Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Two blue open drive Vilter reciprocating chiller compressors being maintained in a plant room

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Reciprocating chiller compressor maintenance for two low temperature ammonia chillers. Reciprocating means a forwards and backwards motion in a straight line. This is achieved by converting the circular motion of the crankshaft, into a linear motion using the connecting rods. The pistons are on the end of the con rods, which slide up and down inside the cylinder liners.

Piston Rings

There are two types of piston rings which are used:

Compression Ring

This is the upper ring and is designed to a high tolerance to prevent the refrigerant vapour from bypassing the piston.

Oil Ring

This is the lower ring and is designed to regulate the oil flow around the piston.

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Cylinder Head

The cylinder head is usually cast iron and serves as a pressure plate. It holds the valve gear and has passageways for the suction and discharge of the refrigerant. The discharge pressure varies according to the kind of refrigerant and application. For a 0°C saturation it can be as low as 7 bar on R134a, or as high as 30 bar on R410a. The discharge temperature is usually around 60°C to 80°C which is recorded on our detailed Tick Sheet during the maintenance.

Valve Gear

Helix springs or reeds are popular with this type of compressor. Wave springs are another design that can be seen in operation on our YouTube channel. The video uses a cut away view and the oil is depicted in yellow. These springs control the suction (intake) and the discharge (exhaust) of the refrigerant…

Suction

The suction valves have the least amount of failures because the refrigerant is cool, low pressure and is carrying oil.

Discharge

The discharge valves, however, can have heavy molecules of hydrocarbons collect on them in the form of carbon. This causes them to not seat correctly, resulting in a deterioration of compressor performance. The difference in pressure between suction and discharge, otherwise known as the compression ratio, is a check that we carry out during the maintenance. The pressure and temperature is higher on the discharge valves, so more stress is exerted on to them. Therefore, they have a reduced lifespan by comparison to suction valves.

Top Dead Centre

The piston needs to come as close as possible to the cylinder head to create the largest amount of compressed refrigerant. This is called the clearance space which is usually less than 0.5 mm.

Discharge Header Safety Spring

This spring is fitted into the cylinder head and allows the valve gear to lift when:
• Liquid refrigerant slugs back to the compressor due to poor heat exchange in the evaporator.
• An oil slugging condition occurs.
• Water is drawn around the system from a burst condenser or evaporator.
As a compressor cannot compress a liquid, the valve gear lifting prevents an expensive compressor smash up from occurring.

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Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Shaft Seal

The compressors in the photo are open drive. Each has a shaft seal which has two, mirror finish rubbing surfaces. One seal turns with the crankshaft and the other is stationary. We check the amount of oil that is seeping from the shaft seal on every visit. When we notice that the level in the oil bottle is too high, we arrange a visit to change the shaft seal. This can be done without disruption to your process, as the other compressors can be left running while we carry out the work.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Drives

This kind of compressor is usually driven by an in line electric motor, as in the photo. It can also be driven by ‘v’ belts from an electric motor which is located to the side of the compressor. The ‘v’ belts are checked during the visit to see if there are any cracks on the inside working surface. We replace these with the pre ordered spares that are on site at no extra charge. They are then re tensioned according to standard industry guidelines.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Crankcase

This is a cast iron housing that all of the above components fit into. It provides the necessary support and strength for the compressor to operate at its high temperatures and pressures. The crankcase heater keeps the oil at operating temperature during the off cycles. It is usually a bore type which pushes into a hole in the casting. We check for the correct operation of the crankcase heaters and replace them where necessary. This is another spare that is kept on site, so that a return visit is not needed.

Service Ports

These bolt on to the compressor crankcase. They can be positioned in various directions, depending on which way the suction and discharge pipes go. The compressor can be valved off when it is being worked on. These ports are used by engineers to attach their gauges during the maintenance. On each visit, we check the calibration of the system pressure transducers by checking them against our gauges.

Reciprocating Chiller Compressor Maintenance of Oil Pump

This is a gear type pump which is fitted to the end of the compressor crankshaft. The pump sucks the oil through a filter from the sump of the compressor. Then, it is discharged from the pump, down the crankshaft passageways to the connecting rods. From here it travels up the con rod passageways and out through the pistons to the cylinder liners. Here, it provides the essential lubrication between the pistons and the liners. According to the maintenance schedule, we periodically change the oil filters to ensure the optimum running conditions of your compressors.

MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™

If a compressor smash up occurs and the compressor is found to be obsolete- don’t worry. We can adapt the compressor mountings and the pipework for a different compressor. This is part of what we call The MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere.

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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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Controls panel open during chilling plant maintenance

Chilling Plant Controls Maintenance

Prior to this chilling plant controls maintenance visit, another contractor had changed some of the settings and adjustments in the controllers. They did this while they were diagnosing a fault with the water system and the pumps. Therefore, this visit was to recommission the plant and to resolve the issues resulting from the adjustments.

Chilling Plant Flow Controls Maintenance

The flow controls were found to be set wrong. Therefore, our engineer adjusted the pumps, then various valves on the water system, a little at a time, while monitoring the controller. Full load and part load readings were taken until they came to within standard industry limits.

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Compressor Run On Time

A timer had been adjusted which made the compressor wait to stop after reaching 0%. In the meantime, some more heat would build up in the water system and the compressor slide valve would open up a little. The result was that the compressor would run for an hour with the slide valve shut most of the time. The oil pump carried on pumping during this time resulting in a head of oil building up in the discharge pipe- all the way back up to the oil separator. Then, a low oil level fault had occurred. This being confirmed by the sight glass on the oil separator. The compressor had enough oil charged into it to allow a start up. During the start up, a low oil level timer counts down. As soon as the compressor loaded and started pumping, the oil level returned to the correct level on the sight glasses. The timer was adjusted along with the dead band to ensure the chiller off cycled after achieving set point.

Slide Valve Potentiometer

The slide valve potentiometer has a configuration mode button. It can be pressed to set the 4mA or 0% position. This is the usual position of the slide valve as a spring and 2 drain valves return it to the start position. The slide valve can then be manually opened in the program. Then, the potentiometer button can be pressed to set the 20mA or 100% position. “Chattering” can occur on the fully closed position so a setting is available to only close the slide valve to 2%.

To read more about chiller control systems click the Tag at the top of the page.

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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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