15 Common Mechanical Vibration Problems & Symptoms

Are you experiencing unusual vibrations in your machinery?

Don’t ignore them! They could be warning signs of underlying issues that, if left unchecked, could lead to costly repairs and downtime.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll explore 15 common types of vibration problems and their characteristic spectra, including imbalances, misalignments, eccentric rotors, mechanical looseness, resonance, and more.

We’ll delve into the symptom characteristics of each problem and provide tips on how to identify and correct them. Whether you’re a maintenance technician, engineer, or plant manager, this article is a must-read for anyone looking to optimize their machinery’s performance and reliability.

So, let’s get started and put an end to those pesky vibrations once and for all!

Fundamentals of Mechanical Vibration

Mechanical vibration refers to the oscillatory motion of an object or system due to the action of internal or external forces. In many cases, vibrations can cause negative impacts, such as noise, wear, and fatigue in mechanical systems. This section covers some basic terminology used in discussing mechanical vibrations and identifies the main types of vibrations.

Basic Terminology

  • Amplitude: The maximum displacement of a vibrating object from its equilibrium position.
  • Frequency: The number of oscillations completed by an object in one second. It is measured in Hertz (Hz).
  • Natural Frequency: The frequency at which a system naturally vibrates when disturbed and left to oscillate freely.
  • Damping: The dissipation of energy in a vibrating system, which typically slows down the oscillation.
  • Resonance: A condition in which an object or system vibrates with increasing amplitude when exposed to an external force with a frequency close to its natural frequency.

Vibration Types

  1. Free Vibration: This is the type of vibration that occurs when a mechanical system is disturbed and allowed to oscillate without any additional external force. A classic example of free vibration is a swinging pendulum.
  2. Forced Vibration: This type occurs when a system is subjected to a continuous external force, causing the object to vibrate at the frequency of the applied force. A washing machine during its spin cycle is an example of forced vibration.
  3. Damped Vibration: In reality, most vibrating systems will lose energy over time due to various factors such as friction, air resistance, and internal material properties. This loss of energy is known as damping and leads to a gradual decrease in amplitude of the vibration.

Understanding the fundamentals of mechanical vibration is essential in the early detection of problems and symptoms that may arise from excessive or undesirable vibration in mechanical systems. This knowledge allows engineers and technicians to take appropriate preventive and corrective actions to ensure the longevity and functionality of machinery.

Mechanical Vibration Problems & Symptoms

1. Imbalances

Imbalance failure symptom characteristics:

  • Vibration main frequency equal to rotor speed
  • Radial vibration is prevalent
  • The vibration phase is stable
  • Vibration changes with the square of the speed
  • The vibration phase shift direction is proportional to the measurement direction

1) Couple imbalance

Symptom characteristics of couple imbalance:

  • It has 180° phase difference on the same axis;
  • 1x RPM frequency exists and dominates;
  • The vibration amplitude changes with the square of the increased speed;
  • It may cause large axial and radial vibration amplitudes;
  • The dynamic balance needs to be corrected in two correction surfaces.
Couple imbalance

2) Cantilever rotor imbalance

Symptom characteristics of cantilever rotor imbalance:

  • 1X speed frequency exists in both radial and axial directions;
  • Readings in the axial direction are in phase, but readings in the radial direction may be unstable;
  • Cantilever rotors often have both force and force-couple imbalances, so they both need to be corrected.
Cantilever rotor imbalance

2. Misalignment

1) Angular misalignment

Symptom characteristics of angular misalignment:

  • The feature is high axial vibration;
  • It has 180° phase difference between the coupling sides;
  • It typically has high axial vibration at 1X and 2X speeds;
  • Usually, 1X, 2X or 3X RPM frequencies do not dominate;
  • Symptoms can indicate coupling failure.
Angular misalignment


2) Parallel misalignment

Symptom characteristics of parallel misalignment:

