Induced Force & Freedom for Movement

While tackling vibration problems (most machinery problems are oscillatory in nature) it is important to grasp the idea — “What causes vibration?”

The answer in its simplest form consists of two parts, which are: –

  1. Induced Force
  2. Freedom for Movement

We can say, that when we put these two phenomena into a relationship or when we discover a pattern involving the two phenomena, we have effectively understood the essence of a vibration problem in order to solve it or improve the situation. Without the “induced force” a piece of machinery would not continue to vibrate. And without “freedom for movement” machines would not vibrate either. Both must be present for a machine to continue to vibrate.

However, I find that students of vibration analysis often face difficulty in understanding these two related phenomenon and have a hard time linking them into a coherent pattern exhibited by a vibration problem.

So, I would first try to explain the phenomenon of “induced force.”

There are many ways of classifying vibrations. Vibrations patterns are also described depending on how they are induced. This is an important way of classifying vibration since the cause of vibration can be easily understood from such classification.

For instance, a shop floor may vibrate when a machine is switched on. Or an adjacent machine or structure may vibrate when another machine on the same floor is running. This would be called machinery induced vibration.

Similarly, a bridge or a tower may be subjected to strong winds causing those to vibrate. In that case, it would be called wind induced vibration.

Or for example, a pipe carrying fluid in a power plant or a pump may be subjected to flow induced vibration. Common problems of pumps like cavitation, re-circulation, erosion and water hammer are all examples of flow induced vibration.

Likewise, unusual vibration of an anti-friction bearing may be induced by electromagnetic forces emanating from electrical cables. We would say that the bearing is subjected to electromagnetic induced vibration.

Similarly, vibration of machines, buildings, towers, bridges can be blast induced owing to sudden application of explosive forces, like the way it happens in mining industry.

In the case of earthquakes, bridges and towers are subjected to ground induced vibrations.

We may think of “induced force” as the necessary stimulus imposed on a structure that forces it to vibrate. Structure, from the vibration point of view, may be a piece of machine, building, tower, pipe, bearings, foundation — or simply anything that has stiffness and mass.

However, a structure would only vibrate or continue to vibrate if it has freedom to move. A machine can move in many directions provided it is allowed to do so. More the number of directions a machine is allowed to move more difficult it becomes to understand a problem. However, the question is “How do we know a machine’s Freedom to move?”

One easy way to find it out is by finding the number of natural frequencies exhibited by the machine. This may be effectively found out by conducting a “bump test” on the machine where the number of natural frequencies show up on the frequency spectrum. The number of natural frequencies is just equal to the number of directions a machine is free to move. For example, if a machine has five natural frequencies within the operating range that consists of the operating speed and its harmonics then the machine is free to move in five different directions.

So, when we know the nature of the induced force and the number of directions a machine is likely to move, we may then try to find the proper relationship between the two phenomena to complete our understanding of the essence of a vibration problem. Once such relationship is understood the solution(s) to a problem is self evident.





Learning Vibration Analysis

Every year we gather at NTPC, Noida, for our animated dialog on real life Vibration problems. This year there were 39 of us happily engaged for four fun filled days. It is a type of annual conference where engineers and practicing vibration specialists across the country come together to interact, exchange and learn from each other.

This year, the workshop was designed differently. We gently moved away from the traditional methods of vibration analysis and instead emphasized the application of complexity science in analyzing system problems through vibration patterns. I think this approach is the first of its kind in the world.

So, what was new?

First, only cases from the real world of engineering were discussed and explored. Twenty cases were discussed. Each case was unique. They were something like Zen koans waiting to be cracked for enlightenment.


There are two sides to reality. One is the phenomenal one — what we can sense. The other is the essential one — what we can’t “see” through our senses. The phenomenal side manifest as events that we experience while the essential side provides the cause that precipitates such events. Problems of vibration offer us the opportunity to explore both sides of reality. Through measurements, we can easily see the phenomenal one (the degrees of freedom, amounts of vibration and their frequencies) — that is all about sensing oscillatory movement and its nature. But to understand the cause of vibration we must be able to “see” the essential part of reality – what induces vibration?

