The characteristics of flow instabilities as well as the cavitation phenomenon in a centrifugal pump operating at low flow rates were studied by experimental and numerical means, respectively. Specially, a three-dimensional (3D) numerical model of cavitation was applied to simulate the internal flow through the pump and suitably long portions of the inlet and outlet ducts. As expected, cavitation proved to occur over a wide range of low flow rates, producing a characteristic creeping shape of the head-drop curve and developing in the form of nonaxisymmetric cavities. As expected, the occurrence of these cavities, attached to the blade suction sides, was found to depend on the pump's flow coefficient and cavitation number. The experiments focused on the flow visualization of the internal flow patterns by means of high-speed digital movies and in the analysis of the inlet pressure pulsations near the impeller eye by means of fast response pressure transducers. The experimental results showed that the unsteady behavior of the internal flow in the centrifugal pump operating at low flow rates has the characteristics of a peculiar low-frequency oscillation. Meanwhile, under certain conditions, the low-frequency pressure fluctuations were closely correlated to the flow instabilities induced by the occurrence of cavitation phenomena at low flow rates. Finally, the hydraulic performances of the centrifugal pump predicted by numerical simulations were in good agreement with the corresponding experimental data.

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