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Positive Displacement Pumps vs Other Common Pump Types: A Comparison

Pumps play a vital role in many industries, facilitating the transfer of fluids in a wide range of applications. While there are numerous pump types available, they can be broadly classified into two categories: positive displacement (PD) pumps and dynamic pumps.

Here, we explore the key differences between positive displacement pumps and other common pump types, focusing on their operating principles, advantages, disadvantages, and typical applications.

Operating Principles of Positive Displacement & Dynamic Pumps

First, let’s begin by examining how PD pumps and dynamic pumps work:

Positive Displacement Pumps: Operating Principle

PD pumps transfer fluid by capturing a fixed volume of fluid within a cavity and then mechanically displacing it into the discharge pipe. This process is achieved through reciprocating or rotary elements, such as pistons, diaphragms, gears, or screws. Examples of PD pumps include gear pumps, diaphragm pumps, piston pumps, and progressive cavity pumps.

Dynamic Pumps: Operating Principle

Dynamic pumps, also known as kinetic pumps, transfer fluid by imparting kinetic energy to the fluid through the action of a rotating impeller or a spinning disk. This kinetic energy is then converted into pressure energy, propelling the fluid through the discharge pipe. Examples of dynamic pumps include centrifugal pumps, axial flow pumps, and regenerative turbine pumps.

Comparing Positive Displacement & Dynamic Pumps

Here, we contrast selection criteria for PD pumps and dynamic pumps in various key areas, including flow rate and pressure, viscosity, efficiency, pulsation and shear sensitivity, self-priming capability, and maintenance and wear.

Flow Rate & Pressure

PD pumps deliver a consistent flow rate regardless of the discharge pressure, making them ideal for applications that require precise dosing or constant flow. In contrast, the flow rate of dynamic pumps is highly dependent on the system pressure, with the flow rate decreasing as the pressure increases.


PD pumps can handle fluids with a wide range of viscosities, including high-viscosity fluids which can be challenging for dynamic pumps. Dynamic pumps, particularly centrifugal pumps, are generally more suited for low to medium-viscosity fluids, as high-viscosity fluids can result in reduced efficiency and increased wear.


Positive displacement pumps typically have higher volumetric efficiency than dynamic pumps, especially when dealing with high-viscosity fluids or high-pressure applications. Dynamic pumps may offer higher overall efficiency for low-viscosity fluids and low-pressure applications.

Pulsation & Shear Sensitivity

PD pumps can generate pulsating flow, which may not be suitable for certain applications, such as those involving shear-sensitive fluids or where a smooth constant flow is required. However, there are possible pump/porting design options that can minimize the impact of pulsations. Dynamic pumps, particularly centrifugal pumps, generate a smoother flow with less pulsation.

Self-Priming Capability

Most PD pumps have self-priming capabilities, allowing them to handle fluids with entrained gases or operate under suction lift conditions. Dynamic pumps typically require a flooded suction or an external priming system to function effectively.

Maintenance & Wear

PD pumps generally have more moving parts and can be more susceptible to wear, particularly in applications involving abrasive or corrosive fluids. However, with proper pump selection and maintenance, you can minimize wear and tear. Dynamic pumps, especially centrifugal pumps, tend to have simpler designs with fewer moving parts, which can translate to lower maintenance requirements.

Which Pump Type Will You Choose?

Selecting the right pump type for a specific application requires a thorough understanding of the differences between positive displacement and dynamic pumps. By considering the aforementioned factors, you can make informed decisions that optimize system performance, efficiency, and reliability.

Ultimately, the choice between a positive displacement pump and a dynamic pump will depend on the unique requirements of each application, with each pump type offering distinct advantages and disadvantages suited for different scenarios.

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