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Getting It Right

Rider band supporting the piston wears away. | FIG. 1
As a horizontal, balanced-
opposed reciprocating compres-
sor operates, the rider band
supporting the piston wears
away (see Figure 1). If the wear
is not caught in time, the piston
can contact the cylinder liner
resulting in expensive repairs.
For this reason it is desirable to
have an indication of rider band
wear so that operators can take
action before damage occurs.
High pressure and the possibil-
ity of corrosive gases make it very
difficult to measure the piston-
to-bore clearance directly.
However, a transducer can be
mounted on the face of the pres-
sure packing case, and, assuming
that the piston drops as the rider
band wears, the transducer can
make an indirect measurement
of this wear. This measurement
is known as rod drop.
Brian Howard
New Product Initiative Leader
Reciprocating Machines
Bently Nevada
e-mail: brian.howard@bently.com
Proper Rod Drop Installation Improves Plant’s Ability
to Measure Rider Band Wear
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
56 ORBIT 1Q04
Assumptions in the Rod Drop Measurement
In order for rod drop measurements to be effective, four basic assumptions implicit in the measurement should
hold true on the actual compressor.
The distance measurement made at
the pressure packing case changes in
direct proportion to the change in
rider band wear. Using the geometry of
similar triangles (Figure 2), the rider band
wear is calculated as
B
1
B
2
L
1
L
2
B
2
B
1
L
1
+ L
2
L
1
=
Rider band wear B
2
B
1
(L
1
+ L
2
)
L
1
= =
Similar triangles. | FIG. 2
ASSUMPTION ONE
Gravity is the predominant vertical
force acting on the piston rod
assembly. On certain small diameter
pistons, this may not be a good
assumption. On pistons less than 6 inches
(150 mm) in diameter, a large percentage
of the rod is in the packing. Packing for
high-pressure, small-diameter cylinders
may be more than 3 ft (914 mm) long and
may cause the piston to float in the
cylinder clearance, ride in the top of the
clearance, or even move significantly side
to side. For these small diameter pistons,
the piston mass is a small percentage of
the piston/rod assembly mass, which can
result in misalignment.
Crosshead motion also contributes to
piston rod motion. As the connecting rod
moves above and then below the
horizontal plane, the net vertical force
changes on the crosshead. When this
vertical force exceeds the weight of the
crosshead and part of the piston rod, the
upper crosshead shoe runs against the
upper guide. When the probe is closer to
the crosshead than the piston (i.e., when
the correction factor is greater than 2),
the crosshead motion has a greater
influence on the piston rod than the
piston has. For this type of arrangement,
the rod drop measurement is not
appropriate. However, rod position can
provide a great deal of value if the
correction factor is greater than 2. For
more information see our sidebar on rod
position on the following page. See also
“How Piston Rod Vibration Signaled a
Reciprocating Compressor Problem” on
page 11 of the Third Quarter 2001 issue
of ORBIT.
ASSUMPTION TWO
Rod flex is negligible compared to the
amount of rider band wear being
measured. Some cylinder assembly
configurations experience significant rod
flex. For example, double compartment
distance pieces need a piston rod that is
very long compared to its diameter. Rod
load and frictional effects cause the rod to
bend. With long slender rods
(length/diameter (L/D) > 30) the piston
rod bends and whips side to side as well
as up and down. On some large bore
cylinders with double compartment
distance pieces, vibration greater than 60
mils peak to peak is not uncommon.
Similar to rod flex, excess flexing of the
frame, distance piece, and cylinder can
also cause distortions or random errors
in the measurements. Experience has
shown that the rod drop measurement
should only be applied on frames
requiring more than 600 hp and that run
at 500 rpm or less.
ASSUMPTION THREE
Operating temperature of the piston
is relatively constant. The piston
expands radially as it heats, and it lifts the
piston rod. On large pistons, especially
those made of aluminum, the radial
growth of the piston between cold
shutdown conditions and hot operating
conditions may be significant. This applies
to pistons larger than 24 in (610 mm) in
diameter.
ASSUMPTION FOUR
Where:
B
1
= Distance from probe tip to piston rod
B
2
= Calculated rider band wear
L
1
= Distance from crosshead pin to probe
(L
1
+ L
2
) = Distance from crosshead pin
to center of piston
(L
1
+ L
2
) / L
1
= Correction factor
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
1Q04 ORBIT 57
Installing the probes directly to the face of the
pressure packing case provides a much more
rigid support for the probe.
FIG. 3
For many real world compressors, the assump-
tions necessary for an accurate rod drop meas-
urement do not hold as true as we’d like. When
the differences are small, a properly configured
rod drop system mitigates these effects on the
rod drop measurements. If the differences are
large, rod position is the only suitable measure-
ment (see sidebar).
Installation Effects on Rod Drop
Measurements
Although older installations may use a probe
housing mounted through the distance piece,
experience has shown that thermal and vibra-
tion effects make this type of installation very
inaccurate. Installing the probes directly to the
face of the pressure packing case provides a much
more rigid support for the probe that is much
less susceptible to these effects (Figure 3).
Recommended
Not
Recommended
WHEN ROD DROP WON’T WORK, ROD POSITION WILL
If the actual machine characteristics differ greatly from the char-
acteristics described in the rod drop measurement, rod position is
the only suitable measurement. Rod position uses an X-Y probe
configuration to provide the amplitude and direction of peak piston
rod vibration and the degree of crankshaft revolution this amplitude
occurred at for easy, direct correlation of piston rod movement to
PV and rod load curves. In addition, rod position provides machinery
protection for hyper compressors by continuously monitoring plunger
position parameters and probe status against configured alarm
setpoints to drive alarms. When used on hyper compressors, loss
of both probes at the same time is treated as a Danger alarm and
shutdown parameter.
By adding an orthoganal probe to the basic rod
drop measurement, rod motion in both X- and
Y- planes can be measured and provides rod
position (not just rod drop) information.
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
58 ORBIT 1Q04
In addition to the mounting con-
siderations, the proximity probe
should be calibrated to the piston
rod material. Piston rods may have
coatings or unusual base materials.
If a standard proximity system, cal-
ibrated for 4140 steel, measures the
distance B
1
(see Figure 2) on a pis-
ton rod fabricated from or coated
with another material, the indicated
distance will be incorrect. In addi-
tion to a Proximitor
®
sensor cali-
brated to the material, an in-situ
measurement of probe sensitivity
using a shaft calibrator kit will help
account for shaft curvature and rod-
to-rod variability. Error in the B
1
measurement is magnified when it
is multiplied by the correction fac-
tor and results in significant error
in the calculated value of B
2
.
Even if the measurement of B
1
is
perfect, any error in the measure-
ment of the dimensions L
1
and L
2
(the components of the correction
factor), will also produce an error
in B
2
. Since the correction factor is
always greater than 1, it amplifies
the errors in B
1
.
Configuration Mitigates Errors
in Assumptions
Configuration provides a way to
mitigate the effects of piston rod
flex and piston thermal growth. To
reduce the effects of piston rod flex,
the instantaneous rod drop reading
should be taken when the piston
rod is in tension. To help reduce the
effects of thermal growth as the load
changes, dc-coupled waveforms
should be collected at each load
step, and the trigger angle chosen
so that the change between load
steps is minimized. And, on large
pistons, the thermal growth may be
enough to move the rod out of the
range of the proximity probe if it is
under the rod, or damage the probe
if it is mounted above the rod.
These precautions must be
accounted for when installing the
probe and setting its gap.
Real World Example of a Rod
Drop Installation
A North American refinery oper-
ates three balanced-opposed, hori-
zontal reciprocating compressors in
recycle hydrogen service. Two of the
compressors were installed in the
Rod Drop - Northwest Cylinder
10
0
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
6-Jul-00 25-Aug-00 14-Oct-00 3-Dec-00 22-Jan-01
R
o
d

