Design of hydraulic turbines has often to deal with hydraulic instability. It is well-known that Francis and Kaplan types present hydraulic instability in their design power range. Even if modern CFD tools may help to define these dangerous operating conditions and optimize runner design, hydraulic instabilities may fortuitously arise during the turbine life and should be timely detected in order to assure a long-lasting operating life.

In a previous paper, the authors have considered the phenomenon of helical vortex rope, which happens at low flow rates when a swirling flow, in the draft tube conical inlet, occupies a large portion of the inlet. In this condition, a strong helical vortex rope appears. The vortex rope causes mechanical effects on the runner, on the whole turbine and on the draft tube, which may eventually produce severe damages on the turbine unit and whose most evident symptoms are vibrations. The authors have already shown that vibration analysis is suitable for detecting vortex rope onset, thanks to an experimental test campaign performed during the commissioning of a 23 MW Kaplan hydraulic turbine unit.

In this paper, the authors propose a sophisticated data driven approach to detect vortex rope onset at different power load, based on the analysis of the vibration signals in the order domain and introducing the so-called “residual order spectrogram”, i.e. an order-rotation representation of the vibration signal. Some experimental test runs are presented and the possibility to detect instability onset, especially in real-time, is discussed.

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