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Course № M-3030
Theory and Application of Reciprocating Compressors
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Theory and Application Of Reciprocating Compressors
Presented By George McKinney
Reciprocating/Positive Displacement Compressors
Gas compression has been one of the anchor points of the industrial revolution, beginning with low pressure air supply for iron and steel refining, through higher pressure air supply for drilling and plant operating equipment, to high pressures as required for chemical synthesis, storage and pipeline deliveries of fuel gases. The positive displacement compressors in use today can trace their ancestry back to the original pumping machines invented by James Watts, or the bellows and blowers of blacksmiths. Piston type compressors have a solid position in this field: the technology is mature (more than a century of development), the fabrication process is straight forward, and the equipment is extremely scalable, ranging from miniature emergency tire inflation pumps to compressors of 10,000 horsepower or more. These latter are particularly used in the chemical process and gas transmission industries. There the requirements for high reliability, extreme range in throughput volume, and flexibility in operating pressures make an excellent fit for reciprocating piston compressors. This module describes the operating characteristics of various positive displacement compressors and develops the theory, basic calculations and rudiments of control for the piston type reciprocating compression process. While some references are to the gas compression and transmission industry, the same equipment construction and control methods are used in process compressors for industries such as petrochemicals and chemical synthesis.
3 Blower (Rotary) In this compressor. deactivating cylinders to reduce displacement or active control of valve closing. gas is trapped in spaces formed between the chamber and moved to the opposite side of the chamber. The throughput and loading can be adjusted by speed variation. Gas enters at the higher volume and is compressed and discharged at the minimum volume. Positive Displacement Compressor Types 1. This action is similar to the vane compressor. but is even more tolerant of liquids and dirt. which effectively gives variable control of displacement. As the drum rotates. Standard practice is to have the piston driven by a rod passing through a packing case to seal against pressure leaks. and is often used for natural gas production services. so these units are not applicable for high pressures and differentials. except that the compression chambers are formed between two intermeshed elements similar to worm gears or screw threads. This compressor also requires oil injection for sealing and cooling. gas can be compressed on both sides of the piston. oil may be injected into the suction to improve the seal of the rotors and remove some of the heat of compression. The basic design consists of a piston in a cylinder with pressure actuated check valves to control suction and discharge flow through the cylinder. This type of compressor will tolerate more dirt than a reciprocating unit. the sliding paddle wheel vanes section off volumes. 1. Efficiencies of this type of compressor can be more than 85 percent for conversion of horsepower input to pressure rise. For high pressure ratios.2 Vane A vane compressor consists of a cylindrical chamber with a rotating paddle wheel type drum mounted off center in the chamber. It is designed for high pressure ratios but is usually limited to discharge pressures below 250 Psig.1 Piston (Reciprocating) The reciprocating piston compressor is the most widely used equipment for gas service. The basic design is more than a hundred years old.1. As they rotate. . The maximum differential is limited by the strength of the paddle wheel seals. A suction port is machined into the area where the chambers have the highest volume.4 Screw(Rotary) The operation of a screw compressor is similar to the blower. two intermeshing elements rotate in an ellipsoidal chamber with intake and exhaust ports on opposite sides. and a discharge port is located where the chambers have the smallest volume. which decrease in volume as they move toward discharge. where it is delivered to the discharge. 1. and is well developed. addition of clearance to the cylinders. With this double acting design. 1.
so this type of compressor is limited to applications where costs or simplicity are primary. the crankshaft drives a connecting rod which transmits force through a crosshead pin to a crosshead (similar to a trunk piston). In this case. any leakage from the cylinder can be vented to a safe location. allowing handling of hazardous gases. This can be hazardous with explosive. and any leakage past the rings will vent into the crankcase. By adding a vented space between the cylinder and crosshead. The illustration below shows a double acting compressor cylinder. moving in a slide. corrosive or poisonous gases. A compressor rod connected to the crosshead transmits force to the compressor piston. This converts the eccentric motion of the connecting rod to a pure linear force. In this case. such as shop air compressors. The simplest is a piston in a cylinder. Reciprocating Piston Compressor Components A reciprocating piston compressor can come in two basic configurations. the cylinder can be sealed on both ends. This single acting (trunk type) piston can only compress gas on one face. with the rod passing through a packing case to seal gas from leaking. directly driven from a crankshaft by a connecting rod attached to the piston by a wrist pin. 2A Engine Driven Double Acting Compressor Cylinder . This cylinder then can compress gas on both faces.2.
a process cylinder may be a forging with small passages. . mushroom shaped poppets. These have progressed through steel. 2. Material for the rings and rider bands is selected to give long life and minimal wear with the typical pressures and gas composition of the compressor. In combination with the cylinder ends. 2. valve components must be designed for the expected pressure and temperature conditions. Valves have been designed with many configurations. and will not function at high ratios. While this is generally a low friction thermoplastic type material. If conditions change. and high strength plastics. They must be optimized to balance the opposing demands for long operating life and minimal pressure drop/flow losses. All these requirements involve compromises between size. Similarly. glass filled Teflon or Nylon. The most popular designs for sealing elements are ring shaped strips. which is a low friction material to keep the metal piston from contacting the bore of the cylinder and causing scuffing and wear. it must contain the gas pressure. Bakelite. particularly in the sealing elements. Similarly. The flow area is sensitive. they may not perform reliably or efficiently. strength. and flow passage size (efficiency). and straight channel strips. The piston may also be fitted with a rider band. The cylinder and ends may also have water passages to stabilize temperature and dimensional changes. while having sufficiently large gas flow passages so there are minimal pressure drops due to gas flow. as too small an area will give low efficiency.1 Cylinder and Ends The compressor cylinder is a casting or forging designed to safely contain some maximum working pressure.2 Piston/Rings The compressor piston converts the energy/work supplied by the engine. rings may be made of bronze or other materials when temperatures are a problem. As an example.3 Valves Compressor valves are simply fast acting check valves with a low pressure drop. a cylinder for gas transmission has large flow passages and valve areas for efficiency at high gas volumes and low pressure ratios. to minimize reciprocating weights and the resulting shaking forces. Compressor cylinders are designed for some operating range and service. but still be as light as possible. applying it to the gas to raise its pressure. It is machined to hold compressor valves and to direct gas flow to and from the cylinder cavity. giving higher strength but low efficiency.2. The compressor rings seal gas pressure to avoid leaking from one side of the piston to the other. They may also have special features such as center ports to allow cylinder unloading. The piston must be strong enough to withstand the pressures and forces applied. The compressor valve is possibly the most critical component when determining the requirements for a compressor service. but too large an area can result in valve flutter and early failure.
