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The selection of a Burton Corblin Piston or Diaphragm Compressor for a specified operating con-
dition requires a basic understanding of the properties of gases and the thermodynamic laws gov-
erning the behavior of gases and the principles of compression equipment.
The type of machinery used in the movement of gases falls into four broad categories and within
many of the categories there are variations of the basic concept. n all cases, the machinery is used
to convert energy from one form to another.
1. Reciprocating machines, in which gas is moved by thrust of a positive displacement piston
within a confining cylinder. The work done enhances the pressure and density. Flow through
the cylinder is controlled by valve action. Examples of reciprocating machines included pis-
ton compressors, lubricated and non-lubricated, and metal diaphragm compressors.
2. Turbomachinery, in which dynamic head is imparted to the gas by means of high speed im-
pellers rotating in a confining case. This category includes axial-flow, radial, centrifugal and
fan-blower compressors.
3. Rotary machines, in which gas is moved by the positive displacement of two rotating lobes
or by oscillating vanes confined in an eccentric cylinder.
4. Ejector machines, in which gas is moved by kinetic energy induced through high-velocity
This discussion will deal primarily with reciprocating, positive displacement compressors, both pis-
ton and diaphragm types since each share many common component parts.
n this discussion, gas is considered in the broadest sense of the physical-chemical definition. The
movement of gas is a three dimensional operation. This is in contrast to the handling of an incom-
pressible fluid which has only height (pressure) and width (volume) to be considered. The third di-
mension that gives depth and perspective to the compressible fluid is the density of the gas. The
density tends to approach zero under high vacuums and a liquefied status under increasing pres-
sure. Temperature adds to each dimensional projection. Additional factors influencing the three di-
mensional operation of gas movement are saturation, compressibility, liquefaction, autogenesis,
and reactions that are outside the scope of normalcy.
A gas is an aeriform fluid having neither definite shape nor volume and tending to expand infinitely.
This absence of form makes it necessary to establish a unit of measure by definition; the units are
standard cubic foot abbreviated scf and normal cubic meters abbreviated nm. Amid the various
definitions, the most widely accepted values for these two standards are:
scf - the gas contained in a cubic foot of space at 60F (519.7R), and 14.696 psia (760mm or
29.92 inches of mercury). A standard cubic foot of dry air is assigned a specific gravity of
1.000 and weighs 0.0763 b/ft at standard conditions.
nm - the gas contained in a cubic meter of space at 0C (273K), and 1 barA (750mm of mer-
cury). A standard cubic meter of dry air is assigned a specific gravity of 1.000 and weighs
0.00098 kg/m at standard conditions.
- 2 -
Calculations relating to inert gases and gas mixtures can be simplified by the mole unit of weight.
At the same pressure and temperature the weights of equal volumes of gases are proportional to
their respective molecular weights. Avogadro's law states that the volume of a mole is constant for
all gases at any given pressure and temperature. At the defined standard conditions, a mole volume
of 379.498 scf (10.747 m) will contain 28.966 bs of air (13.139 kg); or 32 bs of oxygen (14.515
kg); or 2.0 bs of hydrogen (0.907 kg). Using m as the symbol for the molecular weight of the gas,
1 mole is equal to m lb of gas. Under the definition of a standard cubic foot of air, 1 mole would have
a volume of 28.966/0.0763, or 379.5 cu.ft. This is the volume that 1 mole of any gas at standard
conditions would occupy.
The universal gas constant R is a dimensionless unit that is best defined by the equation for the
standard cubic foot:
where the pressure is in pounds per square inch. When the pressure is in pounds per square foot,
the gas constant is R' = 1,545.4/m. This number divided by the molecular weight of the gas gives
the constant for the PV/T relationship, which will be applied in equations (2), (4), and (5). The flow
rate in pounds per minute, multiplied by the constant 379.5/m results in standard cubic feet per
minute (SCFM).
Pressure, temperature and volume are the three variables that influence the status of the gas. A
change in one variable affects either or both of the other two variables. Boyle observed that a
change in the absolute pressure of a gas resulted in an inverse change in the volume when held at
a constant temperature. Charles observed that when the volume is held constant, the absolute
pressure will vary in proportion to the change in absolute temperature.
The order of influence of these variables and the gas constant is established in the so-called "deal
Gas Law" or "Perfect gas Law":
The standard specific volume and specific weight of a pound mole of any gas can be expressed as:

= 0.002635m b/cu ft.
Boyle's law gives the change of state for the ideal condition where there is no change in temperature
and the PV relationship is equal to a constant:

This is the theoretical supposition known as an isothermal change of state. Such a phenomenon
does not occur in nature or in fact. When a gas is compressed or expanded, it has been established
that the pressure will vary to an exponential power of the volume:
m m

14 696 379 498
60 59 688
10 73 . .
( . )
( 1 )
PJ / T PJ / T R
1 1 1 2 2 2
= = constant Ior each gas at standard conditions ( 2)
379 5 .
cu It / lb, or 379.5 cu It / lb mole ( 3 )
1 1 2 2
= constant
k k
1 1 2 2
= constant ( 4 )
- 3 -
This relationship for the ideal change of state, wherein no heat is lost or friction is incurred, is known
as the adiabatic state. Refer to Figure 1. f a typical compressor PV diagram was replotted on a log-
log chart, the compression line AB and the expansion line CD would be parallel provided that there
was no heat loss, leakage, or friction involved in the operation. The slopes of these two lines under
ideal conditions occur at constant entropy and establish the theoretical exponent k. This change of
state constitutes a perfect adiabatic process. When such an adiabatic process is reversible, it is
known as an isentropic process.
Figure 1 - Compressor Diagram for Adiabatic Process
n as much as all adiabatic processes herein concerned are reversible, the terms "adiabatic" and
"isentropic" are considered synonymous.
True adiabatic compression can only be attained under ideal research conditions. ndustrial com-
pressors reject heat, have valve leakage (ring leakage on piston compressors), and generate fric-
tional heat. The effect of these losses can be observed on the compressor indicator diagram. The
slopes of the actual compression and expansion lines AB and CD tend to be less than the ideal adi-
abatic k slope. Departure from the ideal adiabatic slope illustrates the phenomenon known as a
polytropic process. t is defined as an internally reversible change of state where:
A polytropic process differs from an adiabatic process in that the change of state does not take
place at constant entropy. Heat is either rejected from or added to the gas in a polytropic process.
The polytropic exponent n that governs the change of state becomes a function of the compressor
design. When heat is extracted from the gas by the cooling media, and in the case of diaphragm
compressors by both the cooling and hydraulic media, the n value is less than the adiabatic k value.
Values for n are determined from actual performance data for each type of compressor. Typical
methods for determining the values of n are:
1. n Figure 1, assume that actual values have been assigned to the "X" and "Y axis and that the
gas being compressed has an adiabatic k value of 1.28. The slope of the indicator diagram com-
pression line AB is measured by Y1/X1 and the value of n is 1.26. The slope of the expansion line
CD is measured by Y2/X2 and is 1.19. The expansion slope is less than the compression slope due
to the extra time the clearance gas is exposed to cooling and is therefore subject to additional heat
2. The adiabatic exponent can be determined from the temperature rise resulting from gas com-
pression by application of the equation:
1 1 2 2
= = constant ( 5 )
- 4 -
3. The expansion curve strongly influences the volumetric efficiency and the cylinder capacity (pis-
ton compressors). The ideal PV diagram is shown in Figure 2a. its counterpart is the adiabatic tem-
perature-entropy (TS ) diagram, Figure 2b.
Figure 2 - IdeaI PV and IdeaI TS Diagrams for Gas Compression
The equations involving the specific heat of gases are pertinent to the change of state and are given
This is an equation of state that extends the application and accuracy of the ideal gas law by includ-
ing corrections for the volume occupied by the molecules at elevated pressures and temperatures
and for the mutual attraction that exists between the molecules. When a specific volume is large,
the environs of the molecules is placid, no corrections are required and the ideal gas law holds.
When a gas is confined under higher pressure and temperature, the molecular behavior become-
abnormal and turbulent, requiring substantial corrections to the ideal gas law condition of state.
The van der Waals gas equations account for much of the extraordinary behavior of real gas. The
transitional processes indicated by van der Waals charts are comparable to the process of evapo-
ration and condensation of a real fluid. n environs where transition does not occur, the gas charac-
teristics correspond to the critical pressures and temperatures of real gases. The behavior can be
expressed in terms of reduced critical pressure and reduced critical temperature, thereby establish-
ing a common equation of state for most gases. Commonly called "Reduced Pressure-Reduced
Temperature Charts or "Generalized Compressibility Charts", they are widely used to determine
compressor performance. The ordinates of these charts give the compressibility factor Z. The ab-
k k k
2 1 2 1
1 2
/ ( / ) ( / )
( )/
= =

