Turbomachinery Evolution through Generative Design

As human-beings, our differences are what makes us unique (if I may quote the Seek Discomfort crew – “What makes you different is what makes you beautiful”). For turbomachines, this sentiment also rings true.  We design different turbomachines because we have varied roles, needs and constraints for them. To that effect, there is no universally best turbine, compressor, or pump. Therefore, figuring out which set of “skills” a turbomachine should have is the key role of a design engineer so that they may effectively capture and estimate performances of the machine they will work on early on while having the certitude this is the best that can be done.

Generative design is one of these recent buzzwords that characterizes an approach to the design of components (or systems) that has been around for quite some time already. Rather than producing one geometry for one value of each input (such as boundary conditions, flow coefficients, number of stages, etc.), generative design allows you to create thousands of designs within minutes that you can review, compare, and filter to select the one that best suits your needs. Let’s look at an example of an axial turbine design process comparing traditional preliminary design vs. generative design.

Approach 1 or what most companies call Traditional Preliminary Design,  is to look in textbooks and previous examples of what a given turbine for that application “should” look like. It may involve things like using Ns-Ds diagrams, load-to-flow diagrams, blade speed ratio vs. isentropic velocity ratio correlations, scaling/trimming existing designs, etc. These have served their purpose well enough, but they have their limitations which make them fairly challenging to really innovate. Such limitations include previous experience/data being restricted to a given fluid, relative clearance size, given configuration, lack of secondary flows, etc. A summary of a traditional preliminary design workflow (familiar to too many engineers) is presented below.

Summary of traditional preliminary design workflow
Figure 1 Summary of traditional preliminary design workflow

Now, we know that changing (ahem, improving) your workflow is not always easy. But growth happens through discomfort and switching to a generative design approach does NOT mean rebuilding everything your team has done in the past. What it effectively gives you is the confidence that the input parameters you finalized will provide not only the desired performance but the best ones that can be achieved (and it saves time too…a lot of time). From there, you can use these inputs in your current design software or you can continue the design process in our design platform, AxSTREAM® (meaning you can add generative design capabilities upstream of your existing workflow or replace parts/all of that workflow depending on what makes the most sense for you). You can pay your engineers to do engineering work, instead of visiting online libraries and guessing input parameters in hope they will find the needle in the haystack. Or, with generative design, you kind of look for haystacks and shake them until the needle falls off.

So, how does this work in AxSTREAM, you may ask? Very well, I may reply :D. Read More

Rotor Dynamics Study of 4-Stage Compressor – from Theory to Application

Rotating machines have huge and important roles in our daily life although we may rarely think about them. Steam turbines at electrical power plants rotate the electrical generator shafts which produce electricity coming into our homes and offices. Driving to or from work, the reciprocating cycle in your vehicle’s internal combustion engine results in rotation of the transmission and the wheels of vehicles, while the electric car wheel operation is a result of induction motor rotation. If you get on an airplane, rotation of the turbo reactive gas turbine engine produces the effective thrust to sustain flight by moving, compressing and throwing the gas behind the plane. We can even find the useful effects of rotation in our kitchens when we are blending the food or washing our closes.

Although these rotating machines are different, the approaches to modelling their rotor dynamics are pretty much the same, since similar processes occur in rotating parts which differ in their vibrations from the non-rotating machines.

Do you remember the example of rotating washing machine? Have you ever seen it jumping on the floor trying to squeeze out your closet? We bet you have. This is the simplest example of the increased unbalance affecting the amplitudes of machine vibrations. Washing machines are designed to experience these noticeable vibrations during their operation without breaking. But the steam turbine or compressor rotors which have the tight clearances between the impellers and the casing can not boast of that leeway. In addition to that, the excessive vibrations significantly influence the machine’s useful life due to the increased fatigue.
This is why the rotor dynamics predictions are one of the most important parts of rotating machine analyses. And although they may seem easier than comprehensive stress-strain investigations of machine components, in some cases the rotor dynamics analysis can be trickiest part.

Usually, the rotor dynamics analyses are divided into lateral and torsional stages depending on the nature of rotor response to be used. They are discussed in different types of standards (API [1], ISO [2], etc.). Let’s consider the example of the lateral vibrations of a 4 stage compressor rotor with an operational speed of 8856 rpm.

Fig. 1 - 4 Stage Compressor Rotor
Fig. 1 – 4 Stage Compressor Rotor

This rotor rotates in the 4 pad tilting, pad oil film journal bearings. The characteristics of these bearings should be determined carefully to ensure that there will not be an excessive wear, heat generation or friction in them. Read More

Drilled Nozzle Application in Supersonic Turbines

Most designers associate drilled nozzles in turbomachinery with something exotic, uncharted, and specific only to a minuscule amount of high-loaded turbines operating with a high-pressure drop. Meanwhile, many engineers are not aware that this nozzle design has been applied since the very first turbomachines.