D
r
o
p

(
m
i
l
)
FIG. 4A
Rod Drop - Southwest Cylinder
10
0
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
6-Jul-00 25-Aug-00 14-Oct-00 3-Dec-00 22-Jan-01
R
o
d

D
r
o
p

(
m
i
l
)
FIG. 4B
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
1Q04 ORBIT 59
early 1970s and one in the mid
1980s, and all were manufactured
in the US. All compressors have a
rod drop transducer on each cylin-
der, two Velomitor
®
transducers on
the frame, and a Keyphasor
®
trans-
ducer. The rod drop system went
into service in the mid 1990s on all
three machines.
The customer found that the rod
drop system often reported actual
wear that differed from measured
wear by as much as 60 mils (1.5
mm). The customer asked Bently
Nevada to identify changes in the
rod drop system installation that
would improve its accuracy. We
started by examining the applica-
tion assumptions. First, the
machine needed more than 600 hp
and ran at less than 500 rpm. The
piston rod L/D was less than 30,
and the correction factor was less
than 2. Per the four assumptions
noted previously in this article,
these characteristics indicated that
a properly installed and configured
rod drop system would indeed pro-
vide reasonably accurate indica-
tions of rider wear.
During this review, one significant
process effect was also noted: For a
short period of time each month,
the process steam was changed
from hydrogen to nitrogen.
Rod Drop - Northeast Cylinder
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
6-Jul-00 25-Aug-00 14-Oct-00 3-Dec-00 22-Jan-01
R
o
d

