What Is a Vacuum Pump?

Similar to air compressors, vacuum pumps can be used in a variety of industries for many different applications. Depending on your needs, there is likely a vacuum that is perfect for your situation. Here is what you need to know about vacuum pumps, how they work, the different types of pumps, and the various ways you can use them to help your business. 


Industrial vacuum systems are machines that pump gas molecules or liquids out of sealed containers to create a vacuum. Even though this technology has been around since the 17th century, it has recently evolved to suit a wide range of applications. These devices are designed to fit specific pressure requirements, so getting the correct type of vacuum pump for your needs is essential. 

How Industrial Vacuum Pumps Work

A vacuum is a space without matter where the internal gaseous pressure is below atmospheric pressure. The primary function of a vacuum pump is to change the pressure in the space, either chemically or mechanically, to create a full or partial vacuum.

When pressure is introduced, it will try to equalize across the space by pushing molecules. So a vacuum pump basically moves molecules from one part of a space to another by changing low and high-pressure states.

As the molecules are moved within the space, it becomes increasingly hard to move additional ones, requiring more vacuum power. So, the pressure ranges that vacuum pumps can handle will vary. These are divided into several groups.

  • Extreme High Vacuum < 10-11 mbar / < 7.5-11 Torr
  • Ultra-High Vacuum 10-7 to 10-11 mbar / 7.5-7 to 7.5-11 Torr
  • High Vacuum 10-3 to 10-7 mbar / 7.5-3 to 7.5-7 Torr
  • Fine / Medium Vacuum 1 to 10-3 mbar / 0.75 to 7.5-3 Torr
  • Rough / Low Vacuum 1000 to 1 mbar /  760 to 0.75 Torr

Wet vs. Dry Vacuum Pumps

The various types of pump technologies can be separated into either wet or dry type pumps, depending on whether or not the gas is exposed to water or oil during the pumping process. With wet pumps, water or oil is used to lubricate or seal components. But these fluids can also contaminate the gasses being pumped.

Dry pumps don’t use any type of lubrication. Instead, these types of pumps depend on tight clearances between the pump’s static and rotating parts, diaphragm, or dry polymer (PTFE) seals to create a separation between the pumping mechanism and the material being moved. There is a lower risk of contamination with dry pumps.

Different Types of Vacuum Pumps

Because vacuum pumps can be used for so many different types of applications, they have different designs to accommodate these needs. Here are some of the most common types of industrial vacuum pumps you’re likely to encounter. 

1. Rotary Vane Pumps

The first rotary vane vacuum pump was patented in 1874 by an inventor named Charles Barnes. It remains the most common type of pump used in the aerospace and automotive industries.

This pump has a large circular motor that operates within a round, spacious cavity. The movement of the pump forms the vane chambers.

A rotary vane pump can usually handle high capacity loads and varying demands. The horsepower on these pumps will probably range from 10 to 15, with a direct drive NEMA motor and a check valve. 

2. Reciprocating Pumps

Another one of the most dependable and oldest types of pumps, a reciprocating pump is used in the pharmaceutical, chemical, and cosmetics industries. This type of pump is durable and about 90 percent efficient. It is ideal for low flow, high-pressure applications like water jet cutting. 

3. Dry Claw Pumps

A dry claw vacuum pump provides quiet and high-level performance. It uses twin rotating rotors that move in opposite directions but never come into contact with one another. These pumps are safe and considered a good choice for their durability. They are often used in wood processing, wastewater management, printing, and packing industries. 

4. Liquid Ring Pumps

A liquid ring vacuum pump works using an eccentrically-attached impeller with multiple balds. The rotating impeller moves the liquid inside the pump to create a liquid ring, with the expansion of air forming a vacuum. This type of pump is often used for handling wet and dry gasses. It can remove gas or water from machines and is used for things like petroleum refining, paper production, and soil remediation. 

Applications for Vacuum Pumps

Vacuum pumps have multiple uses across engineering and industries, including the following.

  • Oil refining
  • Semiconductor processing
  • Medical pumps
  • Water purification
  • Uranium enrichment for nuclear power plants
  • Table hold down for aircraft machining of parts

Industrial vacuum pumps also play a vital role in operating some equipment and manufactured devices, including the following.

  • Air conditioning systems
  • Electric lamps
  • Ink-jet printers
  • Automotive engines
  • Dairy equipment
  • Dental equipment
  • Radiotherapy devices

How to Choose the Right Vacuum Pump

Choosing between the different types of vacuum pumps can be challenging, with so many options available. Here are the factors you should consider when making your choice.

  • Level of vacuum One of the main factors you’ll want to consider is the level of vacuum you need for your application. This will determine how much pressure the pump generates. 
  • Rate of removal — The flow rate of a pump is based on the volume it can handle. A higher flow rate means it can remove liquids or gasses more quickly. 
  • Usage — How do you plan to use the pump? A larger vacuum pump is typically rated and designed for continuous operation, while smaller units can handle periodic duty. If you try to run a smaller pump continuously, there’s a good chance the pump will not perform to your expectations. 
  • Power requirements — Not all pumps are made alike, but most of them require little power input. Although power requirements shouldn’t impact a pump’s functionality, they may affect the overall efficiency of your operations. 
  • Time — Don’t forget to consider how long it takes for a pump to perform its functions. For example, if you are running a fast-moving operation, a high-volume that transfers molecules rapidly may be the better choice. If you’re in no rush, a small pump may suffice.

Whatever your particular application or industry you’re in, there is a vacuum pump that is right for your needs. If you have any questions about these devices and their usage, please contact us.

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