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REFORMER FURNACES: MATERIALS, DAMAGE MECHANISMS, AND ASSESSMENT
Tito Luiz da Silveira
Tito Silveira Engenharia e Consultaria Ltda Rua Couto de Magalhães, 744 20930-090 Rio de Janeiro, RJ Brazil
and Iain Le May *
Metallurgical Consulting Services Ltd. Saskatoon, Canada
ُﻌﺘﺒﺮ ﺗﻘﻴﻴﻢ اﻟﺘﻠﻒ ﻓﻲ اﻓﺮان اﻟﺘـﱠﺤﻮل ﻣﻦ اﻷﻣﻮر اﻟﻬﺎﻣﺔ ﻓﻲ ﺗﺤﺪﻳﺪ ﻋُﻤﺮ اﻟﺨﺪﻣﺔ ﻟﻬﺬﻩ اﻷﻓﺮان. وﺳﻮف ﻧﻌﺮض ـ ـ ﻳ ﻓﻲ هﺬا اﻟﺒﺤﺚ ﻃﺮق ﺗﻘﻴﻴﻢ هﺬا اﻟﺘﻠﻒ، وﻧﻘﺪم اﻟﻤﻨﺤﻨﻴﺎت اﻟﻤﻤ ﱢﺰﻩ ﻟﺘﻘﻴﻴﻢ اﻟﺘﻠﻒ، وه ﺬﻩ ﺗـ ُﻌﺘﺒﺮ ﻃﺮﻳﻘ ﺔ ﺳ ﻬﻠﺔ وﻣﻌﻘﻮﻟ ﺔ ـ ﻴ ﻟﺘﻘﻴﻴﻢ ﻣﺪى اﻟﺘﻠﻒ اﻟﻨﺎﺗﺞ ﻓﻲ أﻓﺮان اﻟﺘﺤﻮل ذات اﻷﻧﺒﻮب. وﺳﻮف ﻧﻌﺮض أﻳﻀﺎ ﻣﺜﺎﻻ ﻟﺤﺎﻟﺔ درﺳ ﻨﺎهﺎ ﻟﺘﺤﺪﻳ ﺪ اﻟﻌﻤ ﺮ ً ً .اﻟﻤﺘﺒﻘﻲ ﻻﺳﺘﺨﺪام هﺬا اﻟﻔﺮن ﻋﻦ ﻃﺮﻳﻖ دراﺳﺔ ﺗﺸﻘﻘﺎت اﻟﺠﺪران وذﻟﻚ ﺑﺎﺳﺘﺨﺪام ﻣﻴﻜﺎﻧﻴﻜﻴﺔ اﻟﺘﺸﻘﻖ ﻏﻴﺮ اﻟﺨﻄﻴﺔ
* Address for correspondence: P.O. Box 5006, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7K 4E3 Tel: (1-306) 934-9191 e-mail: email@example.com
Paper Received 17 April, 2006
The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering, Volume 31, Number 2C
Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May
ABSTRACT The assessment of damage in reformer furnaces is an important factor in determining their remaining safe life. In this paper the methodology of damage assessment is reviewed, and the concept of characteristic curves to assess damage is introduced: this provides a simplified procedure to give a realistic estimate of the extent of damage and the remaining life of reformer furnace tubes. An example is also given of a case study to determine remaining life in the presence of a partthrough-wall crack in a component in the header of a reformer furnace using a nonlinear fracture mechanics approach. Key words: reformer furnaces; high temperature materials; damage mechanisms; damage assessment; inspection; remaining life prediction
The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering, Volume 31, Number 2C
while older furnaces may be of the side-fired type with burners distributed in two or more layers. Most modern furnaces are of the top-fired type with burners disposed in rows on both sides of the columns. The number of columns varies between 15 and 200. as a result of endothermic reactions between hydrocarbons (mostly methane) and water vapor. The columns receive the charge through the inlet pigtails of Cr–Mo low alloy steel above the roof of the radiation chamber. DAMAGE MECHANISMS. Volume 31. The design of reformer furnaces has improved greatly over the past 30 years. Number 2C 101 . The hydrogen production takes place in radiant tubes containing a catalyst. Schematic view of a top fired reformer furnace December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. at the same time. However.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May REFORMER FURNACES: MATERIALS. The pigtails have a shape that provides flexibility to accommodate the axial displacement of the horizontal inlet manifold and of the vertical columns produced by thermal expansion. Figure 1. which contain the catalyst. Figure 1 shows the arrangement of a typical small or medium sized furnace with the reformer columns. depending on the number and size of the walls. New alloys and manufacturing processes have been developed to meet the severe requirements imposed on the tubes in the radiation zone and in the hot reaction gas outlet. There has been improvement in catalysts to provide lower reaction temperatures. AND ASSESSMENT INTRODUCTION Reformer furnaces are used widely in the petrochemical industry to produce hydrogen from hydrocarbons. arranged in the form of two vertical walls. there has been a trend towards increased temperature and pressure to achieve further increases in production and efficiency.
