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Steam Turbine Rotor Rubs

Steam Turbine Rotor Rubs

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Published by: Santosh Kale on Jun 11, 2011
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Steam Turbine Rotor Rubs

PATRICK J. SMITH October 2010 Page 1 of 4 << Prev 1 of 4 Next >> Rubs in steam turbines can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are often the same as other common causes of vibration. A rub also can cause secondary affects, which can be misdiagnosed as the primary cause of the vibration excursion. A rub occurs when some part of the turbine rotor contacts a stationary component. This can occur in shaft end seals, interstage seals, inside diameter of bearings, etc. The purpose of this article is to describe some of the common causes of rubs, explain how the vibration characteristic can change when a rub occurs and provide some examples where it was determined that a rub was the most likely cause of a vibration excursion.

The friction generated by a rub causes localized heating, which is usually not uniformly distributed around the circumference of a rotor. The heating tends to be localized because there is always some runout and residual unbalance in a rotor. This asymmetrical heating can cause the rotor to bow or bend. If the rotor is thought of as a pipe and a section on the top heats up while the corresponding section on the bottom doesn’t, the top will grow longitudinally while the bottom will not. This uneven growth causes the pipe to bow upward. See Figure 1. This type of bow is referred to as a thermal bow, which will usually correct itself once the pipe is again at a uniform circumferential temperature. The same thing can happen to a steam turbine rotor if there is a rub. A thermal bow caused by a heavy rub will tend to cause an unbalance condition, and a spectrum analysis will show a high one times running speed vibration component. If the problem persists, the heating will increase in magnitude, causing the bow to grow in magnitude, which can cause large increases in vibration. This is often referred to as thermal runaway. While light rubs might not cause sufficient frictional heating to cause a thermal bow, they can cause other vibration problems. This can include exciting subharmonic natural frequencies or causing rotor position changes, which can trigger a bearing instability like oil whip. This can make it difficult to determine if the vibration is due to a light rub or another problem, like a design bearing instability. Rubs can be caused by a variety of conditions. Some typical causes include:


The rotor is not centered properly in the casing. This can occur after an overhaul if the diaphragms, blade carriers, gland housings and other seal carrying components are not properly positioned in the casing. In many cases, these parts are offset to account for thermal growth. 2. Excessive bearing wear. This can change the rotor position and cause a rub on a bearing end seal, a shaft end seal or an inter-stage seal. 3. Unequal warm up. This can cause casing and/or rotor distortion and cause a rub. 4. Sudden changes in steam inlet temperature. This can cause casing and/or rotor distortion if certain areas grow or shrink faster than other areas. This also can cause a casing distortion and/or cause the rotor position to change more quickly than the casing and cause a rub. 5. Stuck sliding surfaces. There are certain areas on the turbine which must be allowed to slide to allow for thermal growth as the turbine heats up and cools down. In some cases, these surfaces are grease lubricated. If the casing or bearing housing gets stuck and is not free to grow, it can grow unevenly to one side or cause a distortion, which affects the design clearances and results in a rub. 6. Excessive piping strain. This can cause casing distortion and cause a rub. 7. Poor insulation. This can cause asymmetrical temperature gradients, which can lead to casing distortion and cause a rub.

