The primary focus of this paper is to investigate how a rotor’s unsteady tip clearance flow structure changes in a low speed one and half stage axial compressor when the rotor tip gap size is increased from 0.5 mm (0.49% of rotor tip blade chord, 2% of blade span) to 2.4 mm (2.34% chord, 4% span) at the design condition are investigated. The changes in unsteady tip clearance flow with the 0.62 % tip gap as the flow rate is reduced to near stall condition are also investigated. A Large Eddy Simulation (LES) is applied to calculate the unsteady flow field at these three flow conditions. Detailed Stereoscopic PIV (SPIV) measurements of the current flow fields were also performed at the Johns Hopkins University in a refractive index-matched test facility which renders the compressor blades and casing optically transparent. With this setup, the unsteady velocity field in the entire flow domain, including the flow inside the tip gap, can be measured. Unsteady tip clearance flow fields from LES are compared with the PIV measurements and both LES and PIV results are used to study changes in tip clearance flow structures.
The current study shows that the tip clearance vortex is not a single structure as traditionally perceived. The tip clearance vortex is formed by multiple interlaced vorticities. Therefore, the tip clearance vortex is inherently unsteady.
The multiple interlaced vortices never roll up to form a single structure. When phased-averaged, the tip clearance vortex appears as a single structure. When flow rate is reduced with the same tip gap, the tip clearance vortex rolls further upstream and the tip clearance vortex moves further radially inward and away from the suction side of the blade. When the tip gap size is increased at the design flow condition, the overall tip clearance vortex becomes stronger and it stays closer to the blade suction side and the vortex core extends all the way to the exit of the blade passage.
Measured and calculated unsteady flow fields inside the tip gap agree fairly well. Instantaneous velocity vectors inside the tip gap from both the PIV and LES do show flow separation and reattachment at the entrance of tip gap as some earlier studies suggested. This area at the entrance of tip gap flow (the pressure side of the blade) is confined very close to the rotor tip section. With a small tip gap (0.5mm), the gap flow looks like a simple two-dimensional channel flow with larger velocity near the casing for both flow rates. A small area with a sharp velocity gradient is observed just above the rotor tip. This strong shear layer is turned radially inward when it collides with the incoming flow and forms the core structure of the tip clearance vortex. When tip gap size is increased to 2.4 mm at the design operation, the radial profile of the tip gap flow changes drastically. With the large tip gap, the gap flow looks like a two-dimensional channel flow only near the casing. Near the rotor top section, a bigger region with very large shear and reversed flow is observed.