The Top 5 Coolest Turbomachinery Inventions (According to Us!)

As the leading authority on turbomachinery design, redesign, analysis, and optimization, we work with a wide range of machines from small water pumps and blowers to massive steam turbines, jet engines, and liquid rocket engines. While all of these machines have a certain “cool factor” to them since, after all, we’ve proven they make the world go round; some machines take coolness to the next level. Today, we’re taking a look at 5 of the coolest specific turbomachinery inventions, according to us.

Number 5 – The Arabelle Turbines

Starting with number 5, we have a pair of steam turbines, each known as “Arabelle”. You may be asking yourself “So what, steam turbines are everywhere.” You would be right, but these two have a bit of a size advantage. In fact, they’re the largest steam turbines in the world.

Designed and built by General Electric in France, these turbines are, according to GE, “longer than an Airbus 380 and taller than the average man. A pair of them, each capable of producing 1770 megawatts, is now set to cross the English Channel to provide energy for generations” (1).

They’ll be installed in a new nuclear power plant known as Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Their 1.7 gigawatt output will be enough to power 6 million homes, which is 7% of the UK’s power consumption. (1) The output and sheer size of the turbines aren’t the only large number either, the project costs nearly 24 billion US dollars.

A CAD model of the Arabelle steam turbines, image courtesy of General Electric.
A CAD model of the Arabelle steam turbines, image courtesy of General Electric.

The sheer size and performance figures have earned GE a place on our list of top 5 cool turbomachines!

Number 4 – The Garrett 3571VA Variable Geometry Turbocharger

This is one only gearheads and diesel-fans may recognize, but even then, it’s an obscure one. This Garrett turbocharger was a game changer for diesel engines used in light and medium duty trucks, specifically the Navistar International VT365, also known as the Ford 6.0 Liter Powerstroke engine. Read More

Turbomachinery in Racing

While Formula racing is well known for its use of standardized turbocharged V6 engines in all races, they’re certainly not the only races where turbocharged engines are used; and in some cases, the vehicle isn’t even a car! Today’s blog is going to look at turbomachinery in racing, starting with the origin of their usage, and looking at some of the different applications where these machines are found.

As we covered in recent blog, turbocharging has been around since the turn of the 20th century, however its applications was limited for a time to heavy-duty marine applications; high-end cars and trucking; and military aviation. By the 1950’s that had changed thanks to Cummins’ entry in the Indy 500, with their advanced turbodiesel engine raising eyebrows until it catastrophically failed. The point was made though, as Indy banned turbodiesels from the races going forward.  Current IndyCar engine specs call for a 2.2 liter V6 engine that is twin-turbocharged with a fixed boost level. These engines can crank out an astonishing 700 horsepower at full chat, which is around 12,000 RPM. If you’re curious about just how Honda is getting this supercar levels of horsepower out of such an engine, I definitely recommend having a look at the magnificent explanation done by Jason Fenske from Engineering Explained.

On the left #28, the Cummins Diesel special which had the famed turbodiesel engine, and on the right, the 2.2L Honda IndyCar engine. Images courtesy of Truck Trend and Engineering Explained respectively.

We’ll circle back to turbocharged road racing in a moment, but let’s talk about jet engines and the H1, first. Started in 1946, H1 Unlimited is a racing league where teams compete using hydroplanes (not to be confused with the extremely dangerous condition that occurs on wet roads). These hydroplanes rely on lift as opposed to their buoyancy to maintain high speeds and maneuverability. After World War II, the surplus of aircraft engines like the famed Rolls-Royce Merlin V12, discussed in an earlier blog, found their way into these high speed watercraft.

The Lycoming T55 turboshaft engine, powering everything from Chinooks, to race boats. Left image courtesy of Mr. Z-man

In modern times however, H1 Unlimited has now standardized the engines used in competing hydroplanes, and all craft must now use the Lycoming T55 turboshaft engine, which was originally used in the famed Boeing CH47 Chinook helicopter.

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The History of Turbochargers, Part 3

Hello! Welcome back to this third and final installment in our “History of the Turbocharger” Series. If you haven’t already, you can read the previous installments by clicking the links below:

Now, let’s see how the turbocharger went from an ace-in-the-hole for aircraft engines during World War II, to the go-to way to crank out horsepower in small engines.

