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Petroleum Open Learning

Petroleum Gas
Compression
Part of the
Petroleum Processing Technology Series

OPITO

THE OIL & GAS ACADEMY

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Petroleum Open Learning

(Part of the Petroleum Processing Technology Series)

Contents

Page

Training Targets

2.2

Introduction

2.3

Section 1 Basic Theory

2.4

Operating Principles
Capacity and Compression Ratio
Compressor Performance

Section 2 Design and Construction

Cylindars
Pistons and Piston rings
Compressor Valves
Stuffing Box
Crankshaft, Connecting Rod, Crosshead and Piston Rod

Section 3 Auxiliary Systems


Cooling System
Lubrication System
Suction and Discharge Piping System
Drive Coupling

2.29

training targets for you to achieve


by the end of the unit

test yourself questions to see how


much you understand

check yourself answers to let you


see if you have been thinking along
the right lines

activities for you to apply your new


knowledge

Section 4 Operation of Reciprocating Compressors


A Typical Gas Compression System
Alarm and Shutdown Systems
The Main Operational Checks on a Reciprocating Compressor

Check Yourself Answers

2.17

Visual Cues

2.37
summaries for you to recap on the
major steps in your progress

2.44

2.

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Introduction

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Training Targets
When you have completed Unit 2 of the Petroleum Gas Compression series you will be able to :

Explain the basic operating principles of a reciprocating compressor.

Describe the construction of a reciprocating compressor.

Explain the function and operation of the principal components of a reciprocating


compressor.

Describe the layout and operation of the auxiliary systems associated with a reciprocating
compressor.

Explain a basic reciprocating compressor alarm and shutdown system.

List the common operating checks carried out on a reciprocating compressor.

2.

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Introduction

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As I previously explained, the compressor requirements of an oil or gas production system are dependent upon
many variables.
Each system will have its own characteristics and show
detailed design differences.

In this Unit, we will be looking at the construction and


operation of typical reciprocating compressors.

You saw in Unit 1, that compressors can be classified


as either continuous flow or positive
displacement machines. The reciprocating
compressor is the most common of the positive
displacement type. This is the one we are going to
concentrate on in this unit.

The Unit is divided into four sections:

Reciprocating compressors are designed to operate


over a wide range of capacities and pressures. Small
portable machines may be adequate for the delivery
of small volumes, at pressures of, say, 1.5 bar. Large
industrial units may be required to deliver
several thousand cubic metres per hour, at pressures
approaching 1000 bar.

Section 1 covers the basic operating theory of


reciprocating compressors.
In Section 2, we will look at the design and
construction of a typical machine.
Section 3 will describe a range of auxiliary equipment
and
in Section 4, we will be looking at basic compressor
operations.

2.

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Section 1 - Basic Theory


Operating Principles
All positive displacement compressors operate by :
creating a low pressure space into which gas
may flow
closing the entrance to this space

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When the air pressure in the cylinder is greater than


the pressure in the bicycle tyre, the air flows into
the tyre. A small non-return valve on the bicycle tyre
prevents the air from flowing out of the tyre back into
the cylinder. The whole cycle may now be repeated.
All reciprocating compressors work in a similar way to
the bicycle pump.

displacing the enclosed gas with a mechanical


device (thereby increasing the pressure)
opening the exit to the space, allowing the
compressed gas to leave
The simplest form of reciprocating compressor in
common use is the Bicycle Pump. In this type of
compressor, a small washer, the piston, is pushed
back and forth inside a tube which is called the
cylinder. As the piston moves backwards it creates a
low pressure space inside the cylinder. The washer is
then distorted and allows outside air to
flow past it into the cylinder.

Figure 1 on the next page shows the main


components of a reciprocating compressor. Take a look
at the Figure and try to become familiar with the names
of the various parts.

When the piston reaches its furthest point of backward


travel, the washer again flexes, and seals
the gap between the piston and cylinder.
Now, when the piston moves forward, the volume in
the cylinder is reduced and the air is compressed.

2.

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2.

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You can see from Figure 1 that the flow of gas through
the compressor is controlled by valves. These act as
non-return valves to permit flow in one direction only.
These valves are often called check valves. They are
positioned in the inlet (suction) and outlet
(discharge) of the compressor. Gas enters the
cylinder through the suction valve and leaves through
the discharge valve,
Suction valves open when the cylinder
pressure is lower than the pressure of the gas
to be compressed
Discharge valves open when cylinder pressure
is higher than the pressure of the system into
which the gas is to be discharged
Reciprocating compressors are classified as :
Single Acting
or
Double Acting

Lets look at the way in which each of these work. First


the single acting compressor. Figure 2 shows the
flow of gas through this type of machine.

2.

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The section of the cylinder nearest the crank is called


the crank end. The section of the cylinder furthest
away from the crank is called the head end. Only
the space at the head end of the cylinder is used for
compression.
In the single acting compressor, the back stroke is the
suction, or intake stroke.
The forward stroke is the compression or discharge
stroke.

In a double acting compressor there is a suction


stroke and a discharge stroke each time the piston
moves either backwards or forwards.
This is illustrated in Figure 3.

2.

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The back stroke is the compression stroke at the crank


end of the cylinder and the suction stroke at the head
end of the cylinder.
As can be seen, these roles are reversed during the
forward stroke.
Now, why not try the following Test Yourself:

Test Yourself 2.1


Is a bicycle pump a single or double acting
compressor?

You will find the answer to Test Yourself 2.1


on Page 2.44

2.

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Figure 4 is a more detailed drawing of a double acting reciprocating compressor.


Study the drawing for a while and identify its components.

2.

