The positive displacement mud pump is a key component of the drilling process and its lifespan and reliability are critical to a successful operation.

The fluid end is the most easily damaged part of the mud pump. The pumping process occurs within the fluid end with valves, pistons, and liners. Because these components are high-wear items, many pumps are designed to allow quick replacement of these parts.

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Due to the nature of its operation, pistons, liners, and valve assemblies will wear and are considered expendable components. There will be some corrosion and metallurgy imperfections, but the majority of pump failures can be traced back to poor maintenance, errors during the repair process, and pumping drilling fluid with excessive solids content.

What are some of the telltale signs of wear of these parts?

A few signs include cut piston rubber, discoloration, pistons that are hard to remove, scored liners, valve and seat pitting or cracks, valve inserts severely worn, cracked, or completely missing, and even drilling fluids making their way to the power end of the pump.

mud pump valve

A washout occurs when fluid and solids enter the area behind or underneath a valve seat and erode the sealing surface.

The fluid end of a positive displacement triplex pump presents many opportunities for issues. The results of these issues in such a high-pressure system can mean expensive downtime on the pump itself and, possibly, the entire rig — not to mention the costly repair or replacement of the pump. To reduce severe vibration caused by the pumping process, many pumps incorporate both a suction and discharge pulsation dampener; these are connected to the suction and discharge manifolds of the fluid end. These dampeners reduce the cavitation effect on the entire pump which increases the life of everything within the pump.

RELATED: Mud Pump Maintenance

Poor maintenance — such as improper valve and seat installation — is another factor. Improper cleaning when replacing a valve seat can leave sand or debris in the valve seat area; preventing the new seat from properly forming a seal with the fluid cylinder, causing a pathway for a washout to occur. It is important to pull up on a seat firmly by hand and make sure it doesn’t pop out and is properly seated. The seats must be seated well, before resuming repairs. You should never reuse a valve seat if at all possible.

fluid end of mud pump

The fluid end is the most easily damaged part of the mud pump. The pumping process occurs within the fluid end with valves, pistons, and liners. Because these components are high-wear items, many pumps are designed to allow quick replacement of these parts.

A washout occurs when fluid and solids enter the area behind or underneath a valve seat and erode the sealing surface. Washouts are usually caused by one of three issues: a worn or cracked valve seat, improper cleaning of the valve seat and deck which creates a poor seat seal, and excessive sand content in your drilling fluid. Worn or cracked valve seats can allow fluid to enter the area around the valve seat and seat deck, creating a wash point on the valve seat and causing it to cut into the fluid cylinder and seat deck.

Additionally, the throat (inside diameter) can begin to wash out from extended usage hours or rather quickly when the fluid solids content is excessive. When this happens it can cut all the way through the seat and into the fluid end module/seat deck. This causes excessive expense not only from a parts standpoint but also extended downtime for parts delivery and labor hours to remove and replace the fluid module. With that said, a properly operated and maintained mud recycling system is vital to not only the pump but everything the drilling fluid comes in contact with downstream.

If you spot a washout on any of the fluid end parts, you need to replace the part immediately. A washout can get much worse very quickly, leading to costly repairs.

Terry Flynn is vice president of sales and marketing at Tulsa Rig Iron.

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