Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Grey centrifugal chiller compressor being maintained

Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Centrifugal chiller compressor maintenance keeps your critical plant up and running and your customers happy. The work can be scheduled to be carried out during factory shutdown, so as not to disrupt your production. We can also carry out this work to your compressors while the factory is in production. This is achieved by isolating the compressor that needs to be worked on when it is in an off cycle. The compressors on remaining machines can carry on running.

Tasks during Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Here are some of the tasks that we carry out…

Oil Changes

The oil becomes dirty over time by picking up contaminants that have formed in the system. Two of these contaminants are…

Acid

Compressor discharge is the hottest part of the refrigerant cycle. Acid can be formed from the refrigerant in this part of the system.

Refrigerant Types

A popular refrigerant for centrifs is R134a. Because it consists only of one kind of refrigerant, it does not fractionalise into different component refrigerants. This would be no good for a flooded system because one or more of the refrigerants would end up in the bottom of the evaporator and condenser. The remaining refrigerant would circulate and the whole plant would not function as it should. Refrigerants popular for other kinds of system are zeotropic HFC refrigerants. This means that the different component refrigerants have different boiling points- R407c is a good example.

Metal

White metal from the compressor and copper from the heat exchangers end up in the oil. They will eventually be caught by the system oil filters…

Oil Filter Change

After completing the above, now is a good time to change the filter as the compressor is valved off and has been broken into. It is also when an oil sample is taken depending on the schedule…

Oil Samples during Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Our oil samples are transported using our specialist kits which include the bottles and labels. This saves mix ups in our laboratory during the analysis.

Leak Rectification

The drawback of carrying out the above are leaks because the pressure has been pumped out of the compressor into another part of the system. The ‘o’ rings and shaft seal can now leak, this kind of failure can be rectified whilst still on site by the knowledge of our engineers.

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Oil Pre Lubrication

When the compressor starts, the oil pressure is built up first using an oil pump. This is so the internal components such as the high and low speed shaft are properly oiled before they start to rotate. They can run at 10,000 RPM and are very expensive to replace. Therefore, we check the oil pressure gauges and the system controls to ensure optimum ‘pre lubing’ of your compressors.

Volumetric Efficiency

The ratio between the volume actually compressed and the theoretical volume derived from compressor design calculations. This kind of compressor has a lower volumetric efficiency than positive displacement compressors. It is because the refrigerant is compressed off the tip of the rotating impellor or impellors. The refrigerant moves outwards in a circular path due to centrifugal force. A centrif more than makes up for this lower volumetric efficiency by the high mass and volume of the refrigerant that it circulates around the system.

Design 

The refrigerant is sucked from the evaporator into the centre of the impellor which is a disc of radial blades positioned to direct the refrigerant outwards. Due to the low differential of pressure, multiple stages of impellors are often arranged in series with the discharge being directed onto the suction of the next impellor. This is simple in design with less moving parts than some other compressor types. Modern centrifs can have magnetic, levitating bearings and so remove the need for oil in the system altogether. The faster the speed, the better the efficiency- so high speed rotation of the impellor is achieved at full load. The compressed refrigerant is discharged into the condenser.

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Electric Drive Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Most modern centrifs are driven by variable speed drives. This is for efficiency as the load can be exactly matched. Another reason for this is to soft start the compressor. 415v and 3.3kv are popular volt inputs, although other voltages can be made available by the onsite transformer.

Open

An open drive electric motor is the most popular design. It has the drawback, however, of needing a shaft seal which needs to be replaced at periodic intervals. This shaft seal is also prone to leaking refrigerant and oil.

Semi Hermetic

The photo is of a semi hermetic design of this compressor type. The motor is contained inside the suction housing and so has the benefit of being cooled by the refrigerant. No shaft seal is needed and therefore it has none of the associated maintenance drawbacks.

Steam Drive Centrifugal Chiller Compressor Maintenance

On oil rigs there can be an abundant supply of steam that can be used to drive the compressor. It is often used on multi stage compressors which are used for the liquefaction of natural gas. The steam goes through a turbine which is connected to a shaft- this drives the impellors. The steam flow and pressure can be tested and adjusted during the visit.

