For decades, reciprocating compressor monitoring was not a high priority; centrifugal machines were always the focus of operators and monitoring equipment investments. The reasons for this are partially based on the high number of centrifugal compressors, in comparison to reciprocating compressors, found in refineries, natural gas or other petrochemical applications. Secondly, operators simply did not fear severe damages due to the low kinetic energy of these comparably slow running machines.
However, reality shows that reciprocating compressors have a reputation as bad actors among the rotating equipment fleet; showing the highest number of damages while simultaneously being process critical. Although this is a dangerous combination, insufficient protection and condition monitoring principles are still being applied on reciprocating machinery.
Operators, engineering procurement contractors (EPC) and original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have always followed the existing, applicable guidelines and standards during the final engineering stage. These standards were valid at the time of construction, and are generally still valid today. Upon reviewing the age of the reciprocating compressor population, it is clear that many of these large, critical machines have never been replaced, remaining in operation since their Initial start up date many decades ago.
Even after numerous catastrophic reciprocating compressor failures, there is still inadequate machinery protection on many of these machines: looking back into the history of applicable standards can help clarify the reasons why.