  • When the vibration with a phase difference of 180° in the radial direction is severely misaligned, higher harmonic frequencies are generated;
  • 2X RPM amplitude is often greater than 1X RPM amplitude, which is similar to the symptoms of angular misalignment;
  • Coupling design can affect the shape and amplitude of the vibration spectrum.
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Parallel misalignment

3). Tilted rolling bearings

Symptom characteristics of tilted rolling bearings:

  • Vibration symptoms are similar to angular misalignment;
  • Trying to re-center the coupling or balancing the rotor does not solve the problem;
  • It produces a phase shift of approximately 180° laterally;
  • There is a twisting movement to the side or top to the bottom.
Tilted rolling bearings


3. Eccentric rotor

Symptom characteristics of eccentric rotor:

  • It has maximum 1x speed frequency vibration in the direction of rotor centerline;
  • The relative phase difference is 0° or 180°;
  • Attempting dynamic balancing will decrease the amplitude of vibration in one direction, but it may increase vibration in the other direction.
Eccentric rotor

4. Bending axis

Symptom characteristics of bending axis:

  • Large axial vibration is produced from a bent shaft;
  • If the bend is close to the span center of the shaft, the 1X speed frequency dominates;
  • If the bend is close to both ends of the shaft span, the 2X speed frequency dominates;
  • The phase difference in the axial direction tends to be 180°.
Bending axis

5. Mechanical loosening

1) Mechanical loosening (A)

Symptom characteristics of mechanical loosening (A):

  • It is caused by the loose structure of the machine feet;
  • Foundation deformation will cause “soft footing” problems;
  • Phase analysis will reveal a vertical phase difference of approximately 180° between the machine’s base plate components.
Mechanical loosening (A)

2) Mechanical loosening (B)

Symptom characteristics of mechanical loosening (B):

  • It is caused by loose anchor bolts;
  • Cracked structures or housings may produce vibration at 0.5X, 1X, 2X and 3X speed frequencies.
Mechanical loosening (B)


3) Mechanical loosening (C)

Symptom characteristics of mechanical loosening (C):

  • The phase is often unstable;
  • Many harmonic frequencies will be generated.
Mechanical loosening (C)

6. Rotor friction

Symptom characteristics of rotor friction:

  • The vibration spectrum is similar to mechanical loosening;
  • Usually, it produces a series of frequencies that may excite self-excited vibrations;
  • Sub-harmonic frequency vibration of speed may occur;
  • Friction may be the partial or full circumference.
Rotor friction

7. Resonance

Symptom characteristics of resonance:

  • Resonance occurs when the frequency of forced vibration coincides with the frequency of self-oscillation;
  • When the shaft passes through the resonance, the phase changes by 180°, and when the system is in resonance, a large value of vibration will be generated.

8. Belt and pulley

1) Belt resonance

Symptom characteristics of belt resonance:

  • If the frequency of self-oscillation of the belt coincides with the frequency of the driving speed or the driven speed, large vibrations may occur;
  • Changing the belt tension may change the self-oscillation frequency of the belt.
Belt resonance

2) Worn, loose or mismatched belts

Symptom characteristics of worn, loose or mismatched belts:

  • 2X RPM frequency dominates;
  • Vibration amplitude is often unstable, sometimes in pulses, frequencies, or driven speed frequencies;
  • Worn or misaligned gear belts will produce large values of vibration in the gear belt frequency;
  • The belt vibrates at a frequency lower than the driving speed or the driven speed.
Worn, loose or mismatched belts


3) Eccentric pulleys

Symptom characteristics of eccentric pulley:

  • Eccentric or unbalanced pulleys will produce large values of pulley vibration at 1x speed frequency;
  • It has a maximum amplitude of vibration in the same direction as the belt;
  • Please be careful trying to balance eccentric pulleys.
Eccentric pulleys

4) Belt/pulley misalignment

Symptom characteristics of belt/pulley misalignment:

