Chiller Controls

Open chiller controls panel showing PLC, relays, contactors and wiring

Chiller Controls

Chiller controls can be remotely operated and monitored, but in this article, we will be looking at chillers operating in local.

Each chiller has a panel where the lead or the lag chiller can be switched from. They have N+1 redundancy built in, so one of two chillers will normally be in standby with the other one running. The chillers in the photo are equipped with kilowatt hour meters because the customer wants to monitor their efficiency. He has targets to meet and wants to gauge the effect that our maintenance has in reducing his energy costs.

Condenser Pressure

The condenser pressure control is external and stand alone from the panel.

Transducer

A transducer is fitted to the discharge pipe near to the compressor. This gives a 0 to 5vdc control signal to the fan speed controller which is bolted to the frame. There is a minimum and a maximum value on the transducer, so the FSC is programmed to work out the pressure from the voltage.

Fan Speed Controller

415v on three phases are the input to the FSC. It uses solid state thyristors to regulate the output to the fans. This is according to the demand received by the transducer. Solid state means that all the parts are electronic with no moving parts. Fan speed controllers are really good at extending the life of the fans. This is because all of the fans operate together- smoothly and reliably.

Chiller Controls Digital Inputs

There are three essential digital inputs to the controls of any chiller. All of them have a volt signal out to them, which returns back to the panel. If there is a fault- the volts drop out.

LP Switch

This protects the chiller from a low pressure condition. Compressor and evaporator failure would result, so this device is set below the running pressure of the system, but high enough to offer protection.

HP Switch

If the head pressure control mentioned above were to fail, this device would save the chiller from damage from excessive pressure in the system. Components or the pressure relief valve can blow causing a catastrophic refrigerant leak.

Flow Switch

This device detects a lack of flow in the water system. Serious system failure would result if this part is not maintained properly. It needs to be periodically tested and adjusted at regular intervals.

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Chiller Controls Analogue Inputs

The essential analogue inputs on a chiller are the Water In and the Water Out sensors. These are usually NTC (negative temperature coefficient) that is to say: if you hold one in between your fingers and warm it up- the resistance will start to drop off. They usually read in kilo ohms which can be read on a standard multi meter. The program looks at these two sensors and using an algorithm, it calculates the loading requirement of the compressor. They can read incorrectly, so a sensor offset function is available in the software for adjustment. This is just one of the many checks and procedures that we carry out during our maintenance visit.

Chiller Controls Relays

In the photo you can see wires from the various devices around the chiller, wired into a row of relays. These, in turn, are wired into the white relay board at the top. This relay board has several expansion boards linked into it which are held together with an electrical ribbon. Next, the relay board is wired into the PLC... 

Chiller Controls PLC

The reason for these steps in between a device and the PLC is for protection. Sensitive electrical components can be blown due to an earth shortage. At each stage there is a volt drop from 240v to 24v and then to 5vdc.The programmable logic controller is the nerve centre of the chiller. This is where all the inputs go to and where all the digital outputs are sent from. The controller on this chiller is Beijer Electronics- it comes blank from the factory. User keys to operate the chiller are positioned below the display. It can be programmed to run most chillers and indeed it is often seen in factories running anything. A laptop plugs into it and the software for the chiller is uploaded. On one visit, we found a fault with this controller. We bubble wrapped it and took it to our electronics laboratory at Head Office. The issue was easy to resolve- it was just dust tracking across the back of the PCB and so corrupting the program.

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Chiller Controls Digital Outputs

The main digital outputs on this chiller are:

Compressor Run Signal

240v is sent to the compressor starter contactors. There are three: Star (lower amps for a soft start) then a timer switches over to Delta (higher amps for a more powerful running of the compressor) On the other end of the compressor windings is the Line contactor. This contactor runs with both the Star and the Delta contactors.

Float Valve

This is a camber where the level of refrigerant which is coming in from the condenser is detected. The level is transmitted to the PLC, where the program sends a signal to the expansion valve. It opens to the correct degree according to the load on the chiller.

Slide Valve

The compressor can run at 0% with the slide valve shut. When load is sensed from the Water In and Water Out sensors by the controller- the slide valve opens up. The position of the slide valve is detected by a potentiometer. This is calibrated from a minimum to a maximum position. The signal is 4-20 mA which the controller translates into the position of the slide valve.

MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™

Whatever the problem with the controls, we can find a solution to resolve it. With years of industry experience and a fast supply chain, we offer a service that is second to none. Being able to retrofit is part of what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere.

