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Vibration Signatures of Reciprocating Compressors

Spectra Quest, Inc.


8201 Hermitage Road, Richmond, VA 23228
(804) 261-3300
www.spectraquest.com

July, 2007

Abstract
This tech notes studies the vibration signatures of a reciprocating piston compressor. A brief
introduction of the operation principle and noise and vibration sources is presented. Experiments
were carried out on a Spectra Quests machinery fault simulator MFS Magnum with a single-
piston compressor driven by the belt drive. The compression cycle and the related behaviors of
different parts, including piston, inlet and discharge valves, are analyzed in detail from the
acceleration data. Both the FFT-based spectral analysis and joint time-frequency analysis were
conducted to study the frequency contents.

1. INTRODUCTION
Compressors are widely used throughout the world in industry, automobiles, household
appliances, and medical devices, from refrigerators to air-conditioners, from oil pipeline to
dentists drills. The vibration properties are one of the major concerns in many compressor
applications. A low-noise refrigerator is apparently desired at every home. Various compressor
designs are used in different applications. There are two basic types of compressors: positive
displacement compressors and dynamic compressors. In each category, compressors can be
further classified into subcategories. The reader is referred to Ref 1 for more information of
different types of compressors and a comparison of performance. This tech note concentrates on
the reciprocating compressor because it is the most commonly used type. It is estimated that
there are more than 400 million compressors in the United States [2].

Reciprocating compressors are the oldest type designed for mass production, and are still the
most versatile compressor design even today. They are normally used for small volumetric flow
rate requirements. Figure 1 illustrates a schematic of the structure of a single-piston reciprocating
compressor. A crank translates rotation into a reciprocating motion of the piston through a
connection rod. Air or other type of gas is taken into the compressor cylinder through an inlet
valve, and compressed air is expelled through a discharge valve. The two valves shown in Fig. 1
are reed valves. Only one valve can be open at any moment. The operation of a reciprocating
compressor is similar to that of an internal combustion engine. As the piston moves upwards to
compress the working gas during the compression stroke, the inlet valve closes and the discharge
valve opens when the cylinder pressure exceeds the discharge pressure. After the piston has
reached the top dead center, it begins the suction stroke. The discharge valve closes and the inlet
valve opens when the cylinder pressure falls below the inlet pressure.

The main noise and vibration source of a reciprocating compressor is the time-varying gas
pressure pulsations created between the inlet and discharge valves. The frequency components

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shown in the spectra are the piston frequency, valve natural frequencies, and acoustical and
structural resonances. Reed valves are often constructed as cantilever beams. A valve produces
impact at least once per cycle since it must hit the valve seat during closing. During opening the
valve may hit the motion limiter, so another impact may also be observed. The impact of valve
opening/closing may be excited at its own natural frequencies. An oscillating valve may also
create forces on the compressor structure that excite the resonances of the structure as well as the
gas cavity.
Discharge valve Inlet valve

Figure 1. Schematic of reciprocating compressor.


Experiments on the vibration signature of a reciprocating compressor were conducted on MFS
Magnum, a new developed machinery fault simulator (MFS), as shown in Fig.2. Compared to the
conventional MFS, the new MFS Magnum is 10 longer and 4 wider, which provides more
space to equip more parts and conduct more complicated experiments. The longer shafts are
more applicable for experiments and studies in resonance and critical speed issues. Another
major improvement of the MFS Magnum is the lubrication system including an oil tank, an oil
pump and circulation system. The rotor can be supported by fluid-film bearings, rolling element
bearings, or even the combination of these two types of bearings, based on different applications.
Therefore, it is more flexible for user to reconfigure the simulator, and is capable for more
research topics. In addition, Spectra Quest, Inc. also announces three new option kits, namely

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Crack Shaft/Rotor Study Kit, Fan Vibration Kit, and Reciprocating Compressor kit. The
experimental data taken on the crack shaft/rotor and fan vibration kits have been presented in
earlier tech notes in April and May 2007 [3-4]. This tech note focuses on the vibration
signatures of the reciprocating compressor kit.

air tank

compressor

Figure 2. MFS Magnum.

2. EXPERIMENTAL SETUP
The compressor shown in Fig. 3 is a single-piston half-horsepower reciprocating compressor.
The bore and stoke diameters are 2 and 1.5, respectively. The compressor can operate at
pressure up to 125 psi and the volume flow rate is 2.5 cfm at 100 psi. The discharge pipe is
connected to an air tank shown in Fig. 2. A pressure gauge mounted on the air tank indicates the
air pressure, and a valve can be used to adjust the pressure.

The compressor can be driven by directly by the belt drive from the main shaft, as illustrated in
Fig. 3. In this case the speed reduction is 3.17:1. The entire MFS Magnum is equipped with two
optical tachometers, one for the main shaft speed, and the other one for the compressor piston
speed. A tri-axial accelerometer was mounted on the top of the compressor (see Fig. 3). The data
acquisition and analysis were carried out using SpectraQuests multi-channel sound and
vibration system VibraQuest.

3. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
Since the piston moves vertically, the vertical accelerations of the compressor are primarily
studied. Figure 4 illustrates a typical signal of such a compressor acceleration. It can be seen that
there are series of spikes with roughly the same time intervals. Apparently they are related to the
piston frequency. The shaft speed was 2612 rpm, or 43.35 Hz. Based on the speed reduction ratio
discussed in the previous section, the piston frequency is 43.35/3.17 = 13.67 Hz. The time
interval between two acceleration spikes is 0.073 second. 1/0.073 = 13.67 Hz. Therefore the time
between two spikes is one compression cycle.

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inlet filter
tri-axial
acceleromete

discharge pipe
optical
tachometer

Figure 3. Experimental setup of compressor tests.