  • A large axial vibration of 1X speed frequency will occur when the pulley is not in alignment;
  • The largest amplitude of vibration on the motor is often the turbine speed frequency.
Belt/pulley misalignment

9. Hydrodynamic excitation

1) Blade passage frequency

Symptom characteristics of hydrodynamic excitation:

  • If the clearance between the blade and the housing is not uniform, the amplitude of the vibration of the blade through the frequency (BPF) can be very high;
  • High amplitude vane passage frequency (BPF) vibration may occur if the friction ring is stuck on the shaft;
  • The eccentric rotor may produce excessive amplitude of blade passage frequency (BPF) vibration.
 Blade passage frequency

2) Fluid turbulence

Symptom characteristics of fluid turbulence:

  • In the fan, due to the pressure change or speed change of the airflow in the flow channel, the airflow often appears turbulent flow;
  • It will produce random, low-frequency vibrations in the 0 to 30 Hz frequency range.
Fluid turbulence

3) Cavitation

Symptom characteristics of cavitation:

  • The cavitation will generate random, high-frequency broadband energy vibrations superimposed on the blade passage frequency (BPF);
  • Usually, it indicates improper inlet pressure;
  • If the cavitation phenomenon is allowed to exist, it may lead to impeller blade corrosion and pump housing corrosion;
  • It sounded like gravel going through a pump.

10. Beat vibration

Symptom characteristics of beat vibration:

  • Beat vibration is the result of the synthesis of two vibrations of very close frequency in-phase and out-of-phase;
  • The broadband spectrum will appear as a spike above and below, and the fluctuation itself is the beat of the frequency difference between two spikes in the broadband spectrum.
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Beat vibration

11. Eccentric rotor

  • Power frequency FL (50 Hz in China = 3000 rpm)
  • Polar P
  • Rotor bar passage frequency Fb = number of rotor bars * rotor speed
  • Synchronous speed NS=2XFL/P
  • Slip frequency FS = synchronous speed – rotor speed

1) Stator eccentricity, insulation short circuit and loose cores

Symptom characteristics of stator eccentricity, insulation shorts and loose cores:

  • Stator problem generates high amplitude power frequencies and doubles (2FL) electromagnetic vibrations;
  • The eccentricity of the stator produces an uneven air gap and its unidirectional vibration is evident;
  • Soft-soled feet can cause stator eccentricity.
Eccentric rotor

2) Synchronous motors

Symptom characteristics of synchronous motor:

  • It is produced by loose stator coils in synchronous motors;
  • High amplitude coils vibrate and can pass through frequency;
  • Coils pass through a sideband on both sides of the frequency that will be accompanied by a 1X speed frequency.
Synchronous motors

3) Power supply phase fault

Symptom characteristics of power supply phase failure:

  • Phase problems will cause a doubling of the power supply frequency;
  • (2FL) is accompanied by (1/3) FL sidebands;
  • The amplitude of electromagnetic vibrations at two power supply frequencies (2FL) may exceed 25 mm/s peaks if power supply faults are not corrected;
  • The local failure of the power connector is only an occasional contact fault.
Power supply phase fault

4) Eccentric rotors

Symptom characteristics of eccentric rotor:

  • Eccentric rotor creates a rotating, variable air gap, which generates pulsed vibrations;
  • Refinement spectroscopy is often required to separate the harmonic frequencies of the two-fold power supply frequency (2F) from the rotational speed.
Eccentric rotors

5) Broken rotor bar

Symptom characteristics of broken rotor bar:

  • The rotational speed and its harmonic frequency accompanied by a pole passage frequency (Fp) sideband on both sides indicates a rotor breaking fault;
  • When the rotor bars pass both sides of frequency (RBPF), a twofold power supply frequency (2FL) sideband indicates that the rotor bar is loose.
  • Often, the amplitude of the rotor bar passage frequency (RBPF) is very high at twice (2XRBPF) and three times (3XRBPF), while the amplitude of RBPF is very small at the fundamental frequency (1XRBPF)
Broken rotor bar

