The bearing system of a turbocharger has to keep the rotor in the specified position and thus has to withstand the rotor forces that result from turbocharger operation. Hence, its components need to be designed in consideration of the bearing loads that have to be expected.

The applied bearing system design also has significant influence on the overall efficiency of the turbocharger and impacts the performance of the combustion engine. It has to ideally fulfil the trade-off between bearing friction and load capacity. For example, the achievable engine’s low end-torque is reduced, if the bearing system produces more friction losses than inherently unavoidable for safe and durable operation because a higher portion of available turbine power needs to be employed to compensate bearing losses instead of providing boost pressure. Moreover, also transient turbocharger rotor speed up can be compromised and hence the response of the turbocharged combustion engine to a load step becomes less performant than it could be.

Besides the radial bearings, the thrust bearing is a component that needs certain attention. It can already contribute to approx. 30 percent of the overall bearing friction, even if no load is applied and this portion further increases under thrust load. It has to withstand the net thrust load of the rotor under all operating conditions resulting from the superimposed aerodynamic forces that the compressor and the turbine wheel produce.

A challenge for the determination of the thrust forces appearing on engine is the non-steady loading under pulsating conditions. The thrust force will alternate with the pulse frequency over an engine cycle what is caused by both the engine exhaust gas pressure pulses on the turbine stage and — to a smaller amount — the non-steady compressor operation due to the reciprocating operation of the cylinders.

The conducted experimental investigations on the axial rotor motion as well as the thrust force alternations under on-engine conditions employ a specially prepared compressor lock nut in combination with an eddy current sensor. The second derivative of this signal can be used to estimate the occurring thrust force changes. Moreover, a modified thrust bearing — equipped with strain gauges — was used to cross check the results from position measurement and thrust force modeling. All experimental results are compared with an analytical thrust force model that relies on the simultaneously measured, crank angle resolved pressure signals before and after the compressor and turbine stage.

The results give insight into the axial turbocharger rotor oscillations occurring during an engine cycle for several engine operating points. Furthermore, they allow a judgment of the accuracy of thrust force modeling approaches that are based on measured pressures.

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