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6 green Bitzer scroll compressors being maintained in a chiller

Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

Here at Maximus Chillers, we carry out scroll chiller compressor maintenance to extend the lifespan and reduce downtime to your critical plant. This planning ahead is central to how we do things- we resolve small problems before they become big problems. Having the capability to do anything is part of what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere.

How they Work

The refrigerant vapour passes in between two scrolls (spirals) One of these is fixed, the other orbits backwards and forwards against the fixed scroll using a swing link. This creates a series of crescent shaped gas pockets in between the scrolls. These gas pockets get smaller in size as the refrigerant travels from the suction at the edge, down the spirals to the discharge at the centre. It then leaves downwards through a port. There are check valves to prevent back feeding of refrigerant during off cycles when other compressors on the same system are still running.

Advantages

There are several gas pockets occurring at any one time through the scroll, therefore giving a smooth and continuous compression cycle. Other advantages are low internal friction resulting in a quiet operation and low vibration levels. These low vibration levels help to lower the occurrence of leaks around the compressor.

Oil Level during Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

The correct oil level is noted on our detailed Tick Sheets for all of the compressors. This record helps with the diagnosis when things start to go wrong. We can look for a pattern where the level starts to drop off in the compressors on a particular system, then look at the other readings which may be the cause.

Oil Samples during Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

At periodic intervals, we take oil samples which we analyse in our laboratory at Head Office in Droylsden. We look for white metal, coloured metal, refrigerant composition, acid and sludge. This means that we can notice, then resolve system issues before a costly compressor failure occurs.

Oil Changes during Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

This kind of compressor is fitted with a service port for the draining and filling of oil. The correct procedure is followed due to system pressure being present inside. We then carry out the oil changes using our specialist oil handling tools. Our skilled engineers carry the correct PPE for the work being carried out. We also we provide Risk Assessment Method Statements for each job.

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Crank Case Heaters

In the photo you can see the silver band of the crank case heaters at the bottom of the compressors. They keep the oil at the required temperature so as to not cause compressor wear on start up. The heaters also have the effect of ensuring that the refrigerant cannot condense into liquid during cold weather. As a compressor cannot compress a liquid, compressor failure would occur. A normally closed contact on the delta compressor starter contactor usually runs the heater: it drops out when the compressor starts. The function of all of these heaters is checked on each maintenance visit.

Discharge Temperature

It is critical that the discharge temperature is not too high, as this is the cause of the refrigerant breaking down into acid and sludge as previously mentioned. The acid rots the insulation on the copper windings inside the compressor. When this has occurred, an electrical failure will result in the compressor, causing the fuses to blow and a fault condition on the chiller. Compressor swap out is the cure which is expensive and inconvenient. We take the discharge temperature readings during the maintenance so as to fault find the cause.

Suction Pressure

Adequate suction pressure is needed to ensure good oil return to the compressor and prevent low pressure trips. As the refrigerant entrains the oil around the system, a good mass flow rate is needed, or the oil will just ‘pool’ in the bottom of the evaporator. Poor oil return will result in a seized compressor. Therefore, particular attention is taken to the low pressure gauge by our engineers. System adjustments or recommendations are made to ensure the seamless operation of your plant. If system overhaul is required, a Quote will be submitted at the end of the visit.

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Compressor Holding Down Bolts

There are usually four of these on each compressor. They fit though a steel sleeve which, in turn, fits through a rubber mount. The whole assembly is bolted into the frame of the chiller. The function is to securely hold the compressor in place and to dissipate vibration. We check the tightness is correct with our torque wrenches and change the rubbers periodically. A compressor rattling around uncontrollably, especially during start up and stopping causes catastrophic leaks around the compressor. This usually leads to the whole, or the most part of the refrigerant charge being lost to atmosphere.

Motor Protection Module

A resistance sensor embedded in the compressor windings plugs into this module on the S1 and S2 terminals. The fault feedback to the controls is on the M1 and M2 terminals. The power supply to the module is on the L and N terminals. When the windings start to get hot, the module detects this after a pre determined level of resistance is reached. The M2 terminal opens and volts drop out to the relay board, then a lower volt control signal drops out to the controller. We check the sensor resistance and compare it to a chart to ensure it is within the allowable range on each visit.

