Impeller Design Challenges on Integrally Geared Centrifugal Compressors

The integrally geared compressor, also known as a multi-shaft compressor, is a technology that has been around since the 1960s, but remains underdeveloped.  Usually seen in applications in the industrial gases industry, integrally geared compressors (IGCs) can range in size from small product machines to steam turbine driven high-horsepower, high-flow compressors for air separation plants.  These compressors modular construction principle, consisting of as many as eight different stages, allows for implementation in a large number of varied customer processes.  The main advantages of IGCs in the industrial gases industry is the compact design and smaller installation footprint, efficiency increases due to the use of multiple speeds for separate impellers, and overall lower operational and installation costs.

semi-open-impeller
Figure 1 – Semi-Open Impeller

One of the key design differences between the standard inline compressors and the IGCs is that the integrally geared compressor makes use of both closed AND semi-open impellers.  The reason for the use of open impellers in IGCs are the higher strengths due to better manufacturing techniques, speed of manufacture, and the inherent lower costs.  However, the main drawback to having an open impeller in your system is that in the event of impeller rub, the damage to the compressor would be significantly worse than with a closed impeller.

Engineers have introduced several techniques in order to minimize this risk.  Axial position monitoring of the pinions as well as the use of high-speed thrust bearings can result in an improvement against this rub phenomenon.  However, even with these innovative solutions, open impellers still have a much larger tip clearance (clearance / blade height) then its closed impeller counterparts.  It is very important to realize the efficiency decrease present in compressors with varying tip clearances.

In SoftInWay’s latest update for its turbomachinery design and analysis software, AxSTREAM™, calculating models were improved for centrifugal compressors with large tip clearances.  By taking into account the additional flow deviation from the direction of the blade’s tail as well as the flow recirculation in the meridional direction, better estimates for the flow models can be identified on compressors with tip clearances greater than 0.1.

large-tip-clearance
Figure 2 – Flow Characteristic on a Compressor with Large Tip Clearance

Although integrally geared compressors present several elegant solutions in the industrial gases industry and overall show higher efficiencies than single rotor compressors, many different challenges arise when working with them.  Among them are the impeller blade design challenges mentioned above as well as numerous additional challenges to rotor dynamics that these intricate gearing designs introduce.  SoftInWay has worked alongside MAN Diesel & Turbo since 2005 to solve these problems and many others. To learn more about designing integrally geared compressors or for an in-depth look into our rotor dynamics software please explore the links below.

Integrally Geared Compressors 

AxSTREAM for Rotor Dynamics

 

 

References:

http://turbolab.tamu.edu/proc/turboproc/T20/T20131-144.pdf

http://turbolab.tamu.edu/proc/turboproc/T32/t32-21.pdf

http://turbomachinery.man.eu/products/compressors/integrally-geared

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