Revolutions per Minute

ComGen Power Solutions Blog

Revolutions per Minute

Basic Thermodynamics for Reciprocating Compressors

P-V Diagram

What is going on inside a typical reciprocating compressor cylinder?


The above diagram is called a Pressure / Volume Diagram or P-V Diagram and demonstrates the ideal, basic dynamics inside a cylinder with the crank making 1 revolution. This cycle represents one end of the piston or a single acting piston. The same basic thing happens on the other side or crank side of the piston in a double acting cylinder except some volume is removed due to the space taken up by the piston rod.

Visualize the above diagram as the head end of a piston within a cylinder (blue dashed lines) and the left-hand side is top-dead center or at the head-end of the cylinder. The “Ps” line represents the suction or inlet pressure and the “Pd” line is the discharge pressure and the distance between is the difference or ratio.  Between “1” and “3” represents the length of the stroke and the area inside the heavy red lines represents the gas volume. Now that we are oriented we begin to move the piston within the cylinder.

Event 1 or Expansion -At point “1” the piston is at TDC (top dead center) or all the way to the top of its stroke. At this point there is still clearance between the piston and the end of the cylinder plus the valve ports. Within this clearance there is discharge-pressure as the discharge valves have just closed. We will assume there is no volume pocket or fixed clearance added to this cylinder. Added clearance will be explained later.

-The piston begins its suction stroke towards bottom-dead- center (BDC) or towards the bottom of its stroke. As the piston moves from point “1” to point “2” the discharge pressure left behind after the discharge valve closed, de-pressures and the gas volume consequently expands. When the piston reaches point “2” the gas has de-pressured enough to allow the suction valves to open and allow gas to enter the cylinder.

Event 2 or Suction -The piston continues past point #2 all the way to the bottom of its stroke (BDC) or to point #3. This distance between points #2 and #3 represents the volume of gas that entered the cylinder at suction pressure and at point #3 the suction valves close.

Event 3 or Compression –At point 3 the piston is at the bottom of its stroke – the suction valves have closed and begins its compression stroke towards the top of its stroke. The horizontal distance from point 3 to point 4 represents the distance the piston has to travel to compress the gas and raise the pressure to discharge pressure. When the piston reaches point 4 the pressure is slightly higher than the discharge pressure and the discharge valves open allowing gas to flow down the discharge line.

Event 4 or Discharge –The piston continues its travel from point 4 to point 5 which represents the volume of gas that was compressed and discharged from the cylinder at discharge pressure.  At point 5 the piston is at the top of its stroke and the cycle begins over again.


Adding Clearance to a Cylinder

            Cylinders may have adjustable volume pockets added to the head-end of cylinders or fixed clearance added to lower the cylinders capacity to accommodate changing inlet volumes or future changes that increase or lower the inlet gas or discharge volumes and pressures.  Another reason, if there is more than one stage, is optimizing the other stages.

-Giving a cylinder more clearance increases the distance between points 1 and 2, and the distance between points 3 and 4 -meaning the piston must travel a longer distance to de-pressure and expand the gas to the point where the suction valve will open and increases the distance it takes to compress the gas to the point where the discharge valves will open. Consequently this also shortened the distance between points 2, 3 and 4, 5 reducing the amount of gas allowed to enter and exit the cylinder – Thus reducing the efficiency and capacity of the cylinder.


Understanding what happens if suction or discharge pressures change.

            The distance between the “Ps” and “Pd” horizontal line on the PV diagram represents the difference or ratio between suction and discharge pressure.

-Visualize the suction pressure (Ps) to be 70 Kpa and the discharge (Ps) to be 210 Kpa resulting in a 3:1 ratio. —Now decrease the discharge pressure to 180 Kpa and leave the suction pressure at its original 70 Kpa, a ratio of 2.6:1.

-Results: The lower discharge pressure or ratio will reduce the distance or expansion time between points 1 and 2 increasing the amount of gas allowed to enter the cylinder by allowing the suction valve to open sooner. This change will also shorten the piston travel between 3 and 4 on the compression stroke before the discharge valve will open allowing more gas to exit the cylinder from points 4 to 5. This works the same way if we leave the discharge pressure and lower the suction pressure. Heat and horsepower are also reduced due to a shorter compression time. The amount of gas traveling through a cylinder determines how cool it will operate – the more the better. The opposite results happen as the ratio increases between suction and discharge and know that you must stay within the cylinders limits.