( 6 )
C C R J m
p v
= = / . / 1986 ( 7 )
p v p p
= = / / ( / ) ( 8 )
( ) / . / k k mC
= 1 1986 ( 9 )
k C C
pm pm
' / ( . ) = 1986
( 10 )
= ( )
2 1
( 11 )
H PJ PJ J k =
2 2 1 1
1 ) / ( ) ( 12 )
- 5 -
scissas show the reduced pressure Pr (P/Pc) for the reduced isotherms Tr (T/Tc).
The compressibility factor Z is applied to the ideal gas law, Eq. (2), and produces what is commonly
called the real gas law:
The specific heat of a substance is the quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of one unit
of mass by one degree. n heating or cooling gases, work may occur simultaneously in addition to
the heat change and create an infinite range of heat capacity values. t is a simple calculation to
consider the change of state at a constant volume or at a constant pressure. The conditions in a
gas compressor, where the volume, temperature, and pressure are altered simultaneously produce
complex heat capacity problems. Determination of the heat capacity is further complicated by the
instantaneous temperature levels at which the change occurs. The constant low-pressure heat ca-
pacities of the common gases are listed in the appendix. The molal heat capacity is measured as
BTU/(lbm F) or kilojoules/(kg C).
There are two different methods of determining the constant. The first measures the constant spe-
cific heat at a constant pressure while the volume is allowed to change. This value is designated
Cp. The second method measures the constant specific heat at a constant volume while the pres-
sure is allowed to change.
This value is designated Cv. Cp and Cv are "constant" properties of a gas. Refer to the appendix for
values of common gases.
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can only
be altered in identity. The total energy and heat input must equal the total energy and heat output.
Compression of gas is a reversible adiabatic change of state that conforms to this law. The differ-
ence in enthalpy between the initial and final conditions represents the useful work that can be cred-
ited to the machine. This heat flow is presumed to be at constant enthalpy, or isentropic.
Figure 3 - IrreversibIe Adiabatic Operations
Referring to Figure 3, various adiabatic operations are shown. AB is a reversible isentropic process;
AC is an irreversible polytropic process as experienced in a turbomachine; AD is an irreversible
polytropic process as experienced in a reciprocating machine.
The second law of thermodynamics states that no change in a mechanical system can take place
within itself to increase or decrease the available energy of the system. An irreversible change
c c
= / ( 13a )
1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2
/ / = constant ( 13b )
- 6 -
cause a loss of available energy. n practice, the second law can be stated in several ways:
Heat can not of itself pass from a colder body to a hotter body.
Heat can be made to go from a body at a lower temperature to one at a higher temperature
only if external work is done.
The available energy of the isolated system decreases in all real processes.
Heat or energy of itself will only flow downhill.
Basically these statements say that energy exists at various levels and is available for use only if it
can move from a higher to a lower level.
The first two laws of thermodynamics permit the classification of compression processes:
Type of work: non-flow or flow.
Type of process: isothermal, adiabatic, or polytropic.
Type of gas being compressed: non-ideal or ideal.
Compression is classified as a combination of the types listed herein. This bulletin will deal with flow
type work, the polytropic process and non-ideal gases. For discussion and purpose of illustration,
an exampie of a non-flow process is one in which the compression stroke of a piston occurs in a
cylinder with no inlet or outlet valves. This type of process is of academic interest since it offers a
means of calculating work. Since the process is reversible, the work can be determined from the
following expression:
Figure 4 - Steps of the Compression CycIe
The flow work is one of the main interests since all compressors have a steady flow of low
pressure gas to the intake (suction) and a steady discharge of higher pressure gas at the outlet.
Refer to Figure 4. t can be seen that the compression cycle is composed of three steps:
dW P dJ W PdJ = =

- 7 -
The intake or suction stroke - the piston is drawn back and the suction valve
opens allowing gas to enter the cylinder.
The compression stroke - the suction and discharge valves are closed and
the piston moves from bottom dead center toward top dead center com-
pressing the gas from P1 to P2.
The exhaust or discharge stroke - the piston continues its travel toward top
dead center, the discharge valve opens and expels the gas at P2 and con-
tinues to do so until top dead center.
t is the sum of these strokes that constitutes the cyclic of flow compression process and is re
presented by the PV diagram, Figure 5. For simplicity, it is assumed that the exhaust stroke fully
clears all gas from the cylinder and there is no clearance volume (or dead volume). However in any
compressor there is some clearance volume but for the purpose of a thermodynamic analysis it will
not be considered.
Figure 5 - PV Diagram for the Work CycIe
The work cycle is the sum of the work of each individual step. Consider the work of each step in the
cycle and then determine the sum. The intake is at a constant pressure of P1, therefore,
The compression stroke represents work done on the system. During this stroke, both valves are
closed making this a non-flow process. The work equation is,
The exhaust stroke is a constant pressure process taking place at P2. Therefore,
W P J PJ PJ J = = =
1 1 1 1 3 3
0 , but since ,
1 1 1


3 2 2 3 2 3
0 but since = = ( ), ,
- 8 -
The work for the cycle is the sum of these three steps:

Differentiating the product (PV), d(PV) and integrating both sides,
For any flow compression VdP is a measure of the work that must be applied exclusive of friction.
This is called the flow work. n an adiabatic process, no heat escapes from the gas during compres-
sion. An isothermal process is in which the heat transfer is rapid enough to maintain a constant tem-
perature. in commercial compressors, the process is neither adiabatic nor isothermal, but lies
somewhere between the two. However, either adiabatic or isothermal conditions may be ap-
proached in certain cases. During the single stroke of the compressor, the compression is so rapid
and the heat transfer so slow that practically no heat is removed and the process is almost adiabat-
ic. f cooling media is supplied in sufficient volume over a large enough area, the compression may
approach isothermal. Most compression processes are polytropic. Refer to Figure 6.
Figure 6 - PV Diagram with Comparing Adiabatic, PoIytropic and IsothermaI Processes
3 2 2
= =

1 1 2 2
2 2 1 1
- but since ,

= +

Transposing and , PJ JdP



- 9 -
n Figure 6, AECD is polytropic, AFCD is adiabatic, and ABCD is isothermal. n the polytropic
process, which is neither adiabatic or isothermal, a simple thermodynamic expression is not
possible. The process could be evaluated by graphical integration, but this would require the
use of P-V-T data along the path of compression. For this reason empirical equations based on
an ideal gas behavior are used in which there are empirical constraints. These equations are
reliable provided that the compressibility factors applied are accurate.
Basically, the aforementioned statements say that energy exists at various levels and is available
for use only if it can be moved from a higher to a lower level. n thermodynamics, the measure of
the unavailable energy, as previously stated, is known as entropy. t is defined by the differential
equation dS = dQ/T. Note that the entropy as a measure of unavailability increases as the system
loses heat but remains constant when there is no gain or loss of heat as in the adiabatic process.
Work is defined as the product of force and distance. n the reciprocating gas compressor, either
piston or diaphragm type, the work is performed by the piston drawing gas from the suction line and
discharging into the discharge line for a complete cycle of the piston. The piston is resisted by the
pressure difference between the discharge line and the suction line. The unit work done by the pis-
ton area A on the gas is,
dW = PA dL
The product of the piston area A and the stroke L constitutes the volume displacement of the cylin-
der or the diaphragm head. The size is fixed by the dimensions A and L. The usual case involves
the performance of a given cylinder diaphragm head) or that of moving a specified volume through
a set of pressure conditions. The expression for work can be restated as,
The ideal work involved in moving the piston through the cylinder stroke is represented by the area
AGCE in Figure 7. The ordinates P1 and P2 represent the suction and discharge pressures.
Figure 7 - Compressor PV Diagram (Shaded Areas are VaIve Losses)
The ideal path of AB and CD is known to follow the adiabatic process:
dW J dP W JdP
= =

