Skip to content

Mastering Pump Performance Curves

Mastering Pump Performance Curves


Understanding pump performance curves is essential for anyone involved in pump selection, usage, and maintenance. These curves provide vital information about a pump’s effectiveness, capability, and compatibility with specific applications. This blog will break down the fundamentals of pump performance curves, helping you maximise pump performance in your operations and make well-informed decisions.


What is a Pump Performance Curve?

A pump performance curve, also known as a pump characteristic curve, is a graphical representation that shows how a pump’s flow rate (Q) changes with varying head (H). It also indicates other critical performance parameters such as efficiency, power consumption, and NPSH (Net Positive Suction Head). These curves are essential for selecting the right pump for your application. They help ensure efficient operation and avoid issues like cavitation and excessive energy consumption.

Manufacturers typically provide detailed graphs with each pump model, illustrating the pump’s performance across various flow rates and heads. These graphs enable customers to accurately select the correct pump for their specific application by clearly displaying the efficiency, power requirements, and NPSH values. This ensures that customers can make informed decisions, choosing pumps that meet their operational needs while optimising performance and energy efficiency.


Key Components of Pump Performance Curves

Flow Rate (Q):
This is the volume of fluid that the pump can handle, typically measured in cubic meters per hour (m³/h) or litres per second (l/s).

Head (H):
This represents the height to which the pump can raise the fluid, usually measured in metres. The head can also be expressed in terms of Kilopascal (kPa). It accounts for both the static lift and any friction losses in the system.

Efficiency Curve:
This curve shows the pump’s efficiency at various points along the flow rate and head spectrum. Efficiency is a critical factor in operational cost and energy consumption.

Power Consumption:
The power curve indicates the amount of power required to operate the pump at different points on the performance curve, measured in kilowatts (kW).

NPSH Curve:
The Net Positive Suction Head curve shows the minimum suction head required to prevent cavitation at various flow rates.


How to Read a Pump Performance Curve

Identifying Operating Points

The first step in reading a pump performance curve is identifying the operating point where the pump will function most efficiently. This is the intersection of the system curve and the pump performance curve. The system curve represents the relationship between the flow rate and head for the entire system, considering factors like pipe friction and static lift. Plotting the system curve alongside the pump performance curve helps identify the most efficient operating point.

Understanding the Efficiency Zones

Pump efficiency varies with different flow rates and heads. The efficiency curve, often shown as contour lines on the performance curve graph, helps in identifying the most efficient operating zones. Operating a pump within its best efficiency point ensures optimal performance and minimises energy consumption.

Assessing Power Requirements

The power consumption curve indicates how much energy the pump will use at different flow rates and heads. Understanding this curve is important for ensuring that the pump operates within the available power capacity and for estimating operational costs.

Evaluating NPSH Requirements

NPSH is a vital factor in preventing cavitation, which can cause significant damage to the pump. The NPSH curve shows the minimum suction head required at various flow rates. Ensuring that the available NPSH is greater than the required NPSH helps in maintaining smooth pump operation and longevity.


Practical Applications

Example 1: Selecting a Pump for a New Installation

Consider a scenario where you need to select a pump for a water distribution system. If the system requires a flow rate of 40 l/s and a total head of 46m, you can plot the system curve and overlay it on the pump performance curves of various models. This helps identify the pump that operates closest to its best efficiency point at the required flow rate and head, ensuring maximum efficiency and reliability.

Example 2: Troubleshooting an Existing Pump

If an existing pump is underperforming, reading the pump performance curve can help diagnose the issue. For instance, if the actual operating point deviates significantly from the best efficiency point, it could indicate problems like improper pump sizing, or changes in system demand. By analysing the curve, you can make appropriate adjustments such as changing the impeller size, utilising an Inverter Drive to vary the speed of the motor/pump output, or modifying the system to bring the pump back to its optimal operating range.


Tips for Effective Pump Curve Analysis

Regular Monitoring:
Continuously monitor the pump’s performance and compare it with the performance curve to identify deviations early and take corrective actions.

System Curve Accuracy:
Ensure that the system curve is accurately plotted, considering all components of the system, including pipe friction, fittings, and elevation changes.

Regular maintenance of the pump and system components can help in maintaining the efficiency and reliability predicted by the performance curve.

Ensure that your team is well-trained in reading and interpreting pump performance curves, as this knowledge is vital for effective pump management.


Common Mistakes to Avoid

Ignoring Efficiency:
Overlooking the efficiency curve can lead to higher operational costs and energy consumption. Always aim to operate the pump near its best efficiency point.

Mismatched NPSH:
Failing to match the available NPSH with the required NPSH can cause cavitation, leading to severe pump damage. Always ensure that the available NPSH exceeds the required NPSH.

Improper Sizing:
Selecting a pump that is too large or too small for the application can result in inefficiencies and potential damage. Use the pump performance curve to ensure proper sizing.



Mastering the pump performance curve is crucial for anyone involved in pump selection, operation, and maintenance. By understanding the key components and learning how to read these curves, you can ensure optimal pump performance, efficiency, and longevity. Whether selecting a new pump or troubleshooting an existing one, the insights provided by pump performance curves are invaluable for making informed decisions and maintaining smooth operations.

In the ever-evolving world of fluid motion, pump performance curves serve as your roadmap to efficient and reliable pump operation. Invest time in learning how to read and interpret these curves to reap the benefits of improved performance, reduced costs, and enhanced system reliability.

For more information and insights on our pumps, visit:


Gated content

To view the rest of this article, register your interest

We will not use your details to spam you, we might occasionally send you some news and update emails

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Contact us

Helping you to build and develop your business

"*" indicates required fields

Please attach any useful and relevant documents that might help speed things up (e.g. job spec)
Drop files here or
Max. file size: 50 MB.
    This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.