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oct/nov 08

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Shaft vs. Foot Alignment Tolerances

A Critique of Various Approaches
by Alan Luedeking

he only correct way to express shaft alignment tolerances is in terms of alignment conditions at the coupling. It is entirely incorrect to describe alignment tolerances in terms of the correction values at the machine feet. We will explore this in detail further on, but first lets examine what our objective is. When two machines are directly coupled via a flexible coupling, any misalignment between their centerlines of rotation can result in vibration which can produce premature wear or even catastrophic failure of the machines bearings, seals, the coupling itself, or other rotating components. The worse this misalignment between shaft centerlines, the greater the rate of wear and likelihood of premature failure of the machines. Also factor in a loss of efficiency along with an increase in power consumption. the specific amount of offset and angularity that exists in the horizontal and vertical planes separately, at the location of the coupling. We describe these conditions at the location of the coupling because it is there where the vibration that is so harmful to your machines is created, when misalignment exists. Another way to describe misalignment would be in terms of the sliding velocities resulting from it. However, one way to never describe it is in terms of foot corrections, since those values depend entirely upon the size and geometry of each machine. Since good quality flexible couplings are almost always built to withstand more misalignment than what is good for the machines involved (in terms of the vibration created), it is almost a truism that one should never align to the tolerances allowed for their couplings by the coupling manufacturer, but rather align to a tighter standard. The principal reason why most good flexible couplings permit greater misalignment than what is recommended for the machines is to permit these machines to be deliberately misaligned (sometimes significantly so) in the cold and stopped condition, in order to allow for the anticipated changes that will occur to the alignment condition when the machines are placed in service and achieve the hot running condition.

An excellent alignment of the shafts centerlines of rotation does not in itself guarantee absence of vibration because you can still have imbalance of rotating components, resonance, turbulence and cavitation, mechanical looseness or even vibration from other nearby running machines that enters your machines through the foundation or piping. But misalignment of the centerlines of rotation is one of the leading causes of damage to machinery. Absolute perfection in the alignment of the shafts is not realistically attainable, nor is it necessary. Like everything else in life, no matter how hard you try and how long you work at it, you will never achieve perfection, or an absolutely perfect zero-zero alignment. This, of course, begs the question: If, no matter how hard I try, I will never achieve a perfect alignment and so must always still have some misalignment, how much is too much? How much misalignment can I live with, can I tolerate? This, by definition, would be your tolerance. To define these limits, it is first necessary to define how we will describe misalignment: The centerlines of rotation of the shafts are simply Anglular two straight lines, sitting someplace in space. The trick is to get the two of Figure 1 - Offset & Angular them to coincide Misalignment so that they form one straight line. If they dont, then you have either offset misalignment (see Figure 1) or angular misalignment, or a combination of both.

A Note on Thermal Growth

If the couplings werent built to allow for this excessive misalignment (at least for a little while), some machines could never be directly coupled together unless a spacer shaft were installed between them. But this gives rise to the temptation to align to the looser standard the coupling allows rather than to the tighter standards that the machines themselves demand. If you simply ignore the changes to alignment that result from thermal growth, you will have problems. For example, a refinery has a small steam turbine, foot-mounted, and enveloped in insulating blankets. The steel casing temperature while in operation is 455 F, and the distance from centerline to the bottom of the feet is 18 inches. It drives an ANSI pump with a casing temperature of 85 F whose distance centerline to bottom of feet is also 18 inches. Both
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Since the shafts exist in three-dimensional space, misalignment can exist in any direction. Therefore, we describe


initially started up at the same ambient temperature. The differential in their growth is (0.0000065 inches per inch per deg. F) x 18 inches x (455 85) deg. F = 0.043 inches. If these two machines have their shafts aligned center-to-center when cold, this amount of offset would be certain to throw this equipment train into the frequent failure category. Using the 80/20 rule, it is safe to assume that 20% of our machinery population eats up 80% of our maintenance money. This pump train would be a problem child in the 20% group. Aligning center-to-center without paying attention to thermal growth is one of the big factors that keeps companies among those whose maintenance departments are repair-focused. Using laser shaft alignment tools and paying attention to thermal growth is a mandatory requirement for companies whose maintenance focus is, instead, reliability-based.

coupling diameter. The latter method is popular because it relates directly to what the mechanic is used to detecting with his feeler gauges between the coupling faces (see Figure 3.) A modern laser shaft alignment system can be set to describe this angle in whatever format is preferred by the user.