Up until World War II, turbochargers were not a common sight in cars, and certainly not the most popular option for adding forced induction to an engine. Even following the war, some of the most notable post-war aircraft relied on piston engines as opposed to the modern turbojet engine, did not use turbochargers. Most R&D efforts for military aircraft propulsion was moving away from piston engines, and where piston engines were being used, they didn’t have turbos.

Take, for example, the Corvair B36. This behemoth of an airplane was adopted by the US Air Force for a short period of time after the war, but before the much more famous B52 Stratofortress was adopted. This gargantuan plane made use of a Pratt and Whitney radial engine similar to (although much larger than) the engines used in other US warplanes during World War II. Much like the other engines used by warplanes, these engines were typically not turbocharged, instead used geared superchargers to force more air into the 6(!) propeller engines.

A Corvair B36 Peacemaker, which dwarfed the already big B29 Superfortress. By the time the Peacemaker Flew, piston engines were already being considered obsolete for most military and aviation applications.

From the get-go, this engine was quite dated, as the piston engines were maintenance heavy, and the unusual engine and propeller configuration gave the plane reliability issues. Additionally, the Peacemaker was retrofitted with 4 jet engines for use in takeoff as well as speed over a target to reduce the likelihood of being struck by enemy fire. It wasn’t long however, before the turbojet-powered B52 we all know and love was adopted. The B36 was more or less forgotten as a massive placeholder for the US Air Force for a short time following World War II. Read More

The History of Turbochargers, Part 2

Hello! And welcome back for part 2 of our series on “A Brief History of the Turbocharger”. To read part 1, which compares superchargers and turbochargers, and explains the early history of turbochargers and forced induction from the turn of the century through to World War 1, click here. Having covered all of that, let’s pick up from where we left off!

Following World War 1, and the work of Dr. Sanford Alexander Moss, Alfred Büchi, who had created the first true turbocharger, had continued innovating following the failure of his first design. By 1925, he had a working turbocharger design that consistently and reliably worked (1).

Following this breakthrough, the turbocharger saw its first commercial application on ten-cylinder diesel engines. Since diesel engines are typically built to withstand the high-pressures required by their operating conditions, the pressures generated by using forced induction are easily accommodated. As a result of adding the turbochargers, the engines upped their horsepower ratings from 1750HP, all the way to a whopping 2,500HP. (1)

The Hansestadt Danzig, one of the German ships fitted with the 10 cylinder turbodiesel engine described above
The Hansestadt Danzig, one of the German ships fitted with the 10 cylinder turbodiesel engine described above. (

For Büchi, this was a great achievement, as it marked the first commercial application of a machine that he had first begun working with more than 20 years prior. For the turbocharger, however, this was just the beginning. Read More

Introduction to Performing Torsional Rotor Dynamics Analysis

Previous Blog 

Hello and welcome to the last part of our series on Rotor Dynamics! In today’s blog we’ll be concluding with torsional analysis, and the steps needed to perform this type of analysis. If you haven’t had a look at the other entries in this series, you can find them here:

Series Preface

  1. What is Rotor Dynamics? And Where is it Found?
  2. Why is Rotor Dynamics so Important?
  3. What API Standards Govern Rotor Dynamics Analysis?
  4. Basic Definitions and Fundamental Concepts of Rotating Equipment Vibrations
  5. The Purposes and Objectives of Rotor Dynamics Analyses
  6. The Importance of Accurately Modeling a Rotor-Bearing System­
  7. Modeling Bearings and Support Structures in a Rotor Bearing System
  8. Introduction to Performing Lateral Rotor Dynamics Analysis


In an earlier blog, we covered the basic definitions of lateral and torsional analysis. Lateral analysis is concerned with the bending behavior of a rotor train. Torque is a measurement of force that causes an object to rotate on an axis such as when a component needs to be “torqued to spec” in a car’s engine, for example. Torsional analysis, meanwhile, looks at the twisting behavior of the rotor train.

In the context of rotor dynamics, torsional vibrations refer to the oscillatory torsional deformations encountered by the shafts in the rotor train.

Pictured - A shaft undergoing torsional vibration
Pictured: A shaft undergoing torsional vibration.

If these torsional vibrations and excitations are left undamped and aren’t analyzed properly, breakages and catastrophic failures can occur similar to undamped lateral excitations. For more on that, you can read up on the importance of rotor dynamics analysis here.

