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Pumping: Passion vs. Gravity

During development of an innovative upright unit for the Italian boiler manufacturer BAXI S.p.A., ebm-papst had to go into some uncharted territory

Some success stories begin with a misunderstanding. Landshut Managing Director Stefan Brandl was excited when he returned from his business trip to Italy in February. He had spoken with long-time client Baxi about the use of a special pump, which is currently being developed in Landshut.

Soon after in March, Lamberto Del Grosso, responsible for Strategic Product Development at BDR Thermea, came to Landshut to discuss the topic in person. He showed keen interest in the presentation that Dr. Roland Keber had prepared. But at one point, Del Grosso interrupted, “Very good, but the pump is far too large.” The confusion of those from Landshut was quickly clarified; the Italians had been considering a completely different type of pump from the start. They had a condensate pump in mind.

In condensing boiler technology, combustion results in water vapour which collects as condensate in the heat exchanger. If the drain for the condensate is higher than the boiler, a condensate pump must be used to span this difference in height. Since such units are frequently installed in basements, the pump for the BAXI boiler has to be able to pump against gravity up to four meters. So far, only external pumps have been available on the market with this capacity – but BAXI wanted the pump integrated. This was a show-stopper. But expectations were high, based on twenty years of collaboration with Landshut. “From the very beginning, ebm-papst has always maintained an enthusiastic dialogue”, clarifies Del Grosso, “and always understands our needs well.”

This was true, too, of the now legendary meeting which took place in March. Brandl and Keber immediately arrived at the idea of using a condensate pump intended for clothes dryers, which Landshut had already been producing successfully in large numbers. Del Grosso was so impressed by the smart solution that he wanted to present the device at the upcoming Mostra Convegno trade fair – just two weeks away. “Then we did something very unusual,” admitted Keber. He had spontaneously said yes. Then he and his team put together the desired presentation unit in very little time – just a dummy unit, however. “Sometimes you have to go with your excitement for a project and be courageous.” The success proved him right. “Our boiler with its fake pump instantly generated huge interest”, confirmed Del Grosso, “because this design solves several problems related to boiler installation.” Only then did the real work begin. After all, a clothes dryer is not a boiler, and the differences in application are considerable. “In a clothes dryer, a delivery head of about two metres is sufficient,” explained Keber. “In this case, a significantly higher flow rate is required.” But the biggest challenge would be with the condensate itself. “In boilers it is substantially more aggressive because it contains, among other things, sulphur.” While most of the standard components of the pump can handle that, the impeller cannot. The Landshut developers had to experiment with more resistant materials.

Landshut is developing, building and measuring the pump. The colleagues from BAXI in Bassano del Grappa are defining the specifications and inspecting how the pump behaves in the boiler. Since the start of the project in March, the developers have got together five times in person and by conference call and, each time, have brought the product closer to the ideal operating point. “Since we are designing the pump, we are sending CAD data to Bassano”, said Keber, “so that they can test there whether the pump will fit correctly into the unit.”

Field testing will begin in October, and the series production in January 2013. “We are far along in this project,” emphasises the Landshut Development Manager. “This is because the customer’s passion is as high as ours.”

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