Reciprocating Compressor Maintenance: Crosshead to Piston Rod Installation & Removal

Reciprocating Compressor Maintenance

Reciprocating compressors serve many different petroleum, chemical, and gas industries around the world. These large industrial compressors are commonly used in the upstream production of underground oil and gas fields (LNG, Shale, Oil), midstream transmission and storage of these oils and gases on floating production facilities (FPSO or FLNG), and downstream processing of the petrochemicals at refineries. This downstream refining and processing coverts oil and gases into the products that are used in our every-day lives such as fuel, lubricants, fertilizers, rubbers, polymers and many others.

To keep these reciprocating compressors running at their best and prevent unexpected breakdowns many companies choose to implement a maintenance plan. There are many different approaches to compressor maintenance from the hands-off approach of run-to-failure, to performing the standard maintenance recommended by the compressor OEM, to the most advanced predictive maintenance programs driven by continuously monitoring of the compressor components to predict failures before they occur. In my opinion, a well thought out maintenance program can provide many obvious benefits such as improved reliability, efficiency, and safety but it can also add value to the product being produced by reducing the overall operating cost of the compressor.  

No matter what your companies’ approach is to maintenance, at some point over the life of the compressor you will be required to perform service the machine. When the time comes, having the proper tools in place to ensure your maintenance team is ready to tackle the job effectively and safely can be the difference between a successful maintenance outage and an outage that does not meet the planned schedule or budget.

Crosshead to Piston Rod Connection

Figure 1 – View through the access widow of a crosshead with Riverhawk Hydraulic Crosshead Nut Installed

The area of focus for this article is going to be around the installation and removal of the crosshead to piston rod connection. One of the most common crosshead to piston rod configurations is the direct connection of the piston rod to the crosshead, see figure 1 above. In this type of crosshead arrangement, the piston rod is threaded into the crosshead and secured using a single jam nut.  The resulting bolted joint geometry has a very short effective bolt length with little bolt stretch and is not well suited for the dynamic loads generated in the piston rod during compressor operation. The short joint geometry results in a connection that is sensitive to having the proper preload to function reliably over the service life of the compressor. Additionally, if this joint fails during compressor operation, the damage to the compressor can be extensive and resulting in very costly repairs, extended machine downtime, and lost production.

An alternate method used in modern reciprocating compressors is the indirect connection of the piston rod to crosshead. In this type of crosshead arrangement, the piston rod is not threaded directly into the crosshead but is instead secured using a flanged connection and a series of bolts. The bolts used in this type of configuration are longer and better suited to handle alternating loads during compressor operation. Multiple bolts with an improved stiffness ratio share the dynamic load making the connection less sensitive to preload errors. The indirect connection method is most commonly used when piston rod diameter gets larger. Some compressor owners choose to upgrade their direct connection to an indirect connection crosshead configuration when replacement of the piston rod and crosshead is required. This type of change is expensive and cost-prohibitive when your crosshead and piston rod are in good condition. Hydraulic bolt tensioning is commonly used on both direct and indirect crosshead connections, but the focus of remainder of this article will be on the more challenging crossheads with single jam nuts. See Figure 2 below for 3D rendering of an indirect crosshead connection.

Figure 2 -- Indirect Crosshead Connection -- Shown with and without Hydraulic Tensioners Installed

Special Design Considerations for Hydraulic Crosshead Nuts

Hydraulically tensioned nuts have been around for many years. The technology has proven itself in many demanding bolted joint applications across the oil & gas industries. When looking to apply hydraulic nuts to the crosshead connection it became clear that a standard hydraulic nut would not meet the demanding requirements of this application. A few of the things we considered when designing hydraulic crosshead nuts: 

 

Dynamic Loading:

This connection experiences dynamic loading, if the preload in the crosshead connection is not sufficient the piston rod will be subjected to fatigue loading which can result in premature piston rod failures. Preload must be applied accurately and repeatable during installation and maintained throughout its service life.  

 

Very Limited Access through Compressor Housing:

Users have to work through a limited access window in the compressor distance piece which makes it very difficult to apply the correct load using traditional torque tooling.   

