Choosing the right vacuum pump for your metallurgy application

By Dr Graham Rogers
heat treat image

The metallurgical sector covers a wide range of processes including alloy production, single crystal fabrication, steel degassing and annealing by heat treatment. One common factor is the use of large volume chambers, often with substantial gas loads requiring significant pumping speeds.

For annealing and steel degassing, a forevacuum pump or forevacuum pumps are sufficient. Vacuum Induction Metal furnaces - the choice for single crystal aluminium and alloy production - will require the addition of a high vacuum pump.

Rotary vane and, more particularly, piston pumps were once the forevacuum pumps of choice. But oil usage and the cost of oil disposal, combined with reliability issues and service costs, have meant dry screw pump have become the default solution.

In addition, screw pumps can handle the particles frequently generated within VIM furnaces, which leads to improved uptimes, no oil back streaming, and reduced running costs. The diagram below gives the design of a dry screw pump. Compression is achieved by a variable pitch on the rotors.

Screw Pumps - Principle of Operation

1 Pumping chamber

2 Suction side

3 Rotors

4 Direction of gas flow

5 Rotor rotation direction

6 Atmospheric pressure side



Maximum speeds from a screw pump are typically 630- 650m3/h. It is likely that additional throughput is required: this can be achieved by adding a roots pump – mode of operation shown below.

Roots Blower - Principle of Operation


  • Impellers revolving in opposite directions
  • In position I and II, the intake volume is increased. Inlet pressure: pHV
  • In position III, a part of the volume is separated from the high vacuum side.
  • In position IV, this volume is opened into the direction of the forevacuum side. The gas exits the Roots pump in the direction of the backing pump. Discharge pressure: pFV


The development of a frequency convertor version allows the rotational speed of the impellers to be increased significantly. This maximum increase of rotation is dependent on the size and weight of the impeller. Thus a 700 m3/h pump operating at 50 Hz can have its rotational speed increased to 120 Hz, allowing a pumping speed of 1680 m3/h. A larger 2500 m3/h unit is able to have its pumping speed increased to 5000 m3/h using a frequency of 100 Hz. Pumping speeds can be tuned to optimise process requirements whilst the pumps can be set to a lower frequency standby mode thereby reducing power consumption.

As already described, particles are a particular issue with many metallurgical processes. The chamber typically operates at an elevated temperature and high gas loads are common. Consequently, especially for the pumping speed requirement, an Oil Booster pump would be an appropriate choice. This type of pump is better able to handle these large flows in the required vacuum range of 10-4 to 10-5 mbar. Diffusion pumps exhibit lower throughput but do provide lower ultimate pressures.

The diagram below illustrates the pumping principle:

Oil Booster Pump - Principle of Operation


The oil booster pump operates in a similar manner to a diffusion pump by employing oil of low pressure.  The high speed jet is generated through a jet assembly, the oil is gaseous when entering the nozzles.  Within the nozzles the flow changes from laminar to molecular.

Often, several jets are used in series to enhance the pumping action.  The outside of the diffusion pump is water cooled, as the vapour jet hits the outer cooled shell of the diffusion pump, the working fluid condenses and is recovered and directed back to the boiler.  the pumped gases continue flowing to the base of the pump at increased pressure.  The oil booster pump has an additional ejector stage which increases pumping speed between 10-4 and 10-5 mbar which is a requirement for many metallurgical processes.

Oil contamination from the pump is an issue, and baffles at the high vacuum port are recommended to minimise contamination of the product. However these will result in a noticeable reduction in pumping speed and this needs to be factored in determining pumpdown times.

You will also note a small oil catch pot at the forevacuum port, which is designed to reduce carry over into the dry pump. This alone is not an issue, but particles are also carried into the pump. These can mix with the silicone oil of the oil booster pump and, if left unchecked, can act as a grinding paste, increasing the small rotor tolerances of the pump. This is in turn will result in poorer ultimate pressure over time. It is recommended that, if the process produces significant particles, a fine inlet particle filter is used to avoid this problem. Cleaning or replacing this filter should form part of the routine maintenance schedule.

  • Dry screw pumps offer an ideal solution to many metallurgical processes.
  • Addition of a roots pump can greatly increase pumping speeds.
  • Frequency convertor versions of roots pumps offer higher pumping rates whilst maintaining a smaller footprint compared to traditional types.
  • An oil booster pump offers high throughput in the typical 10-4 to 10-5 mbar process pressure regime.


Tags: Heat Treatment

About Dr Graham Rogers

Dr Graham Rogers
Dr Graham Rogers has extensive experience across the world of vacuum, having been involved in the detailed specification and technical selling of the complete range of products, principally for Leybold, over the past 30 years. He brings in-depth knowledge from the metallurgy, chemical, analytical, R&D and semiconductor sectors, and has a passion for helping customers in solving problems and developing solutions that will bring real process improvements and value. Graham is a science graduate from Oxford University, UK, where he gained his degree in Chemistry and a DPhil in Physical Chemistry. His journey into vacuum science began early on in his career when worked developing semiconductor processes particularly thin film coating, this led him into the exciting and inspiring world of vacuum and eventually Leybold. We are delighted to have Graham as a resident Consultant for Leybold, where he is able to share his knowledge and insight through our vacuum academy training, videos and blogs.

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