Karl Gustaf Patrik de Laval patented a turbine with asymmetric convergent-divergent nozzles in 1888. At that time the shape of the nozzle allowed him to reach more effective kinetic energy transformation and have an entirely new level of turbine performance.

Figure 1 - Laval Turbine with Drilled Nozzles
Figure 1 – Laval Turbine with Drilled Nozzles. Source

Over a hundred years later, drilled nozzles (or asymmetric nozzles, Laval’s nozzles) have been extensively used in rocket engines, flying vehicles, driving turbines, ORC turbines, and other units for which low cost and weight-dimension constraints play an important role.

Despite the wide application range of turbines with these nozzles, each has its own specific features.

Drilled Nozzles

The main characteristics of drilled nozzles in a turbine (Fig. 2) are the partial admission input, high heat drop per first stage, low reaction, and a low number of stages.

Fig. 2 - Turbine with Drilled Nozzles Flow Path in AxSTREAM
Fig. 2 – Turbine (with Drilled Nozzles) Flow Path in AxSTREAM®

For these turbines, the most critical point during the design process is the first nozzle design. The first supersonic nozzle provides the throughput of the turbine. The main kinetic energy transformation and the main portion of the available isentropic heat drop relates to the first nozzles. As a result, the Mach number at the outlet section of nozzles can reach 3.0 and even be higher. To operate in such regimes, the convergent-divergent vane channels are preferable. Read more

Scaling and Trimming in Axial Compressors and Fans

Introduction

Despite the deepening understanding of the essence of gas-dynamic processes and the development of computational methods, simpler design methods such as scaling and trimming remain in demand in turbomachinery engineering. The main advantage of these approaches over design from scratch is simplicity and its inexpensive nature due to the small-time expenditure and lower demand from computational resources. Good predictive accuracy of the performance and efficiency of the resulting machines is based on the use of an existing machine with well-known characteristics as a prototype.

Conversely, using the prototype imposes restrictions on the use of scaling and trimming methods. It is almost impossible to get a new design with pressure and efficiency higher than that of the prototype. Also, in cases where it is required to obtain performance that is significantly different from the prototype, the inherent reliability of the original prediction may be insufficient.

Scaling Method

Easy to apply and general, valid, scaling laws are needed for design and application engineers. The scaling laws are needed for the purposes of:

  1. Predicting the full-scale performance machine from model test data obtained from a scaled machine
  2. Obtaining a family of machines with different performances on the basis of one well-tested machine

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Experimental performance and efficiency testing on a full-size model of large machines such as fans to ventilate tunnels and mines or to move combustion air and smoke gas in power plants may be impractical due to the high energy costs and geometric limitations of the experimental stand. In these cases, a scale model is used. And although complete similarity is not maintained, for example, in terms of the Reynolds number, the correction factors in most cases are well known and the prediction accuracy is high.

The method involves the implementation of the flow path of the designed fan or compressor on a scale to the prototype. This means that all linear dimensions (e.g. diameters, blade chord, axial length, etc.) must be multiplied by the scaling factor (SF). The angular dimensions (e.g. blade angles at inlet and outlet, stagger angle, etc.) remain unchanged.

When scaling, it is assumed that parameters such as Pressure Ratio, circumferential velocity (U), and axial velocity (Cz) are equal for the designed machine and the prototype. Thus:

Trimming and Scaling Formula 1

The condition of equality of the Reynolds criteria is not ensured, since the designed compressor and the prototype do not have the same diameters of the rotor with the equality of other parameters that determine the number of Rew. This design guarantees the practical accuracy of the calculated characteristics, provided that the gas movement in the flow path is turbulent. It is known that for “physical” values of the Reynolds numbers

Trimming and Scaling Formula 2

the flow remains turbulent and the inequality of the Reynolds numbers of the designed compressor and the prototype has little effect on the gas-dynamic characteristics.

To determine the efficiency of low-pressure fans, a well-known formula is usually used:

Trimming and Scaling Formula 3

An example of obtaining a stage of an axial compressor by the scaling method is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Axial Compressor Stage Scaling
Figure 1 – Axial Compressor Stage Scaling

The disadvantages of the scaling method include the need to change the rotor speed. This can be relevant for industrial installations, where the rotation speed is often limited and tied to the frequency of the electrical network current. Additionally, the need to change the overall dimensions can be a limiting factor, especially if it is necessary to increase productivity significantly, and the installation location for the turbomachine is limited. In some cases, maintaining full geometric similarity is impossible for technological or constructive reasons. For example, the minimum value of the tip clearance may be limited by the operating conditions of the rotor (not touching the rotor against the housing) or the impossibility of obtaining a small clearance if the scaling is carried out from a large prototype to a small model.