 

Large Piston Rod Thread Diameters:

Rod diameters in these compressors commonly range from 1.50” up to 6.00” in diameter with minimum preload requirements equal to 1.50 times the maximum allowable continuous rod load.   For a 4.00” diameter piston rod it’s not uncommon for preload force requirements that exceed 300,000 pounds in the crosshead to piston rod connection. Factor in limited access and the challenge of applying proper preload increase significantly. Due to these challenges, API 618 recommends that the torqued (slugging methods) are not used on larger diameter piston rods.

 

Piston Rod Runout:

Alignment between the crosshead and piston rod is critical to proper compressor operation. The installation procedure must evenly load the crosshead to piston rod connection to ensure good runout checks. The method used to tighten this connection cannot apply any additional bending loads into the piston rod, which could result in poor rod runout checks and higher combined rod stress which can lead to reduce fatigue life.

 

Tight Envelope Requirements:

Hydraulic crosshead nut should fit within the same envelope (Outside Diameter & Height) of the existing hex or cylindrical nut. This ensures adequate clearances during machine operation and has little effect on the overall balance of the system.

 

Improve Safety:

Eliminate dangerous torque method (slugging with hammer or “crane” tightening) used to install and remove traditional jam nuts and provide a higher integrity connection at the crosshead resulting in improved compressor reliability and safety when the compressor is running.  

Why Riverhawk Hydraulic Crosshead Nuts?

Figure 3 – Typical Riverhawk Hydraulic Crosshead Nut Components

Hydraulic tensioning has a proven history of being one of the most accurate and repeatable bolt tightening methods. During installation, very high loads can easily be generated using a hydraulic hand pump. The load applied stretches the piston rod and creates a small gap between the hydraulic nut retainer and cylinder. Once the desired load is reached, the retainer is tightened down to mechanically hold the load after the hydraulic pressure is released. Since the load in the piston rod is generated by the pressurized hydraulic oil from the pump, the retaining collar can easily be tightened down using a small spanner wrench without fighting the effects of high frictional resistance. Figure 3 above, shows typical hydraulic crosshead nut components.   

 

Accuracy and Repeatability of Preload

Knowing the hydraulic area in the nut and the hydraulic pressure applied, the force generated during installation can easily be calculated (Force = Pressure x Area). Similar to other hydraulic tensioners, there will be a load loss (relaxation) as the load shifts from the pressurized fluid to the retaining collar. This loss is predictable based on bolted joint geometry and stiffness. Load verification testing on various piston rod diameters has been performed in our engineering lab to verify the expected amount of relaxation based on typical crosshead geometry. Installation and removal forces can now be controlled by monitoring the hydraulic pressure on the gauge of the pump kit. This helps simplify the installation process and reduce the amount of operator experience (“feel”) required to accurately achieve the desired preload using torque techniques.

 

Even Loading on the Crosshead and Piston rod

The annular hydraulic area in the nut naturally produces an evenly distributed load around the crosshead while pressurized during installation. When the pressure is released, the load held by the hydraulic nut retainer does not impart any additional bending loads that can result from the improper assembly of multi-jackbolt nuts. Additionally, the pure axial load generated in the piston rod eliminates piston rod windup (twist) that can occur during torquing and helps to maintain proper rod alignment for improved run-out checks. A spherical washer can be integrated into the hydraulic nut design to further help compensate for perpendicularity misalignment between the piston rod and crosshead nose. 

 

Ease of Use

Limited access through the window in the distance piece (doghouse) is no longer a concern. A hydraulic pump is positioned outside the compressor and a flexible hose is feed through the access window and connected to the nut. The load is quickly generated by the hydraulic pump and the retaining collar can be tightened down using a small spanner wrench, independent of high friction resistance. Using the power of hydraulics, you can now tighten a 6.0” piston rod just as easily as a 2.0” piston rod.

 

Thread Optimization

The threaded connections on the hydraulic nut are optimized to promote even loading throughout the entire thread engagement length. This helps reduce the peak stress risers in the thread roots and enhances the fatigue resistance of the nut and piston rod. Additional surface treatment is performed on the hydraulic nut after machining is completed to enhance the fatigue properties of the threads.

