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Conference Paper · August 2016


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Michael Hastings
Brüel & Kjær Vibro


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B. Gregorc, A. Kohn, M. Hastings

Abstract: Recent peaking operation for the eight hydropower power

stations had stressed the aging machines. To maximize machine uptime
and minimize maintenance, it was decided in 2010 to retrofit
comprehensive protection and condition monitoring capability on all the
units over a 5-year period. This incremental project realization enabled
the end-user to gradually implement a successful condition-based
maintenance strategy, as demonstrated by two case studies.

1 Introduction
DEM (Dravske elektrarne Maribor) is owner and operator of all the cascade hydroelectric
power stations on the Drava River in Slovenia. The eight major hydropower stations, which
have a total combined capacity of 592 MW, generate around 25% of the total energy
produced in Slovenia. The hydro units currently operate only for peaking production, where
they typically generate power during the daytime during high energy demand, and are
stopped at night so the reservoirs can fill up. The reservoirs provide backup power supply
when needed. When the hydro units are not generating power between periods of peaking,
they are used for synchronized compensation to stabilize the grid. The Drava is a fluvio-
glacial river, so the melting mountain snow provides substantial water resources for energy
production during the summer months, but less during winter.
Figure 1. Formin hydropower station was the last of the eight power stations equipped with a condition
monitoring system. (Photo courtesy of DEM)

Figure 2. Overview of the DEM renewable energy plants on the Drava River in Slovenia, showing the eight
cascade hydropower plants that were retrofit monitoring systems (copyright from DEM).
Capacity Flow Head
Name Dam type Year Units
(MW) (m3/s) (m)
Fala Concrete gravity dam 58 1918 3 525 14,6

Dravograd Pier type with reservoir 26,2 1944 3 405 8,94

Vuzenica Pier type with reservoir 55,6 1953 3 550 13,73

Vuhred Pier type with reservoir 72,3 1956 3 550 17,41

Ožbalt Pier type with reservoir 73,2 1960 3 550 17,42

Mariborski otok Pier type with reservoir 60 1953 3 550 14,2

Zlatoličje Channel type with reservoir 126 1969 2 530 33

Formin Channel type with reservoir 116 1978 2 500 29

Table 1: Summary of the eight DEM cascade hydropower stations.

2 Need to optimize the maintenance strategy

Prior to 2010, an interval based maintenance strategy was used on all generating units and a
major shutdown was done after 25,000 operating hours for inspection and overhaul. There
has been several factors that influence the profitability of operating these hydropower
stations. One of these factors is the age of the hydro-generating units. All eight hydropower
stations were commissioned from 1918 to 1978, so much of the equipment has been
maintenance intensive and prone to downtime. Major refurbishment was done on the upper
Drava river power stations between 1987-2005 to address this issue, resulting in better unit
capacity and efficiency, improved reservoir capacity and flow, and remote operation for some
of the units. There still is, however, a lot of ageing equipment that is currently in use in the
other hydropower stations.

Operation has been another factor in recent years that affects the maintainability of the hydro
units. All the generating units of the hydropower stations have shifted from base load to
peaking production, which means that there is less tolerance for downtime, despite the fact
that the machines are being stressed more.

Based on these factors plus other economic factors such as tight operating profit margins
(especially when energy prices are low), it was decided seven years ago to adopt a condition-
based maintenance strategy and implement a comprehensive condition monitoring system
3 Unique requirements for the monitoring system
In an effort to optimize machine uptime and reduce maintenance expenses, a comprehensive
monitoring solution was needed that could fulfill several special requirements:

• Detect potential failure modes associated with the age of the machine and its stressful
and variable operating conditions (partial load with many starts and stops)
• Reliably detect faults at an early enough stage of development so maintenance can be
cost-effectively planned ahead of time with minimal impact on operation
• Readily share condition monitoring data and diagnostic information with other systems
to provide an overview on the condition of all units
• The system has to be scalable, so it can be gradually implemented as operator
experience was gained

Brüel & Kjær Vibro was selected to retrofit the first condition monitoring system on both units
of the largest power station, Zlatoličje, in 2010. The system included detection and diagnostic
monitoring techniques using vibration, air gap and magnetic flux (see Figure 3). Machine
protection and condition monitoring was designed to be done at various operating conditions
with specific alarm limits for earlier and more reliable fault detection.
Figure 3. Overview of monitoring sensors and location on the Zlatoličje hydroelectric generating unit.

