The Evolution of the Pump Industry – Past, Present, and Future

Industrial pump | Learn the evolution of pumps, their historical roots, to cutting-edge advancements. The challenges and trends that shape industrial pumps.

The pump industry has evolved tremendously since its humble beginnings in ancient Egypt. From the Archimedean screw pump to the modern variable speed pumps of today, the industry has adapted to the requirements of its users and introduced new technologies and innovations. This article examines pumps’ history, evolution, and the industry’s future.

Early Beginnings: From Egyptian Buckets to Archimedes Screw Pumps

The pump concept can be traced back to 2000 BC in Egypt, where a simple mechanism using a hanging rod with a bucket at one end and a weight at the other was used to lift water. In 200 BC, the famous Greek mathematician Archimedes invented the Archimedes Screw Pump, a mechanical method of lifting low-lying water for irrigation and land drainage. This ingenious invention is still in use today.

The Advent of Mechanical Pumps and Power Sources

Mechanical pumps require a power source to operate. In their early days, this power source was the human hand. Over time, thanks to innovations in mechanical power transmission, animal, wind, and water turbines were developed and used as power sources.

In the late eighteen century, the steam engine became the main power source for pumps, and gas and early oil dominated in the 19th century. In 1790, Thomas Simpson coupled a reciprocating pump to James Watts’ rotary steam engine to drive the pumps of the municipal waterworks on the Thames.

John Gwynne filed a patent application for the first centrifugal pump in 1851, though his early steam-driven pumps were used primarily for land drainage. The first electric motor-driven pumps came on the market in the early 1900s. While electric motors dominate the pump industry today, diesel-powered pumps still play an important role in the portable pump market.

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Varying Pump Output and Performance

Since the time of Archimedes, there has been a desire to adjust the output of a pump. Originally, this was accomplished by changing the speed of the screw or by changing the depth of water above the inlet of the screw. Both concepts are still applicable today.

In 1972, Swiss engineer Martin Stahle invented the Prerostal system, which, like the Archimedes screw, changes the output of a Hidrostal screw centrifugal pump without changing its speed.

The Prerostal system utilizes gravity to drive the pump inlet head while ensuring controlled pre-vortexing through a specially designed pump basin. This innovative system offers the advantages of the Archimedes screw without the issue of clogging. Moreover, it boasts a smaller footprint and lower power consumption, making it a remarkable testament to the ongoing improvement of successful designs and experiences in the pump industry.

For all motor-driven pumps, performance can be adjusted by changing the shaft speed or the gear ratio in the drive train to the pump. Power adjustment was initially only possible via belt and pulley drives between the pump and motor for fixed-speed electric motor-driven pumps. The real improvement in this area came with the availability of two-speed motors starting in the late 1950s.

In the late 1980s, the ability to infinitely vary the speed and power of an electric motor-driven pump became available to the broader market in the form of variable-speed drives or frequency converters.

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Developments in Pump Technology

Over the years, the most important developments in pump technology have been driven by end-user application needs, such as the ability to vary a pump’s performance. This need was gradually met by pump performance and drive source changes as new technologies became available and were adopted by the pump industry.

The alternative to speed control was to throttle a valve or close a gate, wasting energy over the obstruction of flow. As system characteristics change, the need to vary pump performance within a system has been introduced previously. However, today’s improved variable speed motor and drive technology offers solutions to changing load or demand patterns in pumping systems.

While these advances have opened new opportunities, they have also brought new challenges. The biggest challenge is ensuring that the latest technology is applied appropriately and delivers the best results that add value to a system.

A variable speed drive alone does not always guarantee optimal efficiency, reliability, or responsive maintenance results. This is especially true for some wastewater applications and systems with a high static head at an operating point. In these cases, technology such as Prerostal (perhaps with two-speed motors) often leads to a better total life cost result.

The trend to better match pump performance to system requirements is likely to continue and increase, especially as we run out of opportunities to improve product efficiency and look for further savings in the system.

It’s worth noting that infinite variability in pump performance is only sometimes necessary for all systems. In such cases, alternative solutions like a belt drive, dual-speed motor, fixed-speed motor, or even the intermediate option of a prerostal system can be more suitable for Totex when fewer performance set points are required.

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What’s the Future of the Pump Industry?

As the industry approaches the limit of product efficiency, the extent of savings that can be achieved with pumps, motors, and variable-speed drives is diminishing.

The future of significant savings for pump users could come from a more comprehensive approach to pump system optimization. This requires finding the right mix of the most appropriate technology combinations for specific applications.

By looking at pumps in isolation and adapting control and monitoring to the performance of more dynamic systems, it should be possible to reduce energy consumption while increasing reliability through planned and monitoring-driven maintenance.


The pump industry evolution has been a journey of remarkable innovation, from early beginnings to sophisticated technologies. With ongoing advancements in efficiency and sustainability, pumps continue to drive industries forward. The future holds exciting opportunities for greener solutions and increased reliability, ensuring a promising outlook for this essential industry.

Industrial Pump

Industrial Pump

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