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A Brief History of the Turbocharger – Part 1

Turbochargers are one of the more common turbomachines out there today! As everyone is making efforts to lower carbon dioxide emissions in automobiles, and the automotive OEMs engage in a “horsepower war”, the turbocharger will likely continue to grow in popularity for both civil and commercial uses.

But how did these machines get so popular? That’s what we’ll be exploring in this blog miniseries! Today’s blog will introduce the concept of the turbocharger, and the beginnings of its development around the turn of the 20th century.

Turbocharging engines and the idea of forced induction on internal combustion engines are as old as the engines themselves. Their intertwined history can be traced back to the 1880’s, when Gottlieb Daimler was tinkering with the idea of forced induction on a “grandfather clock” engine. Daimler was supposedly the first to apply the principles of supercharging an engine in 1900, when he mounted a roots-style supercharger to a 4-stroke engine.

The birth of the turbocharger, however, would come 5 years later, when Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi received a patent for an axial compressor driven by an axial turbine on a common shaft with the piston of the engine. Although this design wasn’t feasible at the time due to a lack of viable materials, the idea was there.

Turbochargers vs Superchargers

What idea was that, exactly? And how did it differ from supercharging?

I think it’s important to quickly go over the basic differences between turbocharging and supercharging. Both offer “forced induction” for piston engines. A naturally aspirated engine simply will draw in atmospheric air as the intake valve opens, and the piston travels down to bottom dead center. A forced induction engine, pushes more air into the cylinder than what the dropping of the piston would pull in, allowing more air to be combusted, and thus generating more power and efficiency. While turbochargers and superchargers are both forced induction , how superchargers and turbochargers go about compressing that air is different. Superchargers are driven by the engine themselves, typically via a belt or gear. This uses some of the engine’s available horsepower, but doing so provides more horsepower back to the engine. The compressors can be either positive displacement configurations (such as a Roots or Twin-Screw), or a  centrifugal supercharger.

supercharger configurations
A very helpful image of the 3 kinds of superchargers, courtesy of

Turbochargers, as mentioned before, use the air from the exhaust of the engine to drive a turbine, and the work of the turbine is transmitted on a common shaft to a compressor. The most common configuration is a radial turbine driving a centrifugal compressor similar to the one above in the supercharger diagram. However, there are other configurations ,seen in larger examples, such as an axial turbine driving a centrifugal compressor. Read More

Introduction to Performing Lateral Rotor Dynamics Analysis

Previous Blog  Next Blog

Hello and welcome to the Lateral Analysis section of our Rotor Dynamics Blog Series! If you haven’t had a look at the other entries in this series, you can find them here: Series Preface

  1. What is Rotor Dynamics? And Where is it Found?
  2. Why is Rotor Dynamics so Important?
  3. What API Standards Govern Rotor Dynamics Analysis?
  4. Basic Definitions and Fundamental Concepts of Rotating Equipment Vibrations
  5. The Purposes and Objectives of Rotor Dynamics Analyses
  6. The Importance of Accurately Modeling a Rotor-Bearing System­
  7. Modeling Bearings and Support Structures in a Rotor Bearing System

We’ve finally made it to the analysis part of the rotor dynamics and bearing analysis intro series! Let’s get into it, this blog will have a lot to cover!

Read More

Micro Gas Turbines in Trains and Railroad Technology

Previous Blog

Welcome to this latest (and sadly, last) entry in the Micro Gas Turbines in Transportation series! Today, we’ll be having a quick look at micro gas turbines and their larger siblings, specifically the history of how they have been used in railroad locomotion and  what the future holds for micro turbines and railroad technology. We’ll also consider the advantages and disadvantages of using them to drive trains.

Rail transportation has been around in one form or another for longer than you might think. There are examples of wheeled carts running on fixed roads and tracks that prevented any deviation being used since the 6th century BC in ancient Greece.

Up until the late 18th Century, however, railroads were rather limited in what they could be used for, since there was no way of mechanically propelling the vehicles used. Rather, these railroads relied on humans, animals, or gravity to move the carts along the tracks. This changed when in 1784, the great Scottish inventor James Watt created and patented the first steam engine locomotive which was an improvement of a steam engine designed by Thomas Newcomen. Following this invention, engineers in the UK working on different projects such as Richard Trevithick and his development of the first high-pressure steam engine would lead to the first uses of locomotive-hauled railway. His invention would be used in Wales on a short 9 mile run from an iron-works in Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff canal.(2)  On February 21st, 1804, the first trip took place on this railway using only steam propulsion.(2) However it wasn’t until George Stephenson’s creation paved the way for public use of steam engines like those created by James Watt on the rails, and in the coming years rail travel would play an important role not just in the United Kingdom but in the United States as well. This raises the question, where and when did turbines and turbomachinery come into play in rail travel?

