diary in 1858, “took round of shop, after which made experiments with centrifugal pump, rigged up on shop boiler with suction pipe inserted into a tub of water in fire hole, delivery pipe to wooden box bolted to the top to receive water”. (2) In 1866 there were orders for only a few pumps, practically all reciprocating, but the way had been prepared for subsequent expansion, and in the years ahead the supply of centrifugal pumps was to become a profitable side of the firms business.

As early as 1857 the firm manufactured double-acting reciprocating pumps driven by steam engines for lifting water from boreholes. In the following twenty years various types of pumps were made, such as horizontal three-throw ram pumps, rotary pumps and centrifugal pumps for providing water supplies and for use with textile machinery.

The most important invention, however, did not come until 1875 — Professor Osborne-Reynolds’ turbine pump made for the engineering laboratory of the Owens College. (3) Before that time pumps of the centrifugal type but of low efficiency were used for raising water at low heads. Reynolds produced a turbine pump of the series type, fitted with guide vanes, and a separate cell for each impeller. In his specification he stated that the novelty of his invention “in the case of obtaining motive power ... consists in repeating the action again and again causing the fluid to traverse one or more additional sets of moving passages alternating with fixed passages.

(1) J.H Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain, Vol.1 (1939) p.. 154

(2) Diary, 5 August 1858.

(3) See E. Hopkinson and A. E. L. Chorlton, The Osborne-Reynolds Pump and its Evolution, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1912.

In both cases, that is, in obtaining motive power and in raising and forcing fluids, instead of alternate sets of fixed and moving passages, all the passages may be in motion, but in that case the alternate sets of passages must move in opposite directions. It is not necessary that the several sets of moving passages should be connected with or move round the same axis or shaft.”(1)

Reynolds's invention was the product of laboratory research (2) and demonstrated his remarkable combination of gifts as an engineer and a mathematical physicist, but before his pump was actually produced by Mather & Platt there was a considerable time lag. The theory of the pump preceded its commercial exploitation, and even after the firm began to produce Osborne-Reynolds pumps, theoretical and commercial considerations some times diverged. The “best efficiency”, as worked out by laboratory engineers, did not always imply the most suitable commercial design, and from the point of view of industrial development, it was always true that “against the requirements for the best theoretical conversion of kinetic energy must be matched. the allowable limits of dimensions conformable with commercial possibilities”. (3)

In 1893 Mather & Platt exploited the Mather-Reynolds pump as a commercial proposition, and developed a series of sizes for dealing with “duties” varying from 100 to 1600 gallons a minute against heads up to 180 feet. Some of these early pumps had a very long life. After the end of the first World War one of them, of the vertical spindle type, was still at work in an artesian well in Russia, 100 foot deep, and from the time of its installation had only once been brought to the surface for examination, (4) Despite the efficiency of these early examples of pump craftsmanship in the 1890’s, there was an attractive competitive design on the continental market designed by Messrs. Sulzer Brothers of Winterthur Switzerland. This firm supplied centrifugal type pumps of multi-stage design to a mining company in Spain about 1896.

In 1900 Mather & Platt entered into an agreement with its Swiss rival that both firms would manufacture the same type of multi-stage turbine pump, embodying the several improvements worked out by Sulzers. The casing of the pump was constructed in one piece, with intermediate pieces, guide vanes and impellers put in from one end. The impellers were arranged back to back to reduce the amount of end-thrust set up in the pump. The new design was an attractive one and a sharing of markets seemed a feasible commercial proposition, but Sulzers had at their disposal in Switzerland the high-speed electric motors which enabled the pumps coupled to them to be supplied at low cost. In 1904 the arrangement between the two firms to produce the same type of pump came to an end by mutual consent.

(1) 0. Reynolds, Improvements in Turbines and Centrifugal Pumps - (Pat.Spec. No.724. 1395), Scientific papers, Vol.11, p.141.

(2) See R.W.Bailey, The Contribution of Manchester Researches to Mechanical Science, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 25 .June 1929. There was a good deal of English and French scientific writing on pumps, culminating in the papers of Dr. Unwin in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, 1877-78. Practical applications of accepted principles were developed by Appold, 1848-51, Professor James Thomson,1852-58 R.C.Parsons, 1877 and Dr.Stanton

(3) A. E.- L. Chorlton,Notes on the Construction of Turbine Pumps, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 18 May 1917.

