How to Keep a Mud Pump Running Well on a Drilling Job
If you run a mud rig, you have probably figured out that the mud pump is the heart of the rig. Without it, drilling stops. Keeping your pump in good shape is key to productivity. There are some tricks I have learned over the years to keeping a pump running well.
First, you need a baseline to know how well your pump is doing. When it’s freshly rebuilt, it will be at the top efficiency. An easy way to establish this efficiency is to pump through an orifice at a known rate with a known fluid. When I rig up, I hook my water truck to my pump and pump through my mixing hopper at idle. My hopper has a ½-inch nozzle in it, so at idle I see about 80 psi on the pump when it’s fresh. Since I’m pumping clear water at a known rate, I do this on every job.
As time goes on and I drill more hole, and the pump wears, I start seeing a decrease in my initial pressure — 75, then 70, then 65, etc. This tells me I better order parts. Funny thing is, I don’t usually notice it when drilling. After all, I am running it a lot faster, and it’s hard to tell the difference in a few gallons a minute until it really goes south. This method has saved me quite a bit on parts over the years. When the swabs wear they start to leak. This bypass pushes mud around the swab, against the liners, greatly accelerating wear. By changing the swab at the first sign of bypass, I am able to get at least three sets of swabs before I have to change liners. This saves money.
Before I figured this out, I would sometimes have to run swabs to complete failure. (I was just a hand then, so it wasn’t my rig.) When I tore the pump down to put in swabs, lo-and-behold, the liners were cut so badly that they had to be changed too. That is false economy. Clean mud helps too. A desander will pay for itself in pump parts quicker than you think, and make a better hole to boot. Pump rods and packing last longer if they are washed and lubricated. In the oilfield, we use a petroleum-based lube, but that it not a good idea in the water well business. I generally use water and dish soap. Sometimes it tends to foam too much, so I add a few tablets of an over the counter, anti-gas product, like Di-Gel or Gas-Ex, to cut the foaming.
Maintenance on the gear end of your pump is important, too. Maintenance is WAY cheaper than repair. The first, and most important, thing is clean oil. On a duplex pump, there is a packing gland called an oil-stop on the gear end of the rod. This is often overlooked because the pump pumps just as well with a bad oil-stop. But as soon as the fluid end packing starts leaking, it pumps mud and abrasive sand into the gear end. This is a recipe for disaster. Eventually, all gear ends start knocking. The driller should notice this, and start planning. A lot of times, a driller will change the oil and go to a higher viscosity oil, thinking this will help cushion the knock. Wrong. Most smaller duplex pumps are splash lubricated. Thicker oil does not splash as well, and actually starves the bearings of lubrication and accelerates wear. I use 85W90 in my pumps. A thicker 90W140 weight wears them out a lot quicker. You can improve the “climbing” ability of the oil with an additive, like Lucas, if you want. That seems to help.
Outside the pump, but still an important part of the system, is the pop-off, or pressure relief valve. When you plug the bit, or your brother-in-law closes the discharge valve on a running pump, something has to give. Without a good, tested pop-off, the part that fails will be hard to fix, expensive and probably hurt somebody. Pop-off valve are easily overlooked. If you pump cement through your rig pump, it should be a standard part of the cleanup procedure. Remove the shear pin and wash through the valve. In the old days, these valves were made to use a common nail as the shear pin, but now nails come in so many grades that they are no longer a reliable tool. Rated shear pins are available for this. In no case should you ever run an Allen wrench! They are hardened steel and will hurt somebody or destroy your pump.
One last thing that helps pump maintenance is a good pulsation dampener. It should be close to the pump discharge, properly sized and drained after every job. Bet you never thought of that one. If your pump discharge goes straight to the standpipe, when you finish the job your standpipe is still full of fluid. Eventually the pulsation dampener will water-log and become useless. This is hard on the gear end of the pump. Open a valve that drains it at the end of every job. It’ll make your pump run smoother and longer.
With good maintenance, a mud pump will last a lifetime, or more!
For more Wayne Nash columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/wayne.