30 MW condensing turbine that drives a generator experienced a shutdown due to high vibration. the exhaust end vibration started trending up during the run up from 1. but a high one times running speed frequency also can be associated with other problems. when the rotor passed through the first . when the turbine slowed to less than 500 rpm. interstage packing and exhaust end shaft seals. and the turbine will eventually be free to rotate. it is important not to force the rotor to rotate. rubs can sometimes cause a truncated waveform or a flat area on the shaft orbit. such as when the turbine runs through a critical speed. Thus. Even so. there was a sharp increase in vibration and the rotor decelerated very quickly. it is further recommended that the turbine be rotated either by hand or by turning gear to further equalize the temperature gradients and work out the bow. the rotor bow will diminish. a rub also can excite sub-harmonic natural frequencies or even cause bearing instabilities. Some examples of suspected rubs are provided below. If a rub occurs and the turbine shuts down and locks up. which were very successful in the past. The insulation was also inspected and it was verified that it was properly re-installed and found to be appropriate. Rubs can cause changes in shaft orbits. after the rotor cooled.000 rpm and continued gradually escalating at the 2.Page 2 of 4 If a rub causes a thermal bow. Thus. Vibration analyzers can be helpful in identifying rubs.350 rpm and 2. The vibration pattern suggested a possible rub. It also is possible that there was a minor cold bow that was introduced during horizontal storage of the spare rotor. while the exhaust end shaft seal consisted of straight rotating J-strips in a plain gland bushing. The turbine was then successfully re-started following the normal start-up procedures.800 rpm. The turbine warm-up procedures were reviewed and the operators did not deviate from the established procedures. operating history and operating conditions at the time of the vibration excursion. and eventually the rotor was able to be rotated. steady state operation. Start-up case A 22-stage. But this is not always the case.000 rpm hold point. This can cause permanent damage to seals.600 rpm. trending upward. So vibration analyzers provide information. During the first start-up after the overhaul.350 rpm critical speed. As this happens and the temperatures across the rotor equalizes. Also. A rub also can cause a high one times running speed vibration. but this must be used in conjunction with an understanding of the machine design. there was a relatively low vibration response as the rotor decelerated through the 1. if there is minor contact the packing could move. These spring-loaded stationary labyrinth seal segments can retract if the rotor contacts them. it is usually temporary. shrouds or other components. stopped and became locked up. 3. This is especially true for a transient case. This machine operated for approximately 6 years with no previous significant start-up vibration excursions. The interstage seals consisted primarily of stepped stationary labyrinth J-strip seals. When looking at the vibration signature. 3.250 rpm. The vibration was unstable.250 rpm. The overhaul consisted of replacing the rotor and all the stationary shaft seals. so the probability that unusual temperature gradients caused a casing distortion that led to a rub was considered low. there is not always certainty that the problem has to do with a rub. Once it can rotate. So. The cold turbine start-up procedure included hold points at 500 rpm and 1. It had undergone two major overhauls. As soon as the temperature gradient from one side to the other equalizes. The turbine was fitted with retractable high pressure shaft end seals. The balance piston consisted of alternating stationary/rotating straight rotating labyrinth J-strips. During this particular incident. As stated above. On the coast down. 50 MW condensing turbine that drives an inline compressor on one end and an integral compressor on the other end was overhauled. The turbine was cooled down. The vibration continued to increase to about 9 mils and then the vibration fell in amplitude as the rotor coasted down in speed with no load. but it did not settle to the less than 1 mil vibration of normal. It is recommended that the turbine be allowed to cool down. and the decision was made to shutdown the turbine. Page 3 of 4 Steady stage case A 17-stage. it didn’t seem likely that distortion due to improper turbine warm-up was the cause of the rub. the turbine was operating at constant speed and power when the vibration slowly increased from less than 1 mil to the shutdown set point of 6 mils during the span of just less than 10 minutes. and that it was not sufficiently worked out on the turning gear prior to the initial start attempt. It was concluded that the most likely cause of the rub was tight internal clearances following the overhaul. the most recent overhaul occurring 9 months prior to the vibration shutdown. This machine had run for approximately 15 years with very stable vibration. rotor position and phase angles. it was placed on turning gear for approximately 24 hours to work out the bow. but are not always necessary. but other factors also can cause these changes.250-2. There were first bending rotor critical speeds at 1. which would greatly reduce the frictional heating associated with a rub. However. the bow will diminish. The high pressure shaft seal consisted of a series of alternating stationary/rotating labyrinth J-strips.