D
r
o
p

(
m
i
l
)
FIG. 4C
Rod Drop - Southeast Cylinder
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
6-Jul-00 30-Jul-00 23-Aug-00 16-Sep-00 10-Oct-00 3-Nov-00 27-Nov-00 21-Dec-00 14-Jan-01 7-Feb-01
R
o
d

D
r
o
p

(
m
i
l
)
Periodic spikes in trend data show changes
in rod drop when process stream changes
from hydrogen to nitrogen
FIG. 4D
Measured versus indicated wear results for eight month period. All units in inches. | TABLE 1
NORTHWEST 21.744 21.644 21.938 0.147 0.107 0.040 0.030
SOUTHWEST 21.752 21.652 21.941 0.144 0.077 0.067 0.053
NORTHEAST 21.745 21.645 21.945 0.150 0.115 0.035 0.024
SOUTHEAST 21.759 21.659 21.944 0.143 0.100 0.043 0.029
CARRIER PISTON RIDER PISTON PISTON MEASURED INDICATED
OD OD OD TO BORE TO BORE WEAR WEAR
31-MAY-00 31-JAN-01 7 DAY AVG
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
60 ORBIT 1Q04
Because the compression character-
istics of nitrogen differ greatly from
those of hydrogen, the suction and
discharge pressures changed, and
the rod load and thermal growth of
the piston were very different. The
change in rod load also changed the
piston rod flex characteristics. As a
result, the rod drop readings
changed significantly when the
machines processed nitrogen.
Because the time the machines
processed nitrogen was very short
compared to the time they pro-
cessed hydrogen, we recommended
that the plant disregard the rod drop
readings during the nitrogen cycle.
When we looked at the configura-
tion of the monitor and probes, sev-
eral discrepancies were found. First,
the L
1
and (L
1
+L
2
) measurements
were found to be inaccurate. In
addition, the instantaneous rod
drop readings were taken when the
piston rod was in transition from
compression to tension rather than
when it was in tension. This was
determined from analytical models
because cylinder pressure-volume
(PV) data was not available. In
addition, the probes had not been
calibrated to the piston rod mate-
rial. Once the curves had been run
in the field, the data was then
entered into the monitor configu-
ration.
After making these corrections,
Data Manager
®
2000 software was
connected to the monitor rack and
data was collected on one machine
until the next outage eight months
later (Figure 4). The effects of
changing from hydrogen to nitro-
gen on the indicated wear are espe-
cially visible on the southeast
cylinder data. For example, on 11
July the monitor showed an
increase in rod drop when it went
into nitrogen service. Once the
compressor returned to hydrogen
service, the rod drop measurement
returned to its normal trend. Table
1 shows the measured wear versus
the indicated wear when the unit
was rebuilt at the next scheduled
outage.
Conclusion
By simply correcting L
1
, L
2
, and the
probe calibration curves, the per-
formance of the monitor was
improved by a factor of four. From
the time of the turn-around on 31
May 2000 until the next outage, the
indicated wear on the monitor
(projected from the average drop
over a week’s time) agreed with the
measured wear to within 15 mils
(.38 mm). Correctly configuring
and optimizing the rod drop moni-
tor to mitigate application effects
improved the operator’s ability to
manage the reciprocating compres-
sor. Further improvements in sta-
bility and accuracy could likely be
achieved by using the measured
(rather than estimated) cylinder
pressure to determine the rod load
and ensure the measurement triggers
when the piston rod is in tension.
Editor’s Note: The first section
of this article draws from “Rod
Drop Moni tori ng – Does I t
Really Work?” presented at the
Texas A&M Uni versi ty’s 29th
Turbomachinery Symposium in
2000. For more information, go
to http://turbolab.tamu.edu.
M A C H I N E R Y M E S S A G E
1Q04 ORBIT 61
Rod Drop ...
It Really Works
Rod drop
measurements can
help you plan
maintenance more
proactively and limit
repairs to only those
parts that are
intended to wear out
– such as rider bands,
stuffing box packing,
and piston rings. But
don’t just take our
word for it. Here’s
what one of our
customers had to say...