 

Enhanced Seal Design

Compressors can run many years between service intervals. The durability of the seals used is very important to ensure that the disassembly process is as easy as the assembly process.   Elastomeric seals have a tendency to degrade over time resulting in inability to hold pressure on removal. Riverhawk uses special metal to metal seals with wear & galling protection to enhance seal life and durability.

 

Speed of Installation and Removal

The assembly and alignment of the piston rod into the crosshead will follow the same procedures as your traditional torqued nuts up to the point when you begin to apply preload. Using the power of the hydraulic pump, the load can be generated very quickly with the whole tensioning process being completed in a couple minutes.

In the end, the goal is to achieve accurate preload levels in the crosshead connection and maintain those loads over between machine service intervals. Hydraulic crosshead nuts will significantly improve the likelihood of achieving a repeatable target preload, in addition to improving safety and decreasing installation and removal times when compared to torqued hardware.

Riverhawk has been designing hydraulic nuts specifically for the compressor crosshead to piston rod connection since 2009 and has provide many crosshead solutions to compressor OEMs, compressor service companies, and direct to end users. We have an engineering staff that is highly experienced in hydraulic tensioning technologies and can assist with any bolting applications needs.

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Charlie

Charlie Heysler

Charlie Heysler is Riverhawk Company’s Applications Engineering Director who has been with our organization since 2010. Charlie’s background at Riverhawk includes innovation and customization work for bolt tensioning, hydraulic tooling, and hydraulic pump applications. In addition he has regularly traveled to customer sites to support product applications and share knowledge of Riverhawk’s capabilities. Charlie holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University.

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Tensioning for Turbomachinery: Five reasons you should consider using Hydraulic Tensioners for Maintenance and Repair

Maintenance Best Practice

My father used to tell me that the right tool exists for every job. I tend to agree with that statement, especially considering the risk of what can happen when we don’t use proper equipment available to accomplish a specific task.

As a Mechanical Engineer, I stand behind that claim. In the Turbomachinery Industries (Oil & Gas, Power Generation, Petrochemical, etc.) the strict maintenance schedules and tooling best practices are not only required but are essential to providing the safest and most efficient repair cycle possible.

When a scheduled shutdown takes place, Field Technicians and Engineers use this downtime to perform preventative maintenance or upgrades within a specific window of time. It is worth noting, that during this downtime, the output of the powertrain being worked on comes to a stop, which makes quite an impact on the overall operation or efficiency of the plant. It also goes without saying, the potential cost of any additional downtime not planned for can be detrimental.

Therefore, it is critical that technicians use only the best practices and have the knowledge of proper tooling and methods available to help prevent the unexpected extension of planned shutdowns. For most Turbomachinery applications, Hydraulic Tensioning should be the preferred method of bolt loading for specific reasons that will be highlighted in this article.

Torque Versus Tensioning

At a first glance, the method of bolt loading may not seem like a huge consideration, but there are a few significant advantages that tensioning provides over torque, especially in Turbomachinery applications. To better understand these advantages, lets first break down the method of bolt loading using torque.

The primary function of bolting is to clamp two or more joints together to create a ‘preload’ which will put the bolt in tension. Examples within Turbomachinery that require joint clamping include Casing Closures found on Gas or Steam Turbines, Reciprocating Compressors, and Gear Boxes just to name a few.

While many bolted joints are loaded using torque, there are difficulties associated with loading a fastener in this way. Friction is one of the biggest downfalls to using torque due to the issue between the sliding surfaces. The sliding surface is not only from the nut biting into the surface it is being seated against, but also between the threads of the nuts and bolts themselves. The higher the torque, the greater the friction, which results in Torsional Wind Up.  This friction must be dealt with, otherwise it can become excessive, and the result will lead to torsional loading or commonly seen as “bolt twist”. The real issue with this is the loss in the final preload in the fastener and the desired/needed clamping force that will not be achieved as a result.  Along with friction there are other areas that can cause significant loss in the final preload of the fastener. Issues such as tool accuracy, thread and flange geometry and even operator error are all common issues users face when using torque as a bolting method.