Again. A modification of this design is to have a large opening in the center of the valve. This may be important when compressing highly flammable or toxic gases. It is also becoming more important in reducing gas leakage and emission of “greenhouse gases”. This allows adding a cylinder deactivator or clearance volume to the cylinder. The simplest is a single deck valve. . These seal against the piston rod and prevent leakage. across the sealing elements. two valves may be assembled together with a flow passage through the center. so that the cylinder can compress gas on both sides of the piston. where gas flows into passages in one face.4 Packing The compressor packing is a series of pressure containing rings located in the crank end of a double acting compressor cylinder. 2. This added feature comes at the expense of reduced flow area and efficiency. and may have coolant flow to remove friction heat.2B Typical Compressor Valve Configurations . To compensate for this. the packing material is selected to provide best life and sealing with expected conditions. shown on the left above. and out through passages in the back face of the valve.Cross Sections Plate Type Valves/Single Deck Poppet Type Valve/Double Deck The design of compressor valves includes a number of variations to accommodate cylinder flow and unloading requirements. The packing is generally pressure lubricated. This type of valve can only be used in a cylinder designed to accept its increased height. There are also various specialty types to reduce gas leakage around the rod. This double deck valve design has improved flow area and efficiency. as with compressor rings.
and deactivating cylinders or ends can cause mechanical shaking or acoustic pulsations. This distance piece is normally vented to remove any gas which leaks from the packing.2 3.3 3. to assure containment of the gases. Clearance unloaders allow varying throughput and load with minimal loss of efficiency. to give load and throughput control. Unloaders are not actually a part of a compressor. as speed control may have a limited range.5 Clearance Unloaders In many applications. either by design or by deactivating valves on one side of a double acting cylinder Double Acting – Piston compresses gas alternately on both faces. 2. requiring load control. but are included on many installations. the volume of gas to be delivered may change based on either gas supply or process demands. This last option is highly preferred. The connecting rod converts the rotation of the crankshaft into linear motion to drive the compressor piston. 3.4 .2. eliminating side forces on the compressor piston. with a valve to close the passageway. At the crosshead end. and gas from entering the crankcase. an oil seal around the compressor rod prevents oil from migrating to the cylinder. Other options are valve cap pockets and head end variable pockets. which converts the eccentric motion of the connecting rod to pure linear.1 Single and Double Acting Compressor A Single Acting piston compresses gas on only one face. varying pressure conditions can change the load on the driver. Definition of Terms 3. deactivating cylinders or cylinder ends. This may be accomplished by speed variation. Crosshead A crosshead is a sliding component at the outer end of the connecting rod. Wrist Pin/Crosshead Pin 3. In cases of explosive or toxic gases there may be two distance pieces in series. which allow automatic operation. Connecting Rod A compressor element connecting the crankshaft to the compressor piston or crosshead. Also. or may have pneumatic actuators. Added clearance may have a simple handwheel to control its operation. or by varying cylinder clearance.6 Distance Piece Compartment(s) A distance piece section may be placed between the crosshead and cylinder to prevent leakage of gas from the compressor packing entering the compressor crankcase. This may be done by volumes cast into the cylinder or heads.
3. They are designed for minimal pressure loss and maximum reliability Cylinder Clearance (Mechanical) Clearance must be provided at the end of the piston stroke to avoid contact between the piston face and the compressor cylinder head.8 3.12 . normally fitted with piston rings which changes the volume of a cylinder. Compressor Packing Compressor packing is used in a double acting cylinder to seal around the compressor rod. preventing gas leakage either into or out of the cylinder volume.11 3. It may be a simple trunk type piston directly connected to the connecting rod. Packing is normally a series of segmented metallic rings.10 3. driven by a compressor rod. This clearance is expressed in linear measurement (inches or mm.6 3.5 Compressor Rod/Piston Rod A cylindrical rod which connects the compressor piston to a crosshead. Rider Rings and Rider Bands Rider rings or bands are normally provided on a double acting piston to prevent contact of the piston with the cylinder wall. Cylinder Clearance (Volume) Volumetric clearance is space left at the end of a piston stroke.The wrist or crosshead pin connects the outer end of a connecting rod to either a single acting. controlling flow of gas into the cylinder (suction valve) or out of the cylinder (discharge valve). Clearance may also be added for control of throughput volume and/or load control (unloaders or clearance pockets).9 3. Compressor Valves Compressor valves are high speed check valves. normally passing through a packing case to seal compression pressure into the cylinder Compressor Piston A reciprocating component. trunk type piston (wrist pin) or to a crosshead (crosshead pin) 3. Rider rings/bands are normally made of carbon filled Teflon or other low friction material.7 3. preventing gas leakage from the cylinder. or double acting. both due to mechanical clearance and volumes above suction and discharge valves to allow for good gas flow. assembled and held in the end of the cylinder by the packing case.). providing compression. Compressor Rings Compressor rings provide a seal between the compressor piston and cylinder wall.
3. It is determined by dividing the discharge pressure by suction pressure (both pressures must be absolute rather than gauge) Pressure – Absolute and Gauge Gauge pressure is the value which would be measured by a gauge calibrated to indicate zero pressure when exposed to atmosphere.13 Compression Ratio Compression ratio is the measure of increase in pressure across a compressor cylinder. Normally absolute pressure is gauge pressure + 14.73 PSI. 3.This clearance is expressed as the ratio percentage of volume at the end of compression stroke to cylinder displaced volume. Absolute pressure is pressure which would be read from a gauge calibrated to read zero when exposed to complete vacuum.14 .
