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7 Centrifuge Controls M

C. J. SANTHANAM (1970, 1985) B. G. LIPTK (1995, 2005)

Batch types

Continuous type

Flow sheet symbol

This section reviews some of the basic centrifuge control enters a solid-walled bowl, which is rotating about a vertical
systems used on both sedimentation and filtering centrifuges. axis. Centrifugal force and gravity both act upon the solid
The sensors used in measuring the product quality are also and liquid phases. The dominant force is the centrifugal one,
discussed. which moves the heavier liquid phase or the heavier solid
particles to the perimeter and thereby the separation of solid
and liquid phases (or heavy and light liquid phases) takes
place as shown.
Filtering centrifuges: These machines have perforated
Centrifuges can be used for both liquidliquid and liquidsolid
walls that retain the solids on a permeable surface through
separation. The centrifuge designs can be classified into two
which the liquid can escape. This design is shown in the
main groups: sedimentation and filtering centrifuges.
bottom portion of Figure 8.7a. The operation that takes place
Sedimentation centrifuges: These designs have solid
is similar to that of a filter but with a much higher g force
walls, and separation occurs by sedimentation. This process
than what can be obtained in gravity or pressure filtration. In
is illustrated in the top portion of Figure 8.7a, where the feed
these filtering centrifuges, nearly all the liquid is removed,
leaving behind an almost dry cake.
Heavy Feed Solids
Light The centrifugal force obtained in industrial machines is
liquid liquid
several times the force of gravity. If a particle is rotating with
an angular velocity w and is located at a distance r (radius)
from the axis of rotation, the centrifugal separating effect or
g force is:

Sedimentation centrifuge G= 8.7(1)
Perforated wall
Filtering centrifuges operate at a g force range of 400
Liquid outlet

to 1,800, whereas the g force in sedimentation units ranges

from 3,000 to over 60,000 in laboratory machines (ultra-
The critical speed phenomenon must be considered in
the design and operation of centrifuges, as with any high-
Solids Supernatant, speed machine. At critical speed, the frequency of rotation
claried liquid
Filtering centrifuge
matches natural frequency of the rotating member. At this
speed, even the minute vibrations that can be induced by
FIG. 8.7a slight imbalances are drastically reinforced. Centrifuges pass
The operating principles of the sedimentation (top) and filtering through the critical speed during acceleration and decelera-
(bottom) centrifuge designs. tion, because their normal operating speeds much exceed the


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8.7 Centrifuge Controls 1633


In selecting a centrifuge, several factors need to be consid-

ered, including (1) the ability of the machine to process the
given feed slurry or emulsion to provide the desired degree
of separation, (2) the reliability of the machine, (3) the oper-
ating and maintenance requirements, and (4) the investment.
Table 8.7c provides an overall orientation among the
types of centrifuges, their sizes, g forces, capacities, and
methods of solids and liquid discharging.
A In the majority of cases, equipment manufacturers have
standard machines that are adapted to the applications spec-
ified by the customer. Sedimentation machines are usually
chosen on the basis of small-scale tests in laboratory centri-
fuges. Filtering centrifuges are chosen on the basis of tests
in batch machines. Based on such tests, the manufacturers
will offer specific machines and will outline the anticipated
One important consideration in the selection among cen-
trifuge designs is the size of the particles that are present in
the feed slurry and are to be separated from it (Figure 8.7d).
Another important consideration in the centrifuge selec-
tion is the percentage of solids that are present in the feed
B slurry (Figure 8.7e).
The process control engineer should concentrate on two
FIG. 8.7b main control systems when working on a process centrifuge
Tube holders in laboratory centrifuges can be of the fixed-angle (A) installations:
or the swing-out (B) design. (Courtesy of Cole-Parmer Instrument
Feed slurry control: Regulation of the feed slurry at the
correct continuous flow rate or in the right batch sizes. This
is very important, because the machine cannot usually toler-
ate major variations in feed rate or feed composition. The
critical. Therefore, except in case of major bowl imbalance, accurate control of the wash liquor feed flow rate is equally
this does not cause problems. important.
Sequencing operations: All batch machines are sequen-
tially operated, and the related interlock design is one of the
Laboratory Centrifuges important steps in engineering a system. Figure 8.7f illus-
trates the sequencing of the program flow in a semiautomatic
Laboratory centrifuges are usually compact benchtop units.
centrifuge operation.
The samples that are to be centrifuged are usually placed in
In the semiautomatic system, the program can be run
sample tubes, which are inserted into either fixed-angle or
manually, one module at a time. The individual sequences
swing-out tube holders (Figure 8.7b). The sample sizes that
can be started manually or by a higher level overall control
the individual sample tubes can hold usually range from 1.5
system. This type of configuration is particularly suited for
to 15 ml, although special tubes are available for samples
control systems where the sequencing program can be preset
from 0.5 to 100 ml. The rotor assemblies can usually hold
for making several products. Figure 8.7g illustrates the
from 1 to 24 sample tubes. The speed of centrifuging can be sequencing of the operation of an automatically operated
fixed at around 3,500 rpm, or it can be variable, usually up centrifuge.
to 14,000 rpm.
The maximum rotational centrifugal force (RCF) that can Sedimentation Centrifuges
be obtained varies with the dimensions of the machine and
with its rpm, from about 1,000 g to about 16,000 g. Some of Sedimentation units are used as clarifiers, desludgers, and
the more sophisticated units can be microprocessor-controlled liquid-liquid phase separators. Particle size in this processing
and provided with refrigeration and temperature controls. A is usually such that separation obeys Stokes law. Sedimen-
simple fixed tube unit with 3,600 rpm and RCF equal to 1,400 tation units are generally of small diameter and run at high
g can be obtained for about $1,000; nonrefrigerated universal speed. These can be classified into the following types: (1)
units cost about $2,500, while the refrigerated, microproces- tubular, (2) disk, and (3) solid-bowl. Overall data on present-
sor-controlled ones cost about $10,000. day machines are presented in Table 8.7c.

