Gaining Turbomachinery Insight Using a Fluid Structure Interaction Approach

Existing research studies for the corresponding flow-induced vibration analysis of centrifugal pumps are mainly carried out without considering the interaction between fluid and structure. The ignorance of fluid structure interaction (FSI) means that the energy transfer between fluid and structure is neglected. To some extent, the accuracy and reliability of unsteady flow and rotor deflection analysis should be affected by this interaction mechanism.

In recent years, more and more applications of FSI are found in the reliability research of turbomachinery. Most of them are about turbines, and a few of them address pumps. Kato [1] predicted the noise from a multi-stage centrifugal pump using one-way coupling method. This practical approach treats the fluid physics and the solid physics consecutively.

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The Balancing Act – Rotor Stability

When designing rotating equipment, it is extremely important to take into account the types of unbalance that can occur. Forgetting this step can result in vibrations that lead to damage of the rotating parts, increasing maintenance costs and lowering efficiency. Currently, if a rotating part already vibrates or makes any noises, maintenance engineers rely on OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or third parties services companies to conduct balancing services.

Types of Unbalances

Figure 1: Static and Couple Forms of Unbalance

The three types of unbalances to consider are static, couple and dynamic. Static unbalance (Figure 1) occurs when a mass at a certain radius from the axis of rotation causes a shift in the inertia axis. Couple unbalance, usually found in cylindrical shapes, occurs when two equal masses positioned at 180 degrees from each other cause a shift in the inertia axis, leading to vibration effects on the bearings. Lastly and most common, dynamic unbalance occurs when you have a combination of both static and couple unbalance.

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The Importance of Turbulence Modelling

What is the importance of turbulence modelling in capturing accurate 3D secondary flow and mixing losses in turbomachinery? An investigation on the effect of return channel (RCH) dimensions of a centrifugal compressor stage on the aerodynamic performance was studied to answer this question by A. Hildebrandt and F. Schilling as an effort to push turbomachinery one step further.

W. Fister was among the first to investigate the return channel flow using 3D-CFD. At that time the capability of commercial software was not extended and any computational effort was limited by the CPU-capacity. Therefore, only simplified calculations that included constant density without a turbulence model (based on the Prandtl mixing length hypothesis) embedded in in-house code, were performed.

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Optimizing the Cooling Holes in Gas Turbine Blades

To increase the overall performance of the engine and reduce the specific fuel consumption, modern gas turbines operate at very high temperatures. However, the high temperature level of the cycle is limited by the melting point of the materials. Therefore, turbine blade cooling is necessary to reduce the blade metal temperature to increasing the thermal capability of the engine. Due to the contribution and development of turbine cooling systems, the turbine inlet temperature has doubled over the last 60 years.

Figure 1: Variations of Thermal Efficiency with TIT [1]
The cooling flow has a significant effect on the efficiency of the gas turbine. It has been found that the thermal efficiency of the cooled gas turbine is less than the uncooled gas turbine for the same input conditions (see figure 1). The reason for this is that the temperature at the inlet of turbine is decreased due to cooling and therefore, work produced by the turbine is slightly decreased. It is also known that the power consumption of the cool inlet air is of considerable concern since it decreases the net power output of  the gas turbine.

With this in mind, during  the design phase of gas turbine it is very important to optimize the cooling flow if you are considering both the performance and reliability. Cooled Gas turbine design is quite complicated and requires not only the right methodology, but also the most appropriate design tools, powerful enough to predict the results accurately from thermodynamics cycle to aerothermal design, ultimately generating the 3D blade.

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Exotic Turbomachinery – Viscous Disc Pumps

Turbomachinery can be divided into two main groups. Group one consists of machines that perform work on the fluid, requiring energy and increasing its pressure, such as compressors, pumps, and fans. Group two consists of those that extracts energy from the fluid flowing through it – for example, wind, hydro, steam, and gas turbines.

Pumps specifically are devices whose purpose is to move fluid at a constant density, increasing its kinetic energy and its pressure while consuming energy in the process. We are quite used to seeing centrifugal and axial pumps, as they are the most common configurations.  However, more exotic designs have been tested and developed throughout the history of fluid machinery.

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Performance Effects of Axial Turbines & Compressors Due to Roughness Variations

As turbomachinery technology continues to advance in efficiency as well as overall power, many engineers want an estimate on how long these manufactured machines will operate.  Specifically, in high-temperature and high-flow turbomachinery applications, one of the main sources of performance degradation can be attributed to increases in surface roughness.  Gas turbine and compressor blades in particular experience a substantial amount of surface degradation over their lifetime.

gas turbine blade
Figure 1 – Gas Turbine Blade and Annulus Surface Wear (Source PowerMag)

There are many mechanisms that contribute to surface degradation in airfoils and annulus surfaces.  Foreign particles adhering to the material surface (or fouling) is generally caused by any increase in contaminants such as oils, salts, carbon, and dirt in the airflow.  Corrosion occurs when there is a chemical reaction between the material surface and the environment that causes further imperfections on the machine surfaces.  Additional mechanical factors such as erosion and abrasion will play a part in a machine’s surface degradation as well.