At this point. the process follows four main events – compression.4 Cycle Events Reciprocating Compressor Theory In a reciprocating compressor. The first two are accomplished as the piston moves forward. . the discharge valve opens and gas is pushed into the discharge piping for the rest of the stroke. As there must be clearance between the piston face and cylinder head to prevent parts hitting each other. When the cylinder pressure rises slightly above discharge pressure. As the piston moves back down the cylinder. this gas re-expands until it reaches suction pressure. As the piston moves forward. while the second takes place as the piston moves back down the cylinder. At top center. the discharge valve closes. some volume of gas is trapped in the cylinder at discharge pressure. assume starting the cycle with the compressor at the bottom of its stroke. the cylinder volume decreases and pressure rises. the suction valve opens and a fresh charge of gas flows into the cylinder for the remainder of the stroke. with maximum cylinder volume. re-expansion and intake. For a more complete picture. reducing cylinder volume. The cylinder is full of gas at suction pressure. discharge. and both suction and discharge valves are closed by gas pressure.
Thus. Effect of ratio and clearance on Volumetric Efficiency . the cylinder displacement would be equal to the volume delivered with each stroke. In normal operation.1 Volumetric Efficiency As noted above.4. the cylinder does not bring gas in through the entire piston travel. However. At high pressure ratios. Since at zero volumetric efficiency. and can cause serious cylinder heating problems. and no gas flows through the cylinder. normal temperature detection in the discharge line will not be effective. As the hot gas is contained within the cylinder. compared to the entire stroke is called “volumetric efficiency”. giving 100 percent volumetric efficiency. or with large amounts of clearance. If there were no clearance (volume) left when the piston completed its compression stroke. the cylinder delivers a reduced volume to the discharge condition. friction of rings on the cylinder creates heat which is carried away with the gas being compressed. due to gas re-expansion. The percentage of stroke the suction valve is open. all friction heating effects are contained within the cylinder. Thus. with the picture on left showing effect of increasing clearance. causing an uncontrolled temperature rise. The pictures below illustrate this effect. the suction valve opening is delayed. This condition is called zero volumetric efficiency. no gas is entering or leaving the cylinder. This delay becomes greater when the cylinder pressure ratio increases or the clearance volume increases. and on right the effect of increasing pressure ratio. the valve opening may be delayed to the point that the valve does not open. then cylinder pressure would immediately drop to suction pressure as the piston returned.
discharge temperature would be about 310 degrees. These have valves which can be opened or closed to add or remove the clearance from the compression process. the discharge temperature may be only twenty to . These have a piston positioned by a screw and hand wheel.3 Work of Cycle The familiar definition of work is force times distance. which will add a variable amount of clearance.2 Clearance Control As noted above. A key point to note is that for a given pressure differential. at a pressure ratio of four and a suction temperature of 60 degrees. For low pressure ratios. This is normally about 14 Psi. In the pressure-volume cards shown above. cylinder clearance will significantly affect throughput and horsepower of a compressor. This is the basis for load control of compressors by changing the cylinder clearance. piston movement or change in volume defines a distance. pressure ratios across any single compressor cylinder rarely are allowed to exceed four to one. Consequently. 4. changing the volumetric efficiency changes both the volume delivered and the work of the cycle. particularly temperature. but is usually limited by other conditions. Some amount of volumetric clearance is built into the cylinder to prevent the compressor cylinder from contacting the heads at the extremes of piston travel. As most operating gauges read in Psig. A reciprocating compressor may be able to operate at high pressure ratios.4 Pressure Ratio Pressure ratio is the discharge pressure of the compressor divided by the suction pressure. 4. As the force against the piston changes as pressure increases and decreases. atmospheric pressure must be added. 4. Beyond this. A compressor’s discharge temperature increases with pressure ratio. For example. additional clearance can be introduced by providing clearance pockets or passages which open into the cylinder cavity.5 Temperature Rise – Ratio Effect When a gas is compressed. Also. and to provide a smooth gas flow path into and out of the cylinder. the area of the card defines the work involved in the cycle. some cylinders may be equipped with a variable clearance pocket on the outboard cylinder head.4. This is a safe practical limit for most compressor components. These pressures must be in absolute (Psia) rather than gauge (Psig) pressure. its temperature rises in proportion to the pressure ratio.
the discharge temperature may be more than a hundred degrees higher than the suction. requiring gas coolers at higher pressure ratios. such as on storage or production service. where high pressure ratios give extreme discharge temperatures. In most cases. This is particularly the case at storage and production stations. . When the pressure ratio is high. This temperature rise may limit the amount of pressure rise allowable across a compressor. to prevent melting their protective coatings. This temperature must be reduced before gas is put into underground pipelines.fifty degrees higher than suction temperature. or require special components to withstand the temperature. the discharge temperature from a compressor station must be kept below 1250F. This is true for all types of compressors.
again equal to pressure times area of the crank end of the piston. Ac = Area of inboard (crank) end of piston. such as PEEK or steel valve plates will allow operating at discharge temperatures up to 350 degrees. in. As piston area is constant for the two faces. there will be a maximum differential of suction to discharge pressure. equal to the pressure in the cylinder multiplied by the area of the piston. This maximum working pressure must not be exceeded. Maximum discharge temperature will be limited by the materials in the compressor valves. . Psig P2 = Discharge pressure. in. rings and packing. Most commonly used materials have a limit of 250-275 degrees. The following describes some of the characteristics of reciprocating compressors and the need for various features. Psig From the above equation. These forces vary as the piston moves from suction to discharge events.5 Compressor Operating Characteristics When installing or operating a compressor. P1 = Suction pressure.3b) Compression = (Ah*P2 –Ac*P1) and Tension = (Ah*P1 – Ac* P2) Where Ah = Area of outboard (head) end of piston. The head end produces a compressive force. 5. sq. it will help to understand the reasons for selecting a particular compressor type and its optional equipment.1 Working Pressure Compressors are designed for a maximum stress on the cylinder body and the attachment of heads on both ends. High temperature materials. discharge temperature rises also. sq. The crank produces a tension force.3 Compressor Rod Loading In a double acting compressor. the rod loading can be expressed as: (5. the piston rod receives the force of gas pressures acting against the piston. Compressor Limitations 5.2 Temperature Compressor discharge temperature is a function of pressure ratio.3a) (5. it can be seen that for some maximum value of compression or tension loading. as the pressure ratio rises. 5.
