Identifying Compressor Problems

Centrifugal Compressor for Refrigeration Because the most vital part of a refrigeration and HVAC system is to function optimally, compressors are used to raise the temperature and pressure of the low superheated gas to move fluid into the condenser. Consequently, refrigeration compressors must be properly maintained through regular maintenance, testing and inspection. There are a couple conditions which would indicate compressor problem or failures. However, with the right supervision it is possible to avoid further damage. Through this post we will identify and discuss some of these conditions:
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Helicopter Engines – Understanding the Constant Threats and Analyzing their Effects with AxSTREAM

Helicopter landing on a desert
Figure 1: Helicopter landing on a desert – burnout threat

The helicopter is a sophisticated, versatile and reliable aircraft of extraordinary capabilities. Its contribution to civil and military operations due to its high versatility is significant and is the reason for further research on the enhancement of its performance. The complexity of helicopter operations does not allow  priority to be given for any of its components. However, the main engine is key for a successful flight. In case of engine failure, the helicopter can still land safely if it enters autorotation, but this is dictated by particular flight conditions. This article will focus on the possible threats that can cause engine failure or deteriorate its performance.

When a helicopter is operating at a desert or above coasts, the dust and the sand can challenge the performance of the engine by causing erosion of the rotating components, especially the compressor blades. Moreover, the cooling passages of the turbine blade can be blocked and the dust can be accumulated in the inner shaft causing imbalance and unwanted vibration. The most common threat of this kind is the brownout which is caused by the helicopter rotorwash as it kicks up a cloud of dust during landing.

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The Optimization Challenge in the Development of Turbomachinery

Optimization (or parametric studies) of a twin spool bypass turbofan engine with mixed exhaust and a cooled turbine can be considered one of the most complex problem formulations. For engine selection, determining the thrust specific fuel consumption and specific thrust is necessary against variables such as design limitations (Inlet temp, etc.), design choices (fan pressure ration, etc.) and operating conditions (speed & altitude). The task involves cycle level studies following machine, module, stage and component level optimization. This calls for an integrated environment (IE) and it is desirable to have such an IE operating on a “single” platform.

Historically IE was developed for the design of axial turbines (mainly steam). Later, it was expanded for gas turbines (especially blade cooling calculations) and axial compressors via plug-in modules. The new challenge designers face today is developing mixed flow machinery. An effective system for modern turbomachinery design needs to do the following:

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Compressor Types in Air Conditioning Systems

Compressor for HVAC

A compressor unit is an important component in an air conditioning system used to remove the heat laden vapor refrigerant from the evaporator. The compressor raises the temperature and pressure of the working refrigerant fluid and transforms it to a high temperature and high pressure gas. Since the compressor is one of the most vital parts of a cooling system, to be able to have an efficient working cycle, an appropriate and optimum compressor design must be installed.

Generally, there are 5 types of compressor that can be used in HVAC installations, the most common  of which being reciprocating compressors used within a smaller scale conditioning system. Reciprocating compressors utilize pistons and cylinders to compress the refrigerant and an electric motor is used to provide a rotary motion.

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Foil Air Bearings for High-Temperature Turbocharger Applications

Within the realm of turbocharging, there are a number of different design challenges that influence the design process on both large-scale marine applications and smaller-scale commercial automobile applications.  From aerodynamic loads to dynamic control systems to rotor dynamics and bearing challenges, turbochargers represent a special subset of turbomachinery that requires complex and integrated solutions.  Turbocharger rotors specifically, have unique characteristics due to the dynamics of having a heavy turbine and compressor wheel located at the overhang ends of the rotor. The majority of turbocharger rotors are supported within a couple floating-ring oil film bearings.  In general, these bearings provide the damping necessary to support the high gyroscopic moments of the impeller wheels.  However, there are several disadvantages of working with these oil systems that have allowed different technologies to start to surface for these turbomachines.  With the floating-ring oil models, varying ring speed ratios and oil viscosity changes significantly influence the performance of the rotor dynamic model.

Dan blog bearing for turbochargers
Figure 1 – Floating-Ring Bearing Model for a Turbocharger

The application of oil-free bearings have started to emanate due to the overall consistency of their performance and the minimized heat loss associated with air as the damping fluid. Studies on these bearing types for turbomachinery applications are neither trivial nor unique, as they have seen plenty of exposure within the commercial and military aircraft industries within turbo compressors and turboexpanders. However, the success of these specific applications are due to the fact that these turbomachines operate with light loads and relatively low temperatures. The main design challenges with foil air bearings are a result of poor rotor dynamic performance, material capabilities, and inadequate load capacities at high temperature/high load applications.

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Simultaneous Design for Turbocharger Compressors and Turbine Wheels

AxSTREAM Blade Profiling
Figure 1- AxSTREAM 3D Blade Profiler for Radial Designs

Increasing regulation for reducing emissions has forced the automotive industry to accept different technologies over the years in order to stay ahead of the market. In an industry that is so accustomed to internal combustion engines, new solutions such as electric motors and turbocharger systems have allowed experts in other industries to cultivate an influence in the automotive market. Specifically in the realm of turbomachinery, increased development has gone into designing turbochargers in order to minimize the effect and size of internal combustion engines. Design challenges are inherent in the fact that an engine is a positive displacement device whereas the turbocharger falls under aerodynamic turbomachinery. The two separate machine types have distinctly different flow characteristics, and the proper sizing of a turbocharger for its parent engine requires proper modeling of the engineering system as a whole.