From 2010 to 2015, DEM has been incrementally implementing condition monitoring for the
other major hydropower stations in 7-8 stages over a period of 5 projects, with training in
between using the Brüel & Kjær Vibro monitoring system. Training was done in stages to
make the condition monitoring group self-sufficient in terms of diagnostics, equipment
maintenance and operation and administration tasks. Project implementation and training in
phases enabled operator resources to be optimally utilized.

In order to further facilitate the condition monitoring team’s work, a centralized server was
installed at the Condition Monitoring headquarters that gives remote access to all the
generating units. In addition to this, a data historian is also in the process of being installed
that accesses scalar condition monitoring data plus process data from all units for correlation
purposes to further optimize diagnostics.
4 Case studies
Peaking operation is now the requirement for the eight cascade power stations and therefore
the partial load and the continuous starts and stops places special burden on the hydro units.
This in return places demands on the condition monitoring solution, so the system design
concept and functionality were important factors to be considered when selecting the
condition monitoring system. Two case studies are presented that demonstrate how potential
failure modes directly attributed to the stressful peaking operation were detected and
diagnosed using the condition monitoring system:

• Increased blade clearance (wear)

• Rough zone operation at partial load (cavitation)

4.1 Bearing clearance

Several of the cascade hydropower stations on the Drava river have been subjected to
excessive bearing clearance in recent years. Each year at least two bearings, mostly the
generator guide bearings, have to be adjusted or repaired. It is believed that this is partly due
to the current peaking production needs that require more flexible operation of these hydro
units. During partial load operation the vibration levels are higher than normal and can stress
the bearings. This together with the frequent starts and stops ultimately results in premature
bearing wear and increased bearing clearance. Under these conditions the wear can be
accelerated even more as a result of the particular stator/rotor construction geometry of the
hydro-generating units. A monitoring strategy was therefore needed for detecting excessive
bearing clearance early enough so maintenance could be cost-effectively planned during the
low water level periods of the river.

4.1.1 The bearings

Tilt pad bearings are used in most of the hydro units, which is schematically shown in Figure
4. The roller contact pivot enables the bearing pads to align themselves in the tangential
direction in relation to the shaft. Because the hydro units are vertical machines and the
bearing pads are lightly loaded, these have to be pre-loaded to provide the necessary
stabilizing force to minimize dynamic motion.

There are several factors that influence bearing wear and excess clearance, such as
production load, vibration, starts and stops, alignment, shaft balance, oil film thickness, oil
type and quality, pre-loading/pad angle and temperature. In this particular case the shaft
vibration (resulting from partial load operation) and the frequency of starts and stops have had
a major influence.
Figure 4. Cross section view of the tilt pad guide bearing assembly on the shaft, showing the bearing pre-load
(angle of bearing segments) and the X-Y displacement sensors for monitoring S max .

4.1.2 Measuring bearing clearance

Smax vibration is the primary measurement for monitoring bearing clearance (see Figure 5
for a schematic definition). Other bearing clearance measurements such as shaft centerline
are more useful for high-speed horizontal machines, rather than for slow turning vertical hydro

Normal radial clearance for the generator guide bearing (as shown in Figure 4) is 0.15 mm.
This results in Smax being 30-70 µm at 20-25 MW load, which complies with the ISO 7919-5
standard as good to excellent condition [1].

Figure 5. Smax is considered the maximum displacement of ½ of the orbit along its major axis. The orbit is the
polar combination of the peal-to-peak displacement vibration signal from two displacement sensors [2].

