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Steves Handy Guide to Orbits

Steven M. Schultheis, P.E.
Houston, Texas U.S.A.

The plots usually show 8 revolutions. From keyphasor dot
to keyphasor dot is one revolution.
A normal orbit should be slightly elliptical with one
keyphasor dot, and low vibration level.
Distorted, or twisted orbits are usually due either to rubs or
to runout.
Multiple keyphasor dots indicate a subsynchronous
All the plots presented are unfiltered and uncompensated.
I live in the U.S.A. so all units are mil pp. Multiply my
units by 25.4 for microns ie 1 mil pp=25.4 micron

The first one is a 0.37X frequency component due
to an aero instability in a compressor.
The second is a very low level instability due to
oil whirl on a motor with plain journal bearings.
The third is another aero instability in a
The last one is actually due to surge, notice the
way from revolution to revolution the amplitude
changes drastically.

Aero Instability

Low level oil whirl

Aero Instability

Compressor Surge

Casing Vibration Orbit

The next one is a casing vibration orbit
from an ID Fan. OK, it is kinda fuzzy, but
you can see that the motion is primarily
vertical, and the amplitude is pretty high at
0.5 ips-pk. This is due to a vertical
structural resonance.

Velocity orbit on ID fan

bearing housing

The first plot is high 1X due to unbalance on a
motor. In this case the unbalance is due to a bow
induced by a hot spot.
The second plot is also due to motor unbalance.
The first thought might be misalignment due to the
highly elliptical orbit, but this is actually due the
fact that the motor is much less stiff horizontally
than vertically. Balancing would reduce this
vibration, but the orbit would remain pretty

High 1X on motor due to rotor bow

High 1X due to unbalance, and assymetric stiffness.

Rubs and Preloads

The first is due to casing distortion in a compressor that
causes so much preload on the shaft that a rub is probably
occurring as well.
The second is data from the same machine as the distortion
load changes.
The third is a rub in a compressor due a failed thrust
The fourth is a rub in a compressor due to a diaphram
breaking loose and contacting a wheel.
The fifth is a pure 1/2X impeller eye seal rub in a
compressor induced by unbalance.

Rubs continued
The sixth shows high vibration going
through the critical after a rub induced bow
causes the turbine to trip off line.
The seventh shows a rub induced bow on a
turbine during startup due to improper
warm up. Most likely rubbing on the high
pressure packing.

Rub during thrust

bearing failure.

Rub on 1st stage

wheel when the
diaphragm broke
loose and moved
into contact.

1/2X rub due to

eye seal contact.
The squiggly trace
is due to electrical
noise. Notice two
distinct sets of
keyphasor dots
indicating two
vibration cycles
per revolution, or

Orbit plots at the 1500 cpm critical speed of

the turbine during trip due to rub induced
bow. Vibration amplitudes are 9 mil pp on the
outboard and 8 mil pp on the inboard.



Rub induced bow in a turbine

Scratches, nicks, dings, magnetic spots, chrome,
and other surface irregularities affect the proximity
signal and cause noise errors.
The first one is a pump where I installed temporary
probes on an untreated surface. The orbit was not
much use, but the bode plots, spectrums, an
position plots helped diagnose the problem.
The next two plots show very distinct scratches on
the shaft surface.

High runout level on shaft makes unfiltered orbit meaningless