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Thomas. B. Lantrip, P.E.

Principal Engineer - Southern Company Services
Technical Services Maintenance and Reliability
42 Inverness Center Parkway
Birmingham, Alabama 35242

Abstract: Turbine machinery systems are quite complex when describing the various mechanisms and details
involved in their function. The steam turbine, gas turbine, and hydro turbine comprise the majority of the historical
and future power production components. The turbine is the interface to the generator which converts mechanical
to electrical energy for power production. The type of turbine describes the working fluid that conveys the energy
to the turbine, i.e. steam, gas, hydro. In describing the turbine system and the process, the details that affect the
turbine rotors and sub-components are critical to understanding the mechanisms that influence the vibration and
operating health of the machine. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of the primary components that make up
a turbine machine is crucial to the diagnosis of real problems in power production facilities. To identify the
vibration characteristics of turbine machinery, the knowledge of general operational processes, the makeup of the
rotor components, the details of the stationary and support components, and background on the machine design are
all vital parts of successful health assessment and correction.

Key Words: Turbines; Steam, Gas, Hydro, Vibration; Balance, Critical Speeds, Instability, Rubs, Bowed Rotor

Turbine Type Descriptions Turbine Operation and Concepts
A turbine is a machine to capture and convert fluid flows into a rotational energy. This rotational energy is
typically converted into electrical energy via a generator.
The typical turbine (steam, gas, wind, or hydro) has a rotational assembly known as a rotor that is composed of
blade elements supported by a cylindrical shaft assembly that transfers the torque along the shafting of the rotor to
the generator. The turbine shaft can be directly driving the generator (typical) or can indirectly drive the turbine
via a gearbox or other indirect transfer method.
Turbines come in many types including the steam turbine, gas turbine, wind turbine and hydro turbine, to name a
few. The steam turbine utilizes the admission of high-pressure steam produced by a steam boiler conveyed with
steam piping and a low-pressure (evacuated) condenser to recycle the water used in the process. The steam turbine
typically utilizes multiple stages of turbine blades and reheating cycles of steam cascading from high-pressure to
low pressure to capture and efficiently utilize the energy and heat from the steam.
The gas turbine typically burns natural gas (or oil) admitted into the combustion chamber of the hot section of the
gas turbine. The gas turbine typically has a compressor section to compress the air and gas prior to ignition in the
burner sections, and an exhaust section to collect the hot gases and vent to the stack area of the gas turbine. The
gas turbine can burn other fuels also, and is typically used in a combined-cycle arrangement in more modern power


Figure 1 : Vintage Steam Turbine and Generator

Figure 2 : Low Pressure (LP) Steam Turbine Rotor during Maintenance Outage


Figure 3 : Gas Turbine Rotor and Casing during Outage


The hydro turbine utilizes the head pressure and flow from a perched lake or reservoir (typically a river) to spin the
hydro rotor. Hydro plants use either a horizontal or vertical runner assembly to rotate the shaft connected to the
generator assembly.
Figure 4 : Hydro Plant Spillway Structure and Turbine-Generator Cross Section




Operating Floor of Hydro Plant


Bearing to Support the Rotor
All turbines require a structural/bearing mechanism to support the rotor assembly and provide the required means
to stabilize the relative position of the rotor during operation.
The bearings provide a lubricated (low-friction) interface between the rotating shaft (journal) and the stationary
components. Bearings are typically oil, grease or water lubricated. The bearing is designed with many factors in
mind to provide for a comprehensive safe/reliable operation of the machine. Some of the key factors include the
1. Support of the shaft/machine elements
2. Lubrication of the bearing
3. Cooling of the bearing
4. Displacement/Control of the rotor/shaft position
5. Damping and Stiffness and Stability of the rotor system
6. Critical speed characteristic on the rotor system
Figure 5 : Turbine Journal and Steam Seal Area


Figure 6 : Turbine Bearing with Damage during Maintenance Outage

Bearing and Mechanical Seals
All turbines require seal mechanisms to contain the operating fluids and bearing lubricants around the rotating
assemblies. The seal provides an interface between the rotating and stationary components to control and maintain
pressures and flow between adjacent stages within the process. Seals typically convey steam, hot gas, oil, or water
to create higher pressure to lower pressure regions to limit the flows of the process fluids or lubricants. Seals can
be provided in singular or multiple stages to step down the pressures and flows.
Bearings seals typically provide a means to control the lube oil or water to maintain the proper pressures and
containment of the lubricant. Mechanical seals within the process boundaries typically contain the process fluids
across different stages of the process or containment of the process fluid to the external casing. The seal system is
typically designed to provide prevention of leakage across adjacent seal surfaces, and still allow relative motion
between the rotating and stationary components without contact. This has to be performed with tight clearances
allowing for the range of operating conditions and thermal environment of a steam, gas or hydro system. An
interface that is too tight could potentially touch the rotating part to the stationary components.