Wire Tightening during Scroll Chiller Compressor Maintenance

We waggle the motor connectors and check for any cracking to the wires which may lead to an earth sort out. We tighten the wiring on the compressor starter contactors and check the condition of the contactor contacts. These become ‘splattered’ causing an uneven amount of amps to the compressor. This volt drop causes the contactors to fail and will eventually cause compressor motor failure. We change the contactor contacts from our range of parts at Head Office.

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Large chiller, refrigerant cylinder, brazing equipment and tools during chiller service company visit

Chiller Service Company Visit

A typical rainy day in the North West, perfect for a chiller service company visit.

News Article No.11

Electrical Faults during Chiller Service Company Visit

This was a return visit to do a refrigerant leak, but the customer alerted our engineer’s attention to an electrical fault. System 2 was found to be locked out in fault on the recent maintenance visit, but now System 1 was being held off too. The fault message on the controller was High Pressure. The controller sends a 240v fault feedback signal, through the high pressure switch which returns to the controller. Our engineer had a look at the wiring diagram to find the number on the terminal strip and checked it out with his multimeter. As he suspected, there were volts going out, but not coming back. He removed the side panel for system 1 and found the switch on the discharge pipe. It was the type that has a red button on the top. When he pressed it, there was a click and volts returned to the controller.

Alarm Reset during Chiller Company Service Visit

He interrogated the Carel controller and followed the reset procedure. The controls went through a timer and then the start sequence was initiated.

Run Testing during Chiller Company Service Visit

After the first scroll compressor started, the head pressure started to build up, but the condenser fans did not start. The on board high pressure gauge carried on rising until the high pressure switch was tripped again.

Head Pressure Control

A transducer on the discharge is used by the controller to sense the pressure in the condenser. When our engineer looked for this in the controller, it was found to be reading wrong by a considerable amount. There is a facility to enter a password and recalibrate the transducer, but this only allows for a small adjustment.

Test Instrument

Our engineers carry various kinds of test instruments which can be used to give a temporary false reading to the controller. This gets the customer up and running and back in production whilst a new transducer is ordered and sent to site.

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Chiller Company Service Low Pressure Visit

Now on with the job to resolve the low pressure issue with the chiller.

Refrigerant Pump Out

Our engineer lifted the liquid line solenoid valve and decanted the remaining refrigerant into a vessel using his recovery unit. He only got out 7kg of a charge of 36kg.

Leak Testing during Chiller Company Service Visit

We use nitrogen for the leak testing as it is an inert gas that will not cause problems with the refrigerant system. There was a sign of the leak in between the steel frame at the middle of the condenser and the condenser tubes. We always strip the chiller down and leak test the entire system though. This is so that the job does not end up going round in circles. At first the leak could not be found, so the pressure was built up in stages, taking into account industry recommended guidelines for a chiller. Sure enough the leak was where it was suspected to be. The occurrence of this kind of leak can be reduced with the use of vibration eliminators.

Brazing during Chiller Company Service Visit

The location of the leak was reported to the maintenance engineer onsite and a hot work permit obtained. The equipment we use is tested at regular intervals to be safe and in good working order. A half hour fire watch was stipulated in the permit, along with the removal of combustible materials from the work location. Correct PPE being donned, he brazed the leak to the required industry standards.

F-gas Pressure Test

A chiller has a different pressure test procedure to other systems, so our engineer built the pressure up according to industry standards, then recorded it on his pressure test certificate. After the required time had elapsed, he rechecked the readings which were found to be satisfactory.

Vac Pump

Each of our engineers carries a state of the art 10 cfm vacuum pump to speed up the dehydration process. We use high quality Torr gauges too, so as to get an accurate pressure reading. A good read back was achieved at the end of the process.

Recharge and Run Test

After the refrigerant recharge was carried out, a satisfactory run test was achieved.

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Refrigerant Economizers

This particular chiller uses an economizer to further subcool the refrigerant. Chiller designers have worked out that the end user can save a considerable amount of money over 10 years if these components are used. After the subcooled liquid refrigerant leaves the condenser, it goes through a plate heat exchanger. Some of this refrigerant, however, is diverted through a thermostatic expansion valve, to the other side of this plate heat exchanger. Further subcooling occurring through the plates.

Expansion Valve

The refrigerant drops in pressure as it goes through the expansion valve. A bulb is fitted to the suction pipe on the outlet of the heat exchanger. The bulb has to be at the correct 'o clock position as oil insulation will affect the operation of the valve. A capillary tube connects the bulb to the valve. Inside the bulb, the same kind of refrigerant that is running in the system is present in its liquid state. As the temperature rises in the suction pipe, this refrigerant boils off, adding pressure into the capillary tube. This added pressure forces the power element down on the valve body and a needle forces the valve open.