it can be seen that for any clearance condition the line would go to zero at a high ratio. as the piston goes through discharge on the outboard side. or strength of the oil film at the crosshead pin bushing. the clearance can then be spread over all cylinders. it is stated as a percentage of suction volumetric efficiency. which keeps the volumetric efficiency as high as possible.0 and a volumetric efficiency of 100 percent. The accompanying graph shows actual test points of suction volumetric efficiency for a single stage storage unit. it will have its maximum compressive force on the rod. In almost all cases. 5A Typical Observed Volumetric Efficiency . In the case of high speed compressors. with all the lines intersecting at a pressure ratio of 1. This represents the limit of strength of some component. the rod loading should reverse from compression to tension for some specified period. By extending the plotted line and ratio scale. The points form a definite line for each of the clearance conditions. this may be impossible due to cylinder design. clearance is balanced as much as possible over all cylinder ends. will give the maximum tension force. When unloading the engine. and when discharging on the inboard event.In normal operation. to allow the oil film to rebuild at the crosshead pin and bushing. preventing loss of lubrication and early failure.4 Volumetric Efficiency Volumetric efficiency is normally expressed as a percentage of the compressor stroke where a valve is open. This shows the effects of ratio and clearance on volumetric efficiency. The sum of the head and crank forces must be kept within a limit established by the manufacturer. 5. In addition. either attachment of the rod to the piston or crosshead. In a compressor with good design.
If we reduce the volume by reducing engine speed. compressor flows can be changed by either speed variation or changing the compressor cylinder clearance. Actually. the engine load will be reduced by ten percent also. while clearance is used primarily for engine load or torque control. where flows are high and most of the work goes into moving the gas . The efficiency of a compressor is the percentage ratio of useful work done in raising the gas pressure to the total work supplied. with no pressure drops assumed. 5. Therefore. the effective work in raising gas pressure is low. much of the work supplied goes into moving the gas through cylinder valves and passages rather than actually increasing the pressure.Ratio Effect In the previous section. but engine torque will be relatively unchanged. Speed control will have a direct effect at any condition.5 Flow Reduction/Volume Control As noted earlier. If the compressor flow is reduced by ten percent and the pressures do not change. it can be seen that compressor efficiency is low at low ratios. more work is required to increase gas pressure and proportionally less is wasted in flow losses. Clearance changes will have a varying effect depending on the pressure ratio of the compressor.5. At low pressure ratios. adding clearance reduces both torque and horsepower. Therefore. giving high velocities in gas passages and through compressor valves. while throughput of the cylinder is usually high. At low ratios. this approach is limited by minimum equipment operating speeds. giving high efficiency. As engines develop their best fuel efficiency at peak torque. there are pressure drops involved in bringing gas into and out of the cylinder through gas passages and compressor valves. clearance will have little effect. However.6 Compression Efficiency .7 Range With the above points. reducing speed to drop throughput provides the best economy. 5. engine horsepower is reduced. At high ratios. a ten percent speed change would have a ten percent effect in flow. These losses create additional work in the cycle but do nothing for increasing the effective pressure differential. clearance will have much more effect on throughput. Thus. the work involved in increasing gas pressure was evaluated from suction to discharge conditions. Speed variation is more often used for flow control. At high ratios. Effect on Engine/Driver Flow changes have a direct effect on the driver. Adding clearance reduces volume (and horsepower) while keeping the speed constant.
The chief difference between low and high speed cylinders is due to the length of stroke. as no useful pressure is built. Another option is to make a speed correction for efficiency. the efficiency increase will result in the engine being slightly underloaded. In fact. A transmission compressor will be more efficient at lower ratios. a high speed compressor’s stroke can range from 3 to 7 inches. at a ratio of one (suction equal to discharge). This efficiency illustrates some of the design compromises of compressors. typically to a maximum around 85-90 percent on low speed units. 5B Typical Observed Compression Efficiency 5. Then. Typically. but its design is not acceptable for higher ratios. A process compressor will be inefficient at low pressure ratios. As the ratio increases. a compressor’s efficiency is evaluated at maximum speed. so the flow losses will drop.8 Speed Effect As noted above in flow effects. While low speed units have stroke lengths from 14 to 20 inches. 5. losses are higher with increased flow due to increased velocity and pressure drop through passages and valves. efficiency goes to zero.9 Low/High Speed Compressors Cylinder Design The basic design of compressor cylinders as outlined above is common for all units.through the cylinder. Because of the . This results in an increase of efficiency when the speed of a compressor is reduced. being designed for high ratios. If the operating speed of the compressor is reduced. the efficiency rises. there is more time allowed for a given volume to flow through restrictive elements. if speed is reduced.
This would be harder to fit on the small high speed compressor frame. a valve will have a hole through its center to allow free flow of gas from the cylinder into the clearance pocket. Unloader Capability In both low and high speed units. For this. In this case. As this reduces the flow area and efficiency of the valve. a large part of the valve(s) is covered by the piston at the ends of the stroke. a high speed cylinder is normally five to ten percent lower efficiency than low speed cylinders. Another option is by adding valve cap clearance pockets. high speed cylinders are not designed with these deep pockets. This is compounded by the difficulty in building high valve element lifts and large flow areas into valves running at high speeds. Higher speed units cannot tolerate high reciprocating weights. clearance may be added on both ends. Valve Efficiency Because of the cylinder design with valves being covered by the piston. Generally.shorter stroke in high speed units. as it makes a larger outer diameter for the cylinder. and so their compressor rods and bearing surfaces are proportionately smaller. In some cases. the simplest option for load control is to add clearance on the outer (head) ends. acting against the faces of the piston. This results in lower rod load ratings. The driving force of the engine is being countered by the pressure of the gas being compressed. the driving force of the engine is transmitted through the crank throw to a connecting rod and crosshead assembly to a compressor rod which has the piston attached. it is easier to obtain high rod load capabilities. beyond which some of these components can fail. a deep valve cavity is needed to accept the increased valve height. Because of the longer stroke and heavier components of low speed units. which are holes passing through the cylinder wall allowing clearance to be added externally. impeding gas flow and reducing the effective valve area. This balancing of forces acts through a number of threaded connections and bearings with oil film lubrication. The compressor rod load represents a mechanical limit. For more flexibility. this is done by means of clearance passages. a double deck valve is often used to restore the flow area. Rod Loading Capability In a compressor. .
