Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

Chiller fault finding & diagnosis tool case and car boot

Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

Accurate chiller fault finding & diagnosis saves money! This is because when the wrong parts are ordered and your machine still does not work- it has been a wasted visit with unneeded parts.

News Article No.12

Expert Training for Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

All of our engineers are time served, attending the Government approved college course. This includes the F-gas HFC and BESA ammonia refrigerant handling certificates. Our engineers also go through rigorous training at The Maximus School of Chillers at Head Office in Droylsden. Here we have various chiller types ranging from small air cooled chillers, to the panels for large water cooled, screw and centrifugal chillers. They have been wired up as test rigs to simulate the various fault conditions. The manager will simulate a fault and the engineer will then have to follow it through to a successful diagnosis. This off site training ensures that when our engineer attends site, he is armed with all the skills he needs to follow through the fault finding easily.

Technical Support Desk

Whilst on site, our engineer is connected to our live stream, real time Technical Support Desk on his laptop and smart phone. He can also face time the support desk on his device. We often find that it is a lot easier to show somebody something than describe it. This service is available to you the customer too- free of charge. It is just one of the many features that help us to achieve The MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere. PDF chiller manuals and wiring diagrams can be sent to our engineer’s phone and then printed off on your computer. This means that you have all the technical information you need, in the chiller panel for when our engineer is not in attendance. Just face time our support desk and we will talk you through. This helps to keep your service costs down as it will often save you the cost of a call out.

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Mobile Workshop for Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

Each car boot is a mobile workshop with a blueprint of equipment repeated across each car in our fleet. We have recently opened The Spanish Office with one engineer down there now too. Our fleet of cars in the UK are Peugeot 508 and in Spain our engineer has a Seat Arona. In both countries the equipment is duplicated and standardised. This is so that Head Office knows what each engineer has at his disposal while on site, so he can find out what the problem is- fast!

Fuse Wire

It is the small things that we carry that help- fuse wire for example. This is so that a big box of spare fuses does not have to be carried.

Contactors

We carry 4 medium sized contactors which have 24vac, 24vdc, 110v and 230v coils. Each has NO (normally open) and NC (normally closed) contacts. This means that a blown relay, or a process chiller compressor single phasing- will be repaired while on site. Just another cost saving exercise for you the customer.

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Fluke Multi Meters

Our multi meters are calibrated annually for accuracy. They are equipped with fused leads to protect the engineer when working on high voltages. They have long, thin prongs too for access to the most difficult locations. Electrical plugs which are fixed onto relay boards are a good example. We test:

Resistance Temperature Detectors

RTDs are sensors that are often: NTC (negative temperature coefficient) where the resistance drops when warmed. PTC (positive temperature coefficient) where the resistance goes up when warmed. The sensor reacts to temperature in a predictable way, so a chart can be composed by the manufacturer. This chart shows the resistance reading, which should correspond to a given temperature. When a resistance reading on the multi meter is not where it should be on the chart- the sensor has failed. We carry crocodile clips for our multi meter prongs because sensor wires can be difficult to hold against our standard prongs.

DC Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

We mostly fault find the direct current which is associated with the controls of a chiller. DC is also found in inverter drives before it is re inverted back into AC on the compressor. We usually fault find inverter drives on either end, however, when the volts are AC. PCB electronics usually run on 5vdc as computer components work well with this kind of voltage. That is not to say that there is not 24v and 230v present on a PCB, it may be part of other things that the PCB is doing. We have the function to read DC on our multi meters.

AC Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

The most often used function on our multi meters is AC. This is because most components around a chiller panel are usually AC. The safety chain including the low pressure, high pressure and flow switches are usually fed by a 230v supply. The 415v line volts to fans, pumps compressors etc. are AC too. On large air cooled chillers, the panel is quite big to control all of the components and devices around the chiller. On large screw and centrifugal chillers, it is just a small panel with the compressor starter panel usually being separate.

Fridge System

Our calibrated gauges can be fitted to a HFC or ammonia chiller with a selection of fittings for each machine type. We carry digital thermometers with various probe types to access the different parts of the machine. Usually, however, the pressures and temperatures are available on the chiller controller. We use these pressures and temperatures, along with a comparator app to diagnose the condition of the fridge system. Superheat and subcooling values are worked out which are transmitted, real time, to our technical support desk. This means, along with the data plate of the chiller which is stored in our system, we can provide you with a Quote for the service job while the engineer is still on site.

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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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Carel controller showing R134a refrigerant readings during preventative chiller maintenance

Preventative Chiller Maintenance

We at Maximus Chillers will optimise the efficiency and take years off the life of your plant with preventative chiller maintenance.

News Article No.9

Control Panels

The first thing our engineers check at the start of the maintenance is the control panel of the chiller. In here he checks:

Programmable Logic Controller

Alarm History

The alarm history is analysed in sequential order to build up a picture of the last maintenance period.

Settings and Timers

The various levels of password accessed menus are checked and adjusted for efficiency and to eliminate any spurious trips on the running of the chiller.

Compressor Run Hours

We make a note of the compressor run hours on our detailed Tick Sheet. Bearings on centrifugal compressors and valve gear on reciprocating compressors are changed at pre prescribed intervals as defined by the manufacturer. This is to prevent an expensive failure and the resulting remanufacturing of the compressor.

Preventative Chiller Maintenance of Electrical Safety Devices

Fuses

Each one of these is popped from its holder and the continuity checked with a multimeter. This is maintenance the right way round, instead of run testing and following the fault back to the fuse.

Circuit Breakers

Each of the breakers is tested to ensure it will function correctly when it needs to.

