If “peristaltic pump” reminds you vaguely of school, it’s because you might have heard it in a high school biology class. Peristalsis is the process by which food gets from your mouth to the other end of your gastro-intestinal tract. A more visible example might be seeing time-lapse photography of a snake swallowing an object that is wider than he is.
In peristalsis, whatever is being moved is on the inside of a tube, and outside forces are squeezing the tube, starting at one end and moving to the other end. As it is in nature, so it is with a peristaltic pump.
A peristaltic pump is classified as a positive displacement pump, and is used to pump fluids. The tube is filled with product, and a rotor with rollers, “wipers” or “shoes,” turns, causing the rollers to compress the tube at one end. Just like the biological example we used, the fluid is forced to the other end and finally out of the tube. Similar to squeezing a tube of toothpaste.
When the fluid is displaced, it causes a vacuum, and product is drawn in behind the rollers to refill the tube. This is often called “resilience” or “restitution.” The cycle starts over again for as long as there is fluid to pump and the rotor turns.
A popular application for a peristaltic pump is when sanitation is at a premium. Because neither the rotor nor the rollers touches the inside of the tube, there is less chance of any outside parts cross-contaminating the contents of the tube. Medical applications include pumping IV fluids and circulating blood through a heart-lung machine during heart bypass surgery.
It is also used for aggressive chemicals and other instances where the environment needs to be protected from the fluids, or where the fluid or sludge needs to be protected from the environment. Due to their design, they are often the first choice for pumping viscous fluids or abrasives.
This means that there are no pressurised seals or O-rings to worry about. The only major design concern is that the tubing has to be elastomeric to maintain the integrity of the circular cross sections after repeated and prolonged use.
Besides being difficult to contaminate, peristaltic pumps are also extremely low-maintenance, and no backflow or check valve is needed to prevent siphoning.