Since peaking operation has been implemented on the hydro units, the Smax trend value was
observed to be increasing over time; up to 130 µm at maximum load on several of the guide
bearings. This Smax value is still considered as satisfactory according to ISO 7919-5 (85 µm <
Smax 143 µm) and posed no risk of the Kaplan blades touching the draft tube. There was
concern, however, about how much extra bearing clearance could be tolerated.

One of the bearings where Smax was trending at 130 µm was disassembled to determine the
clearance (see Figure 6). The actual clearance was measured to be 0.2 mm between the
segments and the shaft. After resetting the bearing clearance to 0.15 mm, S max decreased to
60 µm (at full load), which is considered good to excellent condition. It has been observed,
however, that if the clearance is greater than 0.2 mm, this has a major impact on Smax , which
increases significantly during starting and stopping of the unit. Conversely, if the clearance is
less than 0.15 mm, the bearing temperature increases significantly.

4.1.3 Results
If the bearing clearance is too tight, the bearing temperatures rise rapidly (possibly exceeding
limits), and the bearings wear faster. If it is too loose, there will be increased vibrations that
can overload components and run the risk of a Kaplan blade rub. By monitoring Smax to the
limits 90-100 µm, it has been determined that the bearing clearance is not excessive and the
unit can still be operated normally for several months when detected during the summer
months while production availability is at a maximum. This early detection then gives sufficient
lead time to stop the machine to adjust the bearings during the winter months, where
production availability is at a minimum.

After an alarm is detected, the Smax trend is evaluated to determine how fast the vibration
levels are increasing. The historical orbit plot is also analyzed together with other process
data to help determine the expected lead-time to repair.

Figure 6. Tilt pad bearings disassembled for maintenance.

Figure 7. Smax trend for the upper guide bearing of one of the hydro units.

4.2 Cavitation
As a consequence of energy market requirements, the DEM hydroelectric generating units
like Zlatoličje often operate at part load. The viability of this operation is partly affected by an
economic evaluation, since the units operate below peak efficiency at these loads. More
importantly, however, it is also based on a maintenance issue, since there are one or more
“rough” operating zones at partial load that should always be avoided.

4.2.1 The effects of operating in a rough zone

The rough zones can be associated with severe types of hydraulic instability caused by
conditions at part load, where pressure pulsations and/or excessive vibration can greatly
stress the hydro units [3]. Over time the accumulated stress of operating in a rough zone can
result in components failing prematurely from fatigue. Some rough zones are associated with
cavitation, which not only stresses components because of the shock waves generated by
vapor bubble implosion in the stream, but can also result in cavitation erosion due to
imploding vapor bubbles on the surface of the components [3].

In order to restore the reduced efficiency caused by erosion in the runner, the unit has to be
shut down so the hydrodynamic surfaces of these components can be reconditioned and
restored to the original hydrodynamic profile. This is an expensive maintenance activity.

4.2.2 Re-evaluation of the recommended rough zone range

Machine manufacturers do not always provide accurate predictions of partial load rough
zones for local conditions. The specified ranges can be either too broad and therefore
uneconomically limiting the permissible partial load operating zones, or they can be too
narrow, thus unnecessarily subjecting the hydro units to stress and cavitation erosion. In the
case of Zlatoličje, the specified rough zone range recommended by the manufacturer was 0-
21 MW, which was suspected to be too narrow since the runner had to be re-conditioned
every 4 years because of cavitation erosion (see Figure 8). After the monitoring system was
installed, DEM decided to re-evaluate the entire partial load range, 0-81 MW, by carefully
monitoring the onset and cessation of hydraulic instability and cavitation on the two hydro
units. This was done by monitoring the radial and axial broadband vibrations of the hydro
units and plotting these against load, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 8. Cavitation erosion seen on the runner before the original minimal partial load was re-defined.
Cavitation erosion on the runner ceased when the minimum acceptable load was changed from 21 to 24 MW.

Figure 9. High vibration due to cavitation is seen on the thrust bearing when the hydro-electric generating load
drops to 21 MW or lower.

