Due to the generally high stage and blade count, the current standard industrially adopted to perform numerical simulations on multistage axial compressors is the steady-state analysis based on the Reynolds-averaged Navier-Stokes approach (RANS), where the coupling between adjacent rows is handled by means of mixing planes. In addition to the well-known limitations of a steady-state picture of the flow, namely its inherent inability to capture the potential interaction and the wakes from the upstream blades, there is another flow feature which is lost through a mixing-plane, and which is believed to be a major accountable for the radial mixing: the transport of stream-wise vorticity. Streamwise vorticity arises throughout a compressor for various reasons, mainly associated with secondary and tip-clearance flows. A strong link does exist between the strain field associated with the transported vortices and the mixing augmentation: the strain field increases both the area available for mixing and the local gradients in fluid properties, which provide the driving potential for mixing itself.
Especially for the rear stages of a multistage axial compressor, due to high clearances and low aspect ratios, only accounting for the development along the meridional path of secondary and clearance flow structures it is possible to properly predict the spanwise mixing.
In this work, the results of steady and unsteady RANS simulations on the high-pressure section of an industrial heavy-duty axial compressor are presented and compared with experimental data acquired during a test campaign. Adopting an unsteady full-annulus URANS approach, the enhanced radial mixing in the rear stages of the compressor is properly captured, obtaining a really good agreement with experimental data both in terms of total temperature and pressure outlet radial distributions. On the contrary, with a steady-state modelling, the radial transport is strongly underestimated, leading to results with marked departures from experiments. Examining what occurs across the inter-row interfaces for RANS and URANS solutions, a possible explanation for this underestimation is provided. In particular, as the stream-wise vorticity associated with clearance flows is one of the main drivers of radial mixing, restraining it by pitch-averaging the flow at mixing planes of a steady-state analysis is the reason why this simplified approach is not able to properly predict the radial transport of fluid properties in the rear part of the axial compressor.