12. DC motors

Symptom characteristics of DC motor failure:

  • DC motor faults can be detected using a higher-than-normal thyristor frequency (SCR).
  • These faults include broken winding coils, and fuse and control board failures that can produce high amplitude vibrations at 1X to 5X power frequencies.
DC motors

13. Gear failure

Normal State Spectrum:

  • Normal state spectrum shows 1X and 2X speed frequency and gear mesh frequency GMF;
  • The gear mesh frequency GMF is usually accompanied by a rotational speed frequency sideband;
  • All vibration spikes have low amplitude, without self-oscillation frequency.
Gear failure

1) Effect of tooth load

Symptom characteristics of the effects of tooth load:

  • Gear mesh frequency is often sensitive to load;
  • High amplitude gear mesh frequency GMF does not necessarily indicate gear failure;
  • Each analysis should be performed at maximum load.
Effect of tooth load

2) Tooth wear

Symptom characteristics of tooth wear:

  • Excitation of the self-oscillation frequency is accompanied by a sideband that wears the gear at 1X the rotational frequency, indicating tooth wear;
  • Sidebands are a better indicator of wear than the gear mesh frequency GMF;
  • The amplitude of the gear mesh frequency may not change as the teeth of the gear wear.
Tooth wear

3) Gear eccentricity and backlash travel

Symptom characteristics of gear eccentricity and side clearance excursion:

  • The higher amplitude sidebands on both sides of the gear mesh frequency GMF indicate that the gear eccentric side clearance excursion and the gear shaft are not parallel;
  • Faulty gears will modulate the sidebands;
  • Abnormal backlash excursions will normally cause the gear to vibrate at the self-oscillation frequency.
Gear eccentricity and backlash travel

4) Gears misalignment

Symptomatic characteristics of gears misalignment:

  • Gear misalignment always excites harmonic frequencies of second or higher order gear mesh frequencies, which is accompanied by a rotational speed frequency sideband;
  • The magnitude of the gear mesh frequency base frequency (1XGMF) is smaller, while the magnitude of the 2X and 3X gear mesh frequencies is higher;
  • In order to capture at least 2X GMF frequencies, it is important to set enough high value with the maximum analysis frequency Fmax.
 Gears misalignment

5) Broken/cracked teeth

Symptomatic characteristics of broken/lost teeth:

  • A broken or cracked tooth will produce a high amplitude vibration at 1X the speed frequency of that gear;
  • It will induce a self-oscillating frequency vibration with a rotational speed fundamental sideband on both sides of it;
  • It uses the time domain waveform to best indicate a broken or cracked tooth failure;
  • The time interval between the two pulses is the reciprocal of 1X the speed.
Broken / cracked teeth

6) Teeth wear

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Symptomatic characteristics of oscillating teeth:

  • The vibration of the oscillating gears is a low-frequency vibration, which is often ignored.
Teeth wear

14. Rolling bearings

1) Phase 1 of rolling bearing failure development

First stage symptom characteristics of rolling bearing failure development:

  • From the earliest indications in the ultrasonic frequency range (>250 KHz), the spectrum can be best evaluated using the vibration acceleration envelope technique (vibration spike energy gSE).
Phase 1

2) Phase 2 of rolling bearing failure development

Symptomatic characteristics of the second stage of rolling bearing failure development:

  • Minor faults arouse the natural frequency vibration of rolling bearing components.
  • The fault frequency is in the 500-2000 Hz range.
  • At the end of the second stage of rolling bearing fault development, sideband frequencies appear on the left and right sides of the self-oscillation frequency.
Phase 2

3) Phase 3 of rolling bearing failure development

Symptoms characteristic of Phase 3 of rolling bearing failure development:

  • It has a frequency of rolling bearing failures and harmonic frequencies
  • The number of sidebands increases with the number of harmonic frequencies at which the fault frequency occurs with heavy wear;
  • At this stage, the wear is visible to the naked eye and spreads around the circumference of the bearing.
Phase 3

