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Types of Vibrations On Ships Machinery Vibrations


One of the most common and dreaded problems on board ships is high levels of vibration.
The two most noticeable effects this vibration has on the ship is structural fatigue and
discomfort of crew/passengers.

In the past, there have been ships that have been discarded for years due to unacceptable
level of vibrations, rendering them unsafe for operation. So, over the years, with research by
classification societies, a lot of improvement has been achieved in terms of marine vibrations.
Design techniques have undergone changes to incorporate factors related to reduction of
vibration levels during the entire lifespan of a ship.
This article is not about the basics of vibration mechanics. It is about the categories of vibration
on board ships, the basis of their categorisation, an insight on the origin of each type of
vibration, and design techniques adopted to prevent them. So it is assumed henceforth, that
the very basic fundamentals of vibration are well known to the reader.

To begin with, vibration ships are majorly categorised into two types, depending on the
components of the ship the vibration is primarily related with. They are:

Type One- Machinery Vibration

Type Two- Hull Vibration
In this article, we will only on Type One Machinery Vibration, and in the next, Type Two
Hull Vibration.
Machinery Vibration
The vibrations that originate due to the operation of machinery can be listed under Machinery
Vibrations. Any machinery that have parts moving at a certain frequency induce vibrations. So,
main engines, propulsion shafts, gearboxes, propellers, pumps, diesel generators- all
machinery transmit vibrations.
The role of a ship designer is to first understand how each of these machinery causes
vibrations, and then device methods to keep them within safe levels. Machinery Vibrations can
again be categorised into three types, depending on the nature of the vibrations:
Torsional Vibration.
Axial or Longitudinal Vibration.
Lateral Vibration.
Torsional Vibration:
The main propulsion system of a ship consists of the main engine, which is connected to a
propeller by a shaft. The shaft is again, not a single component. Usually, a marine shaft
consists of an intermediate shaft and a propeller shaft, which are connected by means of
coupling flanges. The presence of connections, like coupling flanges, thrust block, engine
connection flange, and the cylinder piston system in the main diesel engine creates torsion in
the rotating shaft system. In other words, the rotatory motion of the diesel engine creates an
excitation. So, the entire propulsion system can be simplified, for vibrational analysis into a
series combination of shafts and discs, as shown in the figure below:

Figure 1:Main Propulsion system as a combination of shafts and discs.

The above system of shafts and discs deduced from the proposed propulsion system of a
ship to be designed, is used to calculate the natural torsional frequency of the propulsion
system. The task of a designer is to choose a main engine such that the natural frequency of
the main engine at its MCR is not within 5% of the natural torsional frequency of the entire
propulsion system. Or in other words, the approach can be reasonably generalised stating

that, the excitations should be minimised so as to prevent resonance. According to the speed
range at which torsional resonance occurs, the barred speed range is set, so that this speed
range is avoided during voyage. If that is not taken care of, it would result in a torsional failure
of the shaft.
Axial or Longitudinal Vibration:
One of the most interesting cases of machinery vibration, and perhaps the one most likely to
cause forced vibrations, is axial vibration of the propulsion system. As we saw earlier, to
analyse a case of vibration, it is important to identify the excitation of a particular type of
vibration. Axial mode of vibration makes the propulsion system behave like a horizontal
multiple degree of freedom spring-mass system. So, the propulsion system in figure one, can
be reduced to a system as shown below in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Multiple DOF Vibration System of Propulsion System

Now, for a while, let us shift attention from this system and focus on the operation of the
propeller. The thrust generated by the propeller depends on the velocity of water incident
onto the propeller blades (called wake). Now, due to the curvature of the hull at the aft, the
wake on the propeller is not uniform in nature. That is, the wake at the top of the propeller disc
is different from the wake at the bottom of the disc. To obtain a better idea about the variation
of wake, follow Figure 3. It shows the variation of wake at different angles around the propeller
disc. This diagram is only for a particular distance from the centre of the propeller disc (shown
in blue). So it should be well understood, that the wakes for each distance from the centre of
the propeller centre will have different graphs.

Figure 3: Variation of wake on a propeller

What we therefore imply from the above diagram is, when a particular blade of the propeller is
at 0 degree position, the velocity of water onto it is different from the velocity of water onto
the same blade when it has rotated to 90 degree position. And this variation is continuous

across one half of the propeller rotation. As a result of this, the thrust generated by that blade
at zero degree position will be different from the thrust generated by the same blade at 90
degree and 180 degree. And this is repeated with each revolution, which means that the thrust
generated by the propeller is periodic in nature, which we often call as alternating thrust. And
a periodic thrust becomes the exciting force for the axial vibration of the propulsion system.
The frequency of the propeller excitation is (Propeller RPM x Number of blades). In order to
avoid resonance, the designer must ensure that the first few natural frequencies of axial
vibration of the main propulsion system (shown in figure 2) is at least 5% away from that of the
propeller excitation frequency.

A Quick Question: What steps must a designer take if the propeller excitation frequency lies
within the first few natural frequencies of longitudinal vibration of main propulsion system?
In such a case, there are two major options. One, either the propeller excitation frequency
needs to be changed, or the natural frequencies of the main propulsion system has to be
altered. Before going into the procedure of doing that, lets first look into the feasibility of each
Option One- Changing the propeller excitation frequency:
In order to change the propeller excitation frequency, either the number of propeller blades
has to be changed, or the rated RPM of the propeller has to be altered.
Changing the number of propeller blades is not a feasible option because the number of
blades have a high influence on the efficiency of the propeller.
At this stage of the design, the rated RPM of the propeller has already been decided upon on
the basis of required torque and thrust to provide the effective power required by the ship. So,
altering the rated RPM is not a viable option either. It is clear, Option One cannot be
Option Two: Changing the natural frequency of Main Propulsion System:
This option is feasible, because taking this step wouldnt affect other factors of the ship. But
how does one go about this process?
The natural frequency of any system depends on the stiffness and the mass of the system.
Changing the mass of the propulsion system is not an intelligent approach. Instead, ship
designers focus on playing with the stiffness of the system. How? Well, the primary focus is on
the thrust bearing and its foundation. The foundation of the thrust bearing is the component
that deflects in response to the thrust that is transmitted by the thrust bearing. In other words,
it behaves as a spring. So the structural foundation of the thrust bearing must be redesigned to
obtain a stiffness that would change the natural frequency of the propulsion system to the
desired value.
Lateral or Transverse Vibration:
This mode of vibration occurs in the direction perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the shaft.
The intermediate and tail shafts can be considered as beams, with the shaft bearings as
support points.
Due to bending of the shafts, the centre of gravity of the shaft does not coincide with the ideal
centreline of the shaft, therefore when the shaft rotates, the centrifugal force on the centre of
gravity would cause it to shift further away from the ideal centreline, resulting in a vibratory
motion called whirling of shafts. The number of shaft bearings and the distance between them
is the deciding factor in the occurrence of this mode of vibration, during the design phase.

Figure 4: Effect of Bending on motion of a shaft

Care is to be taken by the designer that the natural frequency of lateral mode of vibration of
the shaft does not coincide with the natural frequency of the engine. In such a case, resonance
would result in extreme case of whirling, which would lead the shaft to snap and cause
damage or accidents.
Also, when the engine of a ship is started, and its speed gradually increased, there comes a
point when one would feel maximum vibrations on the ship for a few moments. That is
because, there during the speeding up, there arrives a point at which the RPM of the engine
coincides with the natural whirling frequency of the shaft. Such a speed / RPM is to be
carefully avoided. This speed is called Critical Speed, or Barred Speed Range. A ship is never
to be operated at this speed range, and during speeding up, this speed range should be
passed as quickly as possible so as to prevent prolonged shaft vibrations.
Now, to visualize the source of whirling with added clarity, let us relate to Figure 4 and 5.
Figure 5 shows the cross section of the shaft at mid-length after bending has occurred.

Figure 5: Eccentricity between CG and CL of shaft during whirling.

Now, when the shaft rotates, the centre of gravity will not coincide with the centreline of the
shaft, resulting in different trajectories of the centre of gravity of the shaft as shown in Figure

Figure 6: Orbits of CG of shaft for different modes of whirling (Source: ShaftDesigner)

A ship designer must very well know the sources of whirling vibration so as to take proactive
measures. We will discuss them in brief below:
Propeller Fluctuating Loads:
As we have seen earlier, the varying wake onto the propeller, the effective thrust provided by
the propeller is not always along the shaft centreline, but at some angle to the centreline of
the shaft. This exerts a bending stress onto the shaft, resulting in whirling. Also, as the angle
between thrust and shaft centreline changes periodically, various modes of whirling are
To counter this issue, the shaft is pre-aligned such that in operating conditions, this effect is
Diesel Engine Excitation:
The moving parts of the diesel engine act as a primary source of excitation for whirling. The
grass pressures in the engine act as exciting forces. The radial components of the gas
pressure are responsible for the whirling vibrations, whereas, the tangential components are
responsible for torsional vibration.
The data of gas pressure in engines are provided by engine manufacturers, and the shafting
system is designed with the data in consideration.
Shaft Alignment Errors:
If the centrelines of the shaft coupling flanges are not carefully coincided during shaft
alignment at the shipyard, it results in loss of the continuity of the rotation axis of the shaft.
Another coupling defect that can lead to whirling is when all the coupling bolts through the
coupling flanges are not equally tightened to the same extent, causing an angular
misalignment between the coupling flanges. Such kind of errors will excite the first mode of
whirling excitation, and must be avoided with proper shipbuilding practices.
Manufacturing Defects in Gearing System:
Whenever gearing equipment are being installed, proper mounting and pairing is necessary to
avoid whirling induced from improper gearing. Such defects often give rise to high frequency
whirling modes. But this is something that needs to be taken care of in the construction phase,
and cannot be taken into consideration in vibration analysis during the design phase.

So, in this article we have looked at machinery vibrations and discussed how each type of
vibration is excited and can be prevented. What however, we have not looked into, is that there
are among these, some excitations, which not only cause vibration in the propulsion system,
but also caused forced vibrations in the hull girder, which is even more dangerous, and will be
discussed in detail in the next article.
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About Soumya Chakraborty

Soumya is pursuing Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at IMU, Visakhapatnam,
India. Passionate about marine design, he believes in the importance of sharing
maritime technical knowhow among industry personnel and students. He is also the Co-Founder
and Editor-in-Chief of Learn Ship Design- A Student Initiative.

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