Dolphin Centrifuge

Disadvantages of a Disc-Stack Centrifuge | Illustrated Guide

Table of Contents


Though there are several advantages to disc-stack centrifuge, there are some equally important disadvantages. The following are some of the main disadvantages of disc-stack centrifuges and corresponding workarounds.

Alfa Laval MAB-206 Disc Stack Centrifuge Explosion Proof Class 1 Div 2
Alfa Laval MAB-206 Disc Stack Centrifuge

Particle Size in Process Liquid

The stack of conical discs (disc-stack) has a preset spacing between the discs. Typically this is in the range of 500 to 1,500 microns. This spacing defines the largest particle size the centrifuge can handle.

Particles bigger than the inter-disc space cannot pass through the discs and get stuck. These stuck particles cause a blockage in the flow path, causing the centrifuge to malfunction.

A clogged disc stack requires stoppage and manual cleaning of individual discs, a laborious and time-consuming process.

Pre-straining the process fluid to a mesh size smaller than the disc spacing is the most common way to avoid disc centrifuge blockage issues due to large particles.

Disc Stack Centrifuge Disc Spacing
Disc Stack Centrifuge Disc Spacing

Maximum Solids Content

Unlike a decanter centrifuge, a disc-stack centrifuge cannot handle a high percentage of solids in the process fluid. A decanter centrifuge can handle up to 50% solids by volume; a disc-stack centrifuge is limited to about 8% solids.

This limits the application of disc centrifuges to fluids with a low sludge content. The reason for this limitation follows.

A decanter centrifuge ‘plows’ out the separated sludge continuously. A self-cleaning disc-stack centrifuge ejects the separated sludge intermittently.

Process liquids that have a high sludge volume require frequent sludge discharge cycles. Frequent sludge discharge cycles degrade the efficiency of the centrifuge.

They can also cause the drive motor to get overloaded due to the current surge accompanying each discharge cycle.

In process fluids with high sludge volume comprising large and small particles, we recommend a decanter centrifuge followed by a downstream disc-stack centrifuge.

This configuration allows the decanter to separate the large bulk solids before the disc-stack centrifuge polishes the remaining small particles.

Intermittent Sludge Discharge

Disc Centrifuge Self Cleaning Animation
Disc Centrifuge Self Cleaning Animation

Though all disc-stack centrifuges feature continuous flow or flow-through designs,

As described above, self-cleaning centrifuges eject the separated sludge during a sludge discharge process. This cycle is automatically triggered by the centrifuge controller based on a timer.

Therefore, sludge ejection is an intermittent occurrence.

In applications requiring a continuous discharge of sludge, the user might view this intermittent discharge as a disadvantage.

Also, in the case of ‘full discharge' centrifuges, the process flow must be stopped during the sludge ejection process. This flow-stoppage is unsuitable for applications where the centrifuge is in the primary process flow path.

Therefore, a kidney loop installation on the fluid supply or storage tank is advisable for such applications.

Other disc-centrifuge articles of interest......

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Disadvantages of a Disc-Stack Centrifuge | Illustrated Guide
Difference Between Decanter & Disc Centrifuge | Technical Comparison

Sludge Buildup in Centrifuge Bowl

Unlike a decanter centrifuge that uses a scroll to push out the separated sludge, a disc-stack centrifuge uses high centrifugal force to eject the accumulated sludge from the bowl.

In rare cases, some sludge may stick to the bowl wall during ejection. This sludge can build up in the bowl to cause an imbalance or prevent subsequent sludge ejections.

In sticky-sludge applications, the user may periodically introduce a bowl rinse or cleaning cycle to wash out any buildup sludge.

For example, diesel fuel is sometimes used as a solvent to periodically remove any paraffin buildup inside the bowl in a flush cycle in crude oil applications with paraffin.

Disc Stack Centrifuge Sticky Sludge
Disc Stack Centrifuge Sticky Sludge

Moving Parts in Sludge Discharge Mechanism

The image above shows that some internal moving parts within the bowl underbody use water to actuate. This mechanism is sensitive to mineral deposits due to water evaporation from these cavities over time.

These buildups and part wear related to regular use can cause malfunctioning of the self-cleaning disc-stack centrifuge bowl’s sludge ejection mechanism.

Referring to the diagram below, the sliding piston and the operating slide operation are affected by mineral deposits.

Therefore, preventative maintenance of disc-stack centrifuges is more important than that of a decanter or other types of centrifuges.

Disc Stack Centrifuge Bowl Moving Parts
Disc Stack Centrifuge Bowl Moving Parts

Auxiliary Operating Water Requirement

A self-cleaning disc-stack centrifuge requires clean water to operate its sludge discharge mechanism. This operating water operates the hydraulic mechanism within the underside of the rotating bowl.

The requirement for clean, soft, filtered water is a disadvantage, especially in remote field locations where clean water may not be available.

Though the operation can recycle the operating water under certain conditions, it is impossible to do so.


In summary, the disadvantages of the disc-stack centrifuge should be considered, along with the advantages, before centrifuge selection. The workarounds to some of these limitations are equally important and can mitigate some of the disadvantages.

by Sanjay Prabhu MSME
Engineering Manager, Dolphin Centrifuge


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