Due to these issues, a better method of achieving a more accurate bolt loading is to use a Hydraulic Tensioner. Tensioning reduces or eliminates many variables in the bolting process which are present when torque is involved. The results from tensioning will provide improved accuracy and repeatability in addition to reduced installation and removal time.

Below are five reasons why using Hydraulic Tensioners should be the preferred method of bolting for Turbomachinery applications.

Tight Spaces

There are many situations that are not ideal for bolt loading using wrenches or torque tools, but limited space is a common occurrence. If the space is narrow or has poor/limited access to the fastener, a Hydraulic Tensioner can provide the proper loading and fit into these restricted spaces. For example, the Casing Bolts found on some Split Line Compressors do not provide enough hex nut spacing for any tool to fit around it. Using Hydraulic Tensioning, a special design known as the Hydraulic Rod Tensioning System can be used to tension the stud within the same foot print the original Hex Nut had. 

Repeatability & Precision

The uncertainty of friction can be eliminated with Hydraulic Tensioning and can reduce the amount of error in most applications to better than ±5%. When coupled with stretch control measurements and simultaneous tensioning of multiple fasteners, the accuracy of the bolt load can be increased even further. Experimental data has shown, the average preload scatter for torqued fasteners can be more than ±25%. 

Even Loading with Simultaneous Tightening

When improvements of load distribution over multiple threaded fasteners are required, such as split line flanges, gasketed joints or any joint that needs precision sealing, tensioning is the method of choice. This is true because multiple fasteners can be loaded at the same time using multiple tensioners and one common hydraulic power unit, that will evenly load the joint. When using torque, achieving uniformity is an exceedingly difficult task to do.

Prevents Galling

When applications require the use of High Strength, High Temperature or Corrosion Resistant materials, they have the tendency to stick or gall under high torque loads. As the preload levels increase, the chance of running into galling issues increases significantly. Hydraulic Tensioning introduces a pure tension load into the stud and the nut is threaded down without the frictional resistance generated in a stud using torque. This significantly reduces the likelihood of galling in the threads or between the nut and flange surfaces.

Time Savings

All of the previously discussed advantages of Tensioning lead to one of the biggest reasons Hydraulic Tensioning is a preferred method of bolt loading, and that is Time Savings. Due to advancements in technology, it is now just as easy to tension 4” diameter fastener as it is a 1” diameter fastener when using the power of Hydraulics to do the work. Improved preload accuracy and repeatability eliminate the time spent re-tightening leaking joints. With thread galling no longer a concern, the fear of cutting off stuck fasteners and damaged hardware/flanges is eliminated. These key factors reduced installation times and allow for more predictable outage and maintenance schedules. 

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Jon Williams

Jon Williams is a Mechanical Engineer and first came to Riverhawk Company in June of 2012. Jon specializes in the hydraulic tensioning product lines and assists some of the most well-known turbomachinery OEMs with standard and custom design tensioner configurations. He holds a Bachelors of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering from SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

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Press Release: Hydraulic Shrink Disc Now Complies With API STD 671

Legacy product now available for high performance couplings used in Petroleum, Chemical, Gas Industries as well as Power Generation applications

 

March 8th, 2021

 

Riverhawk Company, a provider of engineered tooling and solutions for turbomachinery and rotating equipment has announced that the Hydraulic Shrink Disc, an alternative design for shaft end connections that utilizes a clamping force on the hub, is now an acceptable alternative to traditional shaft end connections as defined in the newest release (5th edition) of the American Petroleum Institute standard 671(API STD 671).

 

The API STD 671 specifies the requirements for high performance couplings for the transmission of power between the rotating shafts of two machines in special purpose applications. These applications include petroleum, petrochemical, and natural gas industries.

 

The Hydraulic Shrink Disc is a legacy Riverhawk product that has been used as a replacement hub on shafts for other similar applications. Some of these include, but are not limited to, Generator, Pumps and Refrigeration applications. When Compared to traditional hydraulic hubs, the Shrink Disc provides superior benefits that include an easier method of installation, resulting in a cost effective solution to the bottom the line.