Woops Something Went Wrong

When you suffer a centrifugal compressor failure- don’t worry. You are in safe hands with the team here at Maximus Chillers. We have a team who can get the compressor out and lift it to the workshop on site, or transport it to our Head Office. We have another team who are experts in the remanufacturing of this kind of compressor. A fast supply chain is in place for delivery of the internal moving parts, gaskets and bearings. We are so confident that you will be happy with us- we offer a 12 month warranty on all of our compressor rebuilds.

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Green Bitzer screw chiller compressor with oil separator removed on bench in our workshop

Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Open Drive Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Open drive screw chiller compressor maintenance involves changing the shaft seal at intervals, or if it leaks. This kind of compressor is used with ammonia as this refrigerant corrodes the copper windings and the insulation. It is also used with most large HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) and HFO (hydrofluoroolefin) chillers.

Semi Hermetic Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Because all of the components are internal, this kind of compressor needs less maintenance. It is most often used with smaller chillers running on HFC and HFO refrigerants. This is the compressor type featured in the photo.

Matched Helical Rotors

This kind of compressor design uses a matched pair of helical rotors. These are accurately machined so as to trap, then compress the refrigerant as it travels along the screw. Oil injection is used to create a seal between the rotors. The two rotors are different in shape: the male rotor is driven by the motor and usually has 4 lobes. The female rotor meshes with male and usually has 6 interlobe spaces. The cylinder casting around the rotors is equally important as it seals in the vapour along the screw. Both rotors are helixes with the male rotor moving more rapidly. This compressor design provides a continuous pumping action, rather than pulsating as with a reciprocating compressor. Another advantage of this kind of compression is that there is very little vibration. Indeed, you can place a coin, on its side, on top of the compressors we look after and it does not fall over. This lack of vibration helps to prevent refrigerant leaks around the compressor.

Single Screw with Gate Rotors

This kind of compressor design uses one main rotor, meshing with 2 star gate rotors. These are at right angles with the main rotor. The main rotor usually has 6 grooves.

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Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance and Reliability

Both of these compressor designs are very reliable with a long bearing life. A maintenance free lifespan of 30 years for the bearings is not uncommon. It is quite common that the compressor will outlive the chiller. In the unlikely event of bearing wear, a characteristic is for there to be undue noise from the compressor at part load which goes away at full load. Higher oil temperature and an unsatisfactory oil analysis are also indicators.

Slide Valve

The capacity is seamless as it is regulated with a slide valve. A spring returns the valve to the unloaded position and a gear type oil pump gives above discharge pressure to load it. The oil pump is not for lubrication, it is just to give the valve enough force to slide with the discharge pressure acting against it. A slide valve potentiometer is fitted to a sliding rod on the end of the valve. It translates the movement along this rod into usually 4-20mA. This signal feeds back to the controller which converts it into a percentage loading reading.

Lubrication during Screw Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Pressures and temperatures are taken during the maintenance to ensure seamless operation. The oil sump is usually inside the base of the oil separator which is at discharge pressure. An oil return pipe is available from the oil sump to the suction side of the screw. Because of the pressure difference from discharge to suction, the oil naturally lubricates the compressor without any need of an oil pump. The oil lubricates the bearings and is injected with the refrigerant along the screw. This provides a seal between the rotors or gate rotors, it also lubricates the rotors to prevent excessive wear.

Oil Separator

The oil enters the oil separator after being discharged with the refrigerant from the compressor. This vessel is insulated so as to stop refrigerant condensing inside as it would in the condenser. An oil heater keeps the oil at the optimum temperature for the compressor. This heater also prevents liquid from forming in the oil separator during off cycles. A check valve on the outlet also prevents this from happening by stopping the migration of refrigerant from the condenser. As the oil sump is the oil supply to the compressor, a temperature sensor will make the program lock the compressor out, should the oil be too cold. This is usually because the main power supply to the chiller has been off during maintenance. The larger volume inside the oil separator slows the speed of the refrigerant so as to allow the oil to drop out. A common design is for the discharge to be directed to the top of the vessel, with a spiral going down to the sump. The oil falls out of the refrigerant vapour during this process. For additional oil recovery, the oil goes up through finer and finer layers of mesh. The oil sticks to this mesh and runs down into the sump.