Standard versus Vector Tolerances at the Coupling

It must be noted that the Figure 4 - Standard tolerances applied offset & angularity approach can have two different interpretations. If we describe the permissible offset between the driver and driven shafts as being of X amount, does this mean (1) X amount in any direction, or (2) X amount seen individually and separately for both the horizontal and vertical planes? These two alternatives are not the same! The first example is called vector tolerances and is more conservative. The second approach is called standard tolerFigure 5 - Vector tolerances applied ances and is the more As can be seen, vector tolerances are more commonly used. If you never want conservative and therefore safer for very critimore than X amount of offset to cal machinery. A good laser shaft alignment exist between the shafts in any system will allow you to apply this distinction direction, then you should apply and specify exactly which type of tolerances you vector tolerances since using stan- wish to use. dard tolerances can lead, in some circumstances, to more offset than Figure 6 presents the tolerance table most you really intended to allow. See widely accepted as the standard industry norm for short couplings, and you can choose whether Figures 4 and 5 for an illustration of this. to apply the values individually to each plane Figure 4 illustrates a case where applying (vertical and horizontal) or more conservatively, standard tolerances to an offset of 2.5 mils as vector values. horizontally and 2.7 mils vertically is deemed acceptable, because the permissible limit for Spacer Coupling Tolerances either of these offsets, individually, is 3.0 mils. However, the actual offset between the shafts is Spacer coupling tolerances generally are ex3.7 mils , which is unacceptable if your absolute pressed as limits to the angle that may exist limit is 3.0 mils. This is derived from the tra- between each machine shaft and the spacer ditional formula a2 + b2 = c2; thus ( 2.52 + 2.72 ) shaft between them. Since the spacer shaft (or = 3.7 mils. This result can be seen as a vector spool piece) connects to the end of each of the machine shafts at either end, by definition, there tolerance, in Figure 5. shouldnt be any offset between the spacer and

Short-Flex Coupling Tolerances

This is one of the most common ways of defining alignment tolerances. The offset tolerance simply describes the maximum separation that can exist between two centerlines of rotation at a specific location along the shaft axes, usually the coupling center. The angularity tolerance describes the rate at which the offset between the shaft centerlines may change as we travel along the axes of the shafts. See Figure 2 for an illustration of how such a tolerance envelope looks.

Figure 2 - Tolerance Envelope

The angularity may de described either directly, as the rate of change in the offset, in mils per inch (or milliradians), or as a gap difference at a particular

Figure 3 - Angularity Measurement



Shaft Alignment Tolerances (short couplings) Excellent RPM 600 900 1200 1800 3600 7200 Offset (mils) 5.0 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.0 0.5 Angularity (mils/in) 1.0 0.7 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.1 Acceptable Offset (mils) 9.0 6.0 4.0 3.0 1.5 1.0 Angularity (mils/in) 1.5 1.0 0.8 0.5 0.3 0.2

related to the maximum permissible offset and angularity through the following formula:

Shaft Alignment Tolerances (spacer couplings)

Angularity (Angles and ), or Projected Offset (Offset A, Offset B), (mils per inch) RPM 600 900 1200 1800 3600 Excellent 1.8 1.2 0.9 0.6 0.3 0.15 Acceptable 3.0 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.25

2 * d * r * a *

Where: d = coupling diameter, r = revolutions/time, and a = angle in radians.

Figure 6 Short-Flex Coupling Tolerance Table: Standard Industry Norms each of the machine shafts. Therefore, all that needs to be specified is the maximum angle that may exist between the spacer shaft and each of the machine shafts it connects to. This angle may be specified directly in mils per inch (or milliradians), or in terms of the offset that each individual machine shaft projects to the opposite end of the spacer with respect to the other machine shaft. The first way is called the angle-angle method (also sometimes called the alpha-beta method), and the second way is called the offset-offset (or offset A-offset B) method. As can be seen in Figure 7, Angle on the right projects Offset B and Angle on the left projects Offset A on the right. Figure 8 presents the table of values most widely accepted as the standard industry norm for spacer couplings.

When offset and angularity exist, the flexing or moving elements in a coupling must deflect, slide or travel by double the amount of the offset and angularity every half a rotation. Since the speed of rotation is defined, then, given a certain amount of misalignment, the maximum velocity that is achieved by the moving element in accommodating this misalignment is, in turn, defined as well. In essence, when you limit the sliding velocity that is permissible, you have, by definition, also limited the offset and angularity (in any combination) that can exist between the coupled shafts. By definition, since this approach only looks at the maximum absolute value of the velocity attained, it is more conservative and is, therefore, more akin to the vector tolerance approach. For 1800 RPM, typically this velocity limit is about 1.13 inches per second for an excellent alignment, and 1.89 inches per second for an acceptable alignment. Again, the best laser alignment systems will let you to apply this approach as well.