The cases forced the participants (practicing specialists) to take multiple takes and interpretations of the cause of vibration before the reason finally clicked. Initially, each case left the participants perplexed.They sort of provided the proverbial “whack” on the head for realization to dawn.

Why is this so? Cracking one problem does not ensure that the next problem can be solved by following the same method. If one tries to use the same method that helped one to solve a problem one has to use thoughts and concepts culled through previous experiences. By trying to apply a standard method and tactic one can’t see the essential part of the reality, which often proves to be a frustrating experience. Any effort to solve a vibration problem with a standard approach ties up a practitioner in knots. Not surprisingly, even vibration specialists find vibration problems paradoxical. They are paradoxical in the sense that seemingly logical, rational and conceptual thinking held in the minds of a practitioner are challenged when dealing with vibration problems.

Therefore, for each case, the essential part — the induced cause(s) — had to be built separately — bit by bit — connecting one bit to the other till the essential nature of the problem was self evident.

At the end of the four days the participants were left smiling, relieved to know that they need not remember any standard method or approach or a formula to tackle vibration problems — more so, for the most complex ones. They only need to see through a problem with patience or perseverance to develop deep intuitive capability, which would then help them see through the essential nature of any real life vibration problem quickly and accurately.

On the whole it was great fun and we all basked in the enjoyment.


Note: In conducting this course, I was helped by Mr. Anil Sahu, my co-facilitator. He had a bunch of paradoxical cases to share.

Doing Nothing yet Everything is Done

From 21st June to 23rd June I conducted a live workshop on Streamlined Reliability Centered Maintenance (SRCM) at the Power Management Institute (PMI) of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

But what the heck is SRCM?

It is a structured process of risk based decision making against black swans.

In brief, it is about:

  1. How to detect an incipient black swan in time?
  2. How to improve the stability of a system?
  3. How to improve the longevity of a system?
  4. How to mitigate consequences of failures?

When we are able to do all that to a system we may call it “smart maintenance.” After all as human beings we create, maintain and destroy systems. Given a system, smart maintenance is about doing all the three – create, maintain and destroy. Surely, it is one of the most complex project management we can engage with.

However, the smart maintenance can really happen when one simply does nothing yet everything is done.

The Case of Burning BagHouse Filters

Recently I was invited to investigate a case of frequent burning of baghouse filter bags.

There were five such baghouses connected to five furnaces of a steel plant.

The client reasoned that the material of the bags was not suitable for the temperature of the gas it handled. However, with change of material the frequency of bag burning did not change. So it needed a different approach to home onto the reasons for the failures.

Hence, this is how I went about solving the case:

First I did a Weibull analysis of the failures. Engineers use Weibull distribution to quickly find out the failure pattern of a system. Once such a pattern is obtained an engineer can then go deeper in studying the probability distribution function (pdf). Such a pdf provides an engineer with many important clues. The most important clue it provides is the reason for such repeated failures, which are broadly classified as follows:

  1. Design related causes
  2. Operation and Maintenance related causes
  3. Age related causes.

In this case it turned out to be a combination of Design and Age related causes.

It was a vital clue that then guided me to look deeper to isolate the design and age related factors affecting the system.

I then did a modified FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) for the two causes.

The FMEA revealed many inherent imperfections that were related to either design or aging.

Broadly, the causes were:

  1. Inability of the FD cooler (Forced Draft cooler) to take out excess heat up to the design limit before allowing the hot gas to enter the bag house.
  2. Inappropriate sequence of cleaning of the bag filters. It was out of sync with the operational sequence thus allowing relatively hot dust to build up on the surface of the bags.

Next, the maintenance plan was reviewed. The method used was Review of Equipment Maintenance (REM). The goal of such a review is to find maintenance tasks that are either missing or redundant for which new tasks are either added/deleted or modified. With such modification of the maintenance plan the aim is to achieve a balance between tasks that help find out incipient signals of deterioration and tasks that would help maintain longevity and stability of the system for a desired period of time.

Finally the investigation was wrapped up by formulating the Task Implementation Plan (TIP). It comprised of 13 broad tasks that were then broken up into more than 100 sub-tasks with scheduled dates for completion and accountability.