Bearing Seal Assembly
The bearing seal provides a sealing mechanism of the lubricant (oil or water) to prevent this from leaking down the
shaft from the bearing. The bearing seal has to contain this lubricant without creating a tight clearance that could
rub the shaft of the rotor. The oil seal typically can have high-low teeth or some other labyrinth type feature to
create a high pressure zone on the inside and provide for drainage for any leakage that passes by the seal. It is
undesirable to have any leakage travel down the rotor assembly.

Steam Seal Assembly
The steam seal provides a sealing mechanism of the steam to capture and contain the various steam pressures from
leaking down the shaft from steam seal or turbine shell. Through a series of high-low seal teeth, and a network
of steam seal pressure feed mechanisms, the steam flow from the higher operating pressures can be reduced to a
range that does not create a flow down the turbine shaft. Similar to the bearing seal, creating too tight of a
clearance could rub the shaft of the rotor, or the contrary too loose could allow leakage. It is undesirable to have
any leakage travel down the rotor assembly.

Rotor Assembly


Figure 7 : Typical Steam Seal Arrangement

Steam and Gas Admission and Exhaust
Steam Turbine Admission
Steam is typically admitted to the turbine via the control valves and stop valves. The control valves provide a
means to precisely control the steam flows into the turbine, based on feedback from the generator controls and
operations. Steam is admitted to the turbine via the steam chest conveyed from steam piping from the boiler. The
steam is admitted and exhausted along the steam turbine from the higher pressures to lower pressure in concert
with a cascade of heaters that reheat the steam and readmit back into the steam turbine at various stages of the
turbine for efficiency. The stop valves provide for the safe isolation and emergency actuation of the valves in the
case of a needed valve closure that shuts off the steam to the turbine. The stop valves are controlled through a
series of synchronized control logic that provides fail safe and manual termination of steam to the turbine rotor


Hydro Turbine Water Admission
For hydro turbines, water is typically admitted to the turbine via a water passage that funnels the water into a casing
that admits the water tangentially through a series of wicket gates that control the flow of water to the hydro
turbine. These wicket gates are controlled by the generator and operations control. Typically the water is passed
through the hydro runner assembly before the water is discharged out the power house and into the river typically.

Figure 8 : Typical Hydro Dam and Power House Cross-Section

Gas Turbine Admission
For gas turbines, gas is typically admitted to the gas turbine through a collection of burners that connect to the
combustion chambers of the gas turbines. The burning of the gas/air in the burners creates the hot gases used to
push the flows through the various stages of the gas turbine. The shaft of the gas turbine is typically direct coupled
to other sections (stages) of the gas turbine that compress the inlet air (compressor section) coming into the
combustion chamber. The high pressure expansion of the hot gas after the combustion process creates the pressure
to drive the turbine blading (exhaust section) and spin the rotor. Similar to the steam turbine, the hot gas is passed
from high pressure to low pressure stages to consume all of the energy into rotational torque prior to the exhaust of
the last stage of the gas turbine. Firing temperatures of gas turbines typically are in excess of 1600 deg F in
modern designs. Also, in more modern gas turbines, the exhaust of the gas turbine is used to heat up a hot water
boiler and recycled back to a steam turbine system (combined-cycle systems).


Figure 9 : Gas Turbine Opened During Maintenance (Exhaust Blades Near/Compressor Blades Far)

Figure 10 : Gas Turbine Combustor Chamber

Thermal Affects on Rotor and Casing
In the steam and gas turbine systems, the rotors and casings are exposed to significant heat and pressures. The
main steam from a fossil steam turbine consists of 1000 deg F, at 2400 psi typically on the high-pressure rotors.
This temperature and pressure reduces throughout the various stages, however the thermal expansion on the rotor
and casing has to be accommodated at the supports of the casing and the interfaces between the rotor and casing.
Since the rotor and casing are expanding, and the efficiency of the systems require very tight clearances, significant
consideration must be given to the location of the bearings, external casings, internal clearances, and procedures for
starting and loading a steam turbine.
In gas turbines, very high temperatures occur very quickly to heat the rotors and casings at temperatures in excess
of 1600 deg F. For the gas turbine rotor design is typically a built-up section of disks connected longitudinally
with through bolts along the main shaft assembly.


