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Optimizing Reciprocating Compressors for CPI Plants

By Amin Almasi,  WorleyParsons Services Pty. Ltd. |

Reciprocating compressors — the most commonly used type of compressor throughout the chemical process industries (CPI) — are flexible and efficient, and they can generate high head (from several bar to several thousand bar) independent of gas density. Worldwide, the installed reciprocating compressor horsepower is approximately two times that of centrifugal compressors. However, the maintenance costs associated with reciprocating compressors are approximately three times greater than those for centrifugal compressors (due to valve, unloader and packing-maintenance requirements). This article provides practical recommendations for users to consider in an effort to improve the selection, operation and maintenance of reciprocating compressors in CPI applications. Compressor designs Figure 1 shows the basic design of a reciprocating compressor. Close attention to the selection of the piston rod packing can improve performance, because this is a common source of reliability problems associated with reciprocating compressors, and is a common path for the leakage of potentially hazardous process gases. Experience shows that packing life can be extended by as much as a factor of three by adding the proper coating (tungsten carbide…
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