You are on page 1of 6

Monitoring and Analysis of Machine Vibration

By Jeff Teter, P.E., Senior Reliability Engineer, The Timken Company

Vibration analysis has become one of the most powerful tools in industry today to
evaluate rotating machine condition. When it comes to driven equipment (pumps,
fans, compressors, etc.), there is no better method of assessing a machines
condition short of a teardown. As part of total maintenance requirements, a
vibration analyst can quickly determine the condition of the machines bearings,
alignment, balance and general health.

There are two basic configurations of vibration monitoring programs; Continuous

Monitoring Systems (CMS) and portable data collection. The CMS units are used
primarily on critical machinery that has substantial downtime costs. As the name
implies, they continuously monitor the vibration levels of a single machine or small
group of machines. The vibration sensors are permanently mounted on the
machine(s) and transmit the signal to a PC through an A/D converter. The sensors
can be connected to the A/D via direct wire, wireless, or plant ethernet using
specialty interface equipment. The PC often has outputs to a PLC with alarming
and/or machine trip capabilities.

The portable data collection method utilizes a battery-powered, handheld instrument

that can be carried from machine to machine. The instrument, called a vibration
analyzer, is wired directly to the accelerometer, which typically has a magnetic base
allowing it to be easily attached to the machine bearing housing. This location
The Timken Company

provides the best transmission path from the rotating element to the sensor. The
analyzer has various data sets that are pre-programmed and are chosen to match

Page 2

the machines parameters, such as RPM and overall vibration level. While these

May 31, 2007

data sets vary from machine to machine, the same set is used consistently for a
given machine, allowing for an apples-to-apples comparison of data taken at
different times. The vibration data is downloaded from the analyzer to a PC to be
reviewed by the vibration analyst, who determines the proper corrective action to be
taken, if any.

Before analyzing some vibration problems, it is important to first look at the units
commonly used in vibration analysis. They are displacement (mils), velocity (in/sec)
and acceleration (gs). Displacement readings have poor signal response at midand high-range frequencies (see Figure 1) and limit the types of problems that the
analyst can detect. Therefore, displacement is used primarily for balancing.
However, velocity provides a valid signal for the low- and mid-range frequencies,
and is the best parameter for looking at coupling issues, a loose condition, or

For example, if a machine has a bearing spall on one of the races, there will be an
impact as each rolling element passes over the spall, similar to a car tire passing
over a pothole. Since this impact has a short duration, the movement of the bearing
housing is minimal. If an analyst is looking at the displacement or velocity of the
bearing housing, the analyst is not going to be able to detect this impact. However,
there can be a substantial amount of force involved with the impact. Newtons
Second Law states that force equals mass times acceleration (F=ma). One can
measure the acceleration of the bearing housing, and indirectly, the force involved
with the impact. Acceleration is the preferred parameter of measurement when
dealing with problems that have a short duration (and therefore, high frequency)
such as bearing faults, gearing problems and motor/electrical defects. The unit for
an acceleration reading is gs. The earths gravitational pull is 1 g, and this
The Timken Company

Page 3

measurement is a ratio of that constant. A vibration reading of 3 gs would be

May 31, 2007

equivalent to 3 times the gravitational constant.

Consider a vibration reading on an unbalanced fan. Due to the unbalance, the

bearing housing rocks back and forth from left to right. It is not difficult to envision
the sine wave pattern, or waveform, that the bearing housing travels through.
Unfortunately, real waveforms are complex and are composed of many sine waves
of different frequencies. Since recognizing a machine defect from this complex
waveform would be impossible, the vibration analyzer performs a Fast Fourier
Transform (FFT) on the waveform and converts the data to a frequency vs.
amplitude plot, commonly called a spectrum.

As a vibration problem develops, the amplitude of the vibration shown in the

spectrum will rise. If the fan builds up some dirt on one of its blades over several
months, the running speed vibration would increase with time, producing a rising
vibration trend. Since a rising trend properly reflects the degradation of the
equipment, and is easily understood, the trend is the analysts most common tool to
indicate vibration problems to maintenance and operation personnel. It is preferred
over absolute values since the amount of vibration is dependent on the machine
defect as well as the stiffness of the machine support. For example, a machine on
the second floor is going to vibrate more than one on a concrete base. When a
trend is not available, an overall peak velocity reading of 0.25 in/sec or less is
desired for typical machinery. If the equipment is involved with product quality, such
as machining, the acceptable level of vibration will be substantially lower. Some
resources that list acceptable vibration levels for various machines are the ISO
Standard 10816 ( and the General Motors Vibration Standard (in
process of being developed).