(4) Our Journal, October 1920.

Mather & Platt then continued to develop the high-lift turbine pump based on the original Osborne-Reynolds design with all the eyes of the impellers facing the same way. This high-lift turbine pump became the main product of the Pump Department and present day pumps retain the feature. Under the capable supervision of Alan E. L.Chorlton, lasting improvements were made to the middle-body and during several years of experiment various designs were tried for balancing the endthrust. In 1904 a hand-adjusted needle valve was employed to produce the required balancing pressure. A mechanically operated needle valve actuated by the axial movement of the pump spindle was invented two years later, and finally a small disc valve was incorporated with the balance piston which eliminated the use of the needle valve altogether. An automatic disc-balancing device was introduced in 1912 and finally, three years later, the single disc balance valve was introduced in which the proportioning of the diameter enabled the hydraulic thrust to be balanced automatically. At the same time the shaft was extended at the free end and carried in an external bearing, which made for increased reliability.

Before 1911 centrifugal pumps were manufactured in a department known as “Engine Pump and Water Purification”. In addition to centrifugal pumps this department undertook the manufacture of reciprocating borehole pumps; open vertical marine slow-speed type and small enclosed high speed steam engines; surface and jet condensers; filters for water supplies, water softening, purification and sewage treatment plant, but when the department was transferred to Park Works in 1911, the modern Pump Department was formed and the manufacture of these products was gradually discontinued. There were various reasons, technical and economic, for the dropping of the old lines of production. Markets were changing and engineering was becoming more specialised making it apparent to those in charge of the fortunes of the company that concentration on centrifugal pumps would make for great technical improvement in design.

In 1911 the Pump Department was concentrating on three designs, the high-lift multi-stage turbine pump, suitable for municipal water supply, hydraulic pressure, colliery drainage, and boiler feed; the high-lift single-stage turbine pump for general service; and the low-lift turbine pump, for condenser circulation and sewage and other services operating on low heads. The low-lift turbine pump was superseded in 1911 by the Monovane pump, which was of the single-stage type, having only one guide vane, and which gave higher efficiency for those low lift duties. Each pump was manufactured individually and designed to suit the condition, with the result that the cost of production was very high. In spite of this many important contracts were secured and the satisfactory performance of pumps supplied did much to establish the name of Mather & Platt as pump makers.

The type of job carried out by the firm in this period before 1914 is best illustrated from two tasks actually accomplished. In 1908 it installed for the Montreal Water and Power Company a three-stage high-lift turbine pump, direct coupled to an alternating current motor. The normal “duty” of the pump was 10,500 gallons of water per minute against a total head of 405 feet, the speed of the set being 465 r.p.m. This pump, which weighed 65 tons, was the largest built at that time, having branches of 24” bore. In 1912 the Birchenwood. Colliery Company was supplied with two high-lift turbine pumps, direct-coupled to alternating current motors of 850 b.h.p. for a “duty” of 1800 gallons per minute against a total head of 950 feet when running at a speed of 970 r.p.m. These pumps were the largest sets of this type working underground at the time of installation.

The scale of operations in the Pump Department was relatively small in 1914. There was still plenty of scope for new ideas. Many of the existing designs needed substantial revision, new fields of practical application had to be explored, more efficient systems of production were required, and more orders from outside were necessary if the department was to expand. After 1915, the economic and technical sides of the pump business both began to show marked improvement, and the firm now boasts one of the largest centrifugal pump businesses in the world.

It was realised at the beginning of this period of transition that of the designs then available the diffuser type pump was the only one which would be suitable in a world which was fast learning the advantages of the centrifugal pump. The obvious advantages of the horizontally split casing design were appreciated and experience with this type had been obtained in the manufacture and performance of a multi-stage split-casing turbine pump built for boiler feeding in 1909. The difficulties of construction were such that for high-pressure work a pump of the cell, type was preferred, but the advantages of the split-casing design for low-pressure units were not overlooked.