George Stephenson's Locomotion 1 –
George Stephenson’s Locomotion 1 – image courtesy of Chris55 / CC BY-SA

Believe it or not, gas turbines in trains were being experimented with long before Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain were designing them to take to the skies. As far back as 1861, the year that Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States, patents were being filed for a turbine that utilized ambient air mixed with combustion gasses to drive a turbine. As seen in patent 1633, Marc Antoine Francois Mennons created an engine that included all of the components needed in a modern gas turbine engine. It was called a “caloric engine” and it had a compressor (called a ventilator), combustion chamber (using ambient air and burned wood or coke), and a turbine to create work from the combustion gasses as well as a pre-heater (which he called a regenerating apparatus).(3)

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Charles Parsons and His Contribution to Engineering

Welcome to this special edition of the SoftInWay blog! While we at SoftInWay are known for helpful articles about designing various machines, retrofitting, and rotordynamics, we believe it is also important to examine the lives of some of the men and women behind these great machines.

The compound steam turbine is one of the greatest inventions, not just in turbomachinery but around the world. Once it was introduced to the marine industry, the steam turbine exploded in popularity as a means of allowing ships to travel faster and farther than ever before. It would go on to become a critical part in the naval arms race that preceded the First World War. The steam turbine not only revolutionized marine and naval propulsion, it became one of the best ways to generate electricity. After its inception, the steam turbine became one of the best ways to reliably generate power on a large scale, and make electricity the regular utility that it is today. But who invented the modern steam turbine?

Sir Charles Parsons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, (1854 – 1931), is the inventor of the modern steam turbine. The work he undertook in his life had a massive impact on the world, continuing the legacy of James Watt by bringing steam technology into the modern era. Born on June 13th 1854 into an Anglo-Irish family, Sir Charles Parsons was born into a well-respected family with roots in County Offaly, Ireland. In fact the town now known as Birr was then known as Parsonstown, from the early 1600’s through to 1899. Parsons was the sixth son of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, and had a family lineage that had made great strides in the areas of military, political, and physical science. The family’s castle in Birr, which is still owned by the Parsons family and is the permanent residence of the 7th Earl of Rosse, was a rendezvous for men of science during the childhood of Sir Charles. Suffice it to say, there was no better place for a future-engineer to grow up. He alongside his brothers would receive private tutorship from Sir Robert Ball and Dr Johnstone Stoney, famous Irish astronomer and physicist, respectively. Read More

Micro Turbines in Maritime Transportation

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Hello! Or should I say, welcome aboard! In this edition of micro gas turbines in transportation, we’re going to be looking at micro gas turbines in the marine world. Marine transportation presents its own set of unique challenges not seen in other forms of transportation; although some of the common challenges and hurdles will be seen here too. If you haven’t read the other entries, or the introduction, I highly recommend you do so here.

Out of all the different vehicles and forms of transportation that will be covered in this series, the boat as we know it is one of the oldest ways of getting about. From rowing to sailing to paddle wheels and engines, the boat has a long history of carrying every kind of good and being imaginable. Much like the topic of turbines, marine transportation can take up oceans of information; in fact you might say that it’s a whale of a topic.

Whale Whale Whale
Whale, here we are with another pun. I hope it brightens your day at least! Image courtesy of The Georgia Aquarium

This blog will specifically cover a brief history of motorized marine transportation, where/how micro turbines can be used, and the inherent advantages and disadvantages. Let’s get started!

A Brief History of Engines in Marine Transportation

Steamboats became popular in the 19th Century when the Industrial Revolution was in its early stages. Steam engines like the ones designed by James Watt were used to propel everything from small riverboats like the ones that went up and down the Missouri river, to oceangoing steamships. The engines typically drove a propeller or “screw” or a large paddle wheel like what is commonly seen on a watermill. Different steam engines in different configurations dominated marine transportation throughout the 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century, large expansion engines began to be utilized for oceangoing ships like the Olympic-class ocean liners as well as warships. Read More