Understanding and Optimising Reciprocating Compressors

Reciprocating compressors are the workhorses of compression. However, they are unreliable machines, requiring well developed maintenance, operation and control regimes to ensure good availability.

Our understanding and optimising series of courses is designed to help new process or other discipline engineers and operators get the most out of plant equipment. For engineers, theory is one thing practice is another. For operators, many have never been introduced to the theory in a way they can understand.

These courses use simulation models to explore unit operations, establishing how each piece of equipment works and consequently how to maximise the performance of each unit.

Target Audience

Operations engineering support teams, technicians and panel operators will all benefit from this course. New process engineers and engineers from other disciplines will also gain from practical advice to complement the theory from school. Technicians should have at least three years field experience, engineers do not require any experience.

Course Topics

The course starts with a practical introduction to basic physics and chemistry. No maths, no equations, just simple observational explanations of relevant concepts.

Each element of a reciprocating compressor system is then explained in the context of the contribution it makes to achieving the compression ratio. Due to the unreliable nature of recips we also consider the relevant maintenance aspects of each component. The explanation includes the process dynamics explaining how each piece of information is used to select the appropriate control techniques and hence contribute to the reliability of the compression.

This whole course has been prepared to build from first principle concepts that we then explore with computer simulations allowing us to understand the concepts in action.

Building on a thorough understanding of the basics, each participant will be introduced to our concept of optimisation such that they can explore and understand a unique operation and apply the appropriate adjustments to operation.

At the end of the course delegates will be able to identify operating problems and take the appropriate action to investigate and remedy issues.

Course Overview

In our experience, academia often lacks practicality, particularly how unit operations are regulated by process control. Conversely, most operators are perfectly capable of understanding theory so long as it is explained practically.

This programme aims to provide understanding of reciprocating compression operations through practical exercise, and an appreciation of control and optimisation requirements.

We will use a range of simulation models to explore operation, measure process dynamics, test control techniques; just as you would do onsite. We limit the theory to what you need to know to understand the practical exercise of using reciprocating compressors.

Your job in the real world of operations is not to develop new techniques, we can leave that to the many specialists out there, your job is to apply known techniques to get the maximum benefit in production optimisation.

Learning Objectives

This course has been prepared to meet the specific requirements of engineers and operators who together need to gain confidence and competence in reciprocating compression.

You will learn to:

  • Identify and explain each element of reciprocating compressor systems
  • Understand the purpose of each element
  • Understand the maintenance requirements relating to each element
  • Understand the unit process dynamics
  • Interact with the control system
  • Run optimisation experiments
  • Maximise compression efficiency and reliability


Howard Thomas has advocated practical approaches to handling complexity for over 20 years. He has a unique ability to make the complex clear for his clients and audiences.
He combines an in depth technical background with a wide ranging business experience but is probably best known for his engaging style of presentation.

He is formally technically accredited as a Fellow of Engineers Australia and a Chartered Professional Chemical Engineer and has worked on hydrocarbon installations all over the world, from roles as a technician to executive consultancy.