The three-dimensional flow in centrifugal impellers is investigated on the basis of a detailed analysis of the results of numerical simulations. In order to gain confidence in this process, an in-depth validation is performed, based on computations of Krain’s centrifugal compressor and of a radial pump impeller, both with vaneless diffusers. Detailed comparisons with available experimental data provide high confidence in the numerical tools and results. The appearance of a high loss ‘wake’ region results from the transport of boundary layer material from the blade surfaces to the shroud region and its location depends on the balance between secondary and tip leakage flows and is not necessarily connected to 3D boundary layer separation. Although the low momentum spots near the shroud can interfere with 3D separated regions, the main outcome of the present analysis is that these are two distinct phenomena. Part I of this paper focuses on the validation base of the numerical approach, based on fine mesh simulations, while Part II presents an analysis of the different contributions to the secondary flows and attempts to estimate their effect on the overall flow pattern.

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