4.2.3 Results
High vibrations were monitored up to 24 MW, which was 3 MW beyond the rough zone range
specified by the manufacturer (0-21 MW). A new minimum partial load limit was consequently
established at 24 MW. This limit reduces the partial load operational flexibility of the Zlatoličje
units (and therefore has a negative economic impact), but at the same time it will also reduce
the overall stress on the machines and the downtime associated with reconditioning the
turbines for cavitation erosion, which consequently has a net positive economic impact. Since
the new limits were established, it was no longer necessary to stop the machines after a
period of time to re-weld the runners.

5 Conclusion
Up until 2010 when the condition monitoring system was installed at Zlatoličje, DEM relied
completely on periodic, interval-based maintenance. After the system was commissioned, it
was possible for the first time to monitor the actual condition of the bearing/shaft system and
generator. Since this system and other diagnostic systems were commissioned on the other
power stations, 20-30% of all maintenance has now become predictive maintenance based.
When the data historian phase of the project is completed, the proportion of predictive
maintenance to interval based maintenance activities is expected to increase to 40%. The
inspection shutdown for the hydrogenating units has also increased from 25,000 to 30,000
hours (for the Zlatoličje hydropower plant). This has significantly reduced maintenance costs
and increased machine uptime.

Part of this success was based on the project method of incrementally implementing the
monitoring system retrofit also brought many benefits to the customer:

• Reduced capital investment burden

• Minimized the condition monitoring tasks and flattened
the learning curve
• Allowed the team to build
up monitoring expertise
• Enabled success to be evaluated before the next investment
• Required the selected monitoring system to be evaluated before deployment on other

[1] International Standard DIN ISO 7919-5, Mechanical vibration – Evaluation of machine
vibration by measurements on rotating shafts – Part 5: Machine sets in hydraulic power
generating and pumping plants
[2] J. T. Broch, Mechanical Vibration and Shock Measurements, Brüel & Kjær, Denmark,
[3] X. Escaler, E. Egusquiza, M. Farhat, F. Avellan, M. Coussirat, Detection of cavitation in
hydraulic turbines, Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing, Elsevier, Vol. 20, Issue
4, pp. 983–1007 (2006)
[4] International Standard DIN ISO 10816-5, Mechanical vibration – Evaluation of machine
vibration by measurements on non-rotating parts – Part 5: Machine sets in hydraulic
power generating and pumping plants

Turbine specialist
Dravske elektrarne Maribor
Obrežna ulica 170
2000 Maribor, Slovenia
Tel: +386 (0)2 300 5295
Fax: +386 (0)2 300 5691

Boštjan Gregorc graduated as a Mechanical Engineer from the University of Maribor in 2002.
In July 2011 he successfully defended his Doctoral Thesis in Mechanical Engineering at the
University of Maribor. He also has more than ten years of experience in operation,
maintenance and construction of hydropower plants and is currently working in the Reliability
Engineering Department as a turbine specialist.

Andrej KOHN
Electrical equipment specialist
Dravske elektrarne Maribor
Obrežna ulica 170
2000 Maribor, Slovenia
Tel: +386 (0)2 300 5276
Fax: +386 (0)2 300 5691

Andrej Kohn graduated as an Electrical Engineer from the University of Maribor in 2003. He
has more than ten years of experience in operation, maintenance and construction of
hydropower plants. He is currently working in the Reliability Engineering Department of DEM
as a specialist for electrical equipment.

Sr. Application Engineer
Brüel & Kjær Vibro
Skodsborgvej 307 B
2850 Nærum, Denmark
Tel: +45 24 48 26 39
Fax: +45 45 80 29 37

Mike Hastings graduated from Purdue University in 1980 as a mechanical engineer, and has
been with Brüel & Kjær Vibro for the past 26 years, and has written numerous articles and
papers on machine condition monitoring. He is convener for ISO work group
TC108/SC5/AGH and WG17 for creating standards for condition monitoring and diagnostics
of hydroelectric generating units and other machines.

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