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Capacity and Compression Ratio


Compressors are used to increase the pressure of
gases and transfer these compressed gases to a
higher pressure system.
The volume of gas moved by the compressor in a
given period of time is called its capacity. But, as the
gas is being compressed during transfer, its volume is
reducing, and we need to be careful at what point we
measure this capacity.
Capacity is measured as the volume of gas entering
the compressor in a given time period.
The amount by which a compressor increases the
pressure of the gas is called the compression ratio.
it is defined as :
Discharge Pressure
Suction Pressure
For example, if the suction pressure is 10 bara and the
discharge pressure is 40 bara, the compression ratio is
40/10 or 4. It is usually expressed as 4 : 1 or 4 to 1.

Activity
Take a bicycle pump and, without connecting it to a
bicycle tyre, pump it ten times.
Now put your hand on it and test the temperature.
What do you notice?
After you have done this, connect the pump to a
bicycle tyre and pump it another ten times.

When pumping before connection to the tyre, you


will notice no temperature increase. This is because
you are displacing air into the atmosphere without
increasing its pressure.
After connecting to the tyre, however, you should
have noticed a sharp increase in temperature as the
pressure in the tyre increases.

What do you notice about the temperature this time?


Repeat this a few times while the pump is still
connected to the tyre. After every ten strokes,
check the temperature of the pump by feeling it with
your hands.

2.10

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The activity you have just completed demonstrated


a basic fact regarding compressors. When a gas is
compressed, its temperature increases. The higher
the compression ratio, the larger the
temperature increase.
This temperature increase has a detrimental effect
on both the efficiency of the compressor and its
mechanical reliability. Because of these considerations,
the temperature rise is restricted to
certain limits (typically about 200C, although higher
temperatures may be experienced).
One of the basic means of limiting the temperature rise
is to limit the compression ratio to about 6 to 1.
If the required final discharge pressure cannot be met
by this compression ratio, then compression is carried
out in a number of stages. Machines capable of doing
this are called multi-stage compressors. They have
coolers to reduce the temperature of the gas between
each stage.

Test Yourself 2.2


Diesel engines are classed as compressionignition engines - in other words, the heat
generated by compression of the fuel/air mixture
also ignites this mixture.
In a particular diesel engine, the compression ratio
is 20:1. Air is taken in from the atmosphere at a
pressure of 1 bara.
What will be the pressure of the air/fuel mixture in
the engine cylinder when maximum compression is
reached?

I suggest you have a go at the following Test Yourself,


to underline the points covered above.

You will find the answer to Test Yourself 2.2 on


Page 2.44

2.11

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Compressor Performance
The performance of a reciprocating compressor can
be represented by a pressure/volume (PV) diagram.
One of these is shown in Figure 5, which illustrates
the relationship between the cylinder pressure of a
compressor and the cylinder volume enclosed by the
piston, for a single-acting compressor.

2.12

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Horizontal distance in the PV diagram represents a


change in volume produced by the movement of the
piston in the cylinder. Vertical distance on the diagram
represents a change of pressure in the cylinder caused
by the movement of the piston.

When the cylinder pressure drops slightly below the


suction pressure (at point B), the suction valve opens.
Curve AB on the PV diagram represents the pressure
fall and volume increase as the piston begins to move
back on the suction stroke.

As the piston moves back and forth in the cylinder,


the volume and pressure in the cylinder changes. We
will now use the PV diagram to follow these changes.
The diagram shows a complete compression cycle,
consisting of one backward stroke and one forward
stroke.

The opening of the suction valve is represented on the


PV diagram by point B.

Point A represents the end of the compression stroke


and we shall use this as our starting point.
(The piston is designed so that it cannot touch the end
of the cylinder. The small space which is left between
the piston and the end of the cylinder is called the
clearance space. At the end of every stroke there is a
small amount of gas left in the clearance space.)
As the piston begins to move back in the cylinder, on
the suction stroke, the gas remaining in the
cylinder expands.
As the gas expands, the pressure in the cylinder
decreases.

As the piston moves further back in the cylinder, gas


flows in through the suction valve. This is represented
on the PV diagram by the line from B to C. The end
of the suction stroke is represented by point C. At this
point, the piston reverses its direction and begins the
compression stroke.
As soon as the piston begins to move in the opposite
direction the gas begins to be compressed. Cylinder
pressure rises above suction line pressure and the
suction valve closes.
As the piston continues to move forward in the cylinder
the gas pressure increases and, at point D, the gas is
compressed to a level slightly higher than the pressure
of the gas in the discharge system. At this point the
discharge valve opens.
For the rest of the stroke, D to A, gas is forced out
through the discharge valve and into the high pressure
discharge system.

2.13

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Test Yourself 2.3


The following statements are in the wrong order.
Place them in their correct sequence, starting with No.1:

1.

Piston begins suction stroke.

.... 1 ....

8. Gas remaining in cylinder expands and discharge valve closes.

............

2.

Gas flows from cylinder into discharge line.

............

9. Suction valve closes.

............

3.

Piston reverses direction at end of suction stroke.

............

10. Gas in cylinder is compressed to above suction line pressure.

............

4.

Cylinder pressure rises above discharge line pressure. ............

11. Discharge valve opens.

............

5.

Cylinder pressure falls below suction line pressure.

............

12. Suction valve opens.

............

6.

Gas flows into cylinder from suction line.

............

7.

Piston reverses direction at end of discharge stroke.

............
The answers to Test Yourself 2.3 will be found on Page 2.44

2.14

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Summary of Section 1
In this first Section of Unit 2, we have looked at the basic theory of operation for positive displacement
compressors.
We started by looking at how a reciprocating
compressor operates, and compared this operation to
that of a bicycle pump.
The main components of a reciprocating compressor
were described, and you identified these on a simple
line diagram.

You saw that reciprocating compressors can be


classified as either :

Using diagrams, you looked at the flow of gas through


single acting and double acting
compressors.

