Disruption of a Centrifugal Compressor
One 49-in. impeller of a two-stage centrifugal air compressor disrupted without warning, causing extensive damage to the casings, the second impeller, and the driving gear box. Prior to the mishap, the machine had run normally, with no indications of abnormal vibration, temperature, or pressure. Initial failure had taken place in the floating dished inlet plate (eye plate) of the first-stage impeller. Failure occurred predominantly by tearing along the lines of rivet holes for the longer blades, these extended for practically the full radial width of the dished plate. Examination of the fractured surfaces showed that failure had been preceded by fatigue cracking. The material from which the dish plate was forged was a Ni-Cr-Mo steel in the oil hardened and tempered condition. Fractographic examination of the surface of the cracks showed striation markings indicative of the progress of fatigue cracks. Failure of the one impeller and the cracking of the others were attributed to “low-cycle high-strain fatigue” due to fluctuating circumferential (hoop) stresses.