7 Questions You Must Ask Before Selecting a Pump for Your External Vacuum Lifter

Vaccum lifter suctioning to glass

Selecting a vacuum pump for your battery-powered materials handling vacuum lifter is an important decision. It's likely the single most expensive component in your vacuum lifter. It can affect its ability to perform reliably, quickly, and consistently in field-based environments – and would be a disaster if it stopped working in the middle of lifting large, heavy, expensive materials.

You need to do a lot of research before choosing a diaphragm vacuum pump, and there are many factors to consider. If you leap in without doing your homework, you could overpay, commit to a vacuum pump that requires more maintenance than you prefer, or end up with a system that your customers must recharge throughout the day, which negatively impacts their productivity.

Doing your research will help you make educated and informed decisions about the features and functions that make the most sense for your vacuum lifter’s specific needs - and give you a competitive edge in the marketplace.

7 questions to ask before selecting a diaphragm vaccum pump:

  1. What are my flow and cycle time requirements?
  2. How long will a diaphragm pump last on a given charge?
  3. Is the diaphragm pump durable and easy to maintain?
  4. What features of the diaphragm pump can be customized?
  5. How much does a diaphragm vacuum pump cost?
  6. Can I try the diaphragm pump to test out my design?
  7. What is the typical lead time for a diaphragm pump?

Vacuum Lifter Flow & Cycle Time Requirements

Calculating Your Flow Rate

Flow rate is a critical factor to consider when evaluating a diaphragm pump for your vacuum lifter. A diaphragm pump's flow rate measures the volume of air that the unit can move within a given time interval, typically measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm), liters per minute (lpm), or other such units of volume/time. Note that vacuum pumps have flow ratings that are measured when there is zero resistance – or "wide open." This is a nominal rating and should be read with caution because the flow rate drops as soon as resistance is applied, such as trying to reach a specific vacuum level.

We recommend calculating performance measured as "time to evacuate X volume to Y vacuum level ." Regardless, the first step in the selection process is to approximate the volume of air that needs to be removed for lifting.

Establishing a Target Cycle Time

The key measure of performance that drives your flow requirement is "cycle time" – or the amount of time it will take to allow your vacuum lifter to reach a sufficient vacuum to initiate the lifting operation. The higher the flow rate, the shorter the cycle time.

If you select a (lower price) pump with a low flow rating, it will take longer to reach the appropriate suction to lift materials. The hidden cost risk here is customer satisfaction and retention. A long time to achieve suction directly impacts your customer's productivity levels and their satisfaction with your vacuum lifter.

Therefore, the second step is to establish a target "cycle time," say 30 seconds, for example. If this is the target, then the pump selection process becomes "what is the best pump to evacuate my estimated volume of air ("X") to my target vacuum level in 30 seconds?"

How long will a diaphragm vacuum pump last on a given charge?

Your customers need your battery-powered vacuum lifters to work reliability all day without being interrupted to change the battery in the middle of a job. At the same time, they need your vacuum lifter to produce enough suction to attach to and lift materials safely.

Choosing a diaphragm pump that can meet both your power and efficiency requirements is one of the most critical factors to the success of your vacuum lifters.

The motor itself consumes about 50% of the power of a diaphragm pump. About 40% is in the head design (pushing the air through valves, etc.) and about 10% in mechanical efficiencies.

One good measure of performance for a battery-powered vacuum pump is lpm/W: how many liters per minute does this pump deliver per Watt of power?

Once you know your battery’s capacity (Watt-Hours), it is easy to estimate how long a pump will last. Divide the capacity (say 48 Amp-Hours for a typical car battery) by the power required by the pump (say 16W), and you have a rough idea of how long the pump will last on a charge (48/16=3 hours).

Our recommendation for battery-powered vacuum lifters is to choose a diaphragm vacuum pump with the highest lpm/W rating.

Is the diaphragm pump durable and easy to maintain?

You want to ensure that your vacuum lifters are reliable and safe. A diaphragm pump that stops working in the middle of a job results in substantial costs to replace materials your lifter was lifting, downtime to fix the issue, and could be catastrophic to the safety of operators. We recommend looking for diaphragm pumps made with high-quality components that fit your application to give you a longer service life.

The durability of your diaphragm pump also directly correlates with the frequency of maintenance required to keep your vacuum lifter working correctly. In some cases, this means pulling the vacuum lifter out of service and downtime for your customers. The operation and maintenance of oil-free diaphragm vacuum pumps, in general, are significantly lower than pumps that require oil.

When selecting a diaphragm pump for field-based vacuum lifting, ensure it meets the following criteria to ensure the longest mean time between failures (MBTF):

  • The valves are easy to get to and replace
  • The diaphragm is easy to get to and replace
  • Valve and diaphragm materials are of high quality (typically silicone)
  • Bearings are of the highest quality
  • Motors, especially brushed, have a minimum lifetime of at least 1,000 hours

Diaphragm vacuum pump customization options

When choosing a pump for your battery-powered vacuum lifter, you want one that is simple to integrate into your product and helps you stand out from your competitors. Selecting a custom diaphragm vacuum pump with unique performance capabilities and innovative features that no one else has gives you a competitive edge - and the ability to become the vendor of choice for battery-powered materials handling vacuum lifters.

The most requested customization features for vacuum lifters include:

  • fit-for-purpose motor type and performance
  • port configuration to minimize plumbing
  • specialized wiring and connectors
  • distinct mounting specifications

Experienced OEM custom diaphragm vacuum pump manufacturers can help you achieve just about anything you can dream up. The key is to have a clear business goal behind your choice for custom design.

What does a diaphragm vacuum pump cost?

When designing a vacuum lifter, you want to reduce the cost of materials used in development to increase your profit margins. However, looking for the lowest price tag isn’t the best way to determine cost.

For example, a well-designed vacuum pump will keep a consistent flow rate throughout its operating range. In contrast, a cheaper unit may list similar specifications but quickly drop its speed, delivering an unsatisfactory performance.

The total cost of a vacuum pump involves more than the upfront purchase price. When budgeting, you need to consider the impact the following have on the price and performance.

  • Motor power and efficiency
  • Quality and durability of components
  • Custom design fees
  • Shipping and insurance fees
  • Assembly and installation costs
  • Frequency and cost of maintenance
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Pump protection (e.g., filters, mufflers, etc.)
  • Diaphragm lifetime

With many variables involved, advice from an expert can help you select or design the best performing, most cost-effective diaphragm pump to give your vacuum lifter a competitive edge.

Diaphragm vacuum pump trial units

Whether you are looking to replace your existing pump with a diaphragm vacuum pump or design something new, it is vital that the pump is the right fit for your application and works well with your mechanical design.

Look for OEM diaphragm pump manufacturers that provide complimentary trial units to quickly determine if the pump you are interested in will meet your engineering, power, flow, and cycle needs. You may need to test a different model or request a custom design if it doesn't.

The trial step is also important because it often uncovers how responsive a pump manufacturer is and if they will be able to meet your needs for the duration of your partnership.

Diaphragm vacuum pump lead time

The lead time of diaphragm vacuum pumps impacts the time you can bring our materials handling vacuum lifter to market. Various factors impact the lead time of a customized diaphragm vacuum pump. The most common factors include:

  • Unique motor requirements
  • Custom design process and testing
  • Current transport/shipping regulations and issues
  • Tooling for custom molds or manufacturing processes
  • Backlog of work on other projects

Getting the best possible solution is often a balance of using what is off-the-shelf versus a customized solution which, although it might take longer upfront, could yield the best long-term advantage for your design and your business.

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