Next, we went on to consider compressor capacity


and compression ratio. We saw how the flow of gas
through the compressor could be represented by a
pressure/volume diagram.

single acting,
or
double acting

We will now go on to Section 2, which examines the


design and construction of reciprocating compressors.
But first, by way of a little revision, try Test Yourself
2.4.

2.15

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Test Yourself 2.4


Indicate whether the following statements apply to a single-acting, or double-acting reciprocating compressor, or both.







Single-
Acting

Double-
Acting

1.

Only the space at the head end of the cylinder is


used for compression.

6.

The suction valve opens every second stroke.

2.

There is a suction and a discharge stroke each


time the piston travels the length of the cylinder.

7.

There is a suction and a discharge valve at each


end of the cylinder.

3.

A suction valve is open during each suction stroke.

8.

The forward stroke is the compression,


or discharge stroke

4.

During each stroke (forward and backward) a


discharge valve is open.

5.

The back stroke is the suction, or intake stroke.

Single-
Acting

DoubleActing

You will find the answers to Test Yourself 2.4 on Page 2.45
2.16

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Section 2 - Design and Construction


In this Section, we are going to have a look at the
principal components of a reciprocating compressor.
We will see how they are constructed and exactly what
they do.
I have listed below the components which we will
consider in the section :

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The piston is fitted with piston rings, which we will


look at later. Because these will cause wear, the
cylinders are commonly lined with a smooth bored
liner, which can be replaced when it becomes worn.
Figure 6 is a drawing of a cylinder, liner, piston and
piston rings.

Cylinders
Pistons and piston rings
Compressor valves
Stuffing box and packing
Crankshaft, connecting rod, crosshead and
piston rod
Take another look at Figure 1 on Page 2.5. See how
many of the components listed above you can identifythey are not all labelled ! When you have done that, we
will look at each item on the list in turn.

Cylinders
You have seen in previous illustrations that the
cylinder in a reciprocating compressor is considerably
more substantial than a bicycle pump. However, it is
still basically a tube in which a piston slides back and
forth.

2.17

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Wear occurs where the piston rings rub against the


liner. To avoid this wear forming a shoulder or step,
counter bores are machined into the liner. (Look at
Figure 6 again). A counterbore is a small increase in
cylinder bore diameter, made just above the point at
which the end piston rings stop and reverse direction.

Cylinder Cooling

Liners are usually pressed or expanded into place in


order to avoid slippage which could result in knocking
and excessive wear.

On smaller machines, the cooling is done by blowing


air across fins which are attached to the outside of the
cylinder. Most reciprocating compressors, however,
use a liquid cooling system.

Cylinder Lubrication
In low pressure/low temperature applications, the
cylinders may not require lubrication. In this case, the
pistons may be fitted with self-lubricating piston
rings, made of nylon or teflon.
However, in most compressor applications, cylinder
lubrication is required to prevent excessive overheating
or wear. In such situations, a boundary layer
lubrication system is usually installed. This injects
small droplets of oil into the cylinder, to be distributed
by the movement of the piston rings. This type of
lubrication prevents the formation of an oil mist in the
gas leaving the compressor.

On compressors with lower compression ratios, the


cylinders may not require cooling. In most cases,
however, the temperature rise across the machine
requires that the cylinders are cooled.

The cylinders are surrounded by cooling jackets,


through which a coolant solution is circulated. This
solution is usually a mixture of water and glycol, which
also acts as an anti-freeze agent.

You can see the cooling jacket round the cylinder in


Figure 7, on the next page.

2.18

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The coolant fluid is circulated to prevent localised hot spots and to take
away unwanted heat generated by compression. This removal of unwanted
heat improves compressor efficiency.

2.19

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Pistons and Piston Rings


Pistons are most commonly made from a solid
casting. The piston rod, often made of stainless steel,
is tapered where it passes through the piston. It is then
secured against the shoulder by a lock nut. This is
illustrated in Figure 8.

To prevent or minimise gas leakage between the piston


and the liner, piston rings are provided to make a
seal. They fit into grooves cut in the side wall of the
piston. The piston rings also serve to carry some heat
from the piston to the cylinder wall.
The clearance between piston and cylinder wall must
be:
small enough to prevent the back-flow of gas
across the piston
small enough to permit adequate support of
the piston rings
large enough to prevent the rings from sticking
to the cylinder and causing excessive friction
All piston rings are designed to wear more rapidly than
the cylinder liner, which should be true and free from
scores.

2.20

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Figure 9 shows two types of piston ring.

Compressor Valves

All valves have certain features in common:


a valve seat which provides a pressure tight
gas seal.

There are several types of valve used in reciprocating


compressors. There is no significant difference
between suction and discharge valves, and they both
operate in a similar manner.

a valve plate or other device to seal across the


valve seat.
a spring or other mechanism to hold the valve
plate on the seat in the closed position.

a cover to contain the springs and prevent the


plate from moving too far.

A typical valve is shown in Figure 10.

During operation the rings must move out against the


cylinder to effect a ring-to-wall seal, and the gaps in
the rings allow them to do this. The sealing effect is
aided by the piston and rings expanding out towards
the cylinder wall as the compressor reaches operating
temperature.
2.21

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The valve plates are in the form of rings connected by


webs and are held lightly against the seat by a set of
small leaf or coil springs.
To open the valve, the gas must overcome the
pressure of the gas behind the plate and the light
tension of the springs.
Any tendency of the valve to slam or flutter can often
be controlled by changing the tension of the valve
springs.

Remember that a suction valve is properly installed


when you can depress the plate in towards the centre
of the cylinder, and a discharge valve is installed
properly when you can depress the plate away from
the centre of the cylinder.
It must be emphasised that any loose material such
as screws or nuts falling into a cylinder can cause
very severe damage. Hence compressor valves are
installed with through-bolts, lockscrews or jackbolts to
hold the valve assembly together.

