In the Oil & Gas industry, large variations in flow rates are often encountered which require compression trains with a wide operating range. If the stable operating range at constant speed is insufficient, variable speed drivers can be used to meet the requirements. Alternatively, variable guide vanes (IGVs) can be introduced into the inlet plenum to provide pre- or counter-swirl to the first stage impeller, possibly eliminating the need for variable speed. This paper presents the development and validation of circumferentially non-uniform IGVs that were specifically designed to provide maximum angle variation at minimum losses and flow distortion for the downstream impeller. This includes the comparison of three concepts: a baseline design based on circumferentially uniform and symmetric profiles and two circumferentially non-uniform concepts based on uniquely cambered airfoils at each circumferential position and a multi airfoil configuration consisting of a uniquely cambered fixed part and a movable part. The idea behind the circumferentially non-uniform designs was to take into account non-symmetric flow features inside the plenum and a bias towards large preswirl angles rather than counter-swirl during practical operation. The designs were carried out by CFD and first tested in a steady, full-annulus cascade in order to quantify pressure losses and flow quality at the inlet to the impeller at different IGV setting angles (ranging from −20° to +60°) and flow rates. Subsequently, the designs were mounted in front of a typical Oil & Gas impeller on a high speed rotating rig in order to determine the impact of flow distortion on the impeller performance. The results show that pressure losses in the inlet plenum could be reduced by up to 40% with the circumferentially non-uniform designs over the symmetric baseline configuration. Furthermore, a significant reduction in circumferential distortion could be achieved with the circumferentially non-uniform designs. The resulting improvement in impeller performance contributed approx. 40% to the overall efficiency gains for inlet plenum and impeller combined.

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