000 rpm. In this incident. or possibly a small amount of liquid water carryover into the turbine. 1 MW back pressure turbine that drives a generator through a gearbox experienced vibration problems during run up to full speed. all the turbine vibrations were under 2 mils and were stable. and therefore can excite different frequencies. The turbine was re-started and brought up to full speed. followed by the response as the rotor passed through the critical speed on coast down suggested a rub that led to a thermal bow. The turbine was disassembled and significant deposits were found on several stages and in the shaft end packing and interstage packing areas. the spring support on the inlet to the turbine was unloaded. partial run might excite some rotor natural frequencies. the turbine was able to be operated at speeds of up to about 4. Vibration analysis can help identify a rub. These supports were not worked on before or during the outage and appeared to be in good condition. there also was a minor increase in turbine vibration. The pipe support was marked with the design spring pre-load. the transient parameter is not always obvious. in conjunction with vibration analysis data also can help identify a rub and are equally important to the diagnostic/troubleshooting process. there was a minor steam system upset. initiate a bearing instability. There also is a quench (attemperator) upstream of the turbine that is used to control the turbine inlet temperature. problems associated with excessive pipe strain were considered. which lowered the turbine inlet steam temperature by 50°F. Due to some plant issues. high vibration would be present at all speeds. At this point. This indicated a significant unbalance condition. the turbine was cleaned and was in the process of being re-assembled.025 rpm. when the speed was reduced. After this. There also was evidence of some hard rubs in the packing. See the attached trend in Figure 2. the vibration would slowly increase and was unstable.000 rpm repeatedly with very stable vibration. But when the speed was increased above 4. Further discussions with the operators revealed that there were problems with boiler water chemistry for several weeks prior to the turbine trip. which caused casing distortion and led to a very light seal rub. But upon closer inspection. The vibrations were all at running speed frequency. One explanation is that a loose or improperly set pipe support caused excessive pipe strain. The piping supports upstream and downstream of the turbine also were inspected. it was speculated that deposits might have settled in the packing areas and resulted in tighter operating clearances and/or restricted the retractable packing movement altogether. Although there is no direct evidence. Pipe strain A single Curtis 2 stage. However. Finally. See Figure 3. If unbalance was the problem. The turbine skid and foundation were inspected and were visually in very good condition. See Figure 4. A review of the operating trends showed that 45 minutes prior to the shutdown. and this then led a thermal rotor bow. but an understanding of the machine history. as described in the steady state case above. At the time this article was written. A heavy. full circumference rub will probably show a strong one times running speed vibration. This vibration increase could be from some distortion due to an accelerated inlet temperature change. following an overhaul and a long period of inactivity. The spring pre-load was then adjusted to the indicated value. This relatively slow increase in vibration. machine design and operating conditions at the time of the vibration excursion. Page 4 of 4 Conclusion Vibration data can differ greatly depending on whether the rub is light or heavy. the vibration increased to about 15 mils. which was approximately full bearing clearance. but this did not appear to be the cause. This machine was in intermittent service for approximately 12 years with occasional unexplained vibration excursions. the quench flow increased in an uncontrolled manner. rubs occur during transient operating conditions. But a light. the vibrations came back down. In most cases. etc. The minor vibration increase due to the quench system upset could have caused a harder packing rub because the packing couldn’t move. This is typically associated with unbalance.critical speed.. If this was the case. there might not have been enough friction generated at lower speeds to cause the vibration excursion. Turbine to gearbox misalignment also did not appear to be the problem based on the good hot alignment check. 5. The operating conditions at the time of the event also need to be reviewed. Based on this. . small changes in turbine vibrations associated with quench system upsets seemed consistent. A review of past data showed that when similar transient conditions occurred.

hydrogen processing and cogeneration plants. where he provides technical machinery support to the company’s operating air separation. .com.. Pa.Patrick J. You may contact him by e-mailing editorial@woodwardbizmedia. Smith is lead machinery engineer at Air Products & Chemicals in Allentown.

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