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Reciprocating Compressor Basics Na
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Noria Corporation Ga
Tags: compressor lubrication, industrial lubricants s
Reciprocating compressors are often some of the most critical and expensive systems at a
production facility, and deserve special attention. Gas transmission pipelines, petrochemical mp
plants, refineries and many other industries all depend on this type of equipment. Due to manyres
factors, including but not limited to the quality of the initial specification/design, adequacy of sor
maintenance practices and operational factors, industrial facilities can expect widely varying s
lifecycle costs and reliability from their own installations. Hy
Various compressors are found in almost every industrial facility. Types of gases compressed dro
include the following:
• Air for compressed tool and instrument air systems Re
• Hydrogen, oxygen, etc. for chemical processing cip
• Light hydrocarbon fractions in refining ati
• Various gases for storage or ng
transmission Co
• Other applications mp
There are two primary classifications of s-
industrial compressors: intermittent flow (positive displacement), including reciprocating and Im
rotary types; and continuous flow, including centrifugal and axial flow types. pro
Reciprocating compressors are typically used where high compression ratios (ratio of discharge vin
to suction pressures) are required per stage without high flow rates, and the process fluid is g
relatively dry. Wet gas compressors tend to be centrifugal types. High flow, low compression Re
ratio applications are best served by axial flow compressors. Rotary types are primarily specified
in compressed air applications, though other types of compressors are also found in air service.
Basic Design
The primary components of a typical reciprocating compressor system can be seen in Figures 1
and 2 below. It should be noted that the author has never seen a "typical" compressor installation,
and acknowledges the existence of many exceptions.
The compression cylinders (Figure 1), also known as stages, of which a particular design mayOil
have from one to six or more, provide confinement for the process gas during compression. APu
piston is driven in a reciprocating action to compress the gas. Arrangements may be of single-orrifi
dual-acting design. (In the dual-acting design, compression occurs on both sides of the piston cat
during both the advancing and retreating stroke.) Some dual-acting cylinders in high-pressure ion
applications will have a piston rod on both sides of the piston to provide equal surface area and
balance loads. Tandem cylinder arrangements help minimize dynamic loads by locating du
cylinders in pairs, connected to a common crankshaft, so that the movements of the pistons ces
oppose each other. Gas pressure is sealed and wear of expensive components is minimized Op
through the use of disposable piston rings and rider bands respectively. These are formed fromera
comparatively soft metals relative to piston and cylinder/liner metallurgy or materials such as
polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE).

Figure 1. Reciprocating Compressor Cylinder Assembly

Figure 2 A. Two-throw HSE Frame and Running Gear

Figure 2 B. Two-throw HSE Frame and Running Gear
Most equipment designs incorporate block-type, force-feed lubrication systems; however when
there is zero process tolerance for oil carryover, nonlubricated designs are employed. Cylinders
for larger applications (typical cutoff is 300 hp) are equipped with coolant passages for
thermosyphon or circulating liquid coolant-type systems, whereas some smaller home and shop
compressors are typically air-cooled. Large application cylinders are generally fitted with
replaceable liners that are press-fitted into the bore, and may include an antirotation pin.
Process gas is drawn into the cylinder, squeezed, contained and then released by mechanical
valves that typically operate automatically by differential pressures. Depending on system
design, cylinders may have one or multiple suction and discharge valves. Unloaders and
clearance pockets are special valves that control the percent of full load carried by the
compressor at a given rotational speed of its driver. Unloaders manipulate the suction valves’
action to allow the gas to recycle. Clearance pocket valves alter the cylinder head space
(clearance volume). They may be fixed or variable volume. These devices are beyond the scope
of this article.
The distance piece (sometimes called the doghouse) is a structural member connecting the
compressor frame to the cylinder. Intermixing of fluids between the cylinder and the distance
piece must be avoided. Packing rings contain gas pressure within the cylinder, and they keep oil
from entering the cylinder by wiping oil from the piston rod along its travel. The distance piece
is typically vented according to the most hazardous material in the system, which is often the gas
compressed in the cylinder. The packing rings are designed to contain the gas within the
cylinder, but with the high pressure it is possible that some of the compressed gas will leak past
the packing rings.
The running gear, housed within the compressor frame (Figure 2), consists of the crosshead and
connecting rod which connect the piston rod to the crankshaft, converting its rotary motion into a
reciprocating linear motion. The crankshaft is fitted with counterweights to balance dynamic
forces created by the movement of the heavy pistons. It is supported within the frame of the
compressor by plain bearings at several journals. A flywheel is also provided to store rotational
inertia and provide mechanical advantage for manual rotation of the assembly.
Some compressors will lubricate their frame running gear with an integral, shaft-driven oil
pump, while others are provided with more extensive, skid-mounted lubrication systems. All
properly designed systems will provide not only for oil circulation to the critical tribo-surfaces of
the equipment, but also for lubricant temperature control, filtration and some measure of
instrumentation and redundancy.
Suction gases are generally passed through suction strainers and separators to remove entrained
particulates, moisture and liquid phase process fluid that could cause severe damage to the
compressor valves and other critical components, and even threaten cylinder integrity with
disastrous consequences. Gas may also be preheated to coax liquid process gas into the vapor
phase. Intercoolers provide an opportunity for heat removal from the process gas between
compression stages. (See the following section: The Thermodynamic Cycle.) These heat
exchangers may be part of the compressor’s oil and/or cylinder cooling system(s), or they may
be connected to the plant’s cooling water system. On the discharge side, pressure vessels serve as
pulsation dampeners, providing system capacitance to equalize the flow and pressure pulsations
corresponding to the piston’s compression strokes.
Typically, reciprocating compressors are relatively low-speed devices, and are direct- or belt-
driven by an electric motor, either with or without a variable speed drive controller. Often the
motor is manufactured to be integral to the compressor, and the motor shaft and compressor
crankshaft are one-piece, eliminating the need for a coupling. Gearbox-type speed reducers are
used in various installations. Sometimes, though less commonly, they are driven by steam
turbines or other sources of power such as natural gas or diesel engines. The overall design of the
system and the type of driver selected will influence lubrication of these peripheral systems.