Stuffing Box
In order to prevent leakage of compressed gas from
the cylinder past the piston rod, some form of seal
is required. The most common type of seal is the
stuffing box.
The stuffing box consists of a series of seal elements
each containing a pair of seal rings. Figure 11, on the
next page, shows the arrangement of a seal element
with a type of seal ring known as the TR type.

Compressor valves are among the most important


parts of a reciprocating compressor and the following
points should always be born in mind:
1.

A worn or damaged valve allows gas to leak


back.

2.


When a valve leaks, the gas returning through


the valve is hotter. Valve leakage can often be
detected by an increase in temperature at the
valve.

3.


The sudden, chilling effect of cold liquid on


a hot valve can break the valve plate. Hence
the requirement for liquid-free gas in the
compressor.

4.

Dirt or frozen deposits can foul or damage a


valve and prevent it from seating properly.

2.22

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The TR type seal element consists of two rings which are distinguished from each
other as follows
the internal ring (T) is fitted first and has tangential cuts
the external ring (R) is fitted last and has radial cuts

The T ring haste function of preventing gas leakage. The R ring protects the T ring
and helps to dissipate heat.
The two rings are assembled with staggered cuts and a dowel (not shown) provides
for their correct positioning.

2.23

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Another type of stuffing box seal element is the TT


type as shown in Figure 12. In this, both rings have
tangential cuts.

The ends of the seal ring segments, in both the TR


and TT types, are not in contact. This allows them to
compensate for the progressive wear of the rings by
gradually moving closer together.
A spiral spring, assembled on the groove drawn round
the edge of each ring, keeps the segments together.
2.24

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Figure 13 is a drawing of a typical Stuffing Box.

The series of sealing elements are held in position by


the stuffing box end cover. This is secured by long stud
bolts. Piping for the entry and exit of lubricating oil, and
the venting of gas are built into the end cover.

Crankshaft, Connecting Rod,


Crosshead and Piston Rod
The drive motor (either an electric motor or an internal
combustion engine) imparts a rotary motion to the
drive shaft. This is converted to reciprocating motion by
the crankshaft, connecting rod and crosshead.

Crankshaft
The crankshaft is made of forgeable carbon steel,
machined throughout. It is provided with a single
crank and is suitably counterweighted to limit the
dynamic load on the foundation.
The crankshaft ends are equipped with bearings of the
bush type. They are fitted on the crankcase sidewalls.

2.25

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The crankshaft, connecting rod, crosshead and


piston rod are shown in Figure 14.

2.26

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Connecting Rod

Crosshead

This is made of high strength pressed steel.

The crosshead connects the piston rod to the


connecting rod of the crankshaft. It is equipped with
shoes which permit it to slide back and forth within
the crosshead guides. (See Figure 15)

Both ends of the connecting rod are equipped with


heavy duty sleeve bearings. Figure 15 shows the
connecting rod at the crosshead.

The connecting rod is moved by the crankshaft. As


the crankshaft rotates, the connecting rod
reciprocates.

Piston Rod
Piston rods are usually made of stainless steel.
They are accurately ground and have no taper
within their length of travel.
The piston rod screws into the crosshead and is
secured in place by a locking device.
A slinger ring prevents oil from the crankcase being
carried out by the piston rod and reaching the
cylinder. It is installed on the piston rod, as you can
see in Figure 14.

Now that you are familiar with the components of a


typical reciprocating compressor, have a go at the
following Test Yourself before moving to the next
Section.
2.27

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Test Yourself 2.5

Summary of Section 2

1.

What is the purpose of a counterbore in a


liner?

In this Section, we have looked at the component parts of a reciprocating compressor.

2.

Why are liners pressed or expanded into


place?

You will have noted how the piston is lubricated and how the cylinders are cooled.

3.

How does a boundary layer lubrication


system work ?

4.

How does a cooling system improve the


efficiency of the compressor?

5.

What are the two functions of piston rings?

6.

Which components convert rotary motion to


reciprocating motion?

You will find the answers to Test Yourself


2.5 on Page 2.45

We saw how the space between the cylinder liner and the piston is sealed by the piston rings.

The construction of compressor valves was described, and how they operate to maintain the flow
of gas through the compressor.
We have looked at the different types of seal used in the stuffing box, and how the stuffing box
prevents gas from escaping from the compressor along the piston rod.
You saw how the crankshaft, crosshead and connecting rod convert the rotary motion of the driver to the
reciprocating motion required by the compressor.

In the next Section, we will take a look at the auxiliary systems which are used with reciprocating
compressors.

2.28

Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Section 3 - Auxiliary Systems


In this Section, we will be looking at a number
of auxiliary systems which are associated with
reciprocating compressors. These are:
Cooling System
Lubrication System
Suction and Discharge Piping System
Drive Coupling

Cooling System
You saw earlier that, as gas is compressed, its
temperature increases. The compressors cooling
system removes some of the heat generated by
compression (heat of compression) and also protects
the piston and cylinder from becoming overheated.
Figure 16 is a simple line drawing of a compressor
cooling system, cooling the cylinder and stuffing box.

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The coolant solution (usually a mixture of water and


an antifreeze, such as glycol) is circulated through the
cylinder coolant jackets. This prevents the formation of
local hot spots, and provides for an even distribution of
heat. The heat is carried away from the cylinder by the
coolant, in a closed loop thermosyphon system.
The cylinder jackets are connected by pipes to
an expansion tank, which allows expansion
of the coolant solution as it heats up during
compressor operation. (This tank is provided
with a vent and a level gauge.)
A thermosyphon effect is obtained when
the coolant is warmed by the heat from the
compressor: the cold (and therefore heavier)
coolant flows from the bottom of the tank to
enter the bottom of the cylinder jacket,
while hotter (and therefore lighter) coolant
is displaced from the cylinder jacket back to
the expansion tank. The return line to the tank
is near the top, but below the liquid level.
The warm coolant loses heat from the sides of
the tank to the atmosphere and, when cold,
falls to the bottom of the tank.
As long as the circuit is kept full of coolant, the
coolant will keep flowing around the system.
This limited circulation system gives adequate cooling
for a process compressor handling high pressure, low
temperature gas.