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Rotor Dynamics – Importance of Fundamental Understanding & Software tools

Rotor and bearings are the most critical components of any rotating machinery. Rotor lifetime and reliability depend, first of all, on the level of rotor vibrations. In order to meet highest requirements of reliability each step of the rotor design should be based on accurate Rotor Dynamics prediction.

Rotor dynamics is the branch of engineering that studies the lateral and torsional vibrations of rotating shafts, with the objective of predicting the rotor excessive vibrations. Rotor Dynamics is different from structural vibrations analysis because of gyroscopic moments, cross-coupled forces, critical speeds, whirling effect, etc. These difference makers are all due to the rotation of the rotor assembly.


Understanding of basic rotor dynamics phenomena and the various types of problems is absolutely mandatory when designing and developing rotor-bearing systems for various applications. Fundamental approach for Rotor Dynamics analysis generally is based on the following steps:

  1.  Predict critical speeds.
  2. Determine design modifications to change critical speeds.
  3. Predict natural frequencies of torsional vibration.
  4. Predict amplitudes of synchronous vibration caused by rotor unbalance.
  5. Predict threshold speeds and vibration frequencies for dynamic instability.
  6. Determine design modifications to avoid dynamic instabilities.
  7. Calculate balance correction masses and locations from measured vibration data.

Another factor that determines accuracy of Rotor Dynamics calculation is rotor system simplification and the adequate modelling for rotor parts such as Impeller/disks, Sleeves, Balance pistons, Seals, Thrust collars, Couplings, Addition of Stiffening Due to Shrink Fits and Irregular Sections etc. Continue reading “Rotor Dynamics – Importance of Fundamental Understanding & Software tools”

Turbocharger Design and Industry Usage Discussion

An opportunity to discuss turbocharger usage and design with Softinway engineer Ursula Shannon in a question and answer format:

What are some of the major current turbocharger design challenges?

When it comes to turbocharger design, there are two challenges that engineers generally face. “Turbo lag” and turbo boost power at varying engine RPMs. “Turbo lag” is the time that it takes for the engine to produce enough exhaust to start the turbocharger “working”. This can vary greatly depending on engine size, turbocharger geometry, exhaust output etc. Ideally, engineers want to reduce this “Turbo lag” by as much as possible in any given situation, as during that time, the exhaust is “wasted” in a sense. Finding the most efficient configuration with all of the parameters in mind can be a very challenging scenario from a design perspective.

The turbo boost design challenge is one of efficiency at variable exhaust outputs. A smaller charger for example will start to boost at lower engine speeds while a larger one will start to boost at engine speeds. The trade off however is that a smaller turbo will start to create what is known as back pressure at higher speeds, and this results in a loss of potential power. A larger turbocharger, will be able to create more overall boost at higher speeds, however the “Turbo Lag” is more pronounced as more engine exhaust is required. Minimizing these trade offs is another key challenge in turbocharger design.

Finally, the process of turbocharger design process itself is complex, and requires highly specialized software such as our own here in Softinway (AxSTREAM).

Turbocharger blog 3

AxSTREAM Turbocharger Design Software ( Flowpath Design and Optimization )

turbocharger blog 2

AxSTREAM Turbocharger Design Software (Compressor 1D Design and Analysis)

What are some design changes do you see coming to turbochargers in the future?

As I mentioned some of the challenges engineers face in turbocharger design, currently many technologies and methods are being developed to alleviate some of the issues faced.

Two stage turbochargers are good example of trying to offer a solution to the boost powers at varying engine outputs, using a smaller turbocharger that operates at low RPMs and a larger turbocharger that operates at higher RPMs.

Electronic energy storage setups are currently being developed and used in European race cars which uses the output side of the turbocharger as a sort of generator which stores energy in a battery from turbocharger operations and acts as a boost during a turbocharger’s lag period.