By John Goossens

Planning for Reliability: 3 Key Definitions

“If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it”

Availability – Facility and Associated Equipment

Downtime due to planned PM as a percentage of total hour time frame. Includes planned operations tasking which require unit shutdown such as pipe line pigging.

Example: Planned preventive annual maintenance downtime for a typical compression unit based on five year overhaul cycle is 64 hrs as a percentage to 8736 hrs annually.

  • Target Availability = 99.26% (8672 hrs)

Reliability – Facility or Associated Equipment

Downtime due to unplanned or corrective maintenance or operational upset as a percentage of total available hours.

Example: Electric drive compressor encounters 22 hrs due to power outages, 14 hrs due to instrumentation failures, and 14 hours due to mechanical failures.

  • Reliability = 99.42%

Uptime – Equipment

Equipment is available and reliable but is down as a result of other equipment failure or site conditions out of design (standby), or equipment is not required (redundant) and is measured as a percentage of available hours.

Example: Declining production volumes dictate a compressor be shut off, operations determines it would like to keep unit as a redundant spare to maintain production as required during related equipment outages. Unit requires 12 hrs planned PM so 8724 hrs available and is operated for 140 hrs during the year.

  • Effective Utilization = 1.6%

Thanks to Ralph Hartman

The Cycle of Reactive Maintenance

We all know what the (negative) consequences are of a reactive approach to equipment maintenance. This diagram describes some of the major issues of this approach.

ComGen’s Priority-Based Maintentance method

Comgen's Priotity Based Maintenance method.

Predictive Maintenance Design – 6 Fundamentals

A business-based approach to maintenance and the functions of a maintenance organization must support the business goals of the equipment owner, work within business-specific parameters, and undergo a continuous improvement process. The development of a predictive maintenance program starts with a set of core goals that emphasizes your values for cost and reliability. These goals should reflect your strategy towards designing a predictive maintenance program (PdM) that works for your business.


3 Factors to Consider When Selecting an Oil Filter

Not all filters are created equal. This statement has several meanings, but we are going to focus on the key elements that differentiate oil filters and the impact they have on your equipment. Your choice of which filter to use will ultimately come down to cost. But before deciding to buy the cheapest filter, take a minute to read the article and take a closer look at the other factors that may help to justify the cost. Will the filter last longer? Does the filter remove finer particles? Is the filter reusable? The answers to these questions may help to prolong service intervals and reduce the overall cost as well as the environmental impact.


3 Factors That Affect Fuel Gas Quality

In engines that use natural gas as fuel it is important to understand the effects of quality and how it will impact your investment. There are many other contributing factors, but by asking a few simple questions about fuel gas quality, you will be better prepared to make the necessary adjustments to ensure the reliability of the equipment. A fuel gas sample is the first thing we ask for when approached by companies interested in or already are installing a natural gas engine. When examining these samples, we focus on three critical components.


2 Engine Oil Killers – Nitration and Oxidation

Natural gas engines are the prime mover of choice in the gas compression industry. With engines comes required maintenance at intervals that are suggested by the equipment manufacturers. These interval recommendations are in place to protect the equipment and the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) due to the number of unknown site specific factors that play a part in the life of the engine. Lubrication plays a large part in the durability of the machine and the interval that the service is performed. With the small cost of an oil sample, you gain the ability to see how an engine is performing and make adjustments that will impact the reliability of the machine. Two components that reflect the performance of a machine and affect the durability of the engine’s oil are nitration and oxidation.


5 Factors That Affect Oil Drain Intervals

In the natural gas compression industry, there is a constant movement towards reducing the overall operating costs of equipment. Maintenance is one factor that contributes to the operating costs of all oil and gas producers. One item that will have an immediate impact is extending the oil drain interval (ODI) of the machine. There are five key elements to consider before moving ahead to realize the benefits of extended oil drain intervals.


3 Tips for Technical Knowledge Free Flow

One of the things I found frustrating as a young and inexperienced mechanic growing up in the oil and gas industry, was senior and experienced mechanics who would not share information no matter how politely I asked. Sometimes the answer was “go find out for yourself,” which I understood as tough love and the need to experience firsthand the answer that I was lazily trying to get. In other cases where I went looking for knowledge, I ran into brick wall answers that forced me into a library with texts and no exact “ahaa!” type information. Looking back at these cases it would have been more efficient to have the facts and a short time to absorb and comprehend the data. Everyone (me, the senior mechanic, and the company we were working for) would have been further ahead and the application process would have been far more effective than “trial and error”.