Improving the Efficiency and Reliability of Water Systems Using Variable Speed Pumps and Pressure Sensors

Using Variable Speed Pumps and Pressure Sensors FEATURED STORY Improving the Efficiency and Reliability of Water Systems

Water distribution has been a long-standing global challenge that has troubled the world for decades. The emergence of high-rise buildings in urban areas presents a fresh focus for design engineers. When condominium residents encounter issues with their water distribution system, such as delayed hot water supply, they tend to run the tap until it warms up. Unfortunately, this leads to substantial water wastage and unnecessary energy consumption involved in pumping and distributing water. Moreover, consistent water pressure is vital for appliances like dishwashers and laundry machines, as well as for industrial and manufacturing machinery.

By Jim Xia, Product Management Director, Sensata Technologies

To address these concerns in water distributions systems, it is important to understand two key fundamental needs aimed at enhancing high rise building, water distribution systems. Firstly, there is a need to boost efficiency to minimize water wastage. Secondly, the reliability of installed systems must be improved, which will reduce the ongoing costs associated with maintenance and repairs.

Challenging Old-World Thinking

Pumps that are used in older industrial water systems utilize pressure switches calibrated to activate the pump when the water pressure falls below a specific threshold (e.g., below 50 psi) and deactivate when the pressure surpasses a given factor (e.g., 70 psi). While the operation is functional at this point, it means that the pump is running either at maximum speed or not at all. These sudden changes to accommodate demands can exert wear- and- tear on the unit’s components, resulting in reliability issues and frequent repairs. The traditional industrial water system is undoubtedly reliable; however, these older systems tend to be more expensive and less efficient.

Design engineers are then encouraged to provide alternative solutions to accommodate this obstacle. One of the most common solutions would be to replace the Variable Speed Pumps (VSP). A VSP uses a component called a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) or Variable Speed Drive (VSD) which aids in optimizing the pump speed and power consumption while maintaining a steady outlet pressure of the pump. In this scenario, pressure sensors are vital.

A pressure sensor converts the outlet pressure to an electrical signal that is used by the VFD to adjust the speed of the pump. The sensor can be used as an integral part of the pump design or alternatively, mounted externally as a part of a total solution.

Similarly, engineers can mount a high cut-out pressure switch to prevent the pump from outputting excessive pressure. An additional pressure sensor can also be mounted to the inlet of the pump to monitor efficiency.

The Benefits of Variable Speed  Pumps (VSP)

The use of pressure sensors in modern Variable Speed Pump designs can be compartmentalized into three key areas: efficiency, reliability, and user experience. The utilization of VSDs in pumps in tandem with pressure sensors to maintain a consistent pressure output has been demonstrated to be a more efficient approach. In fact, test results have shown that these pumps are up to 30% more efficient compared to conventional technologies.

Operating the variable speed pump at lower speeds and avoiding a ‘stop/start’ cycle can aid in improved reliability, extended lifespan, and reduced downtime. Using a variable speed pump also ensures smooth operation, these units adjust their speed and flow rate based on the system’s demand, resulting in gradual transitions when starting or stopping the pump. This minimizes the potential hydraulic shocks, contributing to the pump’s reliability and reducing the possibility of sudden failures.

A VSP ultimately translates into an improved customer experience. Even though these systems are found in challenging environments, such as the high-rise buildings mentioned above, reliable water pressure can be maintained. Beyond this, customers can also easily modify the pressure of the water supply. Greater connectivity can be utilized with the Internet of Things (IoT), making the pump a smart pump that provides key data which can be used to provide future maintenance solutions. By using IoT connectivity, building managers can remotely monitor and regulate water usage, in addition to emergency shutoffs to reduce spillage or allocate the highest water pressure in times of dire emergency.

Use and Application of Variable Speed Pumps

The advancements in design, particularly the reduced costs and sizes of electronic components in Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) and Variable Speed Drives (VSD), VSPs have become more affordable and accessible for residential applications. The growing adoption of VSPs in residential settings is not solely implemented to reduce cost but, more significantly, to the increasing demand driven by several factors. Global urbanization, often accompanied by inconsistent municipal water supplies and power requirements, has presented significant challenges in effectively delivering water.

As a result, the demand for reliable water distribution has increased the usage of VSPs beyond traditional commercial and industrial sectors. This shift in application demonstrates the growing recognition of VSPs as a solution to the pressing challenge of ensuring efficient water delivery in urban areas. In response to this, there has been a spur of innovation among sensor manufacturers.

Maintaining consistent water pressure throughout each level of a tall building has long been a challenging task. This is precisely where the latest generation of pumps and sensors demonstrate their capabilities, replacing the outdated and inconsistent approach of relying on a rooftop water reservoir for water supply.

With the integration of sensors, variations in water pressure can be detected, enabling the pump to adjust its operation accordingly. This means that the pump can work slightly harder when necessary to maintain a steady pressure and relieve pressure without resorting to the extremes of being fully turned “off” or “on.” By operating at a consistent rate, pumps function with greater efficiency and experience reduced failure, optimizing overall cost of the pump.


Companies developing and implementing new technology water pumps and pressure sensors play a vital role in design plans for high-rise buildings. For example, Sensata’s 60/70CP range pressure sensors aid in the reliable pumping of liquids.

The utilization of pressure sensors and variable speed pumps in water distribution systems provides several benefits. Pressure sensors allow the detection of different variations of water pressure, offering precise control and maintenance of constant pressure. Variable speed pumps can adjust pump speed and flow rate according to demand, enhance energy efficiency and minimize wear and tear on the pump components.

Moreover, the cost optimization and enhanced designs of these technologies have made them more accessible, extending benefits to both commercial and industrial applications as well as residential settings. With the advantages of enhanced efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, the integration of pressure sensors and variable speed pumps represents a significant step forward in achieving efficient and sustainable water distribution systems.

About the Author

Jim Xia is the global Product Management Director for the industrial pressure and temperature portfolio at Sensata Technologies.  With over 20 years of expertise, he guides products from ideation to value delivery to support the needs of industrial, HVAC and refrigeration markets.  Jim has earned an Electronics Engineering master’s degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and is pursuing a doctorate in Business Administration at the Université de Lyon.

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Shopia Ketheeswararajah is a feature editor contributing to Pump Engineer, Stainless steel World Americas, Hose and Coupling World, and other related print & online media.