Flash Gas

Imagine if the refrigerant was not subcooled at all. It would be around its saturation point with a lot of it flashing off into its vapour phase. Not good when you have warm water coming back from the process. The refrigerant would not absorb very much latent heat into the refrigerant system.

Efficiency

Imagine, on the other hand, the economizer which is fitted to this chiller. Now we have a good proportion of refrigerant in its liquid phase, on the low side of the system, with a minimum amount of flash gas. The warm process water has more chance to cool and the refrigerant absorbs a lot more latent heat. The chiller achieves set point easier and therefore saves a considerable amount of electricity. With this further subcooling monitored for a while, time for a signature from the customer and another job well done!

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Blue recovery unit with a grey recovery cylinder during a chiller breakdown

Chiller Breakdown

A rainy day for a chiller breakdown for our engineer in the North West.

News Article No.8

Electrical Faults during Chiller Breakdown

Our customer called us out because he was having electrical faults with the chiller. The power supply to part of the panel had gone down and he required our assistance. Our engineer found a blown fuse which he replaced and tested operation- it blew again. Using his multimeter, he followed the diagnosis though to an earth fault on the flow switch…

Water System Flow Switches

The flow switch vapour seal had failed allowing rain water to ingress. This caused an earth failure on the 240v control circuit, and so blowing the fuse. The customer raised an order forthwith and so our engineer replaced the flow switch with the stock from his car. Each of our engineers keeps a range of flow switches for a variety of applications…

Stainless Steel

Where water system chemicals are corrosive, we carry corrosion resistant flow switches. This type has a longer working life due to the use of stainless steel. They are more expensive due to the higher manufacturing costs, but they are worth the money as they are less likely to fail, causing a potential loss of production.

Outside Use

This was the type fitted by our engineer on site in this news article. It has been developed and tested across a range of adverse weather conditions including freezing conditions and heavy rain. The electrical and switching compartment is protected by a sealing gland to keep the weather out. A rubber ‘o’ ring provides the seal into this compartment.

Inside Use

Some applications have the flow switch located inside the building in the plant room with the control cable extending out to the chiller controls. Another configuration allows for the flow switch to trip out the building controls and so dropping out the run signal to the chiller. In either case there is no need for weather proofing. This kind of flow switch is cheaper due to the lower construction costs.

High Pressure

Some water systems operate at considerable pressure. Therefore, high pressure flow switches have been developed for this application. They are capable of preventing water ingressing from the water system and into the electrical and switching compartment.

Test and Adjustment

Our engineer carried out testing and adjustments to the flow switch to ensure that it ran reliably. He achieved this by monitoring the water system readings and measurements against the design specifications of the switch. When he got it to settle down, he replaced the fuse and ran tested the chiller...

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Condenser Fans

The condenser fans were not coming on at all at first and later only slowly. They are controlled by a fan speed controller which is sensitive to pressure. A minimum value of volts is supplied to the fans, so as to prevent stalling and over heating of the internal motor windings. The fans were found to be in good working order, so he decided to turn his attention to…

Pressure Temperature Relationship of Refrigerant

There was found to be a lower pressure and so a lower temperature in the condenser. After careful fault finding and diagnosis involving putting the pressures and temperatures into a calculator, our engineer decided that the chiller was running short of refrigerant. This is consistent with Charles’s Law of Constant Volume. It is one of the fundamental scientific principals of how a chiller works: the higher the pressure- the higher the temperature/ the lower the pressure- the lower the temperature.

Recovery Units for Refrigerant

After receiving a further order from our customer, we gave the go ahead to our engineer to use his recovery unit to decant the gas. The refrigerant is sucked into the unit using a small one cylinder reciprocating compressor. The compressor discharges into the on board condenser which is cooled by a fan. The subcooled refrigerant travels down a refrigerant hose which is connected to the recovery cylinder in the picture. After this process was complete, he started looking for a leak...

Leak Testing and Pressure Testing

The leak was identified on the flange for the expansion valve. This component was removed, cleaned with our in house refrigerant grade solvent, then the joint re made with a compound suitable for the temperature range of the component. After a satisfactory nitrogen pressure test, the evacuation process can begin…

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Refrigerant System Vac Pumps

Each of our engineers carry a high capacity vacuum pump of the highest quality. We believe in investing in state of the art equipment as this is part of how we provide the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere. Good equipment makes the job go easy.