3 Effect on Compressors If pulsations reach high levels during times when compressor valves are open. they can build energy. This series of repeated pulses is fed through the suction and discharge piping system. High pulsation levels may also cause early or delayed valve opening. this may appear as compressor valve failures or inaccuracy in prediction and control of throughput and engine load. At the compressor level. it may result in unacceptably large volumes. These can cause loss of efficiency. Because most compressors are double acting. There may also be excessive unbalanced forces from end to end of pulsation bottles. The first method is simpler. resulting in high levels of pulsation. resulting in valve plate breakage. causing unpredictable flows and horsepower levels. This is generally more expensive than the simple volume approach. but is capable of predicting and greatly reducing problem levels of pulsation.6 Pulsation Characteristics Pressure pulsations are created by rapid variations in pressure. With multiple compressor cylinders. piping movement. with a definite phase timing related to the attachment of the compressor to the crank. and can cause shaking if some piping components are resonant at the frequency of the pulsations. there will be pulses created for each. . 6. valve plates may flutter or their closing may be delayed.1 Generation The design of a reciprocating compressor results in a pulse on the suction and discharge side of piping each time the valves open. 6. However. The second method requires an engineering study of the compressor and associated piping. and will attenuate all frequencies to some degree. 6. there are two pulses generated for each revolution of the crank. inaccuracy in measurement and eventual equipment failure. If these variations are repeated at some definite frequency.2 Filtering Pulsation filtering is generally done by either providing a large volume on the suction and discharge bottles or by creating a piping filter system which is tuned to the most critical pulsation frequency. resulting in high levels of vibration and possible cracking of piping.
most of which are related to pressure differential.2 Efficiency Increase When gas is compressed. 7. This is accomplished by having a cylinder or cylinders which take gas in at a low pressure. it is necessary to have multiple stages of compression. with gas cooling between stages.3 Operating Difficulties Multiple stage compression presents challenges for both design and operation. The gas may be cooled between stages to minimize discharge temperatures. then repeat with additional cylinders to take the gas to the discharge pressure.1 Sharing Differential Multi-Staging The limits of operation listed above show that a reciprocating compressor has a number of mechanical limits. which may put excessive differentials or temperatures on other stages. which reduces the total work required to compress to the final discharge. At the design stage. the pressure balance between stages must be maintained by following a specified unloading sequence when pressures change. Often differentials are required greater than can be accomplished with a single stage of compression. 7. which will probably require an electric analog or digital evaluation to avoid pulsation or vibration problems. cylinders must be sized so that all stages are operating within their limits. the temperature rise is minimized. Mechanical failures such as leaking compressor valves or rings can cause pressure unbalance. compress and discharge to an intermediate pressure. the temperature rise effectively creates higher volume at the discharge conditions. or when controlling engine load. In this process. This requires more energy (work) for compression. . The compressor piping and pulsation bottles will also be more complex. pressure differential and temperature rise across each cylinder can be controlled to a reasonable level. In this case. Normally this is done with two or more cylinders on the same compressor unit. In operation. In multiple stage compression with cooling.7 7.
load will increase. But as the ratio increases. Compressor design attempts to provide adequate piston displacement to load the engine at the minimum load points. volume decreases. each cylinder end is absorbing about one eighth of the total horsepower. . This will result in higher discharge temperatures. This may result in extreme temperature buildup in the affected ends. in that the horsepower reduction may be more than desired.1 Horsepower Requirements In general. The design must then incorporate adequate load control provisions to keep the engine in an acceptable condition at the maximum load point. compressor horsepower requirements increase as pressure ratio increases. gas continues to be pulled in. which is then compressed by the other cylinder ends. If a compressor has four double acting cylinders. The combination results in a general compressor characteristic of increasing suction causing increasing load.8 Compressor Control Systems 8. This is normally the preferred method of controlling load. effectively reducing displacement in small amounts. 8.3 Deactivation Engine load may also be controlled by deactivation of compressor cylinder ends.2 Clearance Volume Controls Load on a compressor unit can be controlled by adding or taking away clearance volume on the compressor cylinders. 8. Problems with this approach are added cost and physical size and limitations of added clearance volumes. The horsepower also increases as flow increases. Also. Over a wide suction range. then pushed back into the suction. which may cause piping shaking. reach a peak and then decrease. If the unloading is not evenly distributed among all cylinder ends. Deactivation will also introduce odd harmonic pulsations into the discharge piping. Deactivating a cylinder end would reduce engine load by one eighth. This wastes some horsepower. This reduces the cylinder’s volumetric efficiency. This may create problems. These characteristics act in opposite directions as suction is varied assuming a constant discharge pressure. it is possible to have the ends with more unloading stop pumping. when a cylinder is deactivated. and heats the gas.
8. and tubing. such as may be seen in a production field. as with a deactivated cylinder. This type of system can provide great flexibility in throughput and loading. These control systems are simple closed loops. This system requires a control unit to time the valve closing and to send signals to a valve lifter device. a suction pressure regulator may be sufficient to control throughput. load and throughput can be controlled in very small increments. This has the advantage of providing optimum operation of the engine/compressor. At some point in the compression stroke. with a given discharge pressure and constant speed of the compressor. control valves to supply oil to each compressor valve. allowing gas to flow back. and maximum throughput capability for the installed . As an example. the valve is allowed to close and compression and discharge occur in a normal pattern. control may be quite simple. requiring a separate pump. the compressor will often be either operating at less than its full capability. In this way. This will allow for variations of pressure. It also usually assumes that there is sufficient horsepower installed to operate safely at any condition which may be allowed. the only consideration is to regulate throughput of a compressor unit or station. For this. For this. where an offset from some setpoint causes a feedback. 9 Compressor Torque Control/Throughput Control Systems 9. Because of this. while keeping the engine at a relatively constant load and throughput. along with a computerized system to calculate the unit’s operation. or with lowered efficiency due to regulation of pressures. The same principle can be extended to control of either engine speed or of a suction controller to maintain suction or discharge pressure. a device holds the suction valve open for a part of the compression stroke. volume will decrease as the suction pressure decreases.2 Torque Control – Unit Optimization Another option to control a compressor unit’s load or throughput is to use some of the control variations listed above. with minimal logic and computation. In this. which generates a control output to restore conditions. Its disadvantages are mechanical complexity and some loss of efficiency due to gas being pushed back through the valve while it is held open. 9.4 Active Control Systems Some compressor units have been equipped with load control systems to partially deactivate the compressor cylinders.1 Throughput Control In some cases. This is a simple analog control. The actuation is normally hydraulic.
