Sniffing Out The Details Of Dredge System Fittings

Sniffer valve on the discharge line
Sniffer valve on the discharge line

The mixture carrying system of a cutter suction dredge, is more than just a cutter and a pump in a pontoon. In the dredge system, there are many valves and fittings, that make the system work. One question I was asked, what these extra valves do. Actually, there are several valves, that are worth mentioning. The sniffer valve, the vacuum relief valve and the non-return valve. For working in the designed operating point, you don’t need them. But, to get there and back, they can be quite useful.

Dredge system layout and fitting locations
Dredge system layout and fitting locations

The first valve is affectionally called a sniffer valve. A more descriptive name would be ‘discharge line de aerator valve’. Usually, it consists of a floating ball in a cage with a seat at the top, that can be closed by the ball. Provided the ladder is already under water and starting up the dredge pump from a fresh situation, probably air is in the high onboard discharge pipe sections on deck. Behind the dredge, the line goes down again and the air is basically trapped, preventing the dredge pump from properly priming. The sniffer valve allows the air to escape and the water to enter the floating discharge pipe at the water line. Problem solved.

Arrangement and operation of a sniffer valve
Arrangement and operation of a sniffer valve

On the other hand, when the discharge pressure falls, the ball floats down with the receding water level. This opens the top and allows air to enter the pipe again. Which is no problem as it can be expelled again through the same sniffer valve. When the water can flow away from the high section on board, this will break the water volume in the system. When opening the pump, only the small section between pump outlet and bulk head passage will fall in the pump well. Or, if properly executed: need to be drained and discharged.

A last function of the sniffer valve is in case there is a blockage of the suction pipe. There will be no new mixture flowing in, but the mixture in the discharge line still has a lot of momentum. For a 1 km, 500ø mm pipe, the mixture has the equivalent momentum of a 75 ton truck barrelling down the pipe at 80 km/h. You don’t stop that in an instant either. The mixture keeps flowing and draws a vacuum. The sniffer ball drops and allows air to enter the pipe.

A better way to prevent the vacuum, is to install a vacuum valve in the suction line. That will allow water in and enable you to clean the discharge line without a cavitating pump. Once the suction block is removed, the relief valve opens again and mixture can be inserted in the dredge line system.

Suction pipe vacuum relief valve
Suction pipe vacuum relief valve

In case there is a high discharge height, the mixture mass will not be broken by the sniffer valve. The geodetic pressure will close the sniffer and all of the mixture volume wants to return through the system out of the suction mouth; or open pump, swamping the dredge. To prevent this from happening, a non-return valve can be mounted in the onboard discharge line.

On board discharge non-return valve
On board discharge non-return valve

These fittings will cover most operational situations. There might be even more for exceptional situations, depending on the design choices by the manufacturer1 and to the taste of the owner.2 e.g. We provide a suction deaerating valve. Any ideas about such a provision?

Suction deaerating valve
Suction deaerating valve

References

  1. Cutter Suction Dredger, Damen
  2. Product Finder Dredging, Damen

See also

Sunken Treasures From ¡VAMOS! At Silvermines

Comment

04/03/2020, Mark:

I did receive the right comment about to the purpose of the suction deaerator valve. It is indeed for letting out the air trapped in the suction pipe when the ladder is being lowered. It could be argued that the air will also leave through the sniffer valve at the back of the dredge. If somehow, the air would have trouble escaping all the way to the back, the pump will be very slow in priming itself. Providing a deaerator on the local high at the bulkhead passage, the suction line can purge the air there and the pump starts quicker.

 

When does your pump suck?

Regular pump inspection

One of the key process indicators for the performance of your dredge pump, is the capability to work with low suction pressure. The parameter involved is called ‘Required Net Positive Suction Head’. Which translates more or less to: ‘the head value at a specific point required to keep the fluid from cavitating.1’ Effectively, this is the extra pressure above the vapour pressure. From the pump inlet to the blade, there still is a pressure drop. And the geometry and the form of the blade influence this pressure drop. The operator will notice this as when the blade wears down, the pressure drop becomes greater and the required suction pressure goes up. Resulting in less performance and less production. Regular inspection of the pump will warn the operator of prospective deterioration.

Test arrangement NPSHr

Normally, the measurement of the NPSHr requires a valve in the suction pipe and a valve in the discharge pipe to control the flow. Every time you want a data point, you have to adjust both valves and iteratively return to the same flow conditions, albeit with a different suction pressure. This usually takes a lot of time and one hour per data point is not uncommon. Klaas Slager presented an alternative method at the CEDA Dredging Days2. His method is more suitable for testing the NPSHr as installed in a dredge. It does not involve the dredge valves and is quicker to execute. It is optimised to check if the NPSHr wanders off nominal and thus will yield an indication on the condition of the pump. If the internal pressure drop increases, there is less differential pressure available in the suction pipe for the dredging process. Less concentration or less capacity, or less in the combination of the two: less production.

NPSHr measurement processing

Instead of varying the flow conditions, he proposes to vary the pump speed. This will influence both flow and suction pressure at the same time. However, by cleverly applying the affinity laws and presenting the operating conditions in a dimensionless scale, the cavition is immediately visible. A quick post processing will reveal any wandering of the NPSHr conditions. As this can be implemented in the PLC and executed during start-up every day, the operator will receive a daily update on the suction condition of his pump and can plan actions accordingly. This will prevent unnecessary delays and downtime.

Worn down suction side of a dredge pump deteriorates NPSHr

This concludes my scheduled series of posts about the CEDA Dredging Days. There was much more to discover. The interactive session was fun. There were a couple of interesting presentations. And I’ve seen some innovations at the exhibition. So, I will write some more reports, although at a more leisurely pace of about once a week. Later on, the other promised topics will be covered3. I’ll keep you posted.

References

  1. NPSH
  2. Presentation Klaas Slager
  3. Discover Dredging: A new personal website for dredging enthusiasts

See also

CEDA Dredging Days