k k
1 1 2 2
- 10 -
By applying the adiabatic relationship and integrating the Eq. (14) the work requirement becomes.
By removing V1 from the equation above, an expression for the adiabatic mean effective pressure,
abbreviated mep, is obtained.
This is the pressure required to move the piston through the cylinder stroke from P1 to P2. The vol-
umetric efficiency has the effect of deducting the area CFP1P2 from AGP1P2. The correction is not
applicable to the subsequent formulas because the measured volumes are so corrected. The term
Rc is the compression ratio P2/P1, in absolute pressures.
The common expression for the power of compression is the horsepower per million cubic feet per
day (MMcfd) at 14.4 psia, 60F and dry. This term is from the basic PLAN engine power formula.
Power is defined as the time rate at which work is performed. The classic PLAN formula is,
All terms are given in the Glossary except for the constant and the application of the mechanical
and compression efficiency factors E
and E
. The mechanical efficiency appears in the numerator
when the indicated power capacity is to be reduced to the brake horsepower rating. The mechanical
and compression efficiencies appear in the denominator to determine the brake horsepower re-
quired to drive the indicated PLAN compressor load. The compression efficiency is applied only
when the calculated theoretical compressor power is concerned; it is not applied to indicated com-
pressor power. The constant refers to the number of power cylinders constituting a given machine.
The constant has various significance depending on the type of machine as shown below:
Type of machine Value of b
Double-acting compressor 2
Single-acting compressor 1
Using mep from Eq. (16) as P and LAN as the volume V. The equation appears as,
There is evidence to support the premise that the actual power required is an adiabatic function.
The replot of the compression line produces a P/V slope that is very close to the adiabatic k value
of the gas. Compression temperature determined within the cylinder follows an adiabatic function
when the internal cylinder pressures are applied. A reciprocating piston in a compressor cylinder is
the closest approach to a machine that satisfies the basic requirement of an adiabatic function.
This is especially true for high speed compressors where the heat loss to the jackets and to radia-
tion are minimized. The compression phase represents approximately 1/4 of the compression cycle
and there may be a small amount of heat rejected during this phase. There is evidence of heat re-
W k k PJ P P
k k
= | / ( - )| |( / ) - |
( - )/
1 1
1 1 2 1
( 15 )
Adiabatic mep | / ( - )||( ) - |
( - )/
k P k RC E
k k
v 1
1 1 ( 16 )
33 000 ,
( 17 )
T o
k k
= =

44 6
( )
( )
( )/
- 11 -
jection during the clearance gas expansion phase. Here the hot gas is concentrated in a minimum
volume under more favorable conditions. Heat rejection is more realistically applied as a polytropic
function in the expansion cycle as a factor influencing the volumetric efficiency.
The diaphragm compressor, as a reciprocating machine, deviates from the adiabatic function and
follows closely a polytropic function throughout all phases of the compression cycle. The diaphragm
compressor operates at low speed and therefore allows a greater heat loss to occur in the compres-
sion cycle. Also, the hydraulic media and large surfaces areas of the head assembly provide for
additional and significant heat losses.
Many compressor applications are not continuous and therefore, the expression of MMcfd is cum-
bersome to use. Without showing the full development of the formula, the energy required for a re-
ciprocating compressor can be expressed as,
The theoretical horsepower then becomes
With all other values unchanged, an increase in suction pressure (P1) will result in a proportional
increase in horsepower. Likewise, with all other values unchanged, an increase in flow (Q1) will
result in a proportional increase in horsepower.
The horsepower equations presented to this point are theoretical and assume mechanical friction
of approximately 5% and do not account for compressibility factors or inlet temperatures. Each for-
mula can be further refined by introducing expressions for the compressibility factors and the inlet
temperature. Further refinements can be made by substituting the mean temperature corrected mo-
lal heat capacity k' as proposed in Eq. (10) and the average compressibility factors. The result will
be the real-gas power of compression formula:
Since diaphragm compressors are a combination of two systems, gas and liquid, the true, installed
horsepower must be considered not only from the gas power demand, but also the mechanical de-
mand on the reciprocating components. The evaluation of installed horsepower using a slider crank
mechanism in which all forces are resolved will give an accurate result since it also accounts for
flywheel effects.
The volume swept per minute by the piston in a cylinder, or the diaphragm, is termed "compressor
W 144
k - 1
k k
1 1
1 ( )
( )/

