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premature reciprocating compressor failure

Time: 2010-04-26

A common cause of premature reciprocating compressor failure is overheating. A recip that is running too hot will surely fail before its time. A service tech should always look for this potential problem while servicing any refrigeration system.

The hottest location in a refrigeration system is at the discharge port of the valve plate inside the compressor head. It is difficult for a technician to measure the exact temperature at this location. However, measuring the temperature of the discharge line approximately 6 inches from the compressor outlet will give a good indication of the temperature at the discharge port.

There will be approximately a 50 degree to 75 degree F drop in temperature between the discharge port and 6 inches out on the discharge line. If a temperature of 175 degrees is measured on the discharge line, it would indicate an approximate temperature at the compressor discharge port of between 225 degrees and 250 degrees.

For a reciprocating compressor to operate properly, the temperature of the discharge port should never rise above 300 degrees. This means the discharge line temperature should never exceed 225 degrees (300 degrees minus 75 degrees). At temperatures between 300 degrees and 320 degrees inside the compressor, the refrigeration oil will start to lose its ability to lubricate. This will cause premature wear of the compressor’s cylinder and piston rings. At temperatures above 350 degrees, the oil will start to break down, causing accelerated wear and allowing contaminants to enter the system. Once this occurs, compressor failure will soon follow.

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