6 Causes of Decanter Centrifuge Vibration and How to Fix Them

Decanter Centrifuge Bowl Cross Section

Decanter Centrifuge Vibration

A decanter centrifuge, like any other rotating equipment, vibrates during operation. Also, amplified vibration is typical during startup and shut-down of the decanter. These are amplified vibrations when the bowl is rotating (while ramping up or slowing down) at the decanter’s resonance frequency.

These phases of amplified vibration are normal and should not cause concern as long as they are within set limits. However, if the decanter vibrates beyond its vibration limits, it is essential to stop it and investigate the cause of excessive vibration.

This article discusses the unusual vibrations of a decanter centrifuge, its causes, and individual fixes. Decanter vibrations can occur suddenly or increase gradually over time. We categorize and discuss sudden and gradual vibration issues in separate sections.

The following list summarizes the causes of decanter vibration, which we will discuss in detail in the subsequent sections.

Gradually increasing vibration

  • Bowl or Scroll Imbalance due to Wear
  • Bearing Wear
  • Improper Assembly of Decanter Components or Auxillary Accessories

Suddenly occurring vibration

  • Bowl or Scroll Imbalance due to Parts Breakage or Chipping
  • Separated Sludge Fall-Over During Decanter Shut-Down
  • Bearing Failure

Gradually Increasing Vibration Level

During regular operation, the moving and consumable components of a decanter centrifuge are subject to wear and tear. Over time this wear causes the vibration level of the decanter to increase. It is a good idea to monitor the centrifuge’s vibration level to keep track of the gradual increase in vibration, indicating wear on the decanter’s specific components.

Imbalance Due to Wear

The two main rotating parts of the decanter centrifuge are the bowl and the auger (aka conveyor). The sludge is pushed along the bowl wall by the auger, as shown in the diagram above. Abrasive particles in the sludge can cause wear on both the bowl and the auger.

However, a sludge layer, known as ‘cake-wall’ (shown above), builds between the conveyor and the bowl wall. This ‘cake-wall’ is stationary with respect to the bowl wall and acts as a protective barrier to prevent erosion of the bowl from within.

The auger pushes the separated sludge along the bowl wall and up the conical section (aka beach). This contact causes wear on the sludge facing side and the top edge of the scroll flights. The photograph below shows such wear on a typical decanter conveyor.

Decanter Conveyor Wear

Bearing Wear

The pillow-block main bearings facilitate the entire decanter rotating assembly rotation. These are heavy-duty, specially designed bearings for this application. As with all friction components, the bearing has a set lifespan, and its replacement at periodic intervals is critical.

Over time, as the bearings wear out, they tend to develop some ‘play’ outside of the manufacturing tolerance. This play causes a gradual increase in the vibration of the decanter bowl. Periodic checks or control system logging of the decanter vibration level is one way to monitor vibration levels.

New decanter machines from the OEM have vibration levels between 2 mm/s and 4 mm/second. Used decanter centrifuges typically operate within an 8 mm/s vibration level. If a decanter centrifuge’s vibration level is above 10 mm/s level, it is time for a thorough inspection and bearing replacement.

Improper Assembly of Components

As mentioned above, all rotating equipment have some level of inherent vibration. In decanters, vibration originating from the Rotating Assembly (RA) travels through the decanter frame and all components attached to it.

Incorrect assembly of the rotating assembly is often related to the pillow blocks alignment to the bowl’s rotating axis.OEM and established remanufacturers should provide a rotating assembly alignment procedure. Incorrect (skewed) alignment of the bowl can cause the bearing races to be misaligned and generate excessive torque on the drive motor. This misalignment is also the reason for vibrations in many cases.

Decanter components such as belt-guards, belts, motor mount plates, motors, collecting-vessel, etc. are all bolted to the frame. Loosening of any fasteners will cause the vibration of the component. This improper assembly can cause the entire decanter assembly to resonate with excessive vibrations. 

Therefore, it is essential to check and tighten all fasteners on the decanter frame during scheduled maintenance or in case of excess vibration.

Suddenly Occurring Vibration

Some vibrations occur suddenly without any pre-indication. These vibrations could occur while the decanter is operating or when it starts after a shut-down. We discuss the possible causes of such vibration below.

Imbalance Due to Part Breakage

As discussed above, the auger or conveyor is exposed to maximum wear and tear within the decanter. The conveyor often has weld-on hard-surfacing or welded tiles for erosion protection of the flights. 

Operational damage to this protective layer or added tiles causes an immediate imbalance, which leads to excessive vibration of the decanter. A loud noise often accompanies this vibration, which is unexplained by external visual inspection.

The image below shows a conveyor with a broker (missing) tile. The ejected sludge likely carried away the broken tile fragments.

Decanter Auger Broken Tiles
Decanter Auger Broken Tiles

Similarly, a missing chunk of the weld-on hard-surfacing can cause excessive vibrations. This missing mass causes an immediate imbalance in the auger leading to excessive vibration. 

Again, this cause of the vibration will not be evident from external inspection of the rotating assembly. Dismantling of the bowl and extraction of the auger reveals the damage.

Therefore, the replacement of any missing or broken tiles or damage to the weld-on hard surfacing is critical to the decanter’s vibration-free operation.

Separated Sludge Fall-Over

Decanter Bowl Sludge Vibration

During regular operation, the separated sludge collects on the decanter bowl wall. The sludge stays on the bowl wall due to the bowl rotation’s high centrifugal force.

During the decanter’s shut-down, the centrifugal force is to longer present due to the absence of bowl rotation. If the sludge is not compacted enough, it may dislodge from the upper (top) side of the bowl wall and fall due to gravity (as shown above). 

This transfer of separated sludge to the bowl bottom causes an imbalance of the bowl. Upon startup, this temporary imbalance causes excessive vibration until the conveyor is above to push out the sludge reinstating the bowl balance.

Therefore, it is always good to start the conveyor rotation before the bowl rotation during decanter startup. This pre-start allows the conveyor to push out any of this ‘fall-over’ sludge before the bowl starts to rotate.

Bearing Failure During Operation

Though it is quite rare for a bearing to fail during a decanter centrifuge operation, such failure can cause catastrophic damage to the equipment and cause personal injury. The first and obvious indication of a bearing failure is sudden, excessive vibration of the decanter. A loud grinding noise typically accompanies a bearing loss.

In practice, however, unanticipated bearing failure is quite rare. Under regular operation, telltale signs such as increasing vibration and higher motor current draw point towards a bearing nearing its useful span.

Therefore it is crucial to monitor the vibration levels of a decanter and maintain a data log. This performance data can help the operator spot a gradual increase in vibration levels, indicating deteriorating bearings or other wear within the decanter. Dolphin Centrifuge control systems offer an optional decanter centrifuge bearing vibration and temperature monitoring and login functionality.

Summary

In summary, there are several causes of the vibration of decanter centrifuges. Some of these causes are to be expected due to the normal wear caused by the usage of the decanter centrifuge. However, there are other vibrations that can occur suddenly and can be of catastrophic nature. It is critical to root-cause and eliminates the cause of such vibration for the safety and longevity of the equipment and operating personnel.