( 19a )
(P Q )(R
1 1 c
(k -1)/ k 1

k 1
( 19b )
k k

( ) ( - )
( - )/
33 000 1 2
1 1
1 2 1 1


( 20 )
- 12 -
displacement". it is referred to in units of cubic feet per minute, abbreviated cfm or cubic meters per
hour, abbreviated mhr. The compressor displacement is expressed by the formula
This formula holds true for single acting, piston or diaphragm compressors. For double acting piston
compressors the displacement would be double less the volume of the piston rod. For duplex dia-
phragm compressors, the displacement would be doubled.
The volumetric efficiency is the ratio of the gas handled to the compressor displacement. n piston
compressors it is represented by the ratio of lengths of the suction lines AF and AE in Figure 8.
Figure 8 - Compressor PV Diagram, VoIumetric Efficiency
The volume of gas retained in the compressor in the valve recesses and other non-displaced vol-
umes is represented by the line CP. This volume CP divided by the cylinder displacement AE rep-
resents the compressor clearance C in percent. The clearance gas expands along line CD returning
its pressure and temperature to the initial conditions. The energy returned to the piston is represent-
ed by the area CEF. Technically, the returned energy is reduced by the amount of friction and heat
rejection effective during the expansion cycle and by a slight leakage in the valve elements. n the
case of piston compressors, there is additional reduction of energy due to leakage past the piston
rings. The expression for adiabatic volumetric efficiency is
f the adiabatic value k is reduced to unity, the formula becomes an isothermal function.
The effect of clearance volume is shown in Figure 9 with k = 1.40.
cfm D LN ( / )
4 ( 21 )
va c
- ( - ) -
/ /
100 1 100
1 1
( 22 )
- 13 -
Figure 9 - VoIumetric Efficiencies for Nitrogen Gas, 600 psig Discharge Pressure
Line pressures are used for establishing the volumetric efficiency and the cylinder capacity deter-
mination in Eq. (22). The piston approaches and recedes from points A and C with retarded velocity.
t comes to instantaneous rest at both points. The differential between the internal cylinder pressure
and the line pressure is then at the absolute minimum. There is frequent misunderstanding in stat-
ing that the effective suction stroke and the volumetric efficiency is dependent upon the length of
AD, rather the length AF, in Figure 8. t must be remembered that the cylinder is fully charged with
gas at point A. The net charge is represented by AF. The volume FP1 is already in the cylinder be-
fore the suction valve opens. The fact that the diagram drops to point D is only incidental to the valve
loss and has no effect on cylinder capacity.
Clearance gas volume expansion is also affected by the amount of heat rejection. The influence of
such heat rejection is to reduce the adiabatic exponent, the slope of CD, and the volume at points
F and D. The magnitude of this correction is determined by the polytropic factor M
. Where heat is
rejected in expansion and compression functions of reciprocating machines, the polytropic factor is
less than unity. A factor greater than unity is qualified by the fact that the heat rejection tends to
reduce the mechanical energy required for compression. The influence of the polytropic factor on
the molal heat capacity and the adiabatic exponent are,
The discharge volumetric efficiency is useful in sizing pulsation dampers. t is the ratio of the dis-
charge phase to the piston stroke, CG/AE in Figure 8. The discharge volumetric efficiency is deter-
mined by
For compressors whose compression cycle is polytropic for all phase of the cycle, such as the dia-
phragm compressor, the volumetric efficiency expression can be written as,
n C C n n k k
pm pm
= / | - ( . / | and ( - ) / ( - ) / 198 1 1
( 23 )
n where k k / | ( 1 1 1 = ' / | ' ( ) /
d v c
/ 1
( 24 )
- 14 -
and for piston compressors as,
The symbol is the leakage factor as it applies to piston compressors. t is an experimental factor
based on a differential pressure across the piston rings for compression rations from 6 to 10:1. The
curve for A is a hyperbola with an asymptote of 1.1 for compression ratios less than 6:1 and an ac-
tual value of 1.3 for a compression ratio of 10:1.
n general the volumetric efficiency formulas given herein do not account for the real gas conditions
since compressibility factors are not considered. However, the PV diagram in actual practices does
represent the real conditions. The influence of compressibility factors on volumetric efficiency will
be discussed in the next section.
The effect of gas compressibility is best understood by analyzing its influence on a PV diagram. Re-
fer to Figure 10.
Figure 10 - PV Diagram with CompressibiIity
The area abed in Figure 10 represents the ideal gas law (GL) behavior. The (GL) volume Vb at
discharge pressure occupies an real gas volume of Vh, where the compressibility factor Z2 is less
than unity. Where Z2 is greater than unity, the real gas volume is represented by Vj.
The conditions at suction are more complex. The compressibility factor Z
at the suction conditions
is usually less than the discharge compressibility factor Z
. Where GL conditions apply, the gas re-
tained in the clearance volume V
then expands to volume V
in accordance with the last term in
Eq. (25) or Eq. (26). When the compressibility correction at suction is negligible and Z
= 0.9, the
gas retained in the clearance volume V
contains 1.11 times more weight of gas than it would retain
under GL conditions. Vc expands to V
in Figure 10 under these conditions. f Z
= 1.00 and Z
1.11, the clearance volume contains 0.90 of the weight of gas that it would retain under GL condi-
tions. Vc would then expand to V
. Presume that Z
= 0.81 and Z
= 0.90, then the greater weight of
clearance gas would expand to V
. The quantitative position of V
is determined by correcting the
GL expanded clearance position V
by the factor Z
. For the case of compressibility factors 0.81/
0.90, V
= O.90V
n another case, Z
=0.90 and Z
= 1.11. Then the lesser weight of clearance gas would expand to
vp c
- ( - 1) -
/ /
100 100
1 1
( 25 )
vp c
- ( - 1) -
/ / k
100 100
1 1
( 26 )
- 15 -
. The quantitative position of V
is determined by similarly correcting the GL expanded clearance
gas position V
by the factor Z
. For this assumed case the factor would be 0.90/1.11, or 0.81V
This illustrates that the last term of Eq.(25) and Eq.(26) must be corrected by the ratio of the suction
and the discharge compressibility factors. The equations for compressibility corrected volumetric ef-
ficiency are,
and for piston compressors,
t is obvious that the compressibility also affects the weight of the gas flow or the standard reference
volume capacity of a given compressor. The compressibility corrected compressor capacity formula
A condensable vapor on a gas mixture is one of the three conditions of state. When an increase of
temperature tends to evaporate it, a liquid is said to be a saturated liquid. As heat continues to be
applied to the liquid in a vessel at constant pressure, evaporation continues until the vessel is sat-
urated with vapor. The relative amount of vapor present is referred to as the percentage of satura-
tion, the quality of steam or, in the case of ambient air, the relative humidity. The saturated vapor
condition is also known as the dew point. At this point any heat rejection causes the vapor to start
to condense. A continued application of heat must either raise the pressure or, in a constant pres-
sure system, superheat the vapor.
Except for certain instances at or close to the critical pressure of the gas, the vapor is invariably
superheated in the process of compression. When the heat of compression is rejected in coolers,
the amount of condensable vapor that is carried into the cooled high pressure mixture is sharply
reduced. The accepted procedure of attaining an equilibrium balance between condensate fall-out
and vapor partial pressure is generally assumed to follow Dalton's and the ideal gas laws. The de-
gree of saturation can be determined from the expression,
where Pa represents the partial pressure of the vapor at the dry-bulb or existing temperature of the
mixture and Ps represents the saturated vapor pressure at the saturated temperature. The wet bulb
temperature is attained by isentropically cooling the dry-bulb temperature to a saturated total pres-
sure condition. The quantity of condensable vapor, after a change of equilibrium conditions, that is
carried in a gaseous mixture can be approximated by use of the humidity ratio expression to deter-
mine the weight of vapor, in pounds per pound of dry air.
v: c 1
1 2
100 ( - )( / )
/ n
( 27 )
v: c 2
1 2
100 ( - )( / )
/ k
( 28 )
Q cfm P E Z
scfm v:
( )( )( ) / |( . )( )|
1 1 1
14 69
( 29 )
= P P
a s
/ ( 30 )
f P R P R P m P m
v g g v v v g g
= = / /
( 31 )
- 16 -
For water vapor in an air mixture,
Each compressor cylinder has a characteristic power curve that is patterned by the amount ot clear-
ance. The load tends to approach zero at an Rc value of 1. The load rises as Rc increases but the
load peaks before Rc is at its maximum value. The exact peak location depends on the cylinder
clearance but in general the peak will occur between Rc values of 2.0 and 3.0. The greater the
amount of clearance, the lower the Rc value at the power peak. Charts for individual cylinders can
be prepared from Eqs. (16) and (28).
f P P P P m P m P P p
v b v v v g g t t
= = = 535 86 0 1 18 02 28 97 . / | . ( )| / | ( ) | . } / .
f P P P
v b v
= 0 622 . / ( ), lb moisture / lb dry air ( 32a )
f P P P
v b v
= 4 354 , / ( ), grains / lb dry air ( 32b )
where total pressure
vapor pressure oI water, psia at temperature concerned.
- 17 -
The compressor valve regulates the cycle of operation and the sequence is best illustrated by the
compressor-indicator diagram, Figure 11.
Figure 11 - Compressor Indicator Diagram with Check VaIve Action
The abscissa of the Figure is the volume swept by the piston through the cylinder stroke; the ordi-
nate represents the pressure. Each point depicts the pressure at the respective piston position; the
area enclosed by the cycle represents the work. The piston is presumed to be at a point A in Figure
11 with the cylinder fully charges with the gas at the suction pressure P1. As the piston advance
toward the opposite end of the cylinder, the pressure increases along curve ABC. After the pres-
sure in the cylinder exceeds the ordinate P2, at point B. the energy of the piston is directed to un-
seating the discharge check valve. As the curve slope breaks into the cap at point C, the gas in the
cylinder is released into the discharge piping. The gas is discharged in a series of pressure waves,
diminishing in amplitude and general slope until the piston reaches the end of its discharge stroke
at D. The direction of the piston travel is then reversed. The return stroke is assisted by the expan-
sion of the gas which was retained in the clearance space as illustrated by rectangle DGP1P2. The
trapped gas expands along the curve DEF. Below point E at ordinate P1, the pressure is further
reduced to point F. where the differential is adequate to unseat the suction valve. The piston con-
tinues to draw gas into the cylinder throughout the stroke and reached the starting position A, where
the cycle is then repeated.
t is important to establish a definite concept of the cylinder terminal pressures, points A and D, and
of the cylinder filling operation. The premise is that the cylinder discharge pressure is the line pres-
sure at the expelling end of the stroke, as indicated at point D. The cylinder intake pressure is at the
suction line pressure at the charging end of the stroke, point A. An exception to this latter premise
occurs when heavy valve springs are used for handling low pressure gases. The cylinder is charged
with gas at condition P1. Any pressure change below point E must be equalized at point A. f there
is no clearance gas trapped in the expelling end of the stroke, the volumetric efficiency would be
100% and the full cylinder displacement would be charged at condition P1. However, every cylinder
does retain a small clearance volume which does occupy the volume EG at condition P1. Therefore
the cylinder charge or volumetric efficiency is equal to (AG - EG )/AG or AG/AG.
n the design of compressor check valves, the area of the valve to be unseated may exceed the port
area by 30 to 70%. This would indicate that the internal cylinder pressure maybe, of necessity, 50%
greater than the discharge pressure provided that the valve is absolutely tight. However imperfec-
tions of the valve seat permit a small flow to occur or gas to be trapped in the valve during the clo-
sure period. The valve is probably in a state of balance with a slight tendency to close. The slight
- 18 -
leakage produces an the additional required unseating pressure under the port and seat to over-
come the static pressure, the spring, and the inertia loading. The unseating force is thereby reduced
to a slight differential ranging from 5 to 15% of the line pressure. Higher differentials may be expe-
rienced when pulsations from parallel cylinders phase into a synchronous speed. The shaded areas
above line BD and below line AE in Figure 11 represent the work required to unseat the valve ele-
ment and overcome friction. The sharp bursts of flow at points C and F undoubtedly are the source
of pulsation forces that on occasion vibrate the piping system.
The effective valve lift area is defined as the product of the seat peripheries, less the guide surfaces,
and the effective lift of the element. While designs may have a fixed passage area through the seat
and guard, they may have smaller areas that are governed by the valve lift, all of which are less
than the area of the seat or guarded passage area, and therefore it governs their resistance.
There are three forms of valve element lifts. The most common are disk, plate, and channel types
where the element lifts a flat plane parallel to the seat. The lift will vary from 0.035 inch for high pres-
sure, high speed compressors to 0.180 inch for low pressure, low speed compressors. Lifts in ex-
cess of 0.100 inch in general service tend to produce a flutter and impact noise. Excessive lifts tend
to shatter or mar the element and to upset the seat proper. Valve life under such conditions is a
matter of days. The thickness of the element ranges from 0.050 inch for low pressures to 0.250 inch.
The diameter of the valve and the operating speed also affect the thickness. Various types of
springs and the degrees of tension are used to dampen the opening impact of flat valves. The
choice of these variables is usually by experience.
The second form of valve lift is used by the feather valve. t differs in that the element also functions
as a spring and flexes in an arced segment recessed into the valve guard. Most of these valves are
limited to pressures of 900 psi (6 MPa).
The third form of valve element is the poppet type. Light metal alloy and plastics are generally used
for the poppet. Lifts can be as great as 0.250 inch at rotational speeds of 400 rpm and less. This is
possible because light weight plastics with high impact strength are used. The port of the poppet
valve can range from 0.0625 inch to 1.0 inch in diameter.
Cylinders less than 8 inches in diameter usually contain one suction and one discharge valve; cyl-
inders between 8 and 13 inches in diameter generally have two valves for suction and discharge.
Between 14 and 22 inches in diameter, three valves; over 23 inches, four valves; over 30 inches, 5
valves; and over 36 inches as many as six suction and six discharge valves.
About 18 to 25% of the valve port area of the modern disk valve can be designed into effective lift
area. The disk element refers to the single or multiple, separate concentric ring type valve. The mul-
tiple bridged ring type valve is herein referred to as a plate valve. The port area of the strip type
valve can support approximately 18% effective lift area. These areas are based upon the optimum
lift of 0.100 inch. The effective lift area is the area of maximum restriction through the valve and gov-
erns the frictional power loss; it must be specified as the controlling factor to avoid misunderstand-
ing in the evaluation of comparative valve data. The gas passages through the seat and guard of
the disk-type valves are generally two or three times the lift area, or about 60% of the valve port
area. The remaining 40% of the valve seat an guard section is used for structural support. From this
generalization the relationship between the valve diameter Do and the effective lift area Av can be
estimated from
The effective valve lift area of for the multiple poppet-type valves is approximately 50% greater than
v v 0
0 5
6 3 6 3 = = ( . ) / .
( 33 )
- 19 -
the area for the same size disk valve. The seat and guard passage areas are also somewhat larger
in proportion.
A conventional method of determining and stating valve velocity in feet per minute is to divide the
cylinder displacement in cubic feet per minute by the total suction valve area (expressed in square
feet). Air compressor manufacturers refer to this as the free air valve velocity. This factor has relative
significance, but no quantitative value, and then only when a common defined minimum valve pas-
sage is used with realistic lift. Valve area specifications are occasionally based on ambiguous, non-
controlling seat passages. Such values are meaningless. There is no compromise for the effective
valve lift area as a criterion for evaluating valve loss.
Piston speed for the portion of the stroke where critical valve action occurs has been established
as being 1.5 times the arithmetical average piston speed. This quasi piston speed is used because
it produces a valve resistance coefficient that is more compatible with the steady-flow coefficients.
The gas follows the piston through the valves into and out of the cylinder. The flow rate varies di-
rectly as the piston area, inversely as the valve area, and directly as the ratio of the piston area to
minimum valve area. This ratio of piston to valve area is given the symbol . A well designed cylinder
has an factor approximating 10 or less. A compressor cylinder that has a piston arithmetical speed
of 12 fps and an factor of 10 has an effective valve velocity of 1.5 x 10 x 12 or 180 fps.
Effective valve velocity = 1.5
Gas flow resistance through a compressor valve causes a static head loss. This valve velocity can
be analytically equated to express the static head loss in Darcy's fundamental flow equation:
The constant f is a resistance coefficient defined as the number of velocity heads, herein called ve-
lads, of friction determined from experimental or operating data. This resistance coefficient would
theoretically be constant for all sizes of compressor valves of a given design if all sizes were geo-
metrically similar. Available data indicate that the proportions of similar type valves holds within rea-
sonable limits. The valves operate in a relatively narrow turbulent flow range which enhances the
accuracy and consistency of the frictional valve loss hypothesis. The velad number has the same
relative significance as the Cv number given each size and style of manual or motor driven valve
by its manufacturer. The resistance must be expressed in terms of psi in order to have useful ap-
Valve velocity heads =
fv g
2 2
15 64 4
0 035
| ( . ) | / .