Vane Pump

The pump works by sucking vapour into the inlet port. A rotary vane system extracts the vapour and discharges it through the top of the pump module. Oil is used to lubricate the vanes that slide around the pump cylinder. The vanes are kept a tight fit against the cylinder with the use of springs. As our pumps are high capacity, an oil filter is fitted to the outlet with a gauze inside to catch any oil droplets.

Electric Motor

This motor fits onto the back of the vane pump module. It comes from the factory set to 240v, but we change the pins for the electrical connections to convert it for use with 110v. This is because customers and engineers demand the use of 110v as if is safer for use in the UK climate. The 110v plugs and extension cable are shrouded and weather resistant. Weather resistant does not mean weatherproof, so we take measures to limit the exposure to adverse weather conditions. The pump motor, however, is not weather resistant at all, so care is taken to locate it somewhere dry. After a long time running, the motor runs hot, so our engineers take readings and carry out adjustments to ensure that it stays within its nominal operating temperature range.

Oil Changes during Chiller Breakdown

The vac pump oil is changed before each use with our specialist grade, high quality oil. Contact our office for prices and delivery times. The manufacturer of the pump recommends these oil changes as moisture and impurities absorb into the oil and so reduce its performance, also the working like of the pump.

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Refrigerant System Evacuation

Having set up the vacuum pump, our engineer started the evacuation process.

Torr Gauges used During Chiller Breakdown

We use analogue Torr gauges as they are more reliable than digital ones. Also, they do not need batteries and it does not matter if they get wet. Our engineer attached the Torr gauge to a suitable part of the system with a refrigerant hose, ensuring that a good seal was made between the components with a sealing compound.

Fittings used during Chiller Breakdown

Fittings were used to get between the different thread types from the vac pump to the fridge system. Having warmed up the pump for half an hour he was ready to start the process.

Non Condensables Removed during Chiller Breakdown

One purpose of evacuation is to remove the gasses that will not condense such as nitrogen remaining in the system from pressure testing. Another non condensable is air that has entered the system from when the expansion valve was removed. These non condensables affect how a fridge system works according to Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures: that all gasses in a vessel act as if they are on their own. The non condensables cause a higher head pressure in the condenser. When this pressure is added into our calculation- it throws out the sum and so gives a false reading of subcooling.

Dehydration during Chiller Breakdown

The other purpose of evacuation is to dehydrate the system. Water, as we know, has a boiling point of 100°C at sea level, which is 1bar absolute or 760 Torr. As you start to drop the pressure, so correspondingly, the boiling point also drops. For example, water boils at the top of Mount Everest at around 68°C. If we continue vacuuming a refrigerant system, eventually we can remove all moisture by dropping the pressure below the saturation point of water. This works even in the winter in UK ambient conditions. Moisture in the system causes system failures and malfunctions leading to expensive breakdowns.

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Global chilled water system service near Saint Basil's Cathedral

Global Chilled Water System Service

Moscow Visit

Always good for our engineers to get out of the country to carry out global chilled water system service. He just had a little free time this visit to see Red Square and Saint Basil's Cathedral. Most of the visit was bogged down resolving issues.

Electrical Problems

One of the chillers was pumping down due to electrical problems. One of the solenoids for the evaporator was not opening. All checked out okay with the solenoid coil and valve. Following the wiring diagram led to the relay board. The relay board is responsible to run various components around the compressor. It was not obviously blown and there were no dry soldered joints on the back. Our engineer decided to tighten up the wiring and unplug, then plug all the connectors back in. When he ran the chiller again the problem went away.

Chilled Water System Global Service

As we provide a global service: we cannot get back the day after leaving site. Therefore, after resolving the above issue, our engineer ran the system in local with some of the other systems off to prove it. All was okay. After completing the rest of the service on the chillers, he put the whole of the plant back in Auto to prove it all together.

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Flow Switch Failure during Global Chilled Water System Service

Due to security issues, this one of the most remote plant rooms for a flow switch to fail. The chiller did not stop when a test was carried out. Our engineer did not want to valve off the water system as the air handlers are old and 'dead heading' could cause failure. Instead, he decided to use the Hand/ Off/ Auto switch for the pump. After several attempts of trimming, he got the switch to settle down, then carried out tests to make sure it would not happen again.

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