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1634 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

TABLE 8.7c
Classification of Centrifuges
Maximum Capacity
Range of Bowl Maximum Method of
3 3
Diameter in Centrifugal Method of Liquid gals/hr or ft /batch (liters/hr or m /batch)
Rotor Type Inches (mm) Force (g) Solids Discharge Discharge short tons/hr (short tons/hr)

I. Sedimentation Centrifuges
Tubular 26 (50150) 60,000 Manual (batch) Continuous 3,000 g/hr (11,250 l/hr)
Disk 932 (230800) 2,5008,000 Batch or semi Continuous 12,00024,000 (45 to 90,000 l/hr)
Solid bowl
3 3
Constant-speed 1436 (350900) 1,0003,000 Automatic batch Continuous 60 ft /batch (1.7 m /batch)
(horizontal) overflow
3 3
Variable-speed 1284 (3002 m) Up to 3,200 Automatic batch Continuous 15 ft /batch (0.42 m /batch)
Continuous Up to 3,200 Continuous Continuous Up to 65 tons/hr (59 tons/hr)
II. Filtering Centrifuges
Conical screen
Wide-angle Up to 1,400 Continuous Continuous 15,000 g/hr (56,250 l/hr)
Differential scroll Up to 1,800 Continuous Continuous 70 tons/hr solids (63.5 tons/hr)
Vibrating screen Up to 500 Continuous Continuous 100 tons/hr solids (90.7 tons/hr)
Pusher 1,800 Batch Continuous 10 tons/hr solids (9.1 tons/hr)
Cylindrical screen
Pusher 1,500 Continuous Continuous 40 tons/hr solids (36.3 tons/hr)
Differential scroll 1,500 Continuous Continuous 40 tons/hr solids (36.3 tons/hr)
Horizontal 1,300 Batch Intermittent 25 tons/hr solids (22.7 tons/hr)
Vertical 900 Batch Intermittent 10 tons/hr solids (9.1 tons/hr)

The g concept is often used to compare the performance The control strategies used for these centrifuges are dif-
of solid-wall centrifuges. This equivalence converts the ferent for batch, semicontinuous, and continuous applications.
geometry, size, and speed of the bowl to the area of a settling
tank theoretically capable of the same separation in a gravity Batch Centrifuge Control All laboratory centrifuges and
field of unity. also some of the smaller sedimentation machines in industry

Particle size-microns Particle solids

Type 0.1 1.0 10 100 1000 10,000 100,000 Type 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Pusher Pusher
Conical Conical
screen screen
Peeler Peeler
Basket Basket
Horizontal Horizontal
solid bowl solid bowl
Nozzle Nozzle

Self opening Self opening

Solids Solids
retaining retaining

FIG. 8.7d FIG. 8.7e

The relationship between the size of solid particles in the feed slurry The relationship between the percentage of solid particles in the
and the type of centrifuge design recommended for use. feed slurry and the type of centrifuge design recommended for use.