Figure 8 Spacer Shaft Alignment Tolerance Table: Standard Industry Norms and the sign of the values! Therefore, this approach is so cumbersome and error-prone as to be impractical in the field. Since the dimensions between the coupling and the feet and between the feet themselves (front to back) are different for each machine, a tolerance that only describes a maximum permissible correction value at the feet without any reference to the dimensions involved makes no sense. The same correction values, when applied to different dimensions between the support points and to the coupling, can yield vastly different alignment conditions between the rotating centerlines of the shafts. Such a tolerance simply ignores the effects of rise over run, which is essentially what shaft alignment is all about. Furthermore, a tolerance defined generically in terms of corrections at the feet does not take into account the speed of the machines. Such alignment tolerances can have two equally bad consequences: the values may be met at the feet yet still allow a poor alignment to exist between the shafts, or, these values may be greatly exceeded yet the alignment between the shafts is still acceptable! This means that in the first scenario, the aligner may stop correcting his alignment before the machines are properly aligned, and in the second case, may be misled into continuing to move machines after they have already arrived in tolerance, thereby wasting valuable time and effort. In addition, meeting foot tolerances at one machine almost guarantees violating them at the other machine! Lets take a look at a couple of examples that illustrate all of the fallacies associated with this approach: Let us assume that the specified alignment tolerance for an 1800 RPM machine is defined as a maximum correction value for the machine feet of 2 mils. Note that a specific sign (+ or ) is not specified, because a tolerance is, by definition,
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Since most flexible couplings have two flex Tolerances Expressed in Terms of planes (or points of articulation), these spacer Corrections Values at the Feet: coupling tolerances may safely be used with all The Wrong Way such couplings, even the ones usually considered short flex couplings. The best criterion to This approach is wrong. It is impossible to make the distinction between a short flex and define the quality of the alignment between a spacer coupling is the relation between the shaft centerlines in terms of correction values diameter of the flex planes and the distance at the feet alone, unless one also specifies the between them. Anytime the distance between exact dimensions associated with these specific correction values each time for each machine, flex planes (axial span) is greater than the working diameter of those flex planes, call it a spacer coupling. This will make achieving tolerances easier when performing alignment corrections in the field and in no way diminishes the conservative Offset B nature of these values.

Sliding Velocity Tolerances

Another approach for specifying alignment tolerances is to describe the maximum permissible limit of the velocity that the moving elements in a flexible coupling may attain during operation. This can be easily

Angle Offset A


Figure 7 - Spacer Coupling Tolerances can be measured using the angle-angle method or the offset-offset method.


supposed to represent a permissible range of misalignment. Now then, suppose a machine is found to be high by 0.002 at the front feet and low at the back feet by 0.002. Therefore, it is deemed to be in tolerance by this method. If the distance between the feet is 8 inches, this results in an existing angular misalignment of the shaft centerlines of 0.5 mils per inch (which we derive by observing the 4 mils difference in offset over the 8 run between the feet.) If the distance from the front foot to the coupling center is 10 inches, simple rise over run tells us that the resulting offset between the machine shafts at the coupling would be +7.0 mils! This offset is considerably in excess of the 3 mils of offset at the coupling that is considered the maximum acceptable for an 1800 RPM machine (from Figure 6), yet, with the improperly specified foot correction tolerances this alignment would be erroneously considered to be in tolerance! This is a classic example of where small correction values at the feet do not necessarily mean that you have a good alignment at the coupling. See Figure 9. Moreover, if you extend this centerline over to the other machine, the foot positions of that machine are far in excess of the permissible values of 2 mils! See Figure 10.

So then, how is it possible that a given alignment of the shafts would be considered in tolerance when looked at from the perspective of one machine, yet be completely out of tolerance if looked at from the perspective of the other machine? This example clearly illustrates the self-defeating fallacy of this approach. An equally bad consequence of this tolerances at the feet approach is that the opposite scenario Figure 9 - Tolerances expressed in terms of correction values is just as likely to occur: at the feet can lead to gross misalignment even though the Imagine a large machine aligner thinks the alignment is acceptable. (such as a diesel engine), running at 1,200 RPM, whose distance between the feet is 80 inches. alignment at the coupling is only +1.25 mils of The distance from front feet to the coupling is offset and only 0.225 mils per inch of angularity 30 inches. This machine is found to have mis- (2.25 mils gap difference at a 10 diameter). alignment requiring foot corrections of 8 mils See Figure 11. at the front feet and 26 mils at the back feet. This would be considered way out of tolerance These alignment conditions at the coupling are if we apply a permissible limit of 2 mils at the already much better than required by the stanfeet. However, in this case, the resulting mis-

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Figure 10 - Extending the centerline to the other machine further exaggerates the problem. dard industry norms for 1,200 RPM, yet, using the improperly specified tolerance values at the feet of 2 mils, the aligner would be misled into doing unnecessary work to bring the machines to these values. Again, the fallacy of this approach is indisputable, so please dont make the mistake of using

Figure 11 - Tolerances expressed in terms of correction values at the feet can also lead to trying to align machines that are already aligned properly.
Alan Luedeking is manager of training and tech support at Ludeca. He has a Bachelors degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and over 20 years of field experience in machinery shaft alignment and training. He enjoys technical writing and editing and speaks four languages. He is married with four young children and his principal hobby is numismatics. Alan can be reached at 305-591-8935 or by e-mail at alan@ludeca.com

this faulty technique, and increase the likelihood of catastrophic failure. Figures 5, 6, 10, 11 and 12 created with the assistance of Alignment Center and Alignment Explorer software by Prftechnik.



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