reported that gremlins had entered the
system and were playingmalicious tricks. The. butane splitter, without any prior notice,
Both the reboiler steam and reflux rates
change erratically.After a few weeks, the mystery was solved. Anytime an electricaloutlet in the control room was used, the feed-forward system wasaffected in the same way that running an electrical appliance interferes
with TV reception.There is a general rule for determining whether or not instrumenttroubles are causing unstable gas-plant operation: If a tower cannot be
operated successfully in manual, regardless of operator time and atten-tion, simply tuning the controllers will not help. There is a process orhardware problem to be resolved.
ORIFICE TAPS PLUGGED
A more subtle but frequently encountered problem is attributed toplugged orifice-flow meter taps.A debutanizer that was
by a feed-for-ward system oper-
perfectly. One day the debutanizer began to die; that is, the reflux
the temperature all
decline. An alert operator noticed the debutanizer’s impending de-mise. He switched. the reboiler steam flow control from automatic tomanual and thus manually restored
steam flow back to its normalrate. This move resuscitated the tower.The debutanizer’s problem appeared to bechronic. The symptoms,reappeared with greater intensity and frequency. After several weeks ofunstable operations and 100,000 bbl of off-spec butane, managementdecided to shut the tower
forrepair. The nature of the plannedrepairs was never specified.
Suddenly, with no apprent logic, a long-time shift operator hit onthe solution: the orifice taps on the reboiler steam flow meter wereplugged. The taps were drilled out. The tower’s control immediatelyreverted to its former smooth operation. An investigation conductedlater on revealed what had happened.The
control logic was designed to reduce the reboilerheat input when the debutanizer feed rate dropped. The measuredsteam flow was relayed back to the feed-forward controller. If the mea-sured steam flow did not decline in step with the reduced feed rate, thecontroller signaled the steam flow control valve to continue