A dewatering facility brings a centrifuge up to speed slowly, meeting the long acceleration time requirement.
by Louis Mortaro, Amtech Drives, Inc.

Today’s industrial marketplace uses many different machines—such as pumps, fans, compressors and conveyors. One machine that is often overlooked is the centrifuge. The centrifuge is not well-known but is commonly used in industrial applications and frequently affects operations.

A centrifuge is often used in simple operations in the milk and sugar industries. Centrifuges are also used in wastewater treatment plants. This article includes a case study that examines how VFDs were applied to a Philadelphia wastewater dewatering process.

Centrifuges & VFD Technology

The centrifuge’s design takes advantage of variable frequency drive (VFD) technology to regulate the process speed. To apply a VFD to a centrifuge correctly, some factors must be understood.

Centrifuge applications have the same basic considerations as many machines—such as voltage, enclosure type, horsepower (the full load amps of the motor current), and ambient environment (temperature and humidity, for example)—that are found in many applications. However, centrifuge applications require close examination. Centrifuges have long acceleration times (a heavy-duty, constant-torque drive is required). In the past, wye-delta starters were used and had acceleration times of 3 to 4 minutes, drawing a tremendous amount electrical current. This method has been replaced with VFDs. VFDs allow the user to slowly bring the centrifuge up to speed, greatly reducing the mechanical stress on the motor, bearings and bowl. They provide better process and speed control.

A centrifugeA centrifuge

When starting a very large mass with short acceleration time, the VFD most likely goes into over-current and trips. This is true of any high-inertia application (fans, presses, loaded conveyors). (Note: If over-current faults occur in any application during startup, try increasing the acceleration time to resolve the problem.)

A similar deceleration time is also a good idea. If shorter deceleration times are required, an active, front-end or braking resistor module with the proper resistor should be applied. Other factors to consider with a centrifuge are the available power grid current during peak summer demand and high ambient temperatures. Both affect VFD operation.

Case Study: Synagro & the City of Philadelphia

During the last year, a drive manufacturer has worked closely with Philadelphia Renewable Bio Fuels, a division of Synagro Inc. Synagro operates the dewatering facility under contract for the City of Philadelphia water department. The centrifuges at the facility weigh more than 15,000 pounds and remove 30,000 gallons of liquid (the weight of water is 8 pounds per gallon) per hour for each machine. They operate as many as seven of the 10 machines each day. This plant processes wastewater 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The final process of the solid waste removal converts this to useful fertilizer. The drive manufacturer and Synagro’s Electrical Maintenance Lead Joe Marchesani installed replacement drives for three 315-kilowatt drives.

The drive manufacturer had assisted two other Synagro locations that experienced problems because of flooding and other natural disasters with quick delivery and onsite technical assistance.

“I had been told by other facilities that this drive manufacturer delivered what they quoted and as promised and that its product’s quality and performance was solid,” Marchesani said.

He explained that he currently needed a replacement drive, and because of the intra-company testimonials, he was willing to try the drive manufacturer as long as the price was competitive and the company could meet his small window of time for the installation.

Marchesani also expressed a major concern in this retrofit, and Synagro wanted to ensure that the VFD was sized properly to prevent tripping caused by the overhauling characteristic of the load in the bowl pushing the bowl faster.

Centrifuges operate in the Philadelphia wastewater facility.Centrifuges operate in the Philadelphia wastewater facility.

Other considerations needed to be addressed—including the potential for reduced power grid current during peak summer demand and high ambient temperatures. The plant has no air conditioning to cool the drives during the hot summer months. Synagro was interested in the drive manufacturer’s active front-end to recover energy and place it back on the power grid and its ability to handle the plant’s short deceleration time requirement.