For both the steam and gas turbines, bearing position alignments between adjacent rotor assemblies and bearings
require the prediction of the thermal and operating growth of the stationary support components of the rotor
assembly. This condition alone accounts for many of the typical problems encountered in turbine vibration
Steam and Gas Turbine Blade Design

Steam turbine and gas turbine blades convey and collect the steam and hot gasses efficiently via the airfoil design
to rotate the attached rotor assembly. The larger the blade, the more steam and gas can be converted to mechanical
force and energy. To carry the higher pressures and loadings, the blades are smaller and have more cross-sectional
strength to prevent overstress conditions. Conversely, as the pressures and loadings reduce across the various
stages, the blades have a larger airfoil area (longer and broader) to extract as much energy from the cascade of
pressures and flows during the progressive pressure drops in the cycle.

Blade design must meet a vast range of temperature and pressure requirements, and rotational and dynamic fatigue
performance at very high speeds (primarily 3600 rpm rotational speed and beyond). Competition among various
manufacturers has pushed the envelope on blade designs and sizes. Therefore, the industry has seen many
improvements in the efficiency of blade performance. The modern blade design has created some challenges to
reliability of steam and gas turbine operation.

Steam Turbine Operation and Concepts

Steam turbines typically operate at 3600 rpm for fossil (coal and gas) and 1800 rpm for nuclear. The fossil boiler is
typically consisting of a forced-air system that heats burns coal or gas in boiler surrounded by steel boiler tubes
with high-pressure water running through them. The hot water is then superheated to separate the pure steam and
collect in a steam drum that is fed to the turbine via the main steam lines. The nuclear cycle as it relates to the
turbine is loosely similar with the reactor heating the water instead of the boiler.

Due to the elevated temperatures involved in steam turbine and gas turbine operation, and with the varying load
demand conditions within the power market, the turbine rotors are required to cycle up and down in speed to
operate at the normal grid frequency of 60 Hz (3600 rpm). In order to perform under those conditions, the turbine
Blade Root
Airfoil Leading Edge
Airfoil Trailing Edge
Tenon Area


rotor is required to be designed for minimal vibration across the various speed and operating temperature
Turbine Rotor and Bearing Design
Critical Speeds and Resonance
The turbine rotor has a rotor supported by bearings and connected to other rotating connecting machine
elements including the generator.
As part of the turbine design, the goal is to minimize weight, maximize the efficiency of the system to extract
as much energy from the steam as possible and create a durable system that is safe and reliable. This design
approach will generate minimal number of bearings with long shaft spans, with the minimum shaft cross-
sections to maximize flow through the turbine.
As a part of that design, the shaft and rotating elements will have characteristics that generate rotating forces at
the rotational speeds (fundamentally).
In general, all structural and mechanical systems have natural frequencies that are a characteristic of their mass
and stiffness. When these properties are characterized in a real system, natural frequencies are found within
the operational range between the zero rotational speed and the operational speed of the machine. For rotating
machinery, the rotor natural frequencies are typically denoted as the critical speeds of the system. Every real
system has an infinite number of these natural frequencies or critical speeds between 0 and infinity.
In practice, the study of these properties is known classically as rotor-dynamics as they relate to rotor design
and vibration diagnostics.
The turbine rotor behavior in an operating condition is influenced heavily by the rotor-dynamics (critical
speed) influence. This influence is due in part to many factors, but the shaft cross-section, blade weights and
distribution along the rotor (mass and locations), bearing and seal design, and bearing support stiffness control
the rotor-dynamic conditions of the turbine system.
Each turbine rotor and generators have their own critical speeds individually and collectively when connected
as a continuous train of rotors, which is the case in most steam turbine and gas turbine installations.
Resonance is the name given to the condition of convergence of a forcing frequency coincident with a natural
frequency or critical speed. This is typically altered as part of the turbine design if encountered during the
design stage of a rotor design, to move the critical speed or influence (which is also a function of damping and
mode shape) to a more desirable location within the speed range if possible. In most turbine systems, the shaft
cross-section, the bearing type and design, and the rotor mass are the controlling parameters that affect the
proximity to resonance.
The design of the turbine rotor system to avoid resonance is a very comprehensive challenge when trying to
account for a vast range of operating conditions, meet flow and performance requirements, and factor in the
boundary conditions from various interconnections to the turbine system including piping and foundation
Resonance Recognition and Identification
During the operation of turbine equipment, the vibration is influenced by the speed of the rotating equipment.
Typically, most turbine components operate at running speeds above the critical speeds of the respective
machine. This condition is most evident and occurs typically when the speed of the machine is increased from