where it is cooled. Volume 31. connecting to the outlet manifold. Figure 2. Temperature distribution in the radiation zone for several reformer furnaces based on metallographic observations 102 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. permitting the use of carbon steel in the last part of the transition piece. The reaction gas leaves the columns through the outlet pigtails.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The columns are suspended through the use of counterweights or hangers. HIGH TEMPERATURE CONDITIONS AND COMPONENTS The working pressure in a reformer furnace is between 1 and 5 MPa depending on the process and is essentially constant during operation. the insulation is applied directly on the pipes. The outlet pigtails provide flexibility to compensate for their thermal expansion and the thermal expansion in the horizontal outlet manifold. The wall temperature falls as the refractory thickness increases. In some furnaces the transition piece is welded to one extremity of the outlet manifold: in others there is a tee in the middle of the outlet manifold and the transition piece is welded to it. Depending on the design. This starts as a cone of the same material as the manifold. the reaction gas flows through a transition piece to the recovery boiler. Number 2C December 2006 . From the outlet manifold. The temperature of the charge in the inlet manifold is between 420 and 550°C. a fraction of the weight of the columns is transmitted to the furnace structure at their lower ends. in others. producing saturated steam. In some furnaces the hot piping below the floor is kept inside an insulated chamber. This is the wall temperature of the column segment in the furnace roof. The temperature of the reaction gas in the pipes below the floor of the furnace is between 800 and 900°C. A refractory is applied to the internal surface in such a way that the flow cross section remains the same as that of the outlet manifold.
Because of the extreme temperature conditions. From de Almeida et al. Field experience shows that skin temperature measurements based on thermography are in error as they indicate maximum readings more in the direction of the burners. the methodology of which is outlined below. As the catalyst ages. The length of a normal campaign for a reformer furnace may vary from 12 to 36 months (8 760 to 26 300 h). These aspects are noted to call attention to the diversity and complexity of the variables that affect the column wall temperature. Figure 2  illustrates the temperature distribution in the radiation zone for several furnaces based on metallographic observations. there is a trend to form a preferred path for gas flow through the catalyst bed. There are cases of increased severity where the hotter zones have a ring like shape known as a tiger tail. There is a loss of activity of the catalyst during its life cycle and. It is apparent that there is a consistent trend towards the production of a maximum wall temperature in the lower half of the radiation chamber during service. Thus. Column Materials The most critical components of a reformer furnace are the columns.  The wall temperature of the columns depends on several factors. December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. cooling is not uniform over the column cross section. to compensate for this effect. the wall temperature may be increased. The dimensions of the columns vary between 10 and 15 m in height. and as strength is increased. showing dendritic carbides within an austenitic matrix. depending on the actual operating conditions and the characteristics of the particular material. highly alloyed steels are required. and hotter (and brighter) areas appear on its external surface in the form of a giraffe neck pattern.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 3. whereas other components can be repaired or replaced more easily. However. It is virtually impossible to foresee the column wall temperature in the radiation chamber with reasonable precision based on design models. One is the burner regulation. the useful service life is found to range from around 30 000 to 150 000 h. As-cast microstructure of centrifugally cast 25Cr–35Ni steel. 100 to 200 mm diameter. which may deviate with time.4 years) on the basis of API Recommended Practice 530 . It is expensive and difficult to replace or repair these. and 10 to 25 mm wall thickness. Volume 31. generally ductility and toughness decrease. The design is for a nominal life of 100 000 h (11. as observed through the furnace windows. In several cases this is estimated to be greater than 1000°C. Number 2C 103 .