Residual Current Device

RCDs work by detecting current leakage to earth. It monitors the difference between the live and neutral poles. As above these are tested on each visit.

Preventative Chiller Maintenance of Refrigerant Safety Switches

High Pressure Switches

The settings and dead band (the difference in pressure between cut out and cut in) are checked and adjusted on each visit. Sometimes due to malfunctioning controls or condenser condition, fans can be manually left off or can be forced on. Not the best running condition, but we will keep you up and running until we send out the new parts. Where this is a bespoke manufactured condenser, we have the best lead time available.

Low Pressure Switches

As above, the low pressure switches are checked and adjusted as need be. The seasonal and varying load conditions affect the saturation point of the refrigerant in the evaporator. This can cause untimely trip outs when the plant is otherwise running in optimum efficiency.

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Coefficient of Performance during Preventative Chiller Maintenance

The coefficient of performance is the cooling effect compared with the electrical energy supplied to the chiller. It is represented in a ratio, for example 6:1. That is six times more cooling effect compared with the electricity supplied. The higher the cooling effect relative to electricity supplied, the lower the cost in electricity. The ratio is often divided by 1 to show as just a number- in this example 6. The cooling effect is measured in kj/kg and the electrical supply is represented in kw/h.

Latent Heat 

A chiller system would have a COP of less than 1 if not for latent heat. Exploiting this hidden heat when both evaporating and condensing the refrigerant is one of the founding principles of the basic refrigeration cycle. It takes a lot of heat added to the system to get the refrigerant to boil, then the same amount of heat is rejected from the condenser in the liquification of the refrigerant.

System Efficiency

A lot of basic things routinely drag down the efficiency of a chiller system. Just with the effect of our engineer attending site to carry out the maintenance- he will keep the COP optimised. Here are some of the system checks and procedures he carries out:

Superheat

When a compressor never goes off due to refrigerant shortage, there is a dramatic increase in electricity consumption. Also, the system will not have very much cooling effect. Continuing like this will cost more money and achieve little.

Subcooling

Basic condenser maintenance will improve the subcooling values. These readings will be taken at various load and ambient conditions at different times of the year. This is so we can build up an understanding of the plant. We carry a wide range of chemicals for the maintenance of your condenser. These chemicals are carefully selected so that they do not damage the condenser causing leaks. Condenser fans also cause a poor COP:

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Preventative Chiller Maintenance and Condenser Fans 

Basic Design

With some basic chiller designs, the chiller condenser fans come on and off forwards and backwards at different pressures. This means that when other fans have failed, or are stuck going backwards- the one on the end comes on with the higher pressure then blows to earth. This is due to the ingress of water in the year it did not run.

Refrigerant Leaks

The above design means that there are fluctuating pressures in the condenser. This causes continuous expanding and contracting of the copper tubes. These copper tubes rub against the steel frame which is holding them in place- causing reoccurring leaks. Another reason for repeated leaks on the condenser is the vibration issue of the fans banging on and off. Add into this equation a cheap, flimsy frame that develops its own resonance- you then have an un ending problem.

Preventative Chiller Maintenance with Fan Speed Controllers 

Part of what we call the MAXIMUS ADVANTAGE™ Any Chiller- Any Problem- Any Part- Any Refrigerant- Anywhere is that we can source any fan speed controller from our fast supply chain. This remedies the problem, as fan speed controllers bring all the fans on together at different speeds. Therefore, extending the lifespan of the fan and maintaining an efficient coefficient of performance.

Axial Fans

Most air cooled chillers use axial fans. They suck the air through the condenser and reject it upwards and away from the chiller. Ducts are often fitted to help this process. Scaffolding is erected to provide safe access to engineers.

Radial Fans

Radial fans are also called centrifugal fans or blowers. They are very popular in server rooms where air is blown down into a mezzanine floor and up through the racks. They are also used outside in chillers where they blow out and away from the chiller. They are usually driven by belts which require regular inspection and maintenance.

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Preventative Chiller Maintenance and R134a Refrigerant

In the photo, the controller shows R134a refrigerant and the 8.3°C of superheat as calculated by the program. This superheat may look at first to be okay, but when considering the compressor loading and expansion valve- it points towards a system issue. Our engineers diagnose if the issue is related to a component or a refrigerant shortage.

Characteristics

HFC refrigerant which has a chemical name of Tetrafluoroethane or CF3CH2F. It has low toxicity which is good for the health and safety or our engineers. It is not combustible, but other chemicals are made as a result of a fire. It is non corrosive too, which extends the lifespan of the pipework and components around the system.

Centrifugal Drop In

This refrigerant is widely used as a replacement for HCFCs, such as, R22 used in centrifugal chillers. It is only one fluid, where as the other popular HFC refrigerants are blends. These blends fractionalize in a flooded condenser or evaporator. That is to say: one or two of the refrigerants in the blend separate out and do not continue their cycle around the system. The chiller now has the wrong refrigerant circulating around the system for the application temperature. Extreme running faults follow, such as, ice on the compressor, suction pipe and expansion pipe. This is as a result of the refrigerant pressures and temperatures being outside of nominal conditions.

Global Warming Potential

A global warming potential of 1430 is considered to be high. Therefore, the refrigerant is being phased down to 21% by 2030 in line with F-gas guidelines. These guidelines are in accordance with the European Union and the Kyoto Protocol. Because of the regulations for the handling of fluorinated gas, our engineers attend college to learn how to decant the refrigerant safely. We then ship it to the recycling centre for disposal. A waste carrier note being completed each time to track the refrigerant from dispatch to disposal. Finally, F-gas leak tests are carried out and recorded on each visit. Maximus Chillers completes the picture.

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