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Lubrication System

2.30

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Figure 17 is a line drawing of a typical lubrication


system which supplies lubricating oil to the following
parts of the compressor :
Crank mechanism
Piston rod packing
Crosshead
The lubricating oil forms a surface film which reduces
friction and, therefore, wear between the moving
compressor parts.

Oil from the crankcase sump first passes through the


coarse strainer. This strainer is removable so that it
can be cleaned.
The oil is then drawn into the pump suction. The pump
increases the pressure of the oil and
discharges it to the oil cooler. From the cooler outlet
the oil flows, via fine filters, to two separate lubrication
systems:
crosshead and stuffing box
crankshaft frame

The lubricant also has a cooling function. Some of


the heat generated by friction is carried away by the
lubricating oil.
The lubrication system supplies filtered oil at the
required pressure and temperature to the compressor
frame.
The most common form of lubrication is a forced feed
type. Here, the oil is pumped under pressure to the
required parts. The pressure is supplied by means
of an electric motor driven pump. A standby pump
is usually provided in order to achieve uninterrupted
operation. This can be seen in Figure 17.
The lubricating oil is collected and stored in the
crankcase sump. The sump is equipped with a heater,
level sight glass, coarse strainer and a drain.

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Suction and Discharge Piping System


Figure 18 shows a typical piping system for a single stage reciprocating compressor.

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A liquid knockout drum is installed in the suction


piping to remove any entrained liquid from the process
gas. A drain is provided to allow any accumulated
liquid to be removed.

Such pulsations may also cause starvation on the


suction side of the compressor. The effective capacity
of the cylinder may be reduced by as much as 25% by
operating without a suction volume bottle.

The knockout drum is one of the most important


items of equipment in the piping system. Liquids
are incompressible fluids and, if they enter the
compressor, even in very small amounts, they
could cause the cylinder to rupture.

The capacity of a suction volume bottle is normally not


less than seven times the total cylinder capacity for all
cylinders served. The bottles are usually located close
to their cylinders.

To save space, volume bottles can be replaced by


pulsation dampeners.
The most common pulsation dampener is the baffle
type.
Figure 19 shows a typical baffle type pulsation
dampener.

In addition, cold liquid mist entering a hot compressor


can seriously damage the suction valves.
A strainer is fitted in the suction piping downstream of
the knockout drum. This strainer is normally installed
for start-up purposes to prevent hard pieces of scale,
welding beads, etc., left over from construction and
maintenance, from entering the compressor and
causing damage.
The suction piping transfers the process gas to the
inlet of the compressor via a suction volume bottle.
The purpose of the suction volume bottle is to act
as a reservoir which damps down pulsations in the
inlet gas. Such pulsations are due to intermittent flow
through the compressor and, if they happen to match
the natural frequency of vibration in the pipework, can
cause serious damage.

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The gas leaves the compressor via a discharge


volume bottle. The purpose of the discharge
volume bottle is to prevent excessive momentary
discharge pressures or pulsations. Large discharge
pulsations can result in severe overloads to the
compressor and pipework and may also reduce
effective cylinder capacities.
Again, the discharge volume bottle may be replaced by
a pulsation dampener.
All volume bottles are equipped with drains and
pressure taps for checking pressure losses. They
must be located so that they can be easily removed for
inspection or possible repair.
The compressor discharge piping transfers the
compressed gas to the process equipment.
A non-return valve is fitted in the discharge pipe close
to the compressor. The function of the non-return valve
is to prevent high pressure gas from the downstream
process equipment flowing backwards through the
compressor when it is not operating. (The compressor
discharge valves should prevent the backflow of gas
through the compressor. The non-return valve is fitted
as an added safeguard.)
A block valve is also fitted to the discharge of the
compressor. This valve is used for compressor
isolation. The discharge block valve should always
be opened before the compressor is started up.

A compressor vent line is fitted on the compressor


side of the discharge block valve. The compressor vent
line is used:
to depressurise the compressor after shutdown

A compressor bypass line is sometimes used to


transfer discharge gas back into the compressor
suction piping and reduce the efficiency/capacity of
fixed speed machines.

to purge the compressor of flammable gas


before maintenance

Drive Coupling

to purge the compressor of air before start-up

Reciprocating compressors are normally driven by an


internal combustion engine or an electric motor, which
is connected to the crankshaft by means of a drive
shaft and a direct coupling.

For start-up and maintenance purposes, the most


common purge gas is nitrogen. The purge gas is:
injected into the suction line
allowed to flow through the compressor
vented from the system via the vent line
During start-up, the vent line is also used to purge
the nitrogen from the compressor casing with the gas
which is to be compressed. On a typical oil production
platform, the vent line is routed to the platform flare
system.
The compressor casing is protected against excessive
pressure by a pressure relief valve fitted in a branch
pipe which is connected to the compressor discharge
line. To prevent accidental isolation of this relief
valve, it is always fitted on the compressor side of the
discharge block valve.

A direct coupling will only accommodate small


inaccuracies in the alignment of the drive and
crankshaft - both the motor and the compressor must
be accurately positioned to achieve an acceptable
alignment. This is usually ensured by using a common
base for the driver and the compressor. This common
base is called a bedplate.
The bed-plate is accurately machined to ensure that
it is level, and the two machines are positioned by the
use of dowels.
A small clearance is maintained between the two
halves of the coupling to avoid imposing any end thrust
on the motor bearings.

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The rotational direction of the crankshaft is important


and the motor rotation should be checked to make
sure that it matches that of the machine, before the two
are coupled together.