The Timken Company

Page 4

After reviewing some of the nomenclature, various vibration problems can be

May 31, 2007

examined. The unbalanced fan that was previously discussed produces a

waveform that has a frequency equal to the turning speed. Using an FFT to convert
this waveform to a spectrum yields a single peak at turning speed (see Figure 2).
This is typical of a machine with an unbalance condition. Since bearing supports
are usually stiffer in the vertical direction than in the horizontal, the highest vibration
readings are typically in the horizontal direction. Virtually all OEMs and rebuilders
are aware of the importance of a good balance job, so new or rebuilt machines with
unbalance are uncommon. However, fans commonly experience blade erosion and
dirt build-up, so periodic cleaning and field balancing is required. It should be noted
that a bent shaft has a center of gravity that is offset from the centerline of the shaft,
giving it the same vibration signature as an unbalance condition.

Another source of machine problems involves the coupling. For example, if weight
is removed from the unbalanced fan and a locked coupling that has angular
misalignment is added, as the shaft begins to turn, the motor is going to be pushed
to one side, and the fan to the other. As the shaft rotates 180 degrees, the fan and
motor will be pushed in opposite directions. As the shaft continues to turn, one
would observe that the motor and shaft are always moving in the opposite direction
of each other. The two components are out of phase. If the two components were
moving in the same direction at the same time, they would be in phase. It may
help to think of a time trace of the three phases of electrical current. Each of the
phases is 120 degrees apart. In the spectrum, coupling problems are evident by
vibration at twice the running speed, with one and three times running speed
sometimes accompanying it (see Figure 3).

Another common source of vibration is what analysts refer to as looseness. This

loose condition may be external or internal. External examples would be loose
The Timken Company

bearing housing bolts, loose base bolts, or a weak or deteriorated machine base.

Page 5

The vibration spectrum would see this defect as vibration at running speed and

May 31, 2007

possibly several of its multiples. As an example, if the running speed is 3,560 rpm,
the spectrum would see vibration at 3,560 cpm, and possibly 7,120 cpm (2 x 3,560),
and 10,680 cpm (3 x 3,560). Internal looseness would be the loss of a proper fit
such as a loose locking mechanism on a bearing ID, excessive clearance between
the bearing housing and the OD of the bearing, or a loose impeller on a shaft. The
spectrum will show running speed vibration with many multiples (see Figure 4).

Anyone who has struck a tuning fork realizes that the tuning fork rings at a
particular frequency. Different tuning forks give off different sounds due to their
vibrating, or resonating, at different frequencies. Unfortunately, rotating equipment
also has resonant frequencies. Each piece of equipment has different frequencies
at which it naturally vibrates. This can be very destructive if a machine is allowed to
operate at its resonant frequency. Probably the most famous case of resonance
would the failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. The bridge deck, driven
only by the wind, began to oscillate vertically and, within a matter of hours, major
portions of it lay in rubble in the water below.

Through the use of FEA, the OEMs of rotating machinery are able to determine
resonant frequencies before the first unit is built, and are able to make modifications
during the design stage to avoid having a natural frequency close to the operating
speed. However, equipment that was once designed to operate at a steady speed
may now have Variable Frequency Drives that operate the equipment through a
range of speeds. A pump that was designed to operate at a steady 1,200 RPM may
now operate anywhere between 800 and 1,200 RPM. If that machine is resonant at
900 cpm, machine excitation will occur. A machine that operates smoothly at low
and high speeds, but vibrates excessively at a medium speed is likely
experiencing a resonance condition. Curing this condition can be a large
The Timken Company

undertaking since machine and/or structural modifications are required. Typically,

Page 6

the most economical solution is to program the drive to avoid operating near the

May 31, 2007

resonance speed so that the machine runs through it quickly.

This article is by no means a comprehensive list of problems that can be detected

using vibration monitoring and analysis. It is merely an introduction to the
terminology and basics behind vibration analysis of rotating equipment. Facilities
that understand the benefits of vibration analysis can use it to help decrease
downtime, increase safety and lower maintenance costs. It is important to
remember that each machine has its own limits and needs, and that a vibration
expert should be consulted for questions and concerns specific to an application.
For more information on vibration analysis and monitoring systems, contact The
Timken Company at (330) 471-7503 or visit

Figure 1 - Displacement versus velocity versus acceleration frequencies response

Figure 2 Spectrum displaying unbalance
Figure 3 Spectrum displaying a coupling defect
Figure 4 Spectrum displaying internal looseness

The Timken Company (NYSE: TKR, keeps the world

turning, with innovative friction management and power transmission products and
services, enabling our customers to perform faster and more efficiently. With sales
of $5.0 billion in 2006, operations in 26 countries and approximately 25,000
employees, Timken is Where You Turn for better performance.

The Timken Company