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Oil Return

Small amounts of oil that have escaped the oil separator will end up in various vessels around the system. On smaller HFC systems there is less of a problem as the oil is entrained by the refrigerant, round the system and back to the compressor. In larger, flooded HFC systems, the oil mainly ends up in the bottom of the evaporator. For ammonia systems, the oil does not entrain with the refrigerant, so oil return devices must be used.

Eductor

This is a pot at the bottom of the vessel where the oil collects. At periodic intervals, discharge gas is blown across the top of the oil which has collected. This has the effect of picking it up and carrying it into the suction of the compressor.

Periodic Oil Changes

We at Maximus Chillers have the full range of refrigerant grade oil for all refrigerant types. It is part of what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere. It is critical that the correct oil is selected otherwise compressor failure will result. During each maintenance visit, we make a note of the compressor run hours and carry out oil changes at the correct intervals.

Oil Analysis

We take oil samples which we analyse in our laboratory for signs of compressor wear, oil quality and contaminants. This way, we can prevent untimely compressor failure. If one of your compressors were to fail, however, we have a remanufacturing facility and a lift and shift team to get the job done fast! 

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Chiller compressor failure of blue Grasso in enclosure

Chiller Compressors

System Testing for Chiller Compressors

Chiller compressors fail often as a result of ineffective servicing and system testing. At Maximus Chillers, we carry out extensive tests during our visits to ensure that small problems are resolved before they become big problems. If we notice a reading starting to become abnormal, we can carry out the diagnosis and then remedy the problem. Some of the compressor readings we monitor are:

Temperature of Chiller Compressors

The suction, discharge, motor windings and bearing temperatures are recorded for comparison to previous visits. These are often available in the PLC for the chiller, or our engineer can take the readings with his test equipment. Problems with the oil cooler can be the cause of higher compressor temperatures, the system running outside of its nominal operating conditions is another reason. Magnetic drive systems have an advantage as they do not use oil.

Accelerometer

Portable vibration sensors are carried in of each of our company vehicles. This is an accelerometer to measure vibration. Along with other system readings, we keep an on going record of the vibration levels around the compressor. When internal components are coming out of alignment due to wear, this causes an out of balance condition in the compressor. This, in turn, causes a knock on effect- causing other components to go out of balance. Catching this condition early will prevent a compressor smash up resulting in the replacement of expensive internal components.

Oil Analysis for Chiller Compressors

Another way of preventing big problems from occurring is periodic compressor oil testing. Samples are taken, usually on alternate visits, which are sent off to a laboratory for analysis. The acid level is tested to provide pre warning of a potential compressor motor windings burn out. This is because acid in the compressor oil rots through the electrical insulation on the motor windings. The presence and quantity of white metal and yellow metal is analysed too. This is a window through to a component starting to wear inside the compressor.

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Screw

The compressor in the photo is a screw compressor. It operates with ammonia refrigerant. This refrigerant is usually used for low temperature applications, mainly associated with food production. This compressor, however, has a 1°C refrigerant saturation and is used to cool computer rooms. Common causes of compressor failure on this kind of compressor are:

Leaking Castings on Chiller Compressors

The various compressor components are sealed together using ‘o’ rings or paper gaskets. ‘O’ rings are especially prone to leaks due to work hardening and flattening of the sealing face. The system can be pumped down and the compressor valved off. Then, our lift and shift team can remove the compressor to our remanufacturing facility for strip down.

Leaking Shaft Seal

The mating surface of a shaft seal has a mirror smooth finish. This is to reduce friction and aid with a better seal. Over time, this starts to wear, causing an ineffective seal with a leak of refrigerant and oil. A service visit can be arranged to change the shaft seal on site. The shaft couplings can be split, the shaft seal can then be removed and replaced. A quick job, then the machine is up and running again.