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8.7 Centrifuge Controls 1635

operation Automatic operation Start
Centrifuge in version 2 automatic operation

Start centrifuge not No Control centrifuge
centrifuge ready! ready?


Subprogram lling
Centrifuge in standby if slowly revolving

Preselection Preselection Preselection Preselection Subprogram

lling washing spinning scraping spinning 1

Subprogram Subprogram Subprogram Subprogram
washing 1
No lling washing spinning spinning
details details washing scraping

spinning 2

washing 2

Yes spinning 3
centrifuge Subprogram
washing 310
spining 411
FIG. 8.7f
Sequencing of the operation of a semiautomatic centrifuge. (Cour-
tesy of Ferrum Ltd.) Subprogram

are operated as batch units with manual control of the feed

and of the discharge of solids. In such instances, little auto- Automatic
matic control is required, because all sequencing is done operation end or
In the category of automatic batch-type centrifuges, one End
finds the fall disk-type machines, such as the desludging Auto end
centrifuges, and also some solid-bowl types. A simple control centrifuge stop
scheme for a desludging, or a clarifier-type, centrifuge is
shown in Figure 8.7h. In this control system the controls are FIG. 8.7g
operated strictly on a time sequence, without any feedback Sequencing of the operation of an automatic centrifuge. (Courtesy
controls of product quality. of Ferrum Ltd.)
The feed to the machine is introduced from a sludge or
magma feed tank by gravity through valve #1. This valve is
open throughout the cycle, except during flushing. Valve #2, pipe size are determined to match the capacity of the specific
the purge valve, is closed throughout the cycle, except during application. The feed enters this unit at a predetermined rate
flushing, while valve #3, the sludge valve, is operated inter- and is continuously clarified. The clarified effluent is then
mittently to discharge solids. discharged. The sludge accumulates in the system and is
If a minimum head of 10 ft (3m) is available, gravity periodically ejected. The unit may or may not run at full
flow is adequate for control. Feed tank location and tank and speed while sludge is ejected. The interlock system or

2006 by Bla Liptk

1636 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

From Time Solvent

feed tank sequencer ush
Interlocks Torque
KJC FO controller
Feed FC
tank PIC FRC
S S FT solvent
(1) (2) Purge Water FC Solvent
Claried water to
FC FC XT seals
euent FICV
(3) M
Centrifuge Sludge
Current HIC
FC recorder Product
FIG. 8.7h sensors are
The most basic controls that can be provided for a desludging or employed
clarifier-type centrifuge. to guarantee
quality controls) Reslurry

sequencing software requires a sequence timer and three FIG. 8.7j

working contacts to control the three control valves: 1) feed, Solid-bowl centrifuge with feed pressure and machine torque
2) purge water, and 3) sludge. Usually added to this basic controls.
control system are partial desludging and other refinements,
such as water sprays in specific parts of the unit.
In these units the choice of control valve is of major of the machine through a stationary feed tube at the center.
importance. For on/off service, properly chosen ball- or plug- It is acted upon by centrifugal force, and the solids (denser
type valves work satisfactorily. For throttling applications, phase) are thrown against the wall. Inside the rotating bowl
refer to the slurry service valve designs shown in Figure 6.1ee is a screw conveyor, which rotates in the same direction as
and the associated discussion in Chapter 6. the bowl, but with a slight speed differential with respect to
In one modification of this machine, the sludge accumu- the bowl rotation. This screw conveyor moves the solids up
lates in an outer chamber. When this chamber is full, a sens- the beach and out of the liquid layer. Solids and clarified
ing device initiates the desludging operation. Such centri- liquid are continuously discharged.
fuges can tolerate significant variations in the sludge Control of these solid-bowl machines requires that the
concentration in the feed liquor. torque, which is developed by the unloading plow, be con-
trolled. The control scheme shown in Figure 8.7j automati-
Continuous Centrifuge Control Among the most versatile cally adjusts the feed rate, in order to maintain the torque at
centrifuge designs used in the petrochemical processing, a constant value.
polymerization, and waste treatment industries are the fully The torque can be detected by rotating torque transducers
continuous solid-bowl type sedimentation centrifuges. with slip-rings and bearings, by inductively coupled torque
One example of a solid-bowl centrifuge design is shown transducers, or by noncontacting torque sensors, which are
in Figure 8.7i. The slurry is introduced in the revolving bowl all discussed in Section 7.21 in the first volume of this hand-
book. Load cells are also frequently applied in such instal-
lations as torque detectors (Figure 8.7k).
Rotating bowl
The safety interlocks, not shown in Figure 8.7j, result in
the shut-down of the centrifuge by closing the feed and open-
ing the flush valve. Such shut-downs are usually initiated by
the following conditions: (1) low coolant or flush flows to
seals, (2) low flow or high temperature in the lubricating oil
system, (3) high motor current, or (4) high torque. Other, less
severe conditions, such as low reslurry solvent flow, might
temporarily stop the feed and open the flush valve, but with-
Feed out shut-down.
inlet It is important that a reasonably uniform slurry feed be
Liquids Solids
discharge discharge supplied to the centrifuge. For this purpose, a circulating
pump with a recycle line is usually installed to keep the slurry
FIG. 8.7i in motion and thus prevent the settling out of crystals in the
The operation of the rotating solid-bowl-type continuous centrifuge. tank or in the pipelines. In case the slurry does not settle

