The performance requirements of centrifugal compressors usually include a broad operating range between surge and choke. This becomes increasingly difficult to achieve as increased pressure ratio is demanded. In order to suppress the tendency to surge and extend the operating range at low flow rates inlet swirl is often considered through the application of inlet guide vanes. To generate high inlet swirl angles efficiently an inlet volute has been applied as the swirl generator, and a variable geometry design developed in order to provide zero swirl. The variable geometry approach can be applied to progressively increase the swirl or to switch rapidly from zero swirl to maximum swirl. The variable geometry volute and the swirl conditions generated are described.

The performance of a small centrifugal compressor is presented for a wide range of inlet swirl angles. In addition to the basic performance characteristics of the compressor the onset of flow reversals at impeller inlet are presented, together with the development of pressure pulsations, in the inlet and discharge ducts, through to full surge. The flow rate at which surge occurred was shown, by the shift of the peak pressure condition and by the measurement of the pressure pulsations, to be reduced by over 40%.

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