Building smarter pumping systems with automation

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A case study on improving efficiencies and saving energy

Growing concern for the environment is driving increased regulatory and consumer focus on energy and water efficiency – and pump manufacturers are on the front line. To succeed in this demanding new market, pump manufacturers must build smarter pumping systems. Here’s how one company used an automated pump jack solution to help reduce energy and resource consumption.


Natural gas wells have their own unique and individual characteristics. Even within the same gas field, some wells are super-producers, while others consistently produce a low volume of gas. The wells also change daily depending on environmental factors. In a way, the well is a natural, living thing, and utilizing a one-size-fits-all method to natural gas production won’t yield the best results.

A customized approach was the premise for an automated pump jack solution created by ATFAB, a specialist in control system design with significant experience in pumping applications, located in Fall Branch, Tennessee. ATFAB was approached by an eastern United States natural gas production company looking for an automated solution for its dewatering application that would help them gain efficiencies in extraction, service, and maintenance, while also giving them the ability to monitor and control the sites remotely.


Working together with Schneider Electric, ATFAB developed an automated pump jack solution with the Modicon™ M241 programmable logic controller (PLC), Altivar™ 320 variable speed drive (VFD), and Magelis™ XBT N400 and XBT-RT500 human machine interface (HMI).

ATFAB also discovered that the pump on/off cycle was not always optimal and the time required for pumping the water would vary based on current conditions. “Some wells showed more than a 50 percent energy savings from not having to run them in a time mode,” said Jeff Thornburg, operations manager, ATFAB. “We also engineered the solution to allow the pump jacks to operate using three-phase motors instead of a single-phase mode, which garnered additional energy savings and maintenance costs by eliminating the capacitive start.”

The best part is that an algorithm in the PLC allows the pump jack to learn from itself, and adjust according to the unique characteristics of the well that it’s controlling. After every cycle, the PLC examines how the pump jack ran and recalculates how long it will stay off and the length of running time for the next cycle based on current conditions.


ATFAB and Schneider Electric worked with the natural gas producer for several years to develop a software program that accomplished everything the customer was hoping for. The result was a pump jack solution that calculates how long it should run based on site conditions, and shuts itself down when needed, rather than running for a set amount of time.

Ultimately, the automated pump jack solution has been a huge success for the customer – achieving significant energy savings, a more efficient extraction process, and remote access that allows for proficient service and maintenance.

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