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8.7 Centrifuge Controls 1637

Flexure Load buttton

Load support
column with
bonded strain

Cable connection
point for power
source and
output connection



FIG. 8.7k
The force caused by torque can also be detected by canister-type load cells.

quickly, magma extraction can be performed by siphon. In Filtration Centrifuges

Figure 8.7j, the recycle flow is throttled so as to keep the
slurry feed flow to the centrifuge at constant pressure. On Filtration centrifuges can also be batch, automatic-batch, and
slurry service, it is important to protect the pressure sensor fully continuous. In all of them a cake is deposited on a filter
from plugging, and Figure 8.7l shows one of the chemical medium held in a rotating basket, which is then washed and
seal designs that can serve that purpose. spun dry. The method of solid discharge is the main distinc-
If the process slurry feed to the machine must be on flow tion among the various designs. Table 8.7c and Figures 8.7d
control, the torque controller can throttle the relative speed and 8.7e provide performance data for some of the more
of the conveyor and the bowl to balance the unloading common designs.
requirements. The adjustment of the differential on the scroll
(conveyor) is a manipulated variable that is also available to Automatic Batch Units Figure 8.7m illustrates two versions
control other variables besides the torque on the machine. of intermittent feed controls for a horizontal cylindrical basket
Product quality indicators, such as turbidity or viscosity, can machine (also called a peeler) on automatic-batch sequence
also be controlled by feedback control of the speed differen- control. In the upper portion of the figure, a circulating pump
tial in some applications. feeds one or more centrifuges against a head tank, and the
overflow from this tank is returned to the crystallizer. In the

Housing Head
tank Feed valve
Filling Crystallizer 3 m or interlocks
uid 10 ft.
minimum Centrifuge

Flexible Feed by circulating pump


tank Feed valve
3 meters or
10 ft. minimum
ange Centrifuge

Feed by gravity

FIG. 8.7l FIG. 8.7m

A full-stream spool-type seal can be used to protect the pressure The intermittent feed controls of automatic batch centrifuges can
sensor from plugging. utilize pumped (top) or gravity flow systems (bottom).

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1638 Control and Optimization of Unit Operations

configuration shown at the bottom, the feed is charged by

gravity alone. Crystallizer
A typical constant speed, automatic-batch machine will
operate on the following cycle sequence: Elutriation uid
1. Screen rinse: Residual layer of crystals is rinsed prior FT
to loading.
2. Loading: Feed is admitted through the feed valves. DT Set point
3. Cake rinse: After the crystal layer is established, feed
is stopped and rinsing is started. Controlled
4. Drying: The cake (after washing) is spun dry. density feed to
5. Unloading: The unloading knife is cut into discharge
FIG. 8.7n
Controlling the density of the centrifuge feed can utilize an elutri-
In these machines the feed slurry and wash liquor line ation leg on the crystallizer.
pressure are assumed to be reasonably steady, and therefore
feed flow controllers are often not used. A variable-speed
Range of allowable
machine has a similar sequence, but in that sequence, at the level variations
appropriate points, periods are provided for acceleration and
deceleration. FG

Wet leg (SG w)