Slide Valve Potentiometer

This is an electronic device with a slide attached to the moving compressor slide valve. The device has a start and an end position programmed into it during commissioning. The potentiometer converts the slide valve position, usually into a 4-20mA signal which is fed back to the chiller PLC. They are prone to reading out, or the reading being jammed in one position. This results in a trip out from the controls, as the controller is not able to determine the true position of the compressor slide valve. We have an off the shelf stock of slide valve potentiometers for the various compressor range. A service visit can be arranged to replace the part after diagnosis has been carried out. The controls operate the loading and unloading solenoid valves to change the position of the slide valve.

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Centrifugal

Centrifugal compressors are a very reliable kind of compressor but when they go wrong, they can go wrong in a big way. Compressor overhaul is expensive, this can be carried out onsite, or a better option is a lift and shift to our remanufacturing facility. Proximity sensors are usually fitted to monitor the distance between the impeller and the casting. This is an added protection along with the other sensors and transducers around the compressor.

MCS

We are on account with Micro Control Systems- an American company who specialise in building panels to order for specific chiller compressors. We easily fit this control system to any compressor to control the loading of the vanes in accordance to the available load from the process. The control panel has previously been fitted to other machines of the same model number, so any teething issues have already been ironed out. Maximus Chillers can achieve seamless operation of your plant.

Oil System for Chiller Compressors 

Newer centrifugal compressors are oil free so as to eliminate any of the service issues relating to oil. There are a substantial amount of compressors, however, that use oil to lubricate the bearings. This kind of compressor, if properly serviced, can last for 50 years. The oil system picks up impurities which are caught by various filters. These filters can be changed or cleaned according to the prescribed service schedule. Our engineers make sure that spares are ordered and kept onsite prior to a visit.

Cost Effective

Our visits and ongoing upkeep of your plant saves money. Money spent as a preventative measure saves so much more money in the long run. With competitive prices on specialist internal centrifugal compressor parts- Maximus Chillers completes the picture. When compressor failure occurs, you are in safe hands with years of industry experience invested in each of our engineers.

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Scroll

These are some issues affecting a scroll compressor:

High Discharge Pressure

With high discharge pressure, there is a corresponding increase in discharge temperature. This means that the compressor is operating beyond its recommended values. The cause of this is often a poorly maintained condenser. Especially on industrial chillers, there can have been gaps in the schedule where the condenser was not correctly serviced. This condition is often rectified easily by an onsite engineer by giving it a brush down. Where the fins are bent over- we carry a specialist tool to straighten them back out- how they came out of the factory. We also use different formulas of chemicals to rinse the various kinds of dirt from deep within the fins.

High Suction Pressure on Chiller Compressors 

Some chillers are used where very high water temperature can come back from the process if the chiller were to be off line for a short period. Usually, this happens in factories where certain industrial processes are being carried out. When the onsite engineers start the plant back up, the chiller experiences a high heat load to deal with.

MOP Expansion Valves

Maximum operating pressure expansion valves limit the pressure in the evaporator to a given level, regardless of the available heat load from the process. They do this by having a limited amount of liquid refrigerant in the bulb. When this runs out, the power element cannot push the orifice open any further- thus limiting the suction pressure. This is important to prevent scroll compressor failure as it prevents putting added strain on the compressor motor windings due to high suction pressure.

Oil and Refrigerant Shortage

Where there is a shortage in refrigerant, there follows a low oil level condition. The refrigerant mass flow rate carries the oil around the system and back to the compressor. This is greatly impaired when the chiller is short of gas. The oil cools the compressor and lubricates the shaft bearings. These bearings and other internal components wear down and seize causing failure. Maximus Chillers can put together a package to minimise chiller compressor failure.

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An engineer filling blue oil drums during industrial chiller maintenance

Industrial Chiller Maintenance

Reciprocating Compressors

Industrial chiller maintenance including a reciprocating compressor with 8 cylinders. They always have an even number of cylinders so that the compressor is balanced.