                               

 

 

 

The Hydraulic Shrink Disc operates by using hydraulic pressure that activates a clamping force which squeezes the hub on the shaft, versus the typical dilation and pull-up designs. This results in the elimination of galled shafts, and can replace traditional keyed and spline mounted hubs. Because the shrink disc allows the use of smaller diameter shafts to transmit the same amount of torque, users in the field will see experience an overall reduced overhung moment.

 

 

The Hydraulic Shrink Disc meets requirements of the API STD 671 5th edition, as outlined in section 8.6.4, titled ‘Alternate Hub Design’. It states:

Alternative coupling-to-shaft juncture methods (providing an interference fit) other than keyed or hydraulically fitted hubs may be proposed as an alternative, as determined by the purchaser, provided such methods comply with all the requirements of this document, including but not limited to torque transmission and balance requirements. Any exceptions shall be approved by the purchaser.”

 

“The Hydraulic Shrink Disc has always been a viable alternative shaft end connection, and we have seen a lot of successful implementation over the last decade in numerous different applications. The latest edition of API-671 is significant because now our clamped shaft end technology is available for those rotating equipment end users who work in the petroleum, petrochemical, and natural gas industries with high performance couplings.” Said Pat McCormack, Mechanical Engineer and Director of Business Development for Riverhawk Company.

 

Clamped Shaft End Connections is an emerging technology that has become more popular with end users as well as Original Equipment Manufacturers, due to the fact it has been solving issues commonly found among traditional shaft end connections. To learn more about Riverhawk Company or the Hydraulic Shrink Disc, please visit www.Riverhawk.com.

 

About Riverhawk Company

Riverhawk is a leading manufacturer and engineering design company with over 30 years of experience serving the petroleum and power generation industries. Their core product lines can be found among some of the most well-known companies who play pivotal roles in providing energy to the globe. Riverhawk products include application specific hydraulic tensioners, power train couplings, accessories, and instrumentation. In addition, Riverhawk offers a full suite of related services which such as maintenance, repair, and on-site training for turbomachinery and rotating equipment.

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Manual Hydraulic Pump Kit vs. Air Driven Hydraulic Pump Kit

THREE FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN SELECTING A HYDRAULIC PUMP KIT

Why Use Hydraulic Pump Kits?

To say that there are many moving parts during installation or service of large-scale turbomachinery would be an understatement. Each component plays a critical role, but one piece of equipment that is often overlooked is the hydraulic pump kit. Many variations of pump kits exist, but for the purpose of this article we will focus on manual and air driven pump kits.

Hydraulic pump kits help provide the flow of fluid that is needed to generate power for tooling or equipment processes that require it. In our industry, pump kits are often used in conjunction with the installation or removal of keyless tapered hubs, as well as tensioning studs and bolts on casings, flanges, bearing housings, or connection rods.

Both manual hydraulic pumps and air driven hydraulic pumps offer a number of advantages over mechanical solutions. Some of these include versatility and reliability with a broad range of applications. In addition, the element of repeatability is offered for pressure output.

That’s a lot of information to process for just one component of the installation process. But to take it another (important) step further, selecting the appropriate pump kit is just as crucial as having one in the first place.

When selecting a pump kit for your next application, the three questions outlined below can serve as a guide for your selection. Choosing the right pump for the right job can actually cut down time spent on a job, which can ultimately translate to a savings on cost.

Types Of Hydraulic Pump Kits

Air Driven Hydraulic Pump Kits

An efficient, compact and portable high-pressure system that provides instant and reliable hydraulic power. Used for daisy chaining multiple tensioners or applications that require a high volume of hydraulic fluid.

Manual Hydraulic Pump Kits


Typically used in situations where the required volume of hydraulic fluid is minimal. Available configurations include a single pump design for small tensioning purposes or a dual pump design for hub installation applications.

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What is the required pressure output needed for your application?

First and foremost, you should consider the desired pressure rating that you need for your application. You will want to review the job with your engineering team and field service personnel to help determine the appropriate pressure output that is needed for your hydraulic equipment.

 Most hydraulic tooling and equipment will call out a maximum operating pressure, which will give you a good idea of what kind of pump kit you need.