a stopped condition (0 speed) condition on the way to the operating speed. Most operations staffs are familiar
with this speed and adjust the operation of the machine to limit the proximity of this condition.
The typical measure to avoid resonance in a turbine system is to pass the operating speed of the machine
through the critical speed at a fast rate of acceleration, which limits the number of rotational cycles to allow the
vibration levels to build. In many turbine systems, more than one range of critical speeds can be encountered
on the way to the full speed operating condition. Natural frequencies and critical speeds are identified not only
with higher amplitudes as a function of speed, but also phase shifts associated with resonances.
Figure 11 : Bode Plot for Machine from 0 to Full Speed (Indicating Natural Frequencies)

Figure 12 : Mode Shapes of 1
and 2
Critical Speed

12.9 183
7920 rpm
POINT: Shaft Inb Horiz 90 Left 1X COMPSR: 0.437 45
From 20JUN2000 22:31:30 To 20JUN2000 22:33:19 Shutdown
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000
SPEED: 200 rpm/div
1st Critical Speed
2nd Critical Speed


Turbine Vibration Diagnostics
Typical Turbine Problems
Typical vibration conditions on a turbine rotor are very similar to other types of machines. The 1X (filtered or
operating speed frequency) is primarily what is expected on a turbine. All machines cannot be perfectly balanced,
therefore the forces from the unbalance condition are observed on machine typically as a 1X vibration condition.
The figure below provides some logic flow to the typical conditions experienced on a steam turbine.

Turbine Vibration
Stable or
Stable / Steady-State
Transient Condition

Frequency (Order
of Running Speed)
< 1X
Stator 120 Hz)
Frequency (Order
of Running Speed)
1X Rub
< 1X
Instability, Rub
Misalignment or
Bearing Loading
Condition or
*Load Sensitive
*Only After Synchronization


Unbalance (Outage Related)
The most common condition encountered on a steam, gas and hydro turbine is the unbalance of the rotor. This
unbalance of the rotors are typically minimized at the factory during the original manufacture of the rotor,
however the factory condition does not totally mimic the operating environment and boundary conditions.
Also, the operation and use of the machine alters the condition of the turbine rotors through erosion, corrosion,
deposition of solids, changing of clearance and general wear and tear.
The vibration trends, along with other condition assessments provide insight into the balance condition over
time. This condition would be the most common encountered on a turbine rotor component.
Unbalance (Failure of Rotating Component)
Figure 13 : Vibration Trend on Turbine Before and After Vibration Excursion

During operation, vibration trends are monitored continuously in most cases to address the condition of the turbine.
On occasion, a change to the vibration trend reveals some changes.
Review of the trends provides some analysis of the possible changes to the turbine. This review would include the
evaluation of the operational conditions during the change, including the following;
1. Were the operating conditions constant during the change?
2. What happened, if anything during the time of the change? Any other change in conditions, temperatures,
noises, etc?
3. Does the trend reveal this behavior in the past? Can the change to the operation, affect the vibration


4. What is the fundamental frequency of the vibration? Did the phase angle change during the same time as
the amplitude change?
Figure 14 : Missing Blade Components from Turbine Rotor during Inspection

Balance practice involves the understanding of the changes to the 1X synchronous vibration levels during
various operating conditions, speeds, and situations. Most texts and guides on balancing require the
elimination of other machine malfunctions prior to the implementation of a balance program. This is a
valid requirement, in that the other conditions that can influence the synchronous vibration can have a
large affect on the vibration levels.

Figure 15 : Typical Review of Vibration Amplitude and Phase Vector


Balancing in general terms involves the collection of vibration data, typically at the bearing locations, data
analysis of the vibration levels and phase angles. Once this data has been analyzed and summarized, the
balance iterations can proceed, which may include the addition of balance weights to portions of the
subject machine, based either through prior experience with the machine or in the addition through trial

Figure 16 : Vibration Vectors at Adjacent Turbine Bearings and Recommended Balance Solution

Normally, balancing is recommended for steady-state conditions of vibration levels and phase angles that
repeat the same vibration data no matter how many times the machine is started and stopped. Balancing
can also be conducted for transient repeatable conditions, such as for critical speeds or other operational
excursions that behave similarly every time an excursion is experienced. Many constraints are placed on
the balance personnel due to the operating conditions that exist in a production-based enterprise.
Alternative methods and efficiency can expedite the balance activities and provide improved reliability.