Continuous Centrifuges In a fully continuous machine,
which can be the reciprocating pusher type or the differential Elevation =

H(SG min)
scroll type, the only controls required are flow control loops
to maintain the slurry and wash-water feed rates constant.
When the magma is continuously extracted, the total DI DT DI
quantity of solids withdrawn must be controlled. This
requires the measurement of the volumetric flow rate and of Span = H (SG max SG min)
If SG w < SG min; elevation = H (SG min SG w)
the solid concentration in the centrifuge feed and the throt- If SG w = SG min; elevation = 0
tling of the laundering fluid flow to maintain the solid charge If SG w > SG min; depression = H (SG w SG min)
rate to the centrifuge constant. However, in some cases this
approach is considered to be too expensive. FIG. 8.7o
There are less expensive methods for the continuous Density detection in the elutriation leg can be based on differential
withdrawal of crystal magma at controlled rates: One is the pressure measurement.
removal in small batches but at such high frequency as to
make the flow virtually continuous. This can be achieved by
the use of ball-check-type or pulsing valves with adjustable
stroke and frequency.
Another method of magma extraction involves the use of
an elutriation leg attached to a crystallizer and the throttling of
the laundering fluid inflow to control the magma density. One
version of this control configuration is shown in Figure 8.7n.
The laundering fluid is on flow control with its set point
adjusted to maintain density as a measure of solid concentra-
tion. Measurement of the differential pressure between two
points in the crystallizer can be a method of density detection.
An important aspect of this control system is the mea-
surement of density in the elutriation leg. The measurement
of differential pressure in this leg or between some other two
points in the crystallizer can be used as a method of density
detection (Figure 8.7o).
If higher accuracy is desired, ionization chamber-type
radiation detectors can be used (Figure 8.7p). If they are FIG. 8.7p
provided with stable amplification, simple, reliable, and accu- Ionization cell-type radiation detectors can be used to more accu-
rate density measurements can be obtained from them. rately measure density.

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8.7 Centrifuge Controls 1639

In the crystallizer, occasionally, raw feed may be used as Bibliography

laundering fluid, but filtrate is more commonly used. Washing
in these machines is also fully continuous, and wash fluid Bloch, H., Process Plant Machinery, Butterworths, 1989.
flow is on automatic control. Burd, R. S., A Study of Sludge Handling and Disposal, Washington, D.C.:
Department of the Interior, 1968.
A special application is that of a scraped surface crystal- Couper, J., et. al., Chemical Process Euipment: Selection and Design, Gulf
lizer, which is producing the slurry for separation in a con- Professional Publishing, 2004.
tinuous centrifuge. In such cases the liquor can be fed by a Eckenfelder, W. W., and Santhanam, C. J., Sludge Treatment, New York:
metering pump, and the centrifuge can be mounted in series Marcel Dekker, 1982.
with the crystallizer. EPA, Process Design Manual for Sludge Treatment and Disposal, Washing-
ton, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, 1974.
EPA, Sludge Treatment and Disposal, Vols. I and II, Washington, D.C.:
Environmental Protection Agency, 1978.
CONCLUSIONS Jenkins, D., et. al., Manual on Causes and Control of Activated Sludge Bulking and
Other Solids Separation Problems, 3rd ed., Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2003.
In addition to the main control aspects discussed, the actual Liptk, B., Environmental Engineers Handbook, 2nd ed., Boca Raton, FL:
CRC Press.
centrifuge operation also involves a number of auxiliaries,
McIlvaine Co., The Sedimentation and Centrifugation Manual, Chicago:
such as wash lines for preventing the solid build-up in various McIlvaine Co., 1981.
parts of the unit, lube oil pumps and coolers, and discharge Perry, R. H., and Chilton, C. H., Chemical Engineering Handbook, 7th ed.,
hoppers, which are provided with devices to prevent bridging. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
Over the years, manufacturers have developed standard Schweitzer, P. A., Handbook of Separation Techniques, 3rd ed., New York:
McGraw-Hill, 1997.
units that are adapted to specific applications. Operating char-
Walas, S., Chemical Process Equipment: Selection and Design, Butterworth,
acteristics of the various designs vary significantly, and the Heinemann, June 2002.
nature of the sludge and solids involved can necessitate exten- Woon-Fong Leung, W., Industrial Centrifugation Technology, New York:
sive testing in order to minimize handling problems. McGraw-Hill, 1998.

2006 by Bla Liptk