When new designs were considered the split casing was adopted for moderate heads and several ranges of pumps were developed for low-lifts and medium-lifts. These technical names were cumbersome in use and it was decided to start the ‘vane’ series of descriptions. The products of Mather & Platt’s Pump Department became known throughout the world by the names PLUR0VANE, MEDIVANE, L0N0VANE and S0L0VANE.

A survey of probable demand was made. Ranges of pumps for all duties were developed in a manner, which allowed for standardisation, with the advantage of interchangeability. Many of the smaller sizes were then and are now produced in quantity and in “batches” carried in stock. The soundness of this policy was soon established; consequently it has been followed and extended to larger sizes and other types of pumps now manufactured by the company.

This standardisation meant re-organisation of the production department, the introduction of modem machine tools, and a system of working to jigs and close tolerances; but it did not imply any change in the quality of services offered. As in other departments the firm continued to pride itself on the production of individual designs for individual orders.

There has been a considerable technical development in the design of pumps since 1915.(1) The multi-stage pump replaced the reciprocating pump for mine drainage, for engineers were quick to realise its possibilities and to gain confidence in its reliability. It now holds a practically unequalled position in high pressure pumping, and since the introduction of the “Stable Characteristic Boiler Feed Pump” it has been applied to works like power stations, where it previously could not have been used. Only in the case of unusually high boiler pressure does the reciprocating pump become a serious competitor of the centrifugal type. (2) In the oil industry too, where reciprocating pumps would have been used almost automatically forty years ago, the place of the centrifugal pump is assured.

In 1925 Mather & Platt Ltd. started negotiations with a leading continental firm, which manufactured a combined single-shaft steam turbo-pump. Steam turbine driven feed pumps had been made as early as 1904, but this was the first time that a range of such unity had been contemplated. Owing to the increase in boiler pressure and capacities, however, the combined arrangement soon became unsuitable and it was decided to produce a range of turbines, which would incorporate, as far as possible, the advantages of the larger turbines used for the main turbo-alternator sets, and to couple these directly to duplicates of pumps installed for electric driving. This policy has been justified and turbines up to 1600 b.h.p. have been supplied for driving boiler feed pumps.

Technical progress in pump making since 1915 has been accompanied by commercial expansion. Indeed the increasing demand for pumps to meet changed market requirements has provided a challenge to technical progress. Just as improvements in pumping were necessary before the early eighteenth century coal industry could develop and expand, so in the twentieth century “industrial development”, based on oil and electricity, pumping has played an important part. Oil technology demands high-powered pumping stations along the pipelines, and since 1919 Mather & Platt Ltd. have supplied Plurovane pumps for the main pipelines of the major Oil Companies. The pipe lines which connected strategic points in the United Kingdom during the Second World War and the famous “Pluto” (pipe line under the ocean) project were also installed with Plurovane pumps.

(1) R. Pennington, Centrifugal and Other Non-Positive Pumps, a Centenary Lecture of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 7 June 1947.

(2)    See. W. J. Peirce, The Development of the Centrifugal Pump, a Paper read. to the Paper Makers’ Association, January 1948.

These pumps were widely adopted in the chemical industry and for mine drainage. Before the First World War pumps were installed in South Africa, for instance, for the mines and power stations, essential to the economic development of the country. Pumps of the axial flow type were also supplied to Egypt for land drainage. Overseas orders concerned with the economic development of foreign countries were of special importance in the 1930s. Indeed conditions in the market for pumps reflect the inducement to invest not only of businessmen, but also of the managers of public utilities and of projectors of large-scale national enterprises. In the middle ‘twenties the depression in the colliery districts, where the firm normally received a considerable amount of business, was counterbalanced by an expansion of municipal undertakings. (1)

In the ‘thirties the demand from abroad rose with the recovery from the Great Depression of 1931. A staff of fully trained engineers, with a detailed knowledge of foreign conditions, enabled the firm to make the best use of its opportunities in the export market. The slogan “satisfaction or your money back” adopted by the Pump department was in 1915 to demonstrate the company’s insistence not only on quality, but also on service.

(1) Proceedings at the Twenty Eighth Annual General Meeting.26 February 1926.