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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

Unsteady Flow Simulation in Hydraulic Systems

An unsteady flow is one where the parameters change with respect to time. In general, any liquid flow is unsteady. But if a hydraulic system is working at constant boundary conditions, then the parameters of the fluid flow change slowly; thus this flow is considered steady. At the same time, if the parameters of the fluid flow oscillate over time relative to some constant value, then it called quasi-steady flow 1.

In practice, most fluid flows are steady or quasi-steady. Examples of the three flows are presented in Figure 1. Steady flow is presented by a simple pipe. The quasi-steady flow is represented by a sharpened edge channel. The unsteady flow is presented by an outflow from a reservoir.

Figure 1 - Different Types of Fluid Flow
Figure 1 – Different Types of Fluid Flow
Different Cases of Unsteady Flow

During operations, hydraulic systems act for long intervals at steady conditions which are called operating modes. Change between two different operating modes occurs over a short time interval (called a transient mode). If any hydraulic system works more than 95% of the time at these operating modes though, why is the unsteady flow is so important? Because the loads depend on time intervals. If the load is less, then the maximum system pressure is higher. Read More

Applications of Centrifugal Pumps

Centrifugal Pumps are the most popular and commonly used type of pump for the transfer of any type of fluid. The volumetric flow rate range of centrifugal pumps can vary from several tens of ml/hour to  one hundred thousand m3/hour , while the pressure can be normal pressure to nearly 20MPa; and the liquid temperature can be as low as -200℃ or as high as 800℃. The fluid being transferred can be water (clean or sewage), oil, acid or alkali, suspension or liquid metal, etc. Therefore, centrifugal pumps are used across numerous industries:

  1. In the oil and gas or chemical industries, converting crude oil to products requires a complex process. Pumps play an important role in transferring these liquids, providing the required pressure and flow rate for chemical reactions. Sometimes, pumps are used to adjust temperature in certain parts of the system.
  2. In agriculture, centrifugal pumps are used in the majority of irrigation machinery. Agriculture pumps make up half of the total amount of centrifugal pumps being used today.
  3. In mining and metallurgy industries, centrifugal pumps are the most widely used equipment, for draining, and cooling of water supplies, etc.
  4. For power generation, the nuclear power plants need large amounts of primary, and secondary system pumps, while the thermal power plants also need boiler feed pumps, condensate pumps, loop pumps and as well as ash pumps.
  5. In military applications, the adjusting of airplane wings and rudders, turning of turret on ships and tanks, the up and down of submarines, all rely on pumps for hydraulic fluids.
  6. In shipbuilding, there are more than 100 different types of pumps in one typical ocean ship.
  7. Other applications include municipal water supplies and drainage; water supplies of locomotives; lubricating and cooling of machining equipment; bleach and dye transfer of textile industry; and milk and beverage pumping and sugar refining in the food industry.

 

Centrifugal pumps can be classified based on the number of impellers in the pump:

A single-stage pump, with only one impeller, is commonly used for high flow and low to moderate total dynamic head, as in Figure 1.

Single Stage Centrifugal Pump
Figure 1. Single Stage Centrifugal Pump

A multi-stage pump has two or more impellers working in a series to achieve higher total dynamic head.
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Micro Gas Turbines – Addressing the Challenges with AxSTREAM

During the last decade the development and extensive use of unmanned air vehicles (UAV) has accelerated the need for high performing micro gas turbines. In fact, their large energy density (Whr/kg) makes them attractive not only for UAV application, but also for portable power units, as well as for distributed power generation in applications where heat and power generation can be combined.
Micro gas turbines have the same basic operation principle as open cycle gas turbines (Brayton open cycle). In this cycle, the air is compressed by the compressor, going through the combustion chamber, where it receives energy from the fuel and thus raises in temperature. Leaving the combustion chamber, the high temperature working fluid is directed to the turbine, where it is expanded by supplying power to the compressor and for the electric generator or other equipment available [1].

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Feasibility of Mixed Flow Compressors in Aero Engines

The term, “mixed flow compressor”, refers to a type of compressor that combines axial and radial flow paths. This phenomenon produces a fluid outflow angle somewhere between 0 and 90 degrees with respect to the inlet path.  Referred to as the meridional exit angle, the angled outflow of this mixed flow configuration possesses the advantages of both axial and centrifugal compressors.  Axial compressors can produce higher order efficiencies for gas engines, but they have relatively low-pressure ratios unless compounded into several stages.  Centrifugal compressors can produce high-pressure ratios in a single stage, but they suffer from a drop in efficiency.  The geometrical distinction of mixed flow compressors allows for higher efficiencies while maintaining a limited cross-sectional area.  The trade-off for a mixed flow compressor when introduced to aero gas turbines is that there is an associated weight increase due to the longer impellers needed to cover this diagonal surface.  However, when related to smaller gas turbines, the weight increase becomes less significant to the overall performance of the engine.

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