thus cast structures are used. showing massive carbides near the outer surface and fragmented carbides near the inner surface . providing greater strength and creep resistance. Figure 7 illustrates the microstructure of this material. Formerly a preferred composition was 25Cr. Note also the absence of secondary precipitation in the austenite matrix. designated as HK-40 . lying in a dendritic pattern. Thus there is a need to stabilize the fine dispersion of particles.4C. 35Ni. strong. 0. Unfortunately.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The alloys used are not easily drawn or extruded. Titanium appears to have a similar beneficial effect to that of niobium while yttrium appears to contribute to high temperature strength through fragmentation of the chromium carbides [5–7]. 0. and diffusion takes place to facilitate this – the higher the temperature the faster the diffusion occurs. 20Ni. as shown in Figure 3 . The effect of small yttrium additions results in a duplex structure. The centrifugal casting process causes the partition of elements through the thickness of the wall of the column segments. illustrating the dendritic carbide network.8%) and yttrium (approximately 0. that is: elongated grains near the outer surface and finer grains at the inner surface as shown in Figure 6 . and stable particles. Figure 4 illustrates the as-cast structure of HP-40 at higher magnification. a distribution of fine secondary carbides is formed in an interdendritic manner.04%). Light optical micros of as-cast modified HP alloys: (a) HP–Nb. High temperature strength (resistance to deformation) depends on a distribution of fine. but with increase in operating temperature HP-40 material (25Cr.3%) have been experimented with in the form of small additions. In the as-cast condition there is a network of primary carbides along grain boundaries. Centrifugal casting is now generally used as the structure is more even and the grains are oriented in a radial direction. while the fine interior grain structure is resistant to carburization reactions occurring within the furnace tubes. When in service at high temperature. From de Almeida et al. Such a structure is potentially beneficial as the radial elongated grain structure is very creep resistant.4C) has become more common. (b) HP–Nb–Ti. the austenitic Cr–Ni matrix of these alloys is strengthened through a dispersion of hard deformation-resistant carbide particles. Titanium (up to approximately 0. 104 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. widespread secondary precipitation is seen (Figure 5) . at the same time the primary carbides dissolve. Figure 4. It may be seen that the dendritic network is less continuous with the presence of titanium (0.  The alloys commonly used are Cr–Ni stainless steels. In order to have long-time strength at high temperature. Upon ageing (900˚C for 1000 h). there is always a tendency for particles to coarsen during high temperature service to minimize surface energy. This has been achieved to an extent by modifying the HP composition by the addition of Nb and other carbide-stabilizing elements. Number 2C December 2006 . Volume 31.
As a result. which shows the microstructure of an HK alloy. The lower extremity. (b) HP–Nb–Ti. The upper end has a flange in low alloy steel with a dissimilar metal weld. a reformer column contains at least one. owing to the poor workability of these alloys. Micrograph of the centrifugally cast structure of a column with yttrium addition. the columns are spindle-cast in segments 2 to 5 m long. and generally two or three butt welds within the radiation zone of the furnace.  The progressive changes in microstructure during service at high temperature are illustrated in Figure 8 . December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. showing the duplex microstructure. which leads to the outlet pigtail. and the use of dispersions of oxide particles have been tried. In principle. Light optical figures of modified HP alloys in aged condition: (a) HP–Nb. Volume 31.  Figure 6.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 5. Number 2C 105 . From Noronha et al. Several proprietary alloys have been developed from these compositions . is sand-cast in the same material as used for the tube segments. internally machined and welded together. As already indicated. The effects shown are also typical for HP alloys. From de Almeida et al. The development of the microstructural changes shown will be referred to further and in more detail when damage assessment is discussed. these can provide a more stable microstructure for creep resistance than a dispersion of secondary carbides as they will not go into solution in the austenite matrix as do the carbides.
(b) top middle – state II. (e) middle right – state V.  Figure 8. From Noronha et al. right – fragmented carbides near inner surface. The pigtails are made of seamless tube.9×104 h of service. and (f) bottom right – state VI.05C) is the most commonly used material. mechanically polished and etched in aqua regia saturated with CuCl2. 0. From Le May et al. Volume 31. Number 2C December 2006 . The state or condition of aging during extended service for HK40 steel. (c) top right – state III. They were all taken close to the inner tube surface. (a) Top left – state I. Note that the dark cavities in (e) and (f) are indications of creep damage occurring at higher temperatures.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 7. 32Ni. (d) bottom left – state IV. Specimens were taken transverse to the axis. The outlet manifold may be of seamless pipe or of welded spindle-cast segments. Microstructure of yttrium-containing HP modified steel: left – massive carbides near external surface.  The outlet pigtails and manifold require materials whose properties are a compromise between long-term hightemperature mechanical strength and good ductility after aging. 106 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. Alloy 800 (20Cr. The samples shown were from a single tube exposed to 6.
Cracks are oriented transverse to the column. based on extensive observations of failed components . The complete pigtail length. Number 2C 107 . nucleated at the external surface of the pigtail. relatