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Frequency Fundamentals

In Machinery Vibrations

Ali M. Al-Shurafa, Vibrations Engineer

Saudi Electricity Company- Ghazlan Power Plant
Saudi Arabia

1. Definition of Frequency
People are familiar with frequency more when it is mentioned in the context of sound. You can
recognize high frequency sounds and describe them as acute. Sounds with low frequencies are said
to be dense. Actually, people recognize individuals from their voices, which is simply the frequency
of their voices when they talk. What more exciting is normal people perform fault diagnosis on other
people. When you are sick, your friends know you are so from the frequency of your voice. In
vibration, the concept is similar!
Frequency is a measure of the occurrence rate of a periodic event. Vibration signals have
frequency because they are periodic. The event, in the vibration signals, is the movement of the body
back and forth. So, basically, frequency is the repeatability of an event per unit time.
For a plot of vibration in time domain (time waveform), x-axis represents the time elapsing and
y-axis reflects the value (amplitude) of the vibration. One cannot the extract the frequency of the
signal, from this plot, directly. But for a simple (single) waveform, the frequency can be calculated.
1.1 From Time to Frequency Domain
With the aid of Fast Fourier Transformation, FFT, same information of the previous plot is
transferred to another domain, frequency domain. Hence, the x-axis in the new plot is frequency
instead of time. This plot is called frequency spectrum or simply spectrum.
The typical units of time, in the time waveform plots, is millisecond, msec. The frequency in
the spectrum has many units like Hz and cpm. More details will be covered in the coming sections.

The complex wave, in the figure above, is composed of three simple sine waves. Each sine
wave has its own frequency, while overall wave cannot be defined completely by any one of these (or
other) frequencies. FFT decomposes the complex wave to its simple sine wave components that have
distinct frequencies.

1.2 Sinusoidal Waves

Complex waves (with multiple different sine waves) can have a frequency but usually
frequency is referred to harmonic (or simple sinusoidal) waves. A sinusoidal wave has a single
frequency. With only one frequency and one amplitude, the sinusoidal wave is completely defined,
unlike the complex waveform signals.

The relation between the period and frequency for a sinusoidal wave is:

F= 1/ p

where F= wave frequency, Hz

p= complete sinusoidal wave period, second.
This relation holds only for sinusoidal of filtered signals. Remember, there is no single
frequency for unfiltered signals.

1.2 Example 1
Find the frequency, in Hz, of the sine wave plotted below. Time unit is msec.

Solution: First find the period of a complete cycle and in this case p = 6.5 msec.
Convert the time units into second. Then

F(Hz)= 1/p =1/(6.5/1000) =153.8 Hz.

2. Frequency Units
Frequency can be expressed independently from the machine speed. This frequency can be
described as absolute and the units in this case are Hz, cps, rad/sec and cpm. If the vibration frequency
is compared to the speed of the machine, the vibration frequency is expressed in orders.

2.1 Hz or cps
Mr. Hertz, French Scientist, defined this unit. It is the basic unit for frequency and is defined as
Hz = 1/sec
It is used in general vibration. Hz is not used directly in the trigonometric functions with the
standard form, see next paragraph. If one considers a cycle to be unitless, then for simplicity he can
say 1/sec= cycle/sec. Hence,
cps = Hz
Where cps stands for cycle per second.

2.2 rad/sec
This unit is more found in the scientific literature and typically used in the trigonometry
equations. For instance,

D(t) = d sin(F*t)
where D = running displacement amplitude, m
t = the time (independent variable), sec
d = maximum displacement amplitude in the signal, m
F= signal frequency, rad/sec
Remember, all the trigonometric functions are evaluated at an angle (which is the argument between
the parentheses). The unit of angles is radians. So the units inside the parentheses must be rad. To
compensate the seconds coming from the time ,t , the correct units of F must be rad/sec.

[rad] = angle = (F*t) = [rad/sec*sec] = [rad]

From basic mathematics,
2 *pi*rad = 360 deg or rad = 57.3 deg

That means if the frequency is 1 rad/sec, each second the object will rotate 57.3 deg or 16% of
a complete cycle. Refer to the figure below.

2.3 cpm
This is the commonly used unit in the machinery vibration because of its analogy with rpm,
speed of the machine. cpm is cycle per minute. The relation between cpm and cps is the conversion
factor from minute to second. Explicitly,
cpm = 60 * cps = 60 * Hz

2.4 Order
When the vibration frequency is considered with respect to the rotational speed (running
frequency) of the machine, frequency is expressed in a dimensionless ratio called order. Usually order
is expressed in this format: 1X, 7X, 0.48X etc.

Frequency order, n X= Vibration Frequency / Machine Speed

Note that both vibration frequency and machine speed must be consistent (of same units). The
use of the order as the unit of frequency is extremely important in the fault diagnosis.
Order is the slope of the vibration lines in the Cascade Plots. Harmonics are the integer multiples of a
particular frequency, usually 1X. Harmonics and orders are similar but not exactly the same.
2.4 Conversion Table

Hz cps cpm rad/sec order

Hz 1 1 60 2pi -
cps 1 1 60 2pi -
cpm 1//60 1//60 1 2pi / 60 -
rad/sec 1/2pi 1/2pi 60/2pi 1 -
order - - - - 1

Table is used to convert the units in the left-side column to the topside row by multiplying the
original quantity by the value in the table.
One cannot find the order of the vibration unless the object has a rotational speed and the speed is

2.5 Examples
Example 3 : A 4-pole motor has a vibration frequency of 3550 cpm. Calculate the vibration
frequency in the following units: a) Hz b) rad/s c) cps d)order.

a) F(Hz) = F(cpm)/60 = 3550/60 = 59.2 Hz
b) F(rad/sec) = F(cpm)*2pi/60 = 371.7 rad/sec
c) F(cps) = F(Hz) = 59.2 cps
d) A 4-pole motor has a synchronous speed of 1800 rpm. Then,

Frequency Order = 3550/1800 1.97 X

Example 4: Calculate the frequency of the first example in the following units: a) cps b) cpm c) rad/s
a) F(cps) = F(Hz) = 153.8 Hz
b) F(cpm) = F(cps) *60 = 9228 cpm
c) F(rad/sec) = F(cps)*2pi = 966.3 rad/sec
d) Order cannot be found without knowing the speed of the machine.

3. Natural Frequency
Vibrations as a response could have a frequency of either the excitation frequency (fault force
frequency) or a frequency of the structure (natural frequency). Natural frequency is a physical
characteristic of any structure, regardless of the forces applied on the structure. It is function of
stiffness available in the structure and mass distribution. In vibration analysis, natural frequency is
important for many reasons. One of them is to avoid the problem of resonance, when both excitation
frequency and natural frequency coincide.
There are several methods to find the natural frequency. Each method is appropriate for
different applications. These methods include:

1. Analytical solution to differential equations,

2. Numerical solution to differential equations (e.g. finite element and finite deference
3. Physical testing (e.g. hummer test).
First method is rarely implemented in field. It requires mathematical modeling of the machine
and advanced mathematical procedures to have the solution (natural frequency of the machine).
The second method is performed with the aid of a computer and special software like ANSYS.
The structure is modeled in the software as a series of small elements comprising the actual structure.
The software is fed with data about the structure (mass distribution, stiffness properties, boundary
conditions, forces etc.). The computer will solve the physical equations for the small elements and
later will combine these solution somehow and end up with the solution of the structure as a whole.
The third method is applied in the field occasionally. An input (force) is applied on the system
(machine) and the response (vibration) is measured and analyzed to find the natural frequency.
Impulse (or impact) force is imposed on the machine usually by a hammer while a data collector is
mounted on the machine to measure the response.
In all the three methods, vibration analyst must know the basic equation of the natural
frequency. For the simplest case, the system can be modeled as a spring-mass system with mass, m,
and stiffness, k.

= where in rad/sec, k in N/m and M in kg
The physical meaning of this concept is illustrated by the following examples.

1. When a machine is loose, its stiffness decreases and hence (from the equation) it
natural frequency decreases.
2. The natural frequency of an accelerometer is much higher compared to the natural
frequency of velocity transducer. One reason for this is the mass of the
accelerometer is much less compared to that of a velocity transducer.
3. Long pipes are provided with supports to reduce the resonance vibration. The
supports act as a stiffener. Consequently, stiffness increases and natural frequency so

When a resonance problem occurs, the solution usually is detuning the excitation and natural
frequencies away enough from each other.

4. Fault Frequencies
Faults generate forces with certain frequencies. Frequencies of many common faults can be
predicted by calculations. For simple analysis there are charts showing fault frequencies and some
comments. Many of these charts should be considered as guidelines because they were developed
based on experience in machines covered by the person who developed these charts. The actual
frequencies depend heavily on the machine design and that is why a single fault can have different
frequencies for different designs. Or that is why there are several different charts in their contents.
Next is presented a summary chart with same basic faults. Then, rolling element-bearing frequencies
are given as an example of cases with different calculations based on design information available.
Refer to fault diagnosis articles for more details.
4.1 Summary Table

Serial No. Fault Frequency

1 Imbalance 1X
2 Misalignment 1X, 2X, 3X
3 Gear Mish Frequency
1GM, 2GM, 3GM
(GMF= rpm*No of teeth)
4 Vane Pass Frequency
(VPF= rpm *No. of vanes)
5 Motor electrical Problems 2Line Frequency (2LF)
6 Rolling Element Bearings FTF ,BPFI, BPFI, BSF

4.2 Rolling Element Bearing Frequencies

There is more than one set of equations to calculate the frequencies associated with rolling
element-bearing problems. Based on the available bearing information and design, the calculation
accuracy improves. These abbreviations are used with all the sets.

where N = Shaft Speed in Hz

n = Number of Elements
D = Pitch Diameter of Rolling Elements
d = Rolling Element Diameter
= Contact Angle
fi =Inner Race Rotational Frequency
fo= outer Race Rotational Frequency
B= Diameter of Rolling Elements
P= Pitch Diameter of Rolling Elements

Formula Set 1
If no information about the bearing is available, good approximations of bearing tone
frequencies for most common bearings are as follows:
Outer Race Fault (Order) = n * RPM * 0.4
Inner Race Fault (Order) = n * RPM * 0.6
Fundamental Train Frequency (Order) = 0.4 * RPM
Formula Set 2
If contact angle is available, use this set.

Formula Set 3

If the contact angle is unknown or equal to zero, use the following formulas.

Formula set 4
There is also a set of general formulas for cases where motions of both races are possible.

FTF = (fi/2)(1-B/P cos ) + (fo/2)(1+B/P cos )

BPFI = (N/2) fo-fi (1+B/P cos )
BPFI = (N/2) fo-fi (1-B/P cos )
BSF = (P/2B) fo-fi [1-(B/P)2 cos2 ]

5. Frequency Ranges
5.1 For Fault Detection
As stated earlier vibration faults are associated with particular frequencies. In practice, these
frequencies may appear in addition to their harmonics. Sometimes, the fault frequency itself is not
important as its harmonics. For example, it is normal to see an amplitude at the gear mish frequency
but you should not have harmonics of the gear mish frequency. For this reason, the frequency span
needed to investigate the machine is wider than the frequency of the fault itself. The table shown
underneath summarizes and exemplifies typical spans for typical problems.
5.2 For Measure Selection
Vibration amplitudes (displacement, velocity and acceleration) are referred to as measures.
Because they are related to each other through differentiation or integration, a plot of a particular
measure can be re-plotted with another measure. For example, the figures below are for the same data
acquired but the amplitude measure is changed from displacement to velocity and to acceleration.
Notice that amplitudes at higher frequencies are magnified. This is the effect of frequency!
An amplitude in a spectrum will be clearly identified only if the spectrum is plotted in the
correct measure. If the spectrum measure is not selected correctly, important amplitudes might be
underestimated. Use the figures below as guidelines to select the proper measure for the spectrum.

