A mechanism by which compressor rotor lateral vibration perturbs the mass flow-rate, the velocity and the pressure distributions within impeller passages is postulated. Such a perturbation will develop an unbalanced force on the rotor which, if it enhances the rotor vibration, is termed self-exciting. The concepts of rotor orbital velocity, the virtual center of shaft rotation, the reduction of unsteady flow to quasi-steady flow, the fluid dynamic force coefficient, mechanical orbital stability and the stability increment are introduced. The ideas are imposed on the streamline curvature method of quasi-three dimensional analysis of passage flow and a computer program has been assembled to carry out computation. No generalized guidelines have been found as yet but rather individual passage calculations are needed to determine the potentially exciting or damping character of the induced fluid dynamic forces. The average stability increment per stage for nine industrial multistage centrifugal compressors has been determined and compared with known operating experience. Important engineering characteristics of two of the compressors are shown in an example of the analysis. A provisional limit of the stability increment per stage ⩽ 1.85 lbf-s/in. (323.9N-s/m) is suggested, below which unstable nonsynchronous vibration of the compressor rotor can be expected.

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