Figure 17 : Vibration Vector Response (Typical) at Adjacent Turbine Bearings Overlain with Recommended Balance Solution


Bowed Rotor
Eccentricity instrumentation provides indication on the turbine (at low speeds or turning gear) of the following
Thermal bows (Temporary)
Fixed rotor bows (Permanent)
Typically has an alarm at the turbine controls interface that warns the operator of a condition that could potentially
damage the turbine, if the eccentricity (displacement of the mid-span of the turbine) is too large to safely startup the
Figure 18 : Eccentricity Indication on HP Rotor

High Eccentricity can be caused by rubs between the rotor and the stationary parts. (Temporary or Permanent Bow)
High Eccentricity can be caused by stopping the turning gear before the hot turbine rotor has had time to cool off to
a temperature at which no bowing of the rotor is likely. (Temporary Eccentricity condition)
High Eccentricity can also be caused by a previous event that may include excessive temperatures or an abrupt
quenching condition. (Permanent Bow)
During a turbine restart, the rotor vibration could become excessive, particularly at the critical speed(s) of a turbine.
High vibration and eccentricity can create additional rubs between the rotor and the stationary parts, which in turn
may create an even worst eccentricity condition.
If the turbine is tripped under these conditions, turning gear time may need additional duration to alleviate this


When new packing is installed, the clearance between the rotor and packing (Seals) is intentionally or
non-intentionally very close to improve performance.
The result of the rotor and the packing touching during rotation is what we call rubbing.
Occasionally, this rubbing creates a hot spot on the shaft surface.
This hot spot leads to a rotor bow, which typically leads to a change in the vibration.
Figure 19 : Clearance Cross-Section

Figure 20 : Rub and Hotspot


Figure 21 : Rub and Hotspot along Rotor Length

Figure 22 : Typical Startup and Coast-Down Plot (Bode)

One of the typical methods to identify rubs is to examine the vibration at different times for the same speed and
load condition. As noted in Figure 22, the red and the green line indicate two different vibration levels and phase
angles for the same respective speed.


Typical Symptoms and Indications
Normally, vibration levels at a set speed do not fluctuate by more than 30 % (+/-).
During startups and coast-downs, when a very dramatic difference occurs on coast-down there is a good
chance of rub.
When the phase angle starts to roll or wonder, there is a good chance of a rub.
Typically, a rub frequency occurs at 1X operating speed, but occasionally, the classic symptom is 1/2X
frequency also.
Figure 23 : Change in 1X Vector during Rub Onset


Bearing Instabilities
Bearing Instability (Oil Whirl and Oil Whip/Steam Whirl)

Figure 24 : Slight Indications (Spectrum) of Sub-synchronous Vibration

Figure 25 : Slight Indications (Spectrum and Orbit) of Sub-synchronous Vibration


Figure 26 : Severe Indications (Orbit, Time-Waveform and Level) of Sub-synchronous Vibration

Oil-Whirl and Bearing Instability Factors
Type of Bearing
Bearing Loading
Lube Oil Temperatures
Bearing Condition


Steam Admission Problems and Symptoms
On steam turbines with governor valves, during load changes the vibration can change due to the valve and load
This is due to the bearing loading (lifting and movement due to steam forces from valve repositioning) that is
occurring due to the operation of the unit. The vibration of the rotor is based on the rotation forces of the rotor and
the supporting stiffness and damping of the support system.
During load changes for a turbine, the corresponding loads on the unit can alter the position of the rotor within the
bearing clearances. This change to the position affects the stiffness and damping of the bearing, therefore with a
change in the bearing condition, the vibration (assuming) a constant unbalance can result into a change in the
vibration amplitudes and phase angles.
Figure 27 : Shaft Centerline change during Operational (Load) Changes

Figure 28 : Shaft Vibration at Bearing 1 and 2 during Load Change



1. Fundamentals of Rotating Machinery Diagnostics, Donald E. Bently

2. Balancing of Rigid and Flexible Rotors, Dr. Edgar J. Gunter

3. Balancing of High-Speed Machinery, Mark S. Darlow

4. Rotor Dynamics and Balancing Course Notes Syria, Virginia 1992 (Jackson, Gunter, Eshleman)

5. Vibration and Balance Problems in Fossil Plants: Industry Case Histories EPRI CS-2725 1982 July

6. 2003 Vibration Institute Summer Meeting
Phase Angle Continuous Monitoring Detects Blade Failure (Lantrip, Woodson)

7. IMAC International Modal Conference 1992
Diagnosing and Analysis of Resonance Problems on Rotating Machinery (Garrett, Lantrip)

8. July 2012 Vibration Institute National Training Conference
Techniques used in Field Balancing (With and Without Rubs) (Lantrip)