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

Read more about Chiller Control Basics on the Engineering Mindset | Click Here


Oil return solenoid removed during industrial chiller service

Industrial Chiller Service

On an industrial chiller service visit, the ammonia alarm was found to have been triggered.

News Article No.10

Industrial Chiller Service Faults

The onsite engineer had fault found the chiller and silenced the alarm, the yellow light was still flashing. The red light was lit on the panel and the red LED was illuminated on the ammonia alarm console. He had reported a smell of ammonia to us over the phone. This gave us a priority of getting to site, as many other alarms of this nature are often spurious. Our engineer attended site within an hour and confirmed that the fault finding was correct as described by the onsite engineer. The chiller is containerized in design as it is situated outside. All around the chiller are door panels for access to the various system components.

Breathing Apparatus and PPE

He donned his mask and full length ammonia resistant PPE before opening one of the panel doors. This was to ensure that he did not get overwhelmed by the refrigerant when he opened the door. He started with the door into the storage area of the containerized chiller. A strong blast of ammonia came out in his face- lucky for the PPE!

Localising the Fault

Working his way around the chiller, our engineer found more and more hazardous door openings! Eventually he found the culprit: one of the two flanges were leaking on the oil return solenoid. The refrigerant vapour was coming out in its usual white form. The oil return pipe feeds off the oil pot which is a chamber that the oil sinks into from the refrigerant economizer. This vessel was valved off and the other end of the pipe valved off too.

Pinpointing the Fault

Now that the ammonia refrigerant leak had started to calm down- it was possible to see through the white vapour to exactly which of the flanges was leaking. It was the right one as seen in the picture. It consists of an ‘o’ ring made of ammonia resistant rubber material.

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Industrial Chiller Service in Local

The above mentioned chiller runs in local in a lead/ lag configuration with the adjacent chiller. That is to say- there is no wire or modem to a remote location. A panel is available in between the two chillers to sequence the switch over between the two. When the chiller tripped out due to the fault, the other chiller was supposed to have been enabled. This did not happen, so our engineer investigated the situation. The sequencer panel sends out a 24v fault feedback signal to each chiller. This, in turn, goes through a relay and back to the sequencer panel if all is good. When a fault occurs, the volts drop out to the relay in the chiller and a relay drops out in the sequencer. When the relay drops out in the sequencer, a normally closed contact makes and brings a red light on. This was not happening, so our engineer followed it through with his multimeter. He found a blown 1 Amp control fuse in the chiller, he replaced it and it blew again. After some careful research he found that there was an earth leakage due to the ingress of water into a safety switch. This switch was nothing to do with the above, but it blew the whole control circuit. Having reinstated the fuse, he found that the panel switched over satisfactorily in local.

Advantages

This kind of operation method has an advantage in its simplicity. There are no complicated BMS systems for the chiller to be integrated into. A sequencer panel is easy to construct and maintain- keeping the costs down to the end user.

Disadvantages

The disadvantage of this kind of system is that the first thing the factory usually notices is that they are loosing the process. The water temperature getting too high is the first alarm signal. With this site, however, there is a permanent onsite engineer on hand. He is experienced with the first checks to carry out and can often get the plant running with no problem.

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Standing Pressure during Industrial Chiller Service

The standing pressure was taken into account on the return visit to fit the oil return solenoid valve seal. Because the valve is on the low side of the system, when the chiller is off, the pressure is higher than when it is on. Therefore, so long as the seal pressure tests to this pressure, then all will be good when the system is running. That is assuming that the valve seals work satisfactorily at a lower temperature range. There are issues sometimes when a seal will be okay at ambient temperature but will leak when it becomes brittle at a colder temperature. This happens usually on an old seal and, indeed, this condition can be tested for when run testing the system.

Leak Testing during Industrial Chiller Service

On fitting the seal, our engineer donned full length ammonia resistant PPE and breathing apparatus. A little at a time, he introduced refrigerant into the area of the valve seal. Any residual air being purged through a valve.

Pressure and Temperature

The standing pressure of refrigerant is affected by temperature. That is to say- that the higher the temperature- the higher the pressure. On the day this job was carried out, the ambient temperature was 12°C and using an app on his phone, he calculated that the pressure should be 5.6bar. This is consistent with Charles’ Law of Constant Volume with a coefficient added for this particular refrigerant. If the pressure had been higher than this, it would indicate the presence of air in the system. Daltons’ Law of Partial Pressures states that all gasses in a vessel will act as if they are on their own, therefore, causing a higher pressure.

Run Testing during Industrial Chiller Service

After the pressure was built up to full standing pressure and the seal held satisfactorily, the system was then run tested to ensure, as stated above, that the seal performed well across the full temperature range during the operation of the plant.

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Mass Flow Rate during Industrial Chiller Service

The mass of refrigerant passing, which is measured by the second.

Suction Density

In this case of the oil return valve seal, we are looking at the density of the low side refrigerant as it passes into the suction port of the compressor. This is shown on the LP gauge near to the compressor. The higher the pressure of the refrigerant, the more refrigerant there is- so it has a higher mass flow rate. This system has a refrigerant saturation point of 1°C which corresponds to a pressure 3.4bar. That is a high mass flow rate for this kind of refrigerant. This is because this refrigerant is usually used in low temperature applications where the pressure of the refrigerant is below that of the atmosphere. In that condition, when a leak occurs on the low side of the system- air leaks in. Air bleed valves are available to remove this unwanted air from the system.

Compressor Loading

The bigger the compressor on a chiller- the higher the mass flow rate. Most compressors have loading solenoids, vanes, or a slide valve to regulate this.

Piston Displacement

Reciprocating compressors use loading solenoids to increase piston displacement. Usually, oil from the oil pump holds the piston valves open and so preventing compression on that cylinder. When more flow rate is needed- the loading solenoid de energizes- the piston valves drop and the cylinder comes into action. Therefore, increasing the mass of refrigerant through the compressor.

Vanes

Vanes are used on centrifugal compressors to increase the flow of refrigerant through the compressor. An actuator linked to a chain is used to open the vanes. The controls work out the correct position of the vanes for a given load condition.

Slide Valve

The slide valve offers a seamless amount of loading, anywhere between 0% and 100% A slide valve potentiometer senses the position of the slide so that the controls can regulate the flow through the compressor. The screw compressor in this article uses a slide valve- on full load with the slide at 100% all readings were taken with a good read back. Another job done- another happy customer!

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Chiller Fault Finding & Diagnosis

To read more about chiller fault finding hit the Tag at the top of the page.

Read more about refrigerant mass flow rate at Science Direct | Click Here


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.

0161 370 7193

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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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