In general, initial turbocharger sizing becomes a matter of obtaining the necessary boundary conditions required for a preliminary design. A thermodynamic cycle analysis of an ICE-Turbocharger system will allow the designer to obtain an initial idea of the bounds

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Rotating Equipment Specialist in the Oil and Gas Industry – A Turbomachinery Professional

Turbomachinery is a core subject in many engineering curriculums. However, many graduates joining the oil and gas industry are designated as rotating equipment engineers. Though turbomachinery and rotating equipment are used synonymously, all turbomachinery are rotating equipment but not vice versa. Turbinis in Latin implies spin or whirl, and a natural question that arises is – what are the factors that differentiate turbomachinery?  In a general sense the term, “rotating” covers  the majority equipment used in the industry be it in the upstream, mid-stream or the downstream segment. Yet top rotating equipment specialist in the industry are seen spending their prime time or often being associated with certain unique and specific types of critical rotating machines – the turbomachines.Oil and Gas

In a classical sense, turbomachines are devices in which energy is added into or taken out from a continuously flowing fluid by the dynamic action of one or more moving blade rows. By this definition propellers, wind turbines and unshrouded fans are also turbomachines but they require a separate treatment. The subject of fluid mechanics, aerodynamics, thermodynamics and material mechanics of turbomachinery when limited to machines enclosed by a closely fitting casing or shroud through which a measurable quantity of fluid passing in unit time makes the practical linkage to rotating equipment – those which absorb power to increase the fluid pressure or head (fans, compressors and pumps) and those that produce power by expanding fluid to a lower pressure or head (hydraulic, steam and gas turbines). Further classification into axial, radial and mixed type (based on flow contour), and impulse & reaction (based on principle of energy transfer) is common. It is the large range of service requirement that leads to different type of pump (or compressor) and turbine in service.

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Axial Compressor Challenges in Hyperloop Designs

Back when the California high-speed rail project was announced, Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Inc. and perhaps the most admired tech leader of present day) was not only disappointed with this project, but also introduced an alternative to this system called the Hyperloop in 2012.  Since the abstract of this project was introduced, many engineers around the world have started to evaluate the feasibility of this “5th Mode of Transportation”.

Hyperloop Alpha Conceptual Design Sketch
Hyperloop Alpha Conceptual Design Sketch

The general idea for the Hyperloop consists of a passenger pod operating within a low-pressure environment suspended by air bearings.  At the realistic speeds estimated by NASA of 620 mph, the pod will be operating in the transonic region.  While Japan’s mag-lev bullet train has succeeded at achieving speeds of up to 374 mph, the scale and complexity of a ground transportation system rising above 600 mph bring to surface an unusual number of engineering challenges. As well, brand new designs such as the one proposed by Musk have a certain amount of risk involved due to this technology inherently having no previous run history on a large scale.

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Surge Conditions of Centrifugal and Axial Compressors

Centrifugal and axial compressors must operate within certain parameters dictated by both the constraints of the given application as well as a number of mechanical factors.  In general, integrated control systems allow compressors to navigate dynamically within their stable operating range.   Typical operating ranges for compressors are represented on a plot of volumetric flow rate versus compression ratio.  Compressors have a wide number of applications, from household vacuum cleaners to large 500 MW gas turbine units.  Compression ratios found in refrigeration applications are typically around 10:1, while in air conditioners they are usually between 3:1 and 4:1.  Of course, multiple compressors can be arranged in series to increase the ratio dramatically to upwards of 40:1 in gas turbine engines.  While compressors in different applications range dramatically in their pressure ratios, similar incidents require engineers to carefully evaluate what is the proper operating range for the particular compressor design.

Dan Post 10
Figure 1- Typical Performance Map Limits – Compressor Ratio (Rc) vs. Volumetric Flow Rate (Qs)

For intensive applications of centrifugal and axial compressors, the phenomenon of surge resides as one of the limiting boundary conditions for the operation of the turbomachine. Essentially, surge is regarded as the phenomena when the energy contained in the gas being compressed exceeds the energy imparted by the rotating blades of the compressor. As a result of the energetic gas overcoming the backpressure, a rapid flow reversal will occur as the gas expands back through the compressor. Once this gas expands back through to the suction of the compressor, the operation of the compressor returns back to normal. However, if preventative measures are not taken by the appropriate controls system or any implemented mechanical interruptions, the compressor will return to a state of surge. This cyclic event is referred to as surge cycling and can result in serious damage to the rotor seals, rotor bearings, driver mechanisms, and overall cycle operation.

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A Primer on Compressor Design

As technology has evolved, so has the refrigeration industry. What were once holes in the ground filled with ice and snow have transformed into the modern high-efficiency compression machinery we have become so familiar with today. However, as common as these devices have become, the design process remains a challenge. This is where a combination of scientific knowledge, experience and creative initiative comes into play. While there are, of course, several variations in terms of the application of each design step, the guidelines presented here could be applied not only to refrigeration compressors, but also to compressors used in many other processes and industries.

There are a number of steps to consider throughout the compressor design process, and each step has to relate back to the original design concept. Experience has shown that having a starting concept and an end goal in mind is imperative. Namely, before you can begin the process, you need to know where you are starting and where you want to end up. With this in mind, before we can even get started with preliminary design, blade profiling and analysis of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), it is important to take out a piece of paper and start brainstorming. Consideration of the different refrigeration technologies (cycles), is always a great place to start, so we can ensure we will design the best compressor for the application. The cycle will directly impact the rest of the compressor design decisions, so this is not a step that can be bypassed. This article’s discussion begins with cyclic compression.

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