Its disadvantage is complexity of equipment and need to have accurate prediction methods for calculating compressor throughput and load. These calculations can be adjusted for the effect of the various methods of load control. One is to measure engine parameters and infer compressor operation. 9. This can result in restrictions which reduce the efficiency of the compressor.4 Compressor Calculation A compressor usually provides stable and easily monitored conditions for calculations of throughput and developed engine load. a calculation of developed horsepower can be made from fuel measurement. but the engine may not be in shape to maintain its rated output. There are two basic approaches to calculating and controlling engine load and throughput. If the engine is in poor condition. Also. horsepower is also related to intake manifold vacuum. then assume engine output. This may be in terms of fuel flow (volume) or fuel pressure downstream of the governor. Thus. 9. giving an indication that the engine is developing more horsepower than actual. Thus. the compressor calculation will provide accurate loading. An engine in good condition will have a definite relationship between the amount of horsepower generated and its fuel requirement. The accuracy of the prediction and load control is easily established.horsepower. some compressor related problems may lead to overloading. Some conditions that can cause overloading are buildup of fluids in unloader pockets and accumulation of dirt or salt on valves and passages.3 Engine Parameter Calculation This is an advanced application of the “closed loop” approach noted above. The disadvantage is that they assume a properly functioning engine. which can be directly compared with the control program. as standard maintenance or performance analyzers will provide output information. while the second is to measure pressures and calculate compressor performance. the system acts to protect the engine in most cases. In the case of a four-cycle engine. The benefit is that most errors will be in the direction of increasing fuel usage. . The disadvantage of this type of control is the assumption that the compressor and engine are in good condition. These approaches have the advantage of controlling based on a readily available engine parameter. A misfiring power cylinder or improperly adjusted air/fuel ratio will give erroneous results.
This is gauge pressure with atmospheric pressure added. stroke. This also includes number. Gauge point to cylinder Atm = Atmospheric pressure. For this. In the same way.2 – 14. normally 13. the discharge temperature can be calculated with the following formula: (10. It is also calculated from absolute pressures.7 Psi Knowing the pressure ratio across a compressor. so the atmospheric pressure is added to gauge pressures. Gauge point to cylinder DP2 = Discharge Drop. This is based on the pressures inside the compressor.3 for natural gas) . temperatures are usually measured in degrees Rankine. so any pressure drops from the compressor to gauge readings must be included. location and size of any clearance type unloading provisions. we need to know: Compressor physical description – bore. it can be expressed: (10. Both of these corrections are made so that calculations refer to pressure and temperatures above the point of absolute zero temperature and pressure.2) T2=T1*(Rc(K-1)/K) Where T2 = Discharge temperature (Rankine) T1 = Suction temperature (Rankine) K = Gas ratio of specific heats (normally 1.10 Basics of Compressor Calculations All reciprocating compressor calculations are based on the compressor’s characteristics and operating conditions. Compressor running speed and status of operating cylinders. pressures are normally measured in absolute values. As an equation. At the root of all compressor calculations is the suction to discharge pressure ratio across the machine. A close approximation is to add 460 to the Fahrenheit reading to convert. Compressor operating conditions – suction and discharge pressures and any pressure drops from the sensing point to the compressor cylinder.1) Rc = (P2 + DP2 + Atm)/(P1 + DP1 + Atm) Where P1 = Suction Gauge Pressure P2 = Discharge Gauge Pressure DP1 = Suction Drop.2-1. This includes any deactivated cylinders or ends and any added clearance volumes. rod diameter and number of cylinders. Gas Calculation factors – In all calculations of gas conditions.
The compressor volumetric efficiency is the next level of calculation necessary for any prediction. and gas conditions. To represent the volume being moved in standard units. we multiply by the ratio of suction pressure (absolute) to standard pressure. However. In many cases. a slippage factor will be subtracted to adjust for cylinder leakage effects. In addition.73 Psi. CFM = PD*RPM * Ev Where PD = Cylinder displacement in Cubic Ft. As noted above. gas is measured and sold at standard conditions. volumetric efficiency. and temperature of 60 degrees F. and standard temperature to suction flowing temperature. This is defined as an absolute pressure of 14. as opposed to the actual displacement due to the piston’s movement. the gas remaining in the cylinder re-expands as the piston moves back down the bore. Volumetric efficiency decreases as the cylinder pressure ratio increases and as the clearance volume increases.Cl* (Rc1/K-1) Where Ev = Volumetric Efficiency as a decimal percentage Cl = Compressor average clearance percentage (Clearance cubic inches/Displacement Cubic inches) Rc = Cylinder Pressure Ratio K = Gas ratio of specific heats This formula will frequently have additional correction factors. . it is a measure of the effective displacement of the compressor. the ratio factor may be multiplied by a ratio of supercompressibility factors to correct for non-ideal compression and re-expansion of the gas. the temperatures must be expressed in Rankine degrees (Fahrenheit + 460). In this calculation.3) Ev = 1. This effect is a function of the volume of gas trapped at the end of the stroke and the pressure ratio. RPM = Compressor running speed Ev = Volumetric Efficiency (percent) This would provide the actual volume of gas being moved. allowing a new charge of gas into the cylinder. This can be expressed as: (10. This delays the point where the cylinder pressure drops below suction. The equation for capacity can be developed as: (10. When the piston reaches the end of its stroke at Top Dead Center.4) Actual Displacement. Compressor delivered volume is based on displacement.