The Figures below illustrate the significant effect of the frequency on the amplitude of a signal
when it is integrated or differentiated. In all the plots, w (rad/sec) is the frequency as the running
Original signal is collected from an accelerometer and filtered to a single frequency of 10
rad/sec. Notice that amplitude of the signal is 3 (say in/sec2 peak ).
When this signal is integrated to convert it from a acceleration to velocity, the amplitude is
Recall: velocity = v = adt = (3 sin(10t )dt = 3 / 10 * cos(10 * t )

Similarly, the velocity is integrated in order to find the vibration as a displacement measure.
Signal amplitude reduces even further.

5.3 For Vibration Pick-ups Selection

Each type of pick-ups works best in certain frequency range. Use the coming figures to select
the proper type. There are many considerations to be taken when selecting pick-up type, vibration
frequency expected to be monitored is a major consideration.
6. Frequency Spectrum
6.1 Resolution
Resolution is the ability of data collector to detect two amplitudes, close to each other in the
frequency spectrum, as distinct amplitudes (at different frequencies). Higher resolution gives precise
values of frequencies. The importance of frequency resolution is appreciated when two signals, very
close to each other, are collected and interpreted as single signal, by mistake. The resolution must be
high enough to distinguish the two signals and to give accurate frequencies. Resolution and frequency
have same units. 150 cpm is typical resolution. The equation to calculate the resolution is

Min. Resolution = WF * Fmax/(2*Lines)

Where WF = the window factor, Unitless

Fmax = maximum frequency in the frequency spectrum, Hz
Line = Total number of lines in the frequency spectrum, unitless.

Example 5: A 2-pole motor, with 100-rpm slip, came from maintenance after rewinding. After
installation, motor had 2X vibrations shown by a poor resolution spectrum. Two possible causes for
this symptom could be: misalignment and electrical problem with 2LF. Another vibration reading with
a correct resolution is required. Calculate the frequency resolution required to detect the fault
Motor speed is n = 3600-100=3500 rpm
2LF= 2*60 =120 Hz =120*60 = 7200 cpm
2X frequency (due to misalignment) = 7000cpm.
The analyzer must be able to pick up signal with frequency difference less than 200 cpm or 3.3
Hz. A good resolution can be half the frequency difference or less, say 50 cpm.
6.2 Frequency Filters
In vibration analysis, filters are used to allow signals of certain frequencies and forbid signals
with other frequencies.
Filters that allow signals only with low frequencies are called Low Pass Filters, while filters
that allow signals only with high frequencies are called High Pass Filters. Examples are given in the
figures below. When both low and high pass filters are combined, they generate a Band Pass Filter,
which allow only signals with a specific range of frequency to pass.
Data collectors are not capable of collecting or processing signals with all frequencies. So
filters are always used. Examples are Anti-aliasing Filter, Cut-off Frequency Filter and Max
Frequency Filter.
Default setting of common data collectors demonstrates
Cut-off frequency of 300 cpm
Max. Frequency of 60000 cpm
This is like a bandwidth filter (300-60000cpm). This range is quite reasonable for routine
condition evaluation and basic diagnosis. Usually frequencies below or above these limits are
generated from noise (not machine related).

6.3 Full Spectrum and Negative Frequency

Full spectrum is generated by collecting data from two probes (horizontal and vertical) in the
same time. The x-axis and y-axis are frequency and amplitude respectively. In the conventional (half)
spectrum frequency starts from zero and increases. In the full spectrum the frequency can increase in
both positive and negative directions. But the meaning of negative frequency is that the rotor vibrates
at that frequency in the opposite direction of shaft spinning. So, the positive frequency components
indicate forward precession while the negative components indicate backward (or reverse) precession.
It is not possible to generate half spectrum from full spectrum and the opposite is not possible also.
Most malfunctions show forward precession. Rubbing in a fluid film bearing will have negative

7. References
Todd Reeves, Basic Signal Processing for Vibration Data Collection.
Bob Cecil, Vibration Primer.
M960 help system (from SKF).
Paul Goldman ,Application of full spectrum to rotating machinery diagnostics. Orbit.
Wolfson Maintenance.
Charles Jackson, The Practical Vibration Primer.