4) Phase 4 of rolling bearing failure development

Symptom characteristics of phase 4 of rolling bearing failure development:

  • Discrete rolling bearing failure frequencies disappear and are replaced by broadband random vibrations in the form of noise horizons;
  • Towards the end of this phase, it even affects the amplitude of the 1X speed frequency;
  • In fact, the magnitude of the high-frequency noise horizon and the total magnitude may be reduced.
Phase 4

15. Sliding bearings

1) Oil film oscillation instability

Symptom characteristics of oil film oscillation:

  • Oil film oscillation may occur if the machine is operated at a critical rotor speed of 2X;
  • When the rotor ramps up to the second critical rotor speed, the oil film vortices close to the critical rotor speed, and the excessive vibration will prevent the oil film from supporting the shaft;
  • The oscillation frequency of the oil film is locked at the critical rotor speed; As the rotational speed increases, the oil film oscillation frequency does not increase.
Oil film oscillation instability

2)  Instability

Symptom characteristics of oil film vortex:

  • Usually, it occurs in the frequency range of 42-48% of rotational speed.
  • Sometimes, the vibration amplitude is very large and the vorticity of the oil film is inherently unstable because it increases the centrifugal force, therefore the vorticity force is increased.


3) Sliding bearing wear/clearance failure

Symptom characteristics of sliding bearing wear/clearance failure:

  • Harmonic frequency vibrations of large amplitude at rotational speed frequencies are generated in the post-wear phase of the sleeve bearing;
  • When there is excessive sliding bearing clearance, small imbalances or misalignments can lead to large values of vibration.
Sliding bearing wear/clearance failure

Frequently Asked Questions

What are common sources of mechanical vibrations?

Mechanical vibrations are typically caused by an imbalance in rotating or reciprocating systems. Common sources include misaligned, worn, or damaged components, unbalanced rotating parts, and external forces such as impact or aerodynamic loads. Additionally, natural phenomena like earthquakes and winds can contribute to mechanical vibrations.

How do mechanical vibrations affect machine performance?

Mechanical vibrations can negatively impact machine performance. They can lead to excessive wear and tear on components, reduced efficiency, increased energy consumption, and decreased service life. In severe cases, vibrations may cause mechanical failure due to fatigue or component damage, necessitating costly repairs or replacements.

What are the consequences of mechanical vibrations on human health?

Exposure to mechanical vibrations can have adverse effects on human health. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to high levels of vibrations can result in symptoms such as discomfort, muscle strain, numbness, and reduced mobility. In some cases, excessive vibrations have been linked to long-term health conditions, such as hand-arm vibration syndrome, hearing loss, and even permanent disabilities.

How can we diagnose and identify mechanical vibration issues in machinery?

Diagnosing and identifying mechanical vibration issues in machinery typically involves the use of specialized tools and methods. Common techniques include vibration analysis, visual inspection, and acoustic emission monitoring. Maintenance professionals often use vibration meters, accelerometers, and signal analyzers to gather data and pinpoint the root cause of a vibration issue.

What are some effective methods for reducing or damping mechanical vibrations?

Various methods are available to reduce or dampen mechanical vibrations. Some possible solutions include balancing rotating components, proper alignment of system parts, and replacing damaged or worn components. Additionally, incorporating vibration isolation or damping devices in the design can help mitigate vibrations. Engineers also consider material properties, structural stiffness, and dynamic characteristics of the system to minimize vibrations during the design process.

Can mechanical vibrations have any positive effects on mechanical systems?

While mechanical vibrations are generally considered undesirable due to their potential for causing component damage and reduced efficiency, they can have some positive effects in specific applications. Controlled vibration methods, such as vibratory finishing, are used to improve surface finish quality or facilitate material sorting in industries like manufacturing or mining. However, these applications involve carefully designed processes and equipment to achieve the desired outcomes without causing harm to the machinery or operators.

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