Cyclone separators

The importance of the cyclone separator is moving from the tried and true technologies to different and specific applications not considered possible even a decade or so ago until 3D printers appeared in a range of industrial applications—from one-off person-specific medical implants to cost effective short run specialized spare parts manufacturing.

By Don Yates January 19, 2016

The use of cyclones as separators would be very popular if unwanted particles in oil and gas applications were consistent in size and would stay away from the walls of the cyclone. Unfortunately, the particles that need to be removed in oil and gas feeds can vary in size, and when they come in contact with the walls of cyclone separators, abrasive wear occurs.

Enter enhanced 3D printing

The evolution of 3D printing technologies has seen myriad flexible setups become possible. There is no need for just one print head to be in use at the same time. Indeed, many 3D print heads can be assembled together, side-by-side, to dramatically increase the material placement volumes and speeds, so the outcome can resemble an extrusion machine. And like a smart extrusion process, the output can have almost any 2D profile, but with the added features of varying the physical and chemical composition of the print material, in real time, and of differing specification, depending on the task to be met. 

In the indicative cyclone separator, the internal flow control wall profiles of the cyclone can be continuously replaced by feeding in the "just in time" 3D printed materials, but with the additional feature that the feed in profiles can be varied to form and composition to become appropriate cyclone surface materials, including hard deflecting and super soft absorbing surfaces (See Figures 1 and 2).

Another feature of the 3D real time printing technology as part of the cyclone separator, is the ability to change the internal effective physical diameter of the cyclone separator, with direct and immediate operational effectiveness.

And as part of the continuous online rebuild process, the 3D surface materials are injected in the same direction as the induced oil or gas flow to replace the internal wearing contact surfaces caused by continuous impact of the different size particles. With this system in place, downtime for cyclone replacement is effectively eliminated.

The profile can also include a surface treatment to encourage a "spiral down" 
enhancement of the incoming physical mix to be separated. This can be used to trap particles in suspension, so reducing the wearing exposed area and promoting an orderly downward flow of the unwanted separated particles to a removal point at the bottom of the device.

With the ability to change the effective internal cyclone diameter, the centrifugal parameters that aid the removal of certain particles can be changed in real time to target their extraction for a cleaner output of oil or gas, as desired. The process exploits a world of new Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring points, microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) and smart logic to connect the dots.

A forgotten benefit of the new age of evolving 3-D printers is the ability to output different materials from the same printing package. Depending on the physical characteristics of the particles to be removed, the separating cyclone wall can also be continuously regenerated in a mix of magnetic materials with varying attractive strengths to ensure that the extracted unwanted materials are removed from the oil or gas flow. In addition, this process ensures that the particles do not stick to the internal cyclone surface, but make their way to the dump chute for removal instead.

R&D continues with the cyclone separator program to cover a range of surface treatments. Surface treatments that show promise in different applications include sticky internal surface coatings, dust entrapment treatments to capture particles of varying sizes, and even counter-rotating flows using double internal perforated surface cyclones that create partial vacuums to increase the intensity of the cyclone action.

Don Yates is the CEO of Columbus Group where he heads up the R&D activities. A pursuit of more than 30 years and 1,700 projects in automated safer mining, smarter oil and gas extraction and other industrial projects. Edited by Eric R. Eissler, editor-in-chief, Oil & Gas Engineering,

Original content can be found at Control Engineering.