Open Drive

Because the refrigerant being used in this article is ammonia, the compressor is open drive. This is because ammonia corrodes the copper windings of the electric motor. An open drive compressor needs a shaft seal to prevent oil and refrigerant escaping from the system. These shaft seals are prone to wearing down and leaking. They have two mating surfaces that have a finish so smooth that it is like glass. Any oil leaking out of the system collects in a pot. This pot is monitored for the rate at which it fills up and so the deterioration of the shaft seal can be monitored. The swap out of the shaft seal can be arranged at a convenient time. This evolves the splitting of the shaft coupling to allow access to the seal.

Semi Hermetic

This means that the electric motor is internal to the compressor. Hermetic meaning sealed and semi meaning that you can bolt components off, such as, the cylinder heads. There is a significant advantage with this type of compressor design as there is no shaft seal. The compressor motor windings are also cooled by the suction vapour returning to the compressor from the refrigerant system. This compressor design is used with HFC, HFO, CO2 and Propane refrigerants. There are some semi hermetic compressors that are suitable for ammonia where the windings have been sealed from the refrigerant.

Scheduled Strip Down

This kind of compressor has a lot of moving parts that need to be replaced according to the run hours of the compressor. Failure to do so will lead to the compressor going out of balance and an expensive compressor smash up occurring. Usually during a smash up, a connecting rod will fly off causing oil to spurt out from the gallery. This causes a low oil pressure fault which stops the machine. One smash up which I have seen involved all the con rods staying on and flailing round the inside of the compressor. One cylinder was still working, the compressor still running and a sump full of different sized triangle pieces of metal! This highlights the importance of scheduled maintenance.

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Major Industrial Chiller Maintenance 

On a recent Major maintenance visit, the scheduled oil change was carried out. The required oil being selected by our oil analysis process to the correct viscosity for a Grasso reciprocating compressor operating at a 1°C saturation.

Oil Drain Out During Industrial Chiller Maintenance

The compressor was valved off from the rest of the system. The standing pressure of the vapour in the vessel was 5.8 bar. On the bottom of the sump is located an oil drain port, this is because it is the lowest part of the system. Using hoses and a valve, the oil was drained into empty oil drums.

Oil Pumping during Industrial Chiller Maintenance

Our engineer removed the old oil for recycling, then lifted the new oil to the work location. He used his portable oil pump to pump the oil in using the same port from which the oil was drained. The oil came to the correct level on the oil sight glass and the vapour was bled from the oil filter so that the compressor was primed with oil. When the system starts, the oil pump pushes the oil through to the cylinders of the compressor.

Industrial Chiller Maintenance Monitoring

The oil heater was switched on until the oil was 46°C. The chiller was then started and run tested. The Delta P across the oil filter was found to be nominal at 0.5 bar. The oil level remained at the correct level as the three way valve opened to the oil cooler. The oil cooler, in turn being cooled by a cooling loop which uses some of the tubes on the air cooled condenser.

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Industrial Chiller Maintenance and the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™

Any Chiller

We work on all kinds of chillers from the smallest Italian process chillers, through to large air cooled chillers and centrifugal chillers used for industry.

Any Problem

Problems are our bread and butter- that’s what we do best! Whether you require centrifugal compressor remanufacturing, or the system drying out after a burst heat exchanger- it’s all in a day’s work.

Any Part

We have an excellent supply chain where we pride ourselves on sourcing any part for your chiller. Where a part is no longer manufactured or is not available- we fit a different part. A chiller is just a chiller at the end of the day- we can achieve the same or better design characteristics and efficiency with a different part.

Any Refrigerant

HFC refrigerants are being phased down but are still the most popular variety. They are being superseded by HFO refrigerants which will become more popular over the coming years. We are also adept in the handling of natural refrigerants, such as, ammonia, propane and carbon dioxide.

Anywhere

When you do something as niche as what we do- you cannot expect to just work outside your back door. With blue chip customers around the UK and around the world- nowhere is too far for Maximus Chillers.

To read more about reciprocating chiller compressors hit the Tag at the top of the page.

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