as noted above. the equation becomes: (10. So. This means that during the compression process.8 Compression Efficiency (Ec) is the percentage of supplied energy that actually goes into raising the pressure of the gas. temperature and 14.7) Bhp/MMCFD = 43. So./Minute) = PD*RPM*Ev*((Ps+14. more molecules of gas can fit into a volume than would be the case for an ideal gas.73)*(520/Ts)*1/Zs*1440/106 Horsepower Requirement.5) Volume(Standard Cubic Ft. The effect is that at higher pressures.Also. This is an experimentally determined adjustment for the non-perfect relation of pressure to volume as gas is compressed. The adiabatic horsepower is based on a theoretically ideal cycle. with no heat being transferred. by multiplying by 1440 minutes per day and dividing by one million.73 Psi (Absolute) pressure. In this equation. and no heat is radiated into the gas. Hp/MMCFD is the energy requirement to raise one million cubic feet of gas from the suction to discharge condition.73)*((460+60)/(Ts+460)*1/Zs Where Ps = Suction pressure at the cylinder Ts = Suction temperature Zs = Supercompressibility at suction conditions This needs only to be corrected for units.73)/14. no heat is absorbed by the cylinder wall or compressor piston. where the compression is assumed a perfect process.6) Capacity(MMSCFD) = PD*RPM*Ev*(Ps/14. This is actually adiabatic Hp/MMCFD. capacity is the equation derived above without the correction factors for temperature and supercompressibility.knowing the throughput volume of a compressor and its suction and discharge conditions. This is represented by: Horsepower = Capacity (MMCFD)* Hp/MMCFD*1/Ec*1/Em. the gas volume must be corrected for supercompressibility.636* K/(K-1)*(Rc (K-1)/K –1)* (Zs+Zd)/2Zs 10. The standard measurement of volume is in millions of standard cubic feet per day. there are energy losses due to flow losses across the compressor valves and cylinder . typically 60 degrees F. The formula for this is: (10. the horsepower required for compression can be calculated. In an actual cycle. we have the final equation: (10. with no losses. The supercompressibility correction must be made to relate to these standard conditions. the gas is bought and sold based on standard base conditions. While gas volumes are measured at elevated pressures.
From extensive manufacturer’s testing. the pressure ratio requires accurate pressure inputs. The extreme case is where suction and discharge pressure are equal (compression ratio equals 1). . Finally. when all input work is wasted in flow losses. with each calculation building on the result of the previous. This covers bearing friction and the friction of compressor rings and packing.9 Mechanical Efficiency (Em) is a factor to correct for mechanical friction in the compressor. if we know the right clearance and slippage factors. capacity can be calculated. Change in volumetric efficiency is one key point to control both capacity and horsepower.78 -. On high speed and separable units. we can see that each new equation requires the result of the previous calculation to be accurate. There are also losses due to pressure pulsations. This also suggests an approach when troubleshooting any control system or calculation. volumetric efficiency can be calculated. this is assumed to be . If this is accurate. This results in compression efficiency values starting at zero at a ratio of 1.0 and increasing to peak values in the range of . Verifying each of these in turn will allow a simplified procedure to determine the cause of inaccurate calculations. horsepower will also change in the same proportion. 10. Combining the capacity and Bhp/MM equations results in a final horsepower equation of: 10.001*Pd*Ev*P1*(K/(K-1))*(RcK-1/K-1)*1/Ec*1/Em*(Zs+Zd)/2Zs From this.95 for most large integral compressors.passages. with capacity. To begin. The equations listed above have been shown in order of increasing complexity.636*. Compression efficiency has no direct effect on capacity. several things can be seen: 1. From this.92 at ratios of 2.10 BHP = 43. Horsepower and capacity are directly related – as capacity increases or decreases. with no increase in discharge pressure (no effective work). with the worst losses occurring at lower pressure ratios. 2. horsepower can be calculated if the compressor efficiency is known. it is often assumed as . Changing piston displacement will also have a direct effect on capacity and horsepower.93 or less.0 or higher. With an accurate volumetric efficiency and piston displacement. due to the added friction losses of a separable unit’s crankshaft and other components. but can have great effect on horsepower requirement as the pressure ratio changes. These reduce the compression efficiency. 3. 4.
Maximum Pressure Differential Limited by Rod Loading: The compressor rod load is calculated based on the cylinder suction and discharge pressures and the diameters of the piston and rod. This can help avoid high cylinder temperatures and possible equipment failures. In some cases. For this reason. Some of these are: Maximum Discharge Temperature: The moving components of compressor cylinders must survive for years of operation with high pressures and loading. and can have low or zero volumetric efficiencies while the average value is reasonably high. or equipment damage can be expected. where the total amount of clearance is divided by the total machine displacement. Excessively High or Low Horsepower: In all cases. components may be rated up to 350 degrees by changing to high temperature materials. In the case of gas engine drivers. The discharge temperature rise is usually calculated to assure that components are within their limits. . Low Volumetric Efficiencies: Typically. This limit must not be exceeded. The valves. based on the cylinder ends with the highest amount of clearance. This is due to limitations of the engine. or changes in pressure or speed to restore an acceptable load. controls are calculated based on an overall volumetric efficiency. the compressor’s driver will have a limit on its maximum horsepower. Individual cylinder ends may have considerably more clearance than the machine average.Calculated limitations A number of compressor limitations can be calculated to help avoid mechanical problems. a minimum volumetric efficiency should be calculated. These may be changes in clearance for torque control. such as heat requirements to drive a turbocharger or carboning of valves and ports due to low exhaust temperatures. This is used as a control point to drive changes in operating condition. rings and packings of most compressors are rated for 250 degrees or higher. This reliability may be lost if components are operated above their temperature range. conditions of extremely low load may be damaging also.
