External Noise in Vibration Analysis

Quite often, vibrations external to a machine (emanating from other machines or structures) can be transmitted through the foundation (from other machines) and structural supports (e.g. grinding frequencies generated from grinding of materials). It can also be transmitted through liquids (e.g. water hammer, turbulence) and air (acoustic pressures, electromagnetic radiation).

In most cases, low frequency vibrations are transmitted in this manner. This is because low frequency vibrations travel great distances.

In case such transmitted vibrations match the resonant frequency of the machine or any of its components, vibrations are greatly amplified (resonance).

Such vibrations can damage components like anti-friction bearings through a phenomenon called false brinelling if the affected machine is in the stand-by mode.

It is wise to suspect presence of such external noise if a frequency peak is found in a vibration spectrum (FFT) which can’t be identified or appears strange.

In that case we can check whether any machine near to the machine of interest exhibits that particular frequency. Or we can stop the machine to check whether the unusual or odd frequency still appears on a stationary machine. Alternatively, we can stop other local machines (usually not possible) to see whether the odd frequency disappears from the signature.

In case, the frequency happens to coincide with 2x, 3x, 8x harmonics of 1x (fundamental frequency) then we may use time synchronous averaging to see whether the amplitude contributed by the external noise averages away.

 

Note on Raised “Noise Floor”

In a spectrum, if the entire noise floor is raised, it is possible that we have a situation of extreme bearing wear.

If the noise is biased towards the higher frequencies in the spectrum then we may have process or flow problem like possible cavitation, which may be further confirmed by high acceleration measurement (or filtered acceleration measurement) on the pump body on the delivery side (since high frequency waves are always localized).

Smaller “humps” may be due to resonance (possibly excited by anti-friction bearing damage, cavitation, looseness, rubs or impacts) or closely spaced sidebands arising from other defects. A high resolution measurement (or graphical zoom and a log scale) may reveal whether the source is problems that exhibit sidebands or a problem of resonance. If  machine speed can be changed, (for e.g.motor connected to VFD drives) the resonant frequency would not move – but the other peaks would. Sidebands will typically be symmetrical around a dominant peak – e.g. 1X, 2X, 2x LF (100 or 120 Hz) etc indicating different faults.

Interestingly, the time waveform would reveal the reason as to why the noise floor has been raised.

We would see signs of looseness, severe bearing wear, rubs, and other sources of impacts in the time waveform. We must make sure that there are 5 – 10 seconds of time waveform if we suspect an intermittent rub (e.g. white metal bearings of vertical pumps or loose electrical connection of motor terminals) or if we suspect flow turbulence or cavitation.

If the time waveform looks normal (making sure there is a high Fmax (following Niquist criteria) and we view the waveform in units of acceleration then increase the resolution in the spectrum to 3200 lines or higher in case we are seeing a family of sidebands (like the sidebands we find around gear mesh frequency or rotor bars).

But if a natural frequency is being excited (necessary condition for resonance) then we have to perform a bump/impact test or a run-up/coast down test to confirm the situation.