 Manual pumps typically come in two pressure ranges: a low-pressure range and a high-pressure range. Low pressure pumps are rated for 10,000 psi or lower and are used to supply hydraulic pressure to a variety of hydraulic tooling. High pressure hydraulic pumps can reach operational pressures of up to 40,000 psi and are commonly used for dilation during the installation or removal of a keyless tapered coupling hub.

 Air driven pumps can be preset to a desired maximum pressure rating at the factory, and traditionally have a maximum operational pressure of 22,000 – 40,000 psi. Air operated hydraulic pumps are commonly used for tensioning bolts and nuts during the installation of compressors and other machinery.

Is a constant supply of hydraulic pressure needed for your application?

There will be times where you will find yourself in need of a varying supply of hydraulic pressure to your equipment or tooling in order to finish a job. Determining the type of supply that is needed will help you select the appropriate pump for the job.

 One of the main differences between a manual pump and an air driven pump is the quantity of hydraulic pressure that is supplied to your tooling or equipment.

 A manual pump will supply pressure with each stroke from the operator.

 This allows the operator to adjust the pressure going into their tooling or equipment without needing to be concerned about over-pressurizing or over-stroking. For example, the installation of a keyless tapered coupling requires the operator track the amount of travel the hub makes up the tapered shaft end.

 A Riverhawk hydraulic pusher mated with a low-pressure pump allows the operator to accurately install the coupling to the desired position along the tapered shaft while maintaining control of the hydraulic pressure feeding to the pusher tool.

 An air powered hydraulic pump constantly supplies a set amount of hydraulic pressure so long as the pump is actuated. This makes the pump ideal for operating multiple pieces of equipment at once without requiring constant mechanical input from the operator. An example of this would be the installation of a casing on a compressor.

 The casing requires multiple studs and nuts be properly and evenly tightened, which can be difficult to achieve through mechanical torquing methods. By utilizing an air driven pump and multiple Riverhawk hydraulic nuts daisy-chained in succession, hydraulic pressure is applied evenly to each of the nuts. This allows for even load distribution to each of the studs, thus eliminating the concerns of excessive or erratic bolt loads.

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Where will the hydraulic pump be used?

One factor that you may not have thought of, but is equally as important, is where the pump is going to be used.

 Not all jobs that require the use of a hydraulic pump will be performed in a repair shop or factory floor. You may be required to service equipment outdoors or in an environment with limited space. Having a pump kit that is compact and easily transportable will cut down on the time required to complete a job off-site.

 Manual pumps are lightweight and often come configured in a protective housing that is ideal for mobility. The hoses and other hardware may require a separate container or housing when transported.

 Air driven pumps come in a variety of styles and configurations that may or may not be suitable for transportation. Typically, higher rated air driven pumps are built into carts with solid casters, making them ideal for a shop setting, whereas lower rated air driven pumps come in aluminum boxes or similar housings that are more compact and easier to transport.

Other Considerations

In addition to the questions above, here are a few other points to consider:

 Volume

– Does the pump that you select have a large enough reservoir to supply hydraulic fluid to your equipment and maintain the desired pressure?

 Accessories

– Does the pump that you need come with all of the necessary hoses and fittings to get the job done?

 Safety

– Do you require safety devices in or on your pump (i.e., burst disc, remote operating switch, etc.) in order to operate it?
By using these questions as a guide, you can significantly reduce the time spent identifying and selecting the appropriate hydraulic pump for your application. In addition, the right hydraulic pump will serve you better regardless if you are in the field or in the shop.

 If you still need help making a selection or have a concern not outlined, our engineering staff are always available to help address or answer any questions you may have.

David Albright

David Albright is a Mechanical Engineer for Riverhawk who specializes in hydraulic tooling designed for coupling installation and removal. David holds a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clarkson University, and has been with Riverhawk Company since 2017.

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Classification of Torque Transients

In turbomachinery applications, torque issues are often the root cause for equipment damage and instability. To be more specific, these torsional transients cause vibrations that induce stress and imbalance within the machinery itself, which can ultimately lead to costly repair and turnaround.

In this video Riverhawk Engineer and Director of Innovation Robert Whitney lays out the five different types of transients that can cause issues within turbomachinery, and how to identify them.

 

 

 

 

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