You have now completed Section 3 of this Unit on


reciprocating compressors, which dealt with the
auxiliary systems. The following Test Yourself will help
to reinforce your understanding of the topics covered.

Test Yourself 2.6


1.

Why do we mix glycol with the water in the cooling system?

2.

What makes the water circulate through the cooling system?

3.

Where is the lubricating oil collected and stored?

4.

What is the most common form of lubrication for a reciprocating compressor


stuffing box?

5.

Why is there always a liquid knockout drum installed in the suction piping ?

6.

Are liquids compressible?

7.

On a typical oil production platform where would you expect the compressor
vent line to lead to ?

8.

How do we ensure that the driver and compressor are


accurately aligned?

You will find the answers to Test Yourself 2.6 on Page 2.46

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Summary of Section 3
In this Section on auxiliaries, we have looked at :
the compressor cooling system
the lubrication system
the suction and discharge piping system
the driver coupling

You saw how the cooling system supplied cooling


liquid to the cylinders and stuffing box. Use of the
thermosyphon effect to achieve circulation of this
cooling liquid was also explained.
We then looked at the lubrication system and saw
how the lubricating oil was stored, filtered and then
pumped to the crank mechanism, piston rod packing
and crosshead.

The suction and discharge piping system was


examined. We saw how the knockout drum prevented
liquid from entering the compressor. Volume bottles
(or pulsation dampeners) were used to reduce
pulsations caused by the intermittent flow of gas
into and out of the compressor. We noted the use of
the vent line and saw how the pressure relief valve
was always positioned on the compressor side of the
discharge block valve.

Finally we looked at the driver coupling and saw how


the use of a common bed-plate for the driver and the
compressor reduced the problems of alignment.

In the next Section, we will look at the operation of a


typical gas compression system using reciprocating
compressors, together with alarm and shutdown
systems and some of the main operational checks.

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Petroleum Gas Compression - Unit 2 - Reciprocating Compressors

Petroleum Open Learning

Section 4 - Operation of Reciprocating Compressors


In this, the final Section of the reciprocating
compressor unit, we will be looking at the
operation of the compressor.

I have divided the Section into the following topics :


a typical gas compression system
alarm and shutdown systems

A Typical Gas Compression System


Figure 20 is a line drawing of a
separation and gas compression system which uses
reciprocating compressors.

the main operational checks on a


reciprocating compressor

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It is intended to illustrate a typical reciprocating


compressor installation, but is not meant to represent
any specific plant.
Follow this illustration using the description below.
From the diagram you can see that:

After treatment the gas is passed through


the 2nd stage suction knockout drum before
being fed into the 2nd stage of the two stage
compressor.
Here, the gas is compressed to meet the
requirements of a gas-lift system or of sales
gas.

Low-pressure gas from the 2nd stage


of an oil/gas separation system is
Note that, in this two stage system, both
passed through a booster compressor
compressors are driven by the same motor.
suction knockout drum.This drum removes
any entrained liquids from the gas before it is
fed into the booster compressor. (The suction Alarms and Shutdown Systems
knockout drum is sometimes referred to as the
suction scrubber.)
We should now look at how we control the
compression process and how we protect the
The booster compressor increases the
equipment from damage.
pressure of the gas from the 2nd stage
separator to that of the 1st stage.
Generally, all process controls are designed to inform
After passing through the booster compressor
the gas is cooled before it joins with gas from
the 1st stage separator.
The combined gas stream is then passed
through another suction knockout drum to
remove any entrained liquids before being fed
into the suction of the 1st stage of a two stage
compressor.
This 1st stage increases the gas pressure to a
level which allows it to be treated, say, in a gas
liquids recovery plant.

A minor process disturbance maybe any process


variable (temperature, pressure, level, flow, etc.) which
is too high or too low. This will not be a dangerous
situation, but it has the potential to become dangerous
if not attended to. For example:
Suppose there is a low liquid level in
the coolant tank of a compressor. There is no
immediate danger of overheating. If the
operator reacts quickly to top up the tank
with coolant, the immediate problem is solved.
(Clearly, however, the operator must find out
why the coolant level fell in the first place.)
When this type of disturbance occurs, the control
system will generate an alarm. The setting of the alarm
status usually gives the operator sufficient time to react
and correct the problem before the situation becomes
dangerous.

the operator automatically if anything goes wrong.


Process control systems normally work on two levels:
minor process disturbances
major process disturbances, or emergency
incidents

Major Process Disturbances or


Emergency Incidents
A major process disturbance may be any process
variable which is so high or low that the system has
reached a potentially dangerous condition.

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One example may be where the low coolant level


problem described above has not been dealt with :
The low-level alarm from the coolant tank has
already warned the operator of a minor problem.
A temperature measuring device in the remaining
coolant will have warned him that the coolant
temperature was rising. If he failed to react to
these two minor alarms then, before the coolant
started to boil, the control system would generate
a shutdown and alarm. The shutdown and
alarm sequence will automatically shut down
the compressor safely, to prevent damage to the
equipment.
An emergency incident may be any situation which
would cause immediate danger to the system being
controlled. It may be directly related to the system, or
have nothing at all to do with it :
An example of an emergency incident which
is directly related to the system being controlled
would be where fire or smoke had been detected
in the immediate area.
An example of an incident not directly related
would be where there was a failure of a utility
system, such as instrument air.

In both cases, there is an immediate danger to the


process, and the control system would generate a
shutdown and alarm which would automatically
shut down the compressor to prevent damage to the
equipment.
In both minor and major process problems, the alarm
normally consists of a flashing light and a beeper
which draws the operators attention to the problem. It
is called an audio/visual alarm system.
The flashing light normally lights up behind a glass
plate which has the number and name of the particular
alarm written on it. The beeper is normally common to
all the alarm systems.
The alarm light will continue to flash and the
beeper to beep until the operator acknowledges
the problem by pressing a button.
When the problem has been acknowledged in this
way, the beeper stops sounding and the light stops
flashing but stays alight. This reminds the operator
that the problem still exists. The light will not be
extinguished until the problem is resolved and the
alarm has been re-set.

