"We found lots of small glass beads in the debris from one of our failed pumps, but there was no dust or dirt. We don’t know where these beads are originating. Any ideas?"
It is always easier to diagnose a problem and determine the root cause when provided with the most information possible. Think of it this way: When you go to the doctor, you need to provide more information than simply, “I’m sick.” To help bring this point across, I’m going to answer this question with a series questions.
Unless your pump is designed to pump glass beads, then it is safe to say that you have ingression in your system. What is ingression? Ingression can be defined as a going in or entering, a right or permission to enter, or a means or place of entering.
Does the system have a filter installed? It may be a system filter or an off-line filter. What type of media was used in manufacturing the filter? Are the glass beads considered contaminants? If they are determined to be contaminants (which I suspect), how did they enter the process?
Particles can come into equipment through a variety of means. They can enter through a mechanical service that is performed, after a failure or inspection, as well as through a process. It is paramount that you take every precaution to minimize or eliminate any contaminants such as dust, water and in this case glass beads from entering your equipment.
Silica glass beads have been in use as a filtration media for many years. They may be coming from your filter media as a result of a damaged filter. I would recommend researching and inspecting the filter to determine if in fact you have a glass media filter.
There are many non-invasive inspections to determine if the filter is plugged. Most facilities usually do a good job of installing the filters but not such a good job of monitoring them.
Glass beads are ideal for vortex back-washing filters or in cases where the media is transferred through pumps, scrubbed and then returned to the filters. They are also used for cleaning as an abrasive sandblasting agent.
If at some point there has been a cleaning performed around the equipment, you may have had glass beads ingress (enter) your system through damaged seals, breathers or opened hatches and inspection doors. Keep this in mind as you search for the cause.