( 35 )
psi f

0 035
0 763
14 7 144
2 2
( 36a )
( 34 )
- 20 -
or where T = 520,
The suction and discharge line pressures are applied to P to obtain the respective valve resistanc-
es. The absolute temperature correction is generally applied only to the discharge valve loss or as
the occasion merits.
The same valve loss can be determined as horsepower by multiplying the psiS and psiD by the re-
spective volumetric efficiencies. This limits the portion of the stroke over which the valve resistance
affects the work diagram area. The sum of the two products assimilates the mean effective pres-
sure, pm. This value and the piston speed appears in the LN of the PLAN formula and resolves into
the proximate equation:
Some compressor and valve manufacturers have offered generalized corrections for valve losses
and at lower Rc these corrections require substantial arbitrary alterations. n many cases, factors
such as valve areas, piston speeds, and gas densities have not been given the analytical consid-
erations that they merit.
The most important criterion is found to be a parameter involving effective flow area through the
valves and piston speed. Valve dynamics are a secondary consideration. f certain valve character-
istics are known, the performance of the compressor using these valves can be predicted with fair
accuracy. Empirical resistance coefficients can be found by means of a simple static test. Valve
losses decrease with an increase in pressure ratio Rc. The losses vary inversely as the square of
the flow area and directly as the square of the piston speed.
When the flow area is small, the effect of the valve dynamics has little influence on the valve losses.
When the flow area is large, valve dynamics is important. Large flow areas with very stiff springs,
will cause several cycles of opening and closing (fluttering) during the inlet or discharge period,
thereby increasing valve losses. The weight of the valve element and the spring stiffness must be
reduced to a minimum, while keeping the natural frequency of the spring system very high.
t can be concluded that the performance of reciprocating compressors with spring loaded valves
can be analyzed successfully, provided a few simplifying assumptions are made. Actual volumetric
and thermal efficiencies will be slightly lower than the theoretical. The theory indicates that for a giv-
en pressure ratio the valve performance is principally a function of a parameter involving piston
speed and flow area.
The compressor piston controls the velocity through the connections to and from the cylinder. An
average velocity of 30 and 40 fps is a desirable rate through the suction and discharge lines respec-
tively. Ordinarily this is approximately triple the arithmetical average piston speed. The proper line
size is selected by the nearest nominal size of pipe or tube within 5% of the diameter determined
by the equation
Lines sized on this basis have proved to be satisfactory over a wide range of operating conditions.
The results of involved solutions do not justify the effort and pulsating and surging flow to and from
psi f PSG Z =