We will now take a closer look at the gas compression


system shown in Figure 20. We can see that there are
a number of suction knockout drums.
If the liquid level were too high in any of these suction
knockout drums, an alarm would be sent to the main
control room.
If the operator failed to stop the liquid level rising any
higher then, before the liquid was carried over into
the compressor, where it would cause damage, the
shutdown and alarm would be activated by a highhigh level switch which responds to a high-high liquid
level in the knockout drum.
The control system would then :
shut down the compressor
give an alarm to the operator
indicate that the compressor had been shut
down because of a high-high level in a
particular suction knockout drum.

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In addition to these high level alarms and high-high


level shutdown and alarms, the following alarms
and shutdowns are fitted to most reciprocating
compressors :
Low lube-oil pressure alarm and low-low lube oil
pressure shutdown and alarm
If the lubricating oil pressure is too low, then the
compressor will not be lubricated properly and
excessive wear, or even a piston seizure, may result.
High vibration alarm and high-high vibration
shutdown and alarm
If the compressor vibrates too much, this indicates
excessive wear, poor alignment or incorrect operation.
Excessive vibration will damage bearings, valves,
pistons and cylinder walls.
High temperature alarm and high-high temperature
shutdown and alarm on the coolant system
If the coolant system gets too hot, it will be unable to
cool the compressor effectively, and damage to the
pistons and cylinders will result.

High temperature alarm and high-high temperature


shutdown and alarm on the lubricating oil system

High discharge temperature alarm and high-high


discharge temperature shutdown and alarm

If the lubricating oil gets too hot, it will become less


viscous and will be unable to lubricate the bearings
and pistons effectively.

If the gas discharge temperature is too high then


damage may occur to the compressor, either because
the lubricating oil becomes too thin, or the temperature
rating of the downstream pipework is exceeded.

The following alarms and shutdown and alarms are


fitted on the piping into and out of the compressors:
Low suction pressure alarm and low-low suction
pressure shutdown and alarm
If the suction pressure is too low, then the compressor
cannot achieve the discharge pressure required.
High discharge pressure alarm and high-high
discharge pressure shutdown and alarm
If the discharge pressure is too high, then the pressure
rating of the equipment maybe exceeded, or the
compression ratio, and therefore the gas discharge
temperature, will rise.

The driver which is driving the compressor will also


be fitted with its own alarm, and shutdown and
alarm, system. This system is normally tied into the
compressor system and is classed as a local alarm
or local shutdown and alarm, because it operates
in conjunction with the compressor, without being
installed on it.
In addition to all the shutdown and alarms which may
be fitted to the compressor, its adjacent pipework and
its driver, there maybe other emergency situations
which will shutdown the compressor.
A prime example of such a condition would be a fire
in the compressor area. Under these conditions, it
would be unwise to keep the compressor running and
therefore it would be shut down by a fire and gas
alarm and shutdown system.

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The Main Operational Checks on a


Reciprocating Compressor

the liquid is unable to flow through


the discharge valve fast enough to reduce the
pressure

Two examples of inhibit alarm conditions are:

Having looked at how a reciprocating compressor


system is controlled and shut down, we now need to
consider how this system should be operated.

the pressure continues to rise until the engine


stalls (or the cylinder head blows off!)

A limit switch on the discharge valve from the


compressor

The golden rules for operating a reciprocating


compressor are as follows :

Another type of alarm maybe fitted to the compressor,


called an inhibit alarm. Inhibit alarms are fitted to
prevent the compressor from being started under
certain conditions but, once the compressor is running,
the inhibit alarms will not stop the compressor.

Before the compressor can be started, this switch


may need to be in the ON position, showing that the
valve is fully open. If an operator were foolish enough
to close the discharge valve after the compressor
had been started, the compressor would shut down
because of a high-high pressure condition, not
because the switch had been moved to the OFF
position.
A low temperature switch fitted to the lubricating
oil tank
If the lube-oil is too cold at start-up, then it would be
too viscous to circulate around the compressor and
protect the bearings. The compressor is therefore
inhibited from starting until the lube-oil reaches a
minimum temperature. Once the compressor is
running, however, the lube-oil will be heated by the
compressor and its temperature should not fall.

Check that the suction and discharge pipelines are


lined up correctly

Before Starting the Compressor

We must make sure that the compressor has an


uninterrupted supply of gas to the suction and that,
after compression, the gas is able to flow away from
the compressor to its intended destination.

Check that the compressor is purged of all air

Check that dependent systems are operational

If the compressor is not completely purged of air then


it may act as a compression-ignition engine (for
example, a diesel). This means that, when the first
compression stroke occurs, the heat of compression
may ignite the air/gas mixture in the cylinder and an
explosion will occur.

Before starting the compressor, we need to be sure


that it is not going to shut down because of a lack of
gas, because the main driver has run out of fuel, or for
other reasons not directly related to the compressor
itself.

Check that the suction line is free from liquids


Liquids are incompressible. If there is liquid in the
cylinder when the piston starts a compression stroke:

Check that the discharge valve is fully open


This ensures that pressure built up in the compressor
is allowed to flow away without interruption.

the pressure rises rapidly

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Check that the discharge relief valve Is operational


This must be checked very carefully. If any piping in
the system is wrongly aligned, or if any of the highhigh pressure shutdown systems are not working,
then it is this valve which provides us with adequate
protection against a pipeline rupture or damage to the
compressor.
Check that the lubricating oil system is operating
correctly

Check that the cooling system is operating


correctly
We should check that:
there is sufficient coolant in the tank
any coolant added to the system is of the
correct type and concentration
pumps, where fitted, are running or ready to
run when the compressor is started

We should check that:


there is sufficient lube-oil in the tank
any lube-oil added to the system is of the
correct type and grade
pumps, where fitted, are running or ready to
run when the compressor is started

Check that no current alarm or shutdown


conditions exist (including inhibit alarms)
Even if the compressor controller allowed us to start up
the compressor with a high liquid level in the suction
knockout drum, it would be unwise to do this. If the
level increased as we started, the compressor would
be shut down by the high-high level condition.