If we take a closer look at one compression cycle shown in Fig. 5, we can try to understand the
compression procedure thoroughly by studying the signals labeled from A to G which all
represent different actions of the compressor. It is believed signal A corresponds to piston
reaching the top dead center (TDC). When the piston reaches the TDC, although its velocity is
zero, its acceleration in the vertical direction is the maximum, pointing downwards. This can be
derived from a dynamic analysis of the crank-piston system. In addition, at the TDC, the pressure
in the compressor cylinder is high. The combination of the high piston acceleration and the high
pressure results in the high acceleration spike picked up by the accelerometer mounted on the top
of the compressor. A reduced working pressure will of course decrease the magnitude of the
spike. If we simply disconnect the discharge pipe, making the exhaust valve working at the
atmosphere pressure, the magnitude of signal A is then significantly reduced.

From the TDC, the piston is about to move downwards. At this moment, the compressor is not
ideally vacuum. Because of the high pressure, the discharge valve is still open. As the piston
moves downwards, the pressure in the compressor is quickly decreasing. At some critical point,
the pressure in the compressor is becoming smaller than that in the air tank. Then the discharge
valve closes. Spike B in Fig. 5 represents the discharge valve close.

While the piston keeps moving downwards, the pressure is further decreasing. Until the pressure
in the compressor is smaller than the atmosphere pressure, the inlet valve opens. The air is then
sucked into the compressor. Spike C represents the inlet valve opening.

When the piston reaches the bottom dead center (BDC), a small mechanical impact is produced,
which is represented by signal D. At the BDC, the piston has the maximum acceleration pointing
upwards, similar to the situation at the TDC. However, as the space of the air is the maximum at
this moment, the pressure in the compressor is relatively low. Therefore the amplitude of D is not
as high as that of A. Then the piston starts to move upwards, which starts the compression stroke

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and leads to an increasing pressure in the compressor. Because the pressure is still lower than the
atmosphere pressure, the inlet valve is still open, until a critical point at which the pressure in the
compressor is the same as the atmosphere pressure. After the critical point, since the piston keeps
moving upwards, the air in the cylinder is compressed so that the pressure is higher than the
atmosphere pressure. Then the inlet valve closes. Signal E corresponds to the inlet valve closing.

It is interesting to notice that the time interval between A and C and that between E and G are
almost the same. That means the actions of the inlet valve opening and closing are symmetric
about the TDC.

As the piston keeps compressing the air, the pressure is further increasing, but both the inlet and
discharge valves are closed. At another critical point at which the pressure in the compressor is
equal to the air tank pressure, the discharge valve is about to open. Signal E represents the
discharge valve opening. Then the air in the compressor is discharged into the air tank, while the
piston is still moving upwards until it reaches the TDC (Signal G). Then another cycle begins.

By taking the FFT of the time signal in Fig. 4, the amplitude spectrum is shown in Fig. 6. The
rotating speeds of the piston and the main shaft are identified by the two frequency components
in the low frequency range at 13.67 Hz and 43.35 Hz. Besides the two rotating speed
components, some other frequency components are seen around 700, 1200, 2150, and 3250 Hz.

0.073 s

Figure 4. Time waveform of a typical compressor acceleration signal.

C D E F
B
A G

Figure 5. One compression cycle.

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Figure 6. FFT amplitude spectrum of signal shown in Fig.4.

In order to study these frequency components, the joint time-frequency spectrogram of the signal
shown in Fig. 4 is presented in Fig. 7. The abscissa and ordinate are time and frequency, and the
color intensity represents the magnitude of a frequency component occurring at a specific time.
Since they are caused by impact-like signals, these wideband frequency components are the
valve natural frequencies and the structural resonances. Figure 7 clearly depicts that at Positions
A (top dead center) of each cycle, frequency components at 700, 1200, 2150, and 3250 Hz are all
excited, while Position D (bottom dead center) only the 1200 Hz component is sufficiently
excited, because of its lower energy. At Positions C and D (inlet valve opening and closing) of
each cycle, only frequency components higher than 200 Hz can be seen in Fig. 7. This means (1)
the valve natural frequencies are different than those of the entire compressor, (2) the valve
natural frequencies are in high frequency range.

Figure 7. Time-frequency spectrogram of signal shown in Fig.4.

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4. FUTURE WORK
In order to distinguish these frequency components, knowledge of the structural and acoustical
resonances must be obtained. Further in-depth modal analysis is required to apply to the
compressor structure and the gas cavity. For such a half-horsepower compressor, it is practically
difficult to measure the natural frequencies of the inlet and discharge reed valves, because there
is no enough room to mount transducers. So a finite element model may be appropriate to study
the valve dynamics.

A pressure transducer and an encoder are needed to relate the pressure variation to the
accelerations, and detailed compression cycle information can be obtained with the help of the
encoder.

However, based on earlier studies, for a fractional-horsepower compressor, the first two housing
shell natural frequencies are often in the 900 to 1300 Hz range and the 2500 to 3500 range, and
the natural frequencies of the first few gas modes in the cavity may appear in the 200 to 900
range [2]. Therefore, 1200, 2150 and 3250 Hz may be initially identified as the structural natural
frequencies, and 700 Hz a gas cavity mode.

References
[1] M. J. Crocker, Noise of Compressors, Handbook of Noise and Vibration Control, Wiley,
New York, 2007
[2] W. Soedel, Sound and Vibrations of Positive Displacement Compressors, CRC Press, Baca
Raton, 2007
[3] Simulation and Vibration Analysis of Shaft Cracks, Spectra Quest Tech Note, April 2007
[4] Vibration Signal Analysis of Fan Rotors, Spectra Quest Tech Note, May 2007

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