usually at given suction and discharge conditions. The best practice is to determine the required range of pressures. The imposed rod load increases as differential pressure (suction to discharge) increases. there are a number of requirements to be considered. If the rod loading is excessive. and flow extremes from minimum to maximum. where typically increased cylinder diameter results in lower pressure ratings. or conditions change for existing equipment. usually at higher discharge pressures. unloading will be used to allow operation across the entire operating range.11 Compressor Sizing and Application Whenever a new compressor is installed. cylinders can be selected to deliver the required maximum volumes. Drivers are usually sized to provide enough horsepower to deliver the design flow and pressures. In selecting equipment for an application.3 Unloading Options Typically. Once cylinders are selected for a given throughput. and also with increasing cylinder diameter. with smaller diameters to provide the same displacement while staying within the rated loading. If the compressor cylinders are designed only for the specified condition. the unit may perform poorly at other pressures. Some of these are: 11. Other possible compromises would be to reduce the allowable pressure range to avoid rod load. .1 Volume requirements and cylinder size Compressors are installed to meet some specified volume requirement. it may be necessary to use a greater number of cylinders. This option would increase the cost of the unit. 11. the compressor application and sizing should be reviewed.2 Cylinder Size and Rod Loading The extremes of pressure range and the compressor frame selected will put limits on the maximum cylinder diameter: All compressor frames will have some maximum rod loading limit. Beyond this. they are designed for some maximum pressure rating. reducing the design volume to allow smaller cylinders. some unloading will be necessary to control engine load. or using a heavier compressor frame with higher allowable rod loading. As compressor cylinders are essentially a pressure vessel with a number of penetrations. they must be checked against the maximum allowable rod loading for the frame or engine which is chosen. In actual operation. pressures will range both higher and lower than the specified condition. 11. and clearance or other means of unloading can be provided to meet the minimum conditions and to control driver load. Then.
6 Active Load Controls Some compressors are equipped with active load controls. This is particularly useful for storage stations. minimizing pulsation and vibration. The most common unloading options are clearance volumes and deactivation. but also provides adequate unloading at high ratios. Finally.Also. unloading may be used to control throughput volumes. 11. This also keeps the highest possible volumetric efficiency on all cylinder ends. This is usually a last resort solution. 11. which allow gas to flow back through the suction valves. it may be necessary to deactivate cylinders or ends to reduce engine load or throughput. Controlling the amount of this backflow effectively changes the compressor displacement. While it reduces the compressor’s efficiency. then add unloading to control load and throughput. but may result in shaking or pulsation problems.4 Clearance Volumes Most compressors designed for gas service will have some provision for adding clearance. in many cases it is the only effective means of controlling the engine load.5 Deactivation Where clearance volumes are not adequate. When this is done. 11. This keeps loading balanced between all cylinders. These systems have been sold by Ingersoll-Rand and Hoerbiger Valve Company. This is effective. This type of system requires high speed actuators on the suction valves and a timing device for control of the valve action. or those with wide fluctuation of operating pressure and flow conditions. This approach provides the best usage of installed equipment. The best approach is where clearance is added to both ends of a double acting cylinder. This allows better loading of the engine when operating off the design point. all cylinders usually have similar added clearance volumes. but requires more unloading provisions. . good engineering practice is usually to select the largest cylinders possible within rod load limits. It allows use of large compressor cylinders to load the engine at low pressure ratios.
4) A crosshead is a sliding component at the outer end of the connecting rod.4) Compressor cylinder which has sealed chambers fitted with suction and discharge valves to allow gas compression on both sides of a piston. 22) A basis of temperature measurement related to an absolute zero of –459. 14. 11. 3. Positive Displacement Compressor.(p. 8.(p. with atmospheric pressure included. Compressor Valves – (p. Reciprocating Piston. 12. For temperature. 4.(p.8) Cylindrical rod which connects the compressor piston to a crosshead. These are referred to some absolute zero value.(p. Most compressor calculations involving pressure or temperature are based on absolute values. trunk type piston (wrist pin) or to a crosshead (crosshead pin). Crosshead Pin/Wrist Pin – (p. assembled and held in the end of the cylinder by the packing case. so that pressure increases.4. with zero Psig being atmospheric pressure.24) Pressure expressed in absolute value. Compression Efficiency.(p. eliminating side forces on the compressor piston. . 8) A measurement of pressures used in calculations of gas conditions taking gauge pressure added with atmospheric pressure. which converts the eccentric motion of the connecting rod to pure linear.(p. 15. which traps a volume of gas in a space whose volume is decreased.6) Packing is used in a double acting cylinder to seal around the compressor rod. Packing is normally a series of segmented metallic rings. 6. 2) A basic compressor type.70 F 10. Absolute Values. 25) A factor to correct for mechanical friction in the compressor. normally passing through a packing case to seal compression pressure into the cylinder. 5. 13.(p. Degrees Rankine. Compressor Packing – (p.(p.Glossary of Terms 1. 25) The Percentage of supplied energy that actually goes into raising the pressure of gas. 15.(p. most widely used for gas service. Compressor Rod/Piston Rod – (p. 2) Type of positive displacement compressor. They are designed for minimal pressure loss and maximum reliability 7. preventing gas leakage from the cylinder. 9) Pressure expressed as gauge value. Psig. Blower.3) Type of positive displacement compressor where two intermeshing elements rotate in an ellipsoidal chamber with inlet and outlet ports on opposite sides. Psia. 9. 9.4) The wrist or crosshead pin connects the outer end of a connecting rod to either a single acting. For pressure.5) Compressor valves are high speed check valves. Mechanical Efficiency. controlling flow of gas into the cylinder (suction valve) or out of the cylinder (discharge valve). Crosshead – (p. absolute zero is complete vacuum. Consists of piston in a cylinder with pressure actuated check valves to control suction and discharge flow through the cylinder. absolute zero is approximately –4600 F 2. Double Acting – (p. covering bearing friction and the friction of compressor rings and packing.
(p. 23-24) Factors to correct for non-ideal compression and re-expansion of the gas.16. compared to the entire stroke.4) A Single Acting piston compresses gas on only one face. Screw/ Rotary. This may be either suction or discharge volumetric efficiency. Volumetric Efficiency.(p.(p. Designed for high pressure ratios. usually limited to pressures below 250 Psig. Single Acting – (p. Suction to Discharge Pressure Ratio. 3) Type of positive displacement compressor containing compression chambers formed between two intermeshed elements similar to worm gears or screw threads. 12) Pressure ratio is calculated by dividing the absolute values for discharge pressure (Psia) by suction pressure (Psia). 3) Positive displacement compressor consisting of a cylindrical chamber with a rotating paddle wheel drum mounted off-center in the chamber. Vane compressor. 19. 9.(p.(p. Supercompressibility. frequently uses oil injection for sealing/cooling. 20. 18.11) Percentage of compressor stroke where valves are open. 21. . either by design or by deactivating valves on one side of cylinder 17.