Rotordynamic instability, commonly observed as subsynchronous vibration, is a serious problem that can cause heavy damage to a turbomachine or make it incapable of operation due to high vibration levels. However, all subsynchronous vibrations are not necessarily unstable. If the amplitude of the subsynchronous vibration is large, it can cause damage to seals, bearings, or process wheels. If it is small, the question arises as to whether it has the potential to grow larger (“instability”) or whether it is benign and harmless. A way to know would be helpful. The objective of this study is to signal-analyze subsynchronous vibration in turbomachinery and distinguish benign subsynchronous vibration from true rotordynamic instability. Effort is also made to identify unique signatures to a cause, thereby aiding in faster diagnosis. A computer simulation study is conducted on four rotors, including two gas-reinjection compressors that went unstable, to examine the possibility of using the change in synchronous phase angle as a possible indicator of impending instability. Two other rotors in laboratory test rigs were also studied, both experimentally and with computer simulations of the phase angle response. The computer simulations and experimental results agree very closely on the test rigs. Measured signals from another rotor, with bearings having a dead-band clearance are studied as an example of a benign cause that can result in subsynchronous vibration. The effect is studied with the rotor in both horizontal and vertical positions and clear indicators are discovered that confirm the subsynchronous vibration to be benign in nature. Signatures from another rotor with internal friction are also presented. The experimental data clearly shows indicators that distinguish it as a genuine instability. Dry friction whip is also experimentally produced on a test rig. The measurements show that dry friction whip defies all general rules of thumb for diagnosing a true instability and at the same time is a very violent one as well.

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