( . ) / 126 10
6 2 2
( 36b )
vhp A f SG
= +

2 3 10
9 2 3
2 1

( 37 )
Cylinder connection diameter ( / )
2 0 5
3 ( 38 )
- 21 -
the compressor render the Darcy type formula meaningless.
The bypass connection between suction and discharge can be safely sized for steady flow velocity
of 270 fps, or 20 times the piston velocity.
The relief valve operates at velocities approaching the acoustic, or about 60 times the piston veloc-
ity. The relief valve nozzle area should be sized at 1.5 per cent of the piston area. The connection
to the relief valve should be sized as the bypass is sized.
The most common method of unloading a compressor cylinder is to hold open the suction valve
element. This is accomplished by means of devices that project through the valve guard ports. t is
a relatively inexpensive method of automatic control. Where there is an intermittent unloading con-
dition that requires idling for short periods, more elaborate devices are required. When both ends
of a double acting cylinder are unloaded by this method, the gas is heated by the work required to
circulate it back and forth through the depressed suction valves. The dormant gas continues to cir-
culate until valve damage occurs. When gas contains unsaturates, this type of unloading becomes
impractical due to fouling from deposits.
This section will review the basic mechanical operation of positive displacement compressors and
the function of major components.
The integral and balanced-opposed frames are the most popular types for large air and process
compressors. Present designs cover a range of two to eight cylinders it is significant to note that a
true balanced-opposed effect is obtained only by having the crank throws 180 apart for each pair
of cylinders. The crankshafts of some designs are sufficiently rigid to delete bearings between op-
posed throws, thereby minimizing the unbalanced couples.
There are other frame design variations that utilize a single crankshaft offset to carry two, three, or
four connecting rods. Being compact and light in weight, they are economical to install and maintain.
Vertical and angle types carrying double-acting cylinders are well adapted for non-lubricated and
diaphragm cylinders. Multiple crank throws are often available. Variations of the vertical and angle
type are the L and V designs. Refer to Figure 12.
Bypass diameter ( / )
2 0 5
20 ( 39 )
- 22 -
Figure 12, TypicaI Compressor Arrangements
n simple lubricated air piston compressors, the piston is attached directly to the connecting rod.
The compression cylinder is sealed off from the crankcase by the piston rings, usually of cast iron.
Suction pressure must be close to atmospheric. Since gas will leak into the crankcase, the simple
air compressor must be limited to air or nitrogen.
Large flow, lubricated air piston compressors are designed with a tighter seal between the cylinder
and the crankcase. With the appropriate modifications, they are suitable for a variety of gas servic-
es. The piston is mounted on the end of a piston rod which is in turn mounted to a crosshead. The
piston rod is a relatively small diameter, an therefore can be sealed within a stuffing box with one
or more sets of packing. Higher suction pressures can be used since the compression cylinder is
sealed from the crankcase by the stuffing box packing set(s).
n both the simple and large air and gas piston compressors, lubricating fluid is injected into the
compression cylinder to provide lubrication for the metallic piston rings. Packing life is extended by
injecting the same lubricant into the packing set(s). The lubrication is provided by a separate, crank-
shaft driven lubrication pump. Refer to Figure 13 for a typical cylinder assembly.
Many chemical, pharmaceutical, food-processing, and utility services require oil free gas compres-
sion. n certain cases synthetic lubricants compatible with the process can be substituted in the con-
ventional, lubricated compressor. There are cases where all lubricants must be eliminated. This can
be accomplished by a number of methods including the use of carbon piston rings, plastic piston
rings, or spring loaded seal rings where constant radial loads are applied to both the piston and the
cylinder wall. A two compartment distance piece with a oil wiping feature is required to prevent the
oil wet piston rod from contaminating the process gas.
A second type of oil free piston compressor is one in which a labyrinth profile is used. A labyrinth
profile is formed by a fillet-root thread and this dry seal approaches the effectiveness of a lubricated
ring sealed piston. Normally the leakage past the labyrinth does not exceed 5% of the rated dis-
placement. As in the case of the first type of non-lubricated compressor, a two compartment dis-
tance piece for oil wiping feature and for holding piston alignment is required. Refer to Figure 13 for
a typical cylinder assembly.
- 23 -
Figure 13, Medium Pressure Piston Compressor CyIinder AssembIy
Unlike other types of reciprocating compressors in which the primary displacing element contacts
the gas, the metal diaphragm compressor completely isolates the gas from the piston during the
entire work cycle. The motion of the displacing element is transmitted to a hydraulic fluid, and the
hydraulic fluid transmits its motion to one or more thin, flexible metal discs called diaphragms. This
motion causes the diaphragm to move into the compression chamber, reducing the volume and
thereby increasing the gas pressure. n the diaphragm compressor design the compression cylinder
is named the meads and the volume in which compression occurs is the "cavity or "contour".
The compression cycle of the metal diaphragm compressor is not unlike other reciprocating piston
compressors. Each have a reciprocating piston to convert mechanical energy to work flow in the
gas. Both use check valves which open when the proper differential is reached. n each design,
clearance volume influences the volumetric efficiency.
Since the gas is separated from all reciprocating components, toxic, hazardous, explosive, and le-
thal gases can be compressed without fear of leakage. See Figure 14 for a typical diaphragm com-
pressor head assembly.
- 24 -
Figure 14, TypicaI Diaphragm Compressor Head AssembIy
The function of the crankcase is to convert rotary motion from the driver into linearly reciprocating
motion. The crankcase contains a crankshaft supported on either end by bearings.
Bearings can be either "sleeve" (journal) type or anti-friction type. Precision bored sleeve bearings
are the preferred type for ratings greater than 200 hp. Crankshafts are single or multiple throw and
multiple throw crankshafts are generally 180 out of phase to minimize stresses and reduce vibra-
tion. As illustrated in Figure 12, there are several arrangements where the crankshaft throws are
not 180 out of phase Consequently, the net magnitude of the forces and moments developed with-
in the compressor will vary a great deal between arrangements. n some cases they can be partially
or completely balanced out; in others the foundation on which they are placed must handle all of
the loads in addition to the dead load of the compressor. The various crankshaft arrangements
shown in Figure 15 and the inertia forces are given in Table 1.
Figure 15, TypicaI Crankshaft Arrangements
- 25 -
Compressor inertia forces may have two effects, one being a force in the direction of the piston
movement and the other being a couple or moment that is developed when there is an offset be-
tween the axis of two or more pistons on a common crankshaft. The interrelation and degree of
these forces will depend upon such factors as the number of cranks and the degree of counterbal-
ancing possible. Two significant vibration periods are set up; the primary at the rotative speed of
the compressor and the secondary at twice the rotative speed. There are others, but in most cases
they can be neglected.
Although the forces developed are sinusoidal, only the maximum force is considered. Without going
into the derivations, table 1 lists the values of the inertia forces for the various compressor arrange-
ments corresponding to Figure 15. The column "CW" identifies the use of counterweights. The pri-
mary unbalanced force, F' and the secondary unbalanced force, F" are determined by:
F' = 0.0000284RN
F" = (R / L) F'
where F' or F is the inertia force in bs,
R = Crank radius, inches
N = Speed, rpm
W = Reciprocating weight, bs
L = Connecting rod length, inches
D = Distance between cylinder centers
TabIe 1, UnbaIanced Inertia Forces and CoupIes for TypicaI Crankshaft Arrangements
The crankshaft and the connecting rod are separated by a journal bearing, which is a cylindrical
insert that fits over the throw. The connecting rod is clamped over the journal by means of two or
four connecting rod bolts. All journals are of a bearing quality material, such as bronze, and can be
Forces CoupIes (Moments)
Single Crank No
Two Cranks at 180
n Line Cylinders
Opposed Cylinders
F'D / 2
Two Cranks at 90 No
Single Crank
Cylinders at 90 No
1.41 F"
Single Crank
Opposed Cylinders
Three Cranks at 120 No
Four Cylinders
Cranks at 180
Cranks at 90
Six Cylinders NA 0 0 0 0
( 40 )
( 41 )
- 26 -
coated with a low friction material called "babbitt". The lubricating oil forms a thin film to separate
the bearing surface and the throw.
The small end of the connecting rod is attached to the wrist pin which is made of polished, heat
treated, low alloy steel. Normally the surface is chrome plated to reduce wear. Both the wrist pin
and the connecting rod are separated by a bronze wrist pin bushing. The lubricating oil forms a thin
film to separate the bushing surface and the wrist pin.
To insure adequate lubrication of the bearing surfaces, a pressure lubrication system is used. A
small gear pump driven by the crankshaft draws oil from the crankcase reservoir (sump) and pumps
it through the drilled oil passages in the crankshaft and connecting rod to the bearing surfaces. n
the case of low horsepower (5 hp or less), splash lubrication methods are employed. However,
splash lubrication is not recommended for larger compressors or compressors which must start un-
der load.
The crosshead is attached to the connecting rod by the wrist pin. Since the piston rod is attached
to the crosshead, the alignment of the crosshead in the distance piece must be precise with close
top to bottom clearances. The surfaces between the crosshead and the crosshead slide are lubri-
cated by the same system as the wrist pin and main bearings. To compensate for wear, the cross-
head is often fitted with shim adjustable shoes. Shims are added to maintain the proper clearance
as the sliding surfaces wear. Alternately, the crosshead slide can be designed to be removed in the
event there is excessive wear. However, the bore (diameter) of the slide must be matched to the
"wear" dimension of the crosshead.
There are two methods used to attach the piston rod to the crosshead; direct threading and flanged.
Figures 16a and 16b illustrate the two basic methods.
Figure 16a, Threaded Piston Rod Attachment
- 27 -
Figure 16b, FIange Piston Rod Attachment
The piston rod is one of the significant controlling factors of compressor design loads. n addition to
carrying the loads due to pressure and inertia, the piston rod must also be sealed by the packing
group in the stuffing box. As a result, the method of attaching the piston rod to the crosshead and
the stresses imposed on the piston rod require some discussion.
Each method has its advantages and the design is usually left to the manufacturer if the purchaser
has no preference. Note however, that there can be slight variations depending on the manufactur-
