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Introduction to Basic Alignment Page 1

Introduction to
Basic Alignment

OBJECTIVE: At the end of this topic, the student will understand the
different types of machinery misalignment. The student will be able
to describe problems caused by misalignment and the various
methods of detecting misalignment.

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What is Machinery Alignment?

The objective of performing any type of rotating machinery alignment is collinear

shaft centerlines under normal operating conditions. Because each machine and
each shaft reacts differently under varying operating conditions, alignment is
performed to position the shafts as close to collinear as possible under normal
operating conditions. The most common operating variable which affects
machinery alignment is temperature. Generally, machine temperatures are
determined by the machinery’s:

• Load
• Process fluid temperature
• Pressures
• Flow
A machine under normal operating conditions has reached and stabilized at the
load, temperatures, pressures, and flows it is likely to experience the majority of
the time.

The Goal of Alignment: Collinear Shafts

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Types of Misalignment

Misalignment at the coupling can be described in terms “offset” and “angular”

• Offset: The amount of misalignment between parallel shafts with
parallel coupling faces.

Offset Misalignment: Vertical Plane Offset Misalignment: Horizontal Plane

• Angular: The amount of angular misalignment between shaft

centerlines or between coupling faces.

Angular Misalignment: Vertical Plane Angular Misalignment: Horizontal Plane

Both offset and angular misalignment occur in the vertical and horizontal planes.
Typically, machine-to-machine misalignment is combination of all four possibilities.

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Problems Caused By Misalignment

According to industry estimates, shaft misalignment causes 60% - 70% of

damaging vibrations in rotating machinery. Often, misalignment may be the root
cause of a host of other secondary problems. The most common problems caused
by misalignment are:

• High Axial / Radial Vibration - Vibration behavior will differ from

machine to machine, depending on the amount and type of
misalignment, the type of coupling, and the condition of the foundation
and grout. Soft foot and casing distortion will also affect alignment and
produce vibrations.

• High Bearing Temperatures - Misalignment adds an additional radial

pre-load to the bearing loading. A pre-load is defined as a Uni-
directional steady state force. Increased pre-load will increase the
loading per square inch experienced by the bearing, and will increase
friction. A heavily pre-loaded bearing may exhibit higher than normal
metal temperatures.

• Bearing and Seal Wear / Failure - A fluid film bearing heavily loaded
due to misalignment may experience polishing and wiping of the babbit.
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Tilt-Pad Bearing With Localized Wiping

Roller element bearings will experience a dramatically shortened life

span. The amount of pre-load due to misalignment figures directly into
commonly used equations to calculate the approximate life of a roller
element bearing:

Hours of life
L10 =
for 10% failure rate

16,700 dynamic capacity x load rating

L10 =

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Seals and packing may also experience rubbing and excessive wear from
misalignment, resulting in additional vibrations and reduced machine

• Coupling Wear / Failure - Couplings are designed to transmit torque,

while accommodating some misalignment. Excessive misalignment,
however, can cause premature wear and/or failure of a coupling. Gear
couplings will experience uneven and excessive wear on the gear teeth.
Diaphragm and shim-pack couplings can experience fatigue, warping,
and cracking of internal components. Misalignment introduces
alternating stresses to rotating components; when fatigue limits are
reached, the coupling hubs themselves may be subject to cracks.

Gear-Type Coupling With Spool Piece Removed

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• Shaft Cracks - Alternating stresses due to misalignment can also cause

cracks to occur on the rotor, often underneath a coupling hub shrink fit.

Types of Shaft Cracks

Transverse: Most Frequent

Transverse: Frequent

Torsional Spiral: Less Frequent

Longitudinal: Rare
Transverse Rare

• Other - Misalignment is often the root cause of a variety of other

secondary problems. Typically, these other problems appear first:
Rubs can occur in seals and in bearings, producing potentially high
Instability can occur in seals and in bearings, when misalignment
results in a bearing becoming unloaded.
High Unbalance Response can result when misalignment causes a
bearing to be unloaded.
Mechanical Looseness can result from wear caused by high forces on
machine components due to misalignment.
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Misalignment Detection

• Axial and Radial Vibration - Torque transmitted through a misaligned

coupling can translate into high radial and/or axial vibrations. These
vibrations typically occur at 1X and 2X running speed in frequency.

High Axial Casing Vibration on Generator

Shaft relative orbits measured with proximity probes are slightly

elliptical under normal loading. A bearing with a heavy pre-load due to
misalignment will exhibit a highly elliptical orbit, and sometimes a flat
or figure-eight orbit.

A pre-loaded orbit due to misalignment is often accompanied by an

abnormal shaft average centerline position.

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Orbits With Increasing Pre-load From Misalignment

Pre-loaded Orbit And Corresponding Shaft Average

Centerline Position Plot

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Misalignment Detection, Cont’d

• Bearing Metal Temperatures - Bearing temperatures are best measured

by RTD’s or thermocouples installed directly in the bearing backing.
Normal bearing metal temperatures typically fall between 160° F and
180° F. A metal temperature approaching 220° F may cause failure of
the bearing.

Lube oil drain temperatures are a much less reliable means of monitoring
bearing temperatures. Lube oil drain temperatures are not a direct
measurement of bearing temperature, and can be taken from a common
drain with several different sources.

• Trend Data - Thermal effects on alignment are most easily quantified

during startup and loading from a cold condition. Thermal growth can
occur over a significant period of time during machine startup and
loading. A large machine train can take 1-2 days to become thermally
stable. Correlating vibration information, bearing temperature data, and
machine load vs. time can be a powerful tool when diagnosing

• Casing Expansion - A machine casing that is bound by physical

constraints from expanding thermally may warp and cause an internal
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Misalignment Detection, Cont’d

misalignment condition. On large steam turbine generators, axial

thermal growth is accommodated by slides or tracks on which the
turbines are mounted. Dual casing expansion measurements, taken on
the two front corners of the High Pressure Turbine case, are used to
make sure thermal growth is occurring evenly.

• Infrared Thermography - Infrared analysis of a machine train can help

determine local machine case temperatures. A localized “hot spot”
caused, for example, by a steam leak, may be affecting thermal growth
enough to cause a misalignment condition.

• Piping Hangers - Piping hangers should support piping in such a way as

not to oppose thermal growth of the pipe.

• Expansion Joints - Stresses in structural members and in piping due to

thermal expansion can be relieved by using expansion joints in key

• Flange Bolts - Check for loose and broken flange bolts on piping.
Broken bolts may be a clue that piping strain is significant, possibly
causing a misalignment condition.
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Misalignment Detection, Cont’d

• Alignment Shims - Shims should be clean, free of paint and rust. They
should be tight under the machine feet. To prevent a soft or spongy
support, shims should be limited to 3 or 4 at one location.

• Dowel Pins - Check for loose and damaged pins.

• Maintenance History - The clue to a machinery problem often lies in

the machine’s maintenance history. Review maintenance records to
determine which machinery components were reconditioned or replaced.
Review the machine’s alignment history. This should include:

Past and Present Alignment Readings

Alignment Moves

• Mechanical / Metallurgical Inspection of Worn Components - Inspect

machine components for abnormal wear:

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Misalignment Detection, Cont’d

Misalignment can be tricky to diagnose. Typically, several indicators are needed

to confirm the diagnosis.

Use and correlate all information…

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