Suction specific speed (NSS) is a dimensionless number, or index, that defines
the suction hydraulics, or suction characteristics, of a centrifugal pump. The
term NSS is a misnomer because it is not a unit of speed. It is calculated from
the equation:

NSS = [ (N x Q^0.5) / (NPSHR3)^0.75 ]


N = speed of rotation in RPM
Q = capacity in GPM at maximum impeller BEP (for double suction impeller)
   Q =GPM/2)
NPSHR3 = the NPSHR in feet based on 3% head loss at BEP and
^ is an
   exponential symbol

BEP is defined as the best efficiency point, or the capacity with the highest
efficiency on the pump curve, at maximum impeller diameter (not at the rated

In a two-stage, or multistage pump, NPSHR3 is based on a 3% head loss of the
first stage impeller. The NPSHR of the series stage impeller does not affect
NPSHR3. In pumps with dissimilar first stage and series stage impellers it is
acceptable to estimate the head of the first stage impeller as it may be
impractical to isolate and measure the actual first stage head such as in double
barrel pumps.

NPSHR3 is the default basis for determining NPSHR and it allows for an
apple-to-apple comparison of the suction characteristics of similar pumps. Aside
from NPSHR3, and in specialized high-energy service, some end users may
require the NPSHR to be based on one percent or zero percent head loss.

What is the suction specific speed of a double suction pump operating at 3560
RPM with 18 FT of NPSHR3 at its BEP of 800 GPM?

NSS = [3560 x (800/2)^0.50 / (18)^0.75] = 8148

Some practical applications of NSS are:

1. It is commonly used as a basis for estimating the allowable operating range  
(AOR) for a pump. The higher the NSS is, the narrower is its AOR as a
percentage flow range relative to BEP. Many users prefer their pumps to have
an NSS in the range of 8000 to 11000 for improved MTBF or trouble-free

2. It is commonly used as indicator if a pump were susceptible to develop
internal suction flow recirculation problem. The higher the NSS number, the
higher is its susceptibility.

3. It is a good indicator if a hydraulic re-rate to reduce NPSHR3 is feasible. A
system NPSHA may be reduced over time due to increased friction loss as pipes
and fittings aged over time. In such instances the pump NPSHR3 may have to be

4. It is used as index to compare the suction characteristics of pumps under
consideration by an end user to evaluate whether an assessment is to be added
or deducted to the pumps, in a similar manner that an assessment is made
based on the pumps' shaft flexibility factors (SFF).

As the term implies, the suction specific speed of a pump is mainly influenced by
its suction design geometry its suction nozzle diameter, the casing suction bay
area development, the impeller suction eye area, eye inlet diameter, and suction
vane angle.

The second part of this article includes discussions on:

1. The two types of suction specific speeds (NSS) that are distinct from one
another and why it is important to understand their differences and implications.
2. Why the 11,000 NSS limit is misguided and can be very costly to pump end

3. How pumps with NSS of over 11,000 can be selected for safe and reliable

4. Why an unusually low NSS may actually be an indication of poor suction
hydraulic design and should be avoided.
Suction Specific Speed
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