er. Nevertheless, the two most critical points of the design are the run-out since run-out will effect
both packing and piston ring life; and surface finish, particularly in the threaded design since poor
finishes can result in fatigue failures.
The thrust or power rating of the compressor frame limits the piston diameter and the pressure
working on the piston diameter. A tensile load limit at the piston rod thread usually governs the trust
capacity of the compressor. The tensile load limit is influenced by the material selected for the pis-
ton rod and the quality of the material. The wrist pin bearing is a second significant controlling factor.
Other features of the crosshead linkage and of the frame usually have commensurate or greater
thrust capacity than do the piston rod and the wrist pin bearing.
f too great a load is placed on the wrist pin bearings the lubricating film breaks down. Break down
leads to rapid failure of the bearing. There are two factors that must be considered in order to main-
tain the lubricating film; rod load and rod reversal. Rod load, or thrust load, is the tensile or com-
pressive force exerted on the rod at any given angle of rotation and this load varies continuously
during rotation. Rod load has two components gas load and inertia load. The gas load is that which
is created as the result of compressing the gas.
t is important that the load reverse on each stroke in order to lubricate the crosshead wrist pin and
wrist pin bearing. When the crank end of a double acting cylinder is unloaded by raising the suction
valve, the load tends to remain in compression for both strokes. This does not relieve the pin bear-
ing pressure so that the oil film can be replenished. When the head end is unloaded, the piston car-
ries a small compressive load in moving to the head end. The compression load is equal to the
product of the piston rod area and the intake pressure. Unloading the head end is the preferred
method. When only one load rating is given, it may be considered to be the tension load. The com-
pressive load capacity is generally based on the full rod and is 10 percent more unit loading than
- 28 -
The thrust loads for double acting cylinders are determined from the following equations:
Refer to Figure 17.
Figure 17, Thrust Loads on DoubIe Acting CyIinder
Distance pieces are designed to prevent carry over, that is isolate the gas and the hydraulic oil. Dis-
tance pieces are typed as: short, single compartment; long, single compartment; long, two compart-
ment; short, two compartment. The type of distance piece used will depend on the service. No
matter what type of distance piece is used, drains are necessary on the bottom side, while vents
are provided on the top side. The purpose of the drain is to remove any condensation or oil that
collects in the distance piece. The purpose of the vent is to remove any gas leakage by the rod
packing group. n addition to the drain and vent connections, purge connections may be required if
toxic, flammable, or hazardous gases are being compressed. Short, single compartment distance
pieces are provided on diaphragm compressors since the inherent design features of the dia-
phragm compressor make multiple compartment or long distance pieces an unnecessary expense.
Refer to Figures 18a through 18d for typical distance piece arrangements.
The following is a general guide for distance piece types by application:
1. Short, single compartment - for lubricated service where carry over is not objectionable or when
the compression head is the diaphragm type.
2. Long, single compartment - for non-lubricated service to prevent carry over. The piston road is
normally fitted with an oil slinger.
3. Long, two compartment - for containment of flammable, hazardous, or toxic gases and wiper
packing is provided.
4. Short, two compartment - for containment of flammable, hazardous, or toxic gases and wiper
packing is provided.
Tension thrust = D P P D P ( ) '
2 1 2
( 42 )
Compressive thrust = D P P D P ( ) '
2 1 1
( 43 )
- 29 -
Figure 18, TypicaI Distance Pieces
Chevron packing - a molded packing ring, usually Teflon which can be used for both lubricated
and non-lubricated service. Depending on the size of the piston rod and the pressure, the number
of rings used could vary between 3 and 8. The rings are held in place by male and female backers.
Compression of the packing may be either passive (the application of torque on a gland) or active
(spring loaded). There is no lateral movement and adjustments for wear are by the passive or ac-
tive means. See Figure 19.
Figure 19, Chevron Packing Arrangement
- 30 -
Segmented packing - a series of molded segments, usually carbon, PTFE, soft metal, or epoxy res-
in depending on the service specified. There are normally 6 segments, bound together by a spring.
Refer to Figure 20.
Figure 20, TypicaI Segmented Packing Arrangement
The segmented packing arrangement shown in Figure 20 is a floating type which assures good
sealing of the gas a regardless of wear. Loading always works from the circumference, thereby
eliminating any gaps between the rod and the rings.
The type of piston rod packing selected will depend on a combination of the pressure rating and
piston rod size. Whatever type of packing is used, it must contain the gas in the compression cylin-
der from either blow-by, as in the case of a single acting, single stage compressor, or the full pres-
sure rating of the cylinder. No attempt will be made to discuss all of the different packing and seal
arrangements available.
Piston rod packing is not required on diaphragm compressors since the compression of the gas is
the result of hydraulic pressure acting on the diaphragm group. The compressed gas is retained
within the head assembly.
For horizontal opposed compressors, the two pistons should be the same weight to minimize vibra-
tion. This can be accomplished by using materials with different densities, or different configura-
tions. The pistons are mechanically attached to the piston rod. Materials include cast iron, cast
steel, aluminum, steel, low alloy steel and corrosion resistant steels.
Vertical single throw, or horizontal single throw pistons can not be truly balanced although the
counter weights on the crankshaft can be increased or decreased to reduce unbalanced forces. All
single throw compressors, either vertical or horizontal, will have both primary and secondary unbal-
anced forces. These forces must be accounted for in the design of the piping system and the com-
pressor foundation.
Most lubricated compressors for in both low and high pressure applications use metal piston rings,
- 31 -
usually cast iron. General ring practice is to use one to three compression rings in conjunction with
one or two oil rings. A standard compression ring with a straight cut joint and low end clearance is
usually required. Very often, tapered rings, which seat rapidly, are used as compression rings in
hardened or chromium plated cylinders or when cylinders have been wore out of round. When high-
er efficiency than that obtained with straight cut rings is desired, step seal or lap seal are often used
to replace one or all of the compression rings.
For double acting lubricated compressors step seal rings are used for low and medium pressures
and are placed on the piston in opposite directions. For high pressures, the piston is often built up
by the use of spacers and separators. Spacers establish the groove width while the separators form
the lands between the successive grooves. n the high pressure applications, the ring wall (thick-
ness) is heavier, and one piece straight cut or step joints are used.
For the successful operation of non lubricated compressors, non-metallic seals are required for the
pistons . The most popu lar materials are carbon, PTFE-fluorocarbon (with or without fillers), and
the "super-plastics" such as PEEK or VESPEL. Not only are the wear rates extremely low on the
rings made of these compounds but cylinder wear is also reduced. Since the most frequently used
ring materials are PTFE and the "super-plastics", ring side clearances must be increased over metal
rings since the plastic materials expand at a very high rate.
The ring arrangement consists of one or more rider (bull) rings and two or more seal rings. The sole
purpose of the rider ring is to carry the weight of the piston while preventing piston to cylinder con-
tact. The rider ring is two to three times wider than the piston ring and is designed with a straight
cut. Generally, two rider rings are required for heavy pistons.
Seal rings are either two piece step joint outer ring with a straight cut metallic inner ring; two piece
step joint outer ring having pressure balancing grooves with a straight cut metallic inner ring; four
or six segmented ring with spring loaded pushers. For high pressure double acting pistons, double
balanced designs are used. Table 2 is a general guide for the number of seal rings required for non
lubricated applications. The number is seal rings used is not a function of the pressure but of the
differential pressure across the rings.
Rings per Piston
TabIe 2, Suggested Number of SeaI Rings for Non Lubricated Compressors
Refer to Burton Corblin Technical Bulletin BCTB-403 for a detailed discussion regarding piston
rings for non-lubricated compressors
psi (MPa)
2 3 4 5 6
to 300 psid (2 MPad) X
300 to 900 psid (2 to 6 MPad) X
900 to 1500 psid (6 to 10 MPad) Plain Face X
900 to 1500 psid (6 to 10 MPad) Balanced Face X
1500 to 3000 psid (10 to 21 Mpad) Plain Face X
1500 to 3000 psid (10 to 21 Mpad) Balanced Face X
3000 psid and higher (21 MPad) Balanced Face Minimum of 6
balanced face
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Compressor valves regulate the flow into and out of the compression cylinder or head by opening
and closing in response to a pressure differential across the valve. Suction and discharge valves
are almost always identical except that they are mounted in the opposite direction.
There are three forms of valve element lifts. The first and most common are disc, plate, and channel
types where the element lifts a flat plane parallel to the seat; the second form of valve lift is used by
the feather valve, and it differs in that the element also functions as a spring and flexes in an arced
segment recessed into the valve guard; the third form of valve element is the poppet type. Only the
disc and poppet types will be detailed, but the others will be discussed at the end of this paragraph.
The open areas of the valve through which the gas flows is called the valve area. The pressure drop
through the valve is inversely proportional to the valve area. A well designed compressor valve min-
imizes the pressure drop to save on horsepower and maintain high volumetric efficiency. The valves
affect volumetric efficiency in two ways; the clearance volume in the valve and the pressure drop.
The major components of the disc type are the seat, spring, disc (valve ring), valve guard and guide
ring. When the valve is closed, the spring pushes the disc firmly against the seat. The openings in
the seat correspond to the solid portion of the disc. When the pressure at the seat exceeds the pres-
sure at the valve guard, the differential pressure across the disc will depress the spring. As the disc
moves away from the seat, gas flows into the valve, passes by the disc and exits at the valve guard.
See Figure 21.
The other form of valve element is the poppet type. The major components are the cage (seat), pop-
pets spring and spring retainer. The differential pressure at the poppet will depress the spring and
as the poppet moves away from the cage (seat) gas flows through the cage, passes around and
through the poppet and exits the valve assembly. Light metal alloy and plastics are generally used