When the Compressor is Running


Check that the pressures, levels, flows and
temperatures are within operational limits
These checks must be made frequently, say, at least
once every two hours. They form the bulk of a typical
operators working day. The successful operation of
any process will depend on repeated checks of this
nature, to ensure that nothing is amiss with the system,
or with the equipment.
Get to know the characteristics of each
compressor set
Each compressor set has its own particular operating
characteristics. These characteristics consist, not only
of data which can be measured (by reading gauges,
level indicators, and so on) but of less scientific
information such as the noise made by the equipment.
The operator should know when the machine sounds
right. Each compressor makes a different noise and,
with practice and familiarity, a change in this noise can
be the first warning that something is going wrong.
If you are Involved in compressor operations
you should become completely familiar with
the equipment under your control. The specific
operating procedures should be followed and safe
working practices adopted at all times.

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Test Yourself 2.7


1.

In Figure 20, where does the Booster


Compressor take gas from?

2.

In Figure 20, what is the produced gas finally


used for?

3.

Would a high-high level in a compressor


suction drum be classed as a minor process
disturbance?

4.

What normally happens when the operator


acknowledges an alarm?

5.

What does high vibration indicate in a


compressor?

6.

Why are inhibit alarms fitted, and what makes


them different from other alarms?

Summary of Section 4
In the final Section of this Unit on reciprocating compressors, we have concentrated on the operation and
control of the system.
The Section was split into three parts :

In the first part we looked at a


typical gas compression system
using reciprocating compressors. I described
each component for you, and how the system
overall was operated and controlled.
We then went on to look at the various
alarms, and shutdown and alarms which
would be incorporated into such a
system. We saw why each particular alarm
and shutdown was fitted and what it was
there to protect.
Finally, we reviewed the main operational
checks which we would expect to make on
a reciprocating compressor system. We saw
why the checks were made and what action
the operator was expected to take.

Now that you have completed Section 4, you have


come to the end of Unit 2 of the compression
programme. I must emphasise once again
that this unit is not meant to take the place of
specific manufacturers guidelines or operating
Instructions. It is intended to give you a good basic
grounding in the design, construction and operation of
reciprocating compressors.

Now go back to the Training Targets and satisfy


yourself that you have met these targets.

You will find the answers to Test Yourself 2.7 on Page


2.46
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Petroleum Open Learning

Check Yourself - Answers

Check Yourself 2.1


A bicycle pump is a single acting compressor.

Check Yourself 2.3


The steps should be in the following order:
1.

Piston begins suction stroke. 9.

Suction valve closes.

8.

Gas remaining in cylinder expands and 4.


discharge valve closes.

Cylinder pressure rises above discharge


line pressure.

Check Yourself 2.2

5.

Discharge valve opens.

20 bara

12.

Cylinder pressure falls below suction 11.


line pressure.

2.
Suction valve opens.

6.

Gas flows into cylinder from suction line.

3.

Piston reverses direction at end of


suction stroke.

Piston reverses direction at end of


discharge stroke.

10.

Gas in cylinder is compressed to above


suction line pressure.

7.

Gas flows from cylinder into discharge line.

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Petroleum Open Learning

Check Yourself 2.4




1.

Only the space at the head end of the cylinder is used for
compression.

2.

There is a suction and a discharge stroke each time the


piston travels the length of the cylinder.

3.

A suction valve is open during each suction stroke.

4.

During each stroke (forward and backward) a discharge


valve is open.

5.

The back stroke is the suction, or intake stroke.

6.

The suction valve opens every second stroke.

7.

There is a suction and a discharge valve at each end


of the cylinder.

8.

The forward stroke is the compression, or discharge stroke.

Check Yourself 2.5


Single-
Acting

DoubleActing

a
a
a
a
a

a
a
a
a

1.

To prevent the formation of shoulders in the


liner

2.

To avoid slippage of the liner, resulting in


knocking and excessive wear

3.


A boundary layer lubrication system injects


small droplets of oil into the cylinder. The oil
is distributed as a thin layer by the movement
of the piston rings

4.

The cylinder cooling system improves


compressor efficiency by removing unwanted
heat of compression

5.

To prevent or minimise gas leakage between


the piston and the liner

To carry some of the heat from the piston to


the cylinder wall

6.

The crankshaft, crosshead and connecting


rod assembly
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Petroleum Open Learning

Check Yourself 2.6

Check Yourself 2.7

1.

So that the water will not freeze in cold weather

1.

From the second stage of the oil/gas separation system

2.

The thermosyphon effect. Warm (lighter) water rises,


cold (heavier) water sinks

2.

As lift gas and/or as sales gas

3.

In the crankcase sump

4.

The most common form of lubrication is a drip feed type

3.

No. It is a major problem. If the level gets any higher, the liquid may
enter the compressor and cause damage. A shutdown and alarm
will be generated

5.

To remove any entrained liquid from the process gas and prevent the
possibility of serious damage due to liquids entering the compressor

4.

The beeper stops sounding and the light stops flashing but stays
alight to remind the operator that the problem still exists

6.

They are generally considered to be incompressible

5.

It is a sign of excessive wear, poor alignment or incorrect operation

7.

The flare system

8.

By mounting them on a common bed-plate

6.

Inhibit alarms are fitted to prevent the compressor from being started
under certain conditions. Once the compressor is running, the
inhibit alarms will not stop the compressor

2.46