Continue reading “Turbocharger Design and Industry Usage Discussion”

The Economic Optimization of Renewable Energy

Global warming has been a very popular topic these days. With up-trend of clean technology and realization that strict climate policy should be implemented, demand of renewable energy sky-rocketed as conservative plants popularity falls. Number of coal power plants have significantly dropped since its peak era, being known as the largest pollutant contributor as it produces nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, the technology is valued less due to its impact on nature. Renewable energy comes from many sources: hydropower, wind power, geothermal energy, bio energy and many more. The ability to replenish and having no limit in usage and applications make renewable energy implementations seems attractive. Aside from that, they also produce low emission, sounds like a win-win solution for everyone. Theoretically, with the usage of renewable energy, human-kind should be able to meet their energy need with minimal environmental damage. With growth rate ranging from 10% to 60% annually, renewable energy are getting cheaper through the technology improvements as well as market competition. In the end, the main goal is still to generate profit, though these days taking impact on nature into the equation is just as important. Since the technology is relatively new, capital cost still considerable higher compared to some cases with more traditional (–and naturally harmful) implementations. So the question is: how to maximize the economic potential of a renewable energy power generation plant?

The Economic Optimization of Renewable Energy

Living up to the maximum potential of any power generation plant starts in the design process. Few examples for solar power plant: designers should take into consideration type and quality of panels, it’s important to see the economic-efficiency tradeoff before jumping into investment; looking into the power conversion is also one of the most important steps, one should take into consideration that it would be worthless to produce more energy than the capacity that are able to be transferred and put to use, though too low energy generation would mean less gross income.

Another example, for a geothermal power plant, many studies have shown that boundary conditions on each components play a big role in determining the plant’s capacity and efficiency. High efficiency is definitely desired to optimize the potential of a power plant and minimized the energy loss. Though, should also be compared to the economic sacrifice; regardless of how good the technology is, if it doesn’t make any economic profit, it would not make sense for one to invest in such technology. Low capital cost but high operating expenses would hurt the economic feasibility in the long run, whereas high capital cost and low operating expense could still be risky since that would mean a higher lump sum of investment upfront, which might or may not breakeven nor profitable depending on the fluctuation of energy market.

Modern technology allows investors and the engineering team to make this prediction based on models developed by the experts. SoftInWay just recently launched our economic module, check out AxCYCLE to optimize your power plant!


[1] Optimal design of geothermal power plants 

[2] Strategies in tower solar power plant optimization

Turbo pump design parameters for Liquid Propulsion

turbo3aLiquid propellant rocket is known as the most common traditional rocket design. Although the first design was launched back in 1926, liquid propellant rocket remains a popular technology which space exploration companies and institutions study for further improvement.

The implementation of this particular technology is based on a simple idea: fuel and oxidizer are fed through a combustion chamber where both liquids will met and burned to produce launching energy. In order to inject propellant to combustion chamber, a turbo-pump is used to create required pressure . The turbo-pump design and operating parameters contribute to the optimization of both turbo-pump and engine system performance. The pump needs to be designed to avoid cavitation while operates pushing the liquid to combustion chamber.

There are three different cycles which are often used in liquid propellant rocket: the staged combustion, expander and gas generator cycle. Configuration of the turbo-pump strongly relies on the cycle and engine requirements –thus the best design must be selected from options available for the particular cycle’s optimal parameters. For example for staged combustion cycle, where turbine flows is in series with thrust chamber, the application allows high power turbo-pumps; which means high expansion ratio nozzles can be used at low altitude for better performance. Whereas, for implementation of gas-generator cycle, turbine flows are linked in parallel to thrust chamber, consequently, gas generator cycle turbine does not have to work the injection process from exhaust to combustion chamber, thus simplified the design and allows lighter weight to be implemented.

Some parameters are interdependent when it comes to designing a turbo-pump, i.e: turbo-pump cycle efficiency, pump specific needs, pump efficiencies, NPSH, overall performance, etc. Often in practice, pump characteristics will determine the maximum shaft speed at which a unit can operate. Once it’s determined turbine type, arrangements, and else can be selected. Another thing that must be taken into consideration while designing a turbo-pump is how it affect the overall payloads.

Schematic of a pump-fed liquid rocket
Schematic of a pump-fed liquid rocket

Turbo-pump design affect payload in different ways:

  1. Component weight
  2. Inlet suction pressure. As suction pressure goes up, the tank and pressurization system weight increased and reduce the payload.
  3. Gas flowrate, since increase in flowrate decrease the allowable-stage burnout weight, which would decrease payload weight.

All those has to be taken into consideration while trying to select an optimal design of turbo-pump, since it crucially affects overall performance of the engine.

Want to learn more how to design a turbo-pump? Check out AxSTREAM as your design, analysis and optimization tool!


Turbopumps for Liquid Rocket Engines
Design of Liquid-Propellant Rocket Engines
Principal of Operation – Liquid-propellant rocket
Staged combustion cycle
Gas-generator cycle


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