for the poppet. Refer to Figure 22.
Figure 21, TypicaI Disc Type VaIve
- 33 -
Figure 22, TypicaI Poppet Type VaIve
n both the piston and diaphragm compressors the valves are part of the compressor cylinder or
The are several variations of the basic valve forms presented herein. Each valve type has its own
advantages and disadvantages.
MULT-RNG VALVE - uses several concentric rings, each separately spring loaded. Can result
in uneven wear and inaccurate opening and closing.
CONCENTRC VALVE - good utilization of space with minimum clearance volume. mproved cool-
ing since intake flow of cooler gas reduces heating the discharge valve.
DAMPENED VALVE - uses a "wave form" cushion disc below the valve guard to absorb the shock
from the valve ring.
Rational valve selection involves a careful study of the compressor operating conditions. A valve
must be selected to satisfy the basic requirements of suction and discharge pressure, flow, operat-
ing speed and temperature; additional requirements are valve area and velocity, pressure drop, dif-
ferential pressure and clearance volume. Some of these latter points are dictated by the limits of
space in the cylinder or by the strength of the materials. For efficient performance, the number and
stiffness of springs and the valve area are most important. As an example, a valve with fewer and/
or lighter springs will open easier and therefore operate more efficiently.
Originally invented by Henri Corblin in 1916, diaphragm compressors are a specialized version of
reciprocating compressors. The diaphragm compressor is capable of compressing all types of gas-
es with no contamination and no leakage. The component parts of the diaphragm compressor
frame (crankcase group, crosshead, piston rod) are virtually identical in design and concept to the
reciprocating piston compressors. The difference lies in the head assembly, which corresponds to
the cylinder assembly of the reciprocating piston compressor. Before discussing the major compo-
nents of the diaphragm compressor, it is important to describe the complete operating cycle of this
type of compressor so that the function of each component is understood.
The diaphragm compressor is composed of two independent but related systems, hydraulic and
gas. Hydraulic fluid is directly acted upon by the piston. The reciprocating motion of the piston is
transmitted to a hydraulic fluid, and the hydraulic fluid transmits motion and pressure to one or more
thin, flexible metal discs called diaphragms. This motion causes the diaphragm to move into the
- 34 -
compression chamber, reducing the volume and thereby increasing the gas pressure. n the dia-
phragm compressor design the compression cylinder is named the "head" and the volume in which
compression occurs is the "cavity". Hence, the diaphragm becomes the compression element in the
diaphragm compressor.
Refer to Figure 23 illustrating the
pressure operating cycle of the dia-
phragm compressor. The complete
operating cycle of the diaphragm
compressor starts with the piston at
bottom dead center of the stroke.
The hydraulic system is filled with flu-
id and a volume of gas at suction
pressure has entered the cavity, forc-
ing the diaphragm against the hy-
draulic fluid. As the piston begins to
rotate from bottom dead center, the
hydraulic fluid moves the diaphragm
and begins to compress the gas.
Compression continues until the
pressure in the cavity slightly ex-
ceeds the pressure acting on the dis-
charge check valve (A). The check
valve then opens and gas flows from the cavity, through the check valve and down stream. The pis-
ton continues its travel toward top dead center and the hydraulic fluid continues to move the dia-
phragm until the diaphragm contacts the contoured surface of the gas plate (B). At this point the
diaphragm has reached maximum displacement (travel). However, the piston still has several de-
grees of rotation before reaching top dead center. Pressure in the hydraulic system increases until
the setting of the limiter is reached (C). This occurs at top dead center. The piston then begins to
travel toward bottom dead center and the small amount of gas in the clearance volume of the cavity
expands. When the gas pressure in the cavity is slightly less than the suction pressure, the suction
valve opens and gas fills the cavity. The piston continues to bottom dead center completing the cy-
When the piston travels from top dead center to bottom dead center (D), hydraulic fluid is added to
the system by the compensating pump. The effect is to increase the fluid volume of the hydraulic
system so that is larger than the gas system volume. This is an important relationship. f the vol-
umes of both system were identical, complete displacement of the diaphragm, and hence the gas,
could not be assured owing 10 slight hydraulic losses. The result would be low volumetric efficiency.
The small volume of hydraulic fluid added during the suction phase of the stroke assures a larger
hydraulic volume and therefore full displacement of the diaphragm in the cavity.
Additional details regarding the limiter and the compensating pump are given in subsequent para-
The gas and oil plates of the diaphragm compressor are the two of the most critical parts of the com-
plete compressor assembly. Each plate is machined with a precision cavity contour into which the
diaphragm set deflects on each stroke. Refer to Figure 24. Figure 25 illustrates the basic concept
of the cavity contour. For discussion purposes this Figure will be used for the two basic cavity con-
tours most frequently employed.
Figure 23, Diaphragm Operating CycIe
- 35 -
Figure 24, Gas or OiI PIate with Cavity Contour
The cavity contour is usually a "free deflection" or "controlled deflection" type of curvature. The type
of contour used determines the stress level in the diaphragm when the diaphragm deflects into the
curvature. The derivation of the stress formulas is beyond the scope of this document. However, a
discussion regarding the curvatures is in order.
For each curvature, the volume and surfaces are determined from spherical and toroidal forms. n
the free deflection design the radii of the spherical and toroidal forms are equal, radius "A is equal
to radius "B" in Figure 25. The stresses imposed on a diaphragm conforming to a free deflection
contour have a fairly uniform distribution of the radial stresses from R=0 through R=n. Radial bend-
ing stresses are highest at the clamped point of the diaphragm, R=n.
Figure 25, Cavity Contour Geometry
The controlled deflection design, also know as the "two-radii contour", has different values for the
radii "A" and "B". The ratios between the two radii vary from 3:1 to 10:1. The effect of this design is
to limit the diaphragm radial bending stress at the edge (R=n), but to raise the radial bending stress
on the toroidal surface. The maximum stress in the diaphragm will occur very close to the point of
tangency (ZR or in Figure 25) between the spherical and toroidial forms.
Each of these contours have there own merits. For a given value of R. with the value of Yo being
equal for both contours, the two radii contour will yield a larger volume (displacement). on the other
hand, the distribution of stresses in the diaphragm will be more uniform with the free deflection de-
- 36 -
A typical gas plate is shown by Figure 26. A series of narrow, shallow, radial grooves are
machined in the contour. The purpose of the grooves is to serve as a flow path for the gas from
the outer area of the contour to the discharge check valve port, located in the center of the plate
during the discharge phase of the operating cycle. The "O" ring groove, located just outside of
the cavity contour, is designed to contain either an elastomer or metal "O" ring. The purpose of
the "O" ring is to seal the diaphragm to the gas plate and prevent leakage of the gas to the environ-
When extremely low leak rates are required, usually in the order of 1. E-7 standard cc/second, the
diaphragm will be sealed directly against the gas plate or it will be seal welded to the gas head.
The oil plate or perforated plate contour is identical to the gas plate contour. For the oil plate, the
radial grooves of the gas plate are replaced by a series of concentric grooves; for the perforated
plate the-radial grooves are replaced a series of holes. The purpose of the holes or grooves is to
evenly distribute hydraulic fluid against the diaphragm. Refer to Figure 27.
Figure 26, PIan View of Gas PIate
- 37 -
Figure 27, OiI PIate with Distribution HoIes
The diaphragm group is normally composed of three thin metallic discs, the individual thickness be-
ing in the range of 0.0085 to 0.020 inch (0.2 to 0.5 mm). Stresses imposed on the diaphragm group
are directly related to the cavity contour, the operating pressure, and the thickness of the dia-
phragm. While there are other factors influencing the stress level, the three named are the primary
A typical stress cycle for the diaphragm is shown by Figure 28.
Figure 28, Diaphragm Stress CycIe
The combination of operating stresses and high cycle rate, as equated to the operating speed of
the compressor, mandate the use of materials with high tensile strength, good fracture toughness,
uniform thickness, excellent surface finish, and corrosion resistance. Any factor that changes the
stress level or properties of the diaphragm material must be eliminated from the operation in order
to optimize diaphragm life.
- 38 -
The compensating pump is a positive displacement device. See Figure 29.
Figure 29, TypicaI Compensating Pump
t is driven by the crankshaft and linear displacement is achieved by the use of an eccentric attached
to the crankshaft, which in turn moves a piston linearly in a cylinder. The piston is spring loaded
which causes it to follow the motion of the eccentric. Hydraulic fluid enters the cylinder through a
suction check valve, is compressed, and leaves the cylinder through a discharge check valve. The
eccentric is located on the crankshaft so the discharge stroke of the piston occurs during the suction
portion of the compression cycle. This timing assures that the hydraulic volume in the diaphragm
cylinder is sufficient to fully displace the diaphragm during the compression and discharge phases
of the compression cycle.
Limiters are relief valves designed for continuous duty in that they open and close each stroke (rev-
olution) of the diaphragm compressor. All limiters are designed to limit the pressure of the hydraulic
system, which in turn limits the process pressure, and maintains the correct hydraulic volume. See
Figure 30.
Figure 30, Limiter AssembIy
- 39 -
The ability of the diaphragm compressor to achieve maximum volumetric efficiency partially de-
pends upon proper functioning of the limiter. f the limiter opens too early in the cycle, hydraulic
pressure is relieved and the diaphragm does not achieve full displacement. Therefore it is neces-
sary to set the limiter pressure above the desired discharge pressure of the compressor. This set-
ting is normally 20% above the design discharge pressure but less than the structural design
pressure of the head assembly.
The information presented in this Technical Bulletin does not encompass all of the theory of com-
pression, nor does it cover every aspect of compressor design. Additional literature or textbooks
should be consulted for thermodynamics of compressor design.
Other Technical Bulletins are available which discuss in detail many of the components used in both
the piston and diaphragm compressors and specific data regarding gases and the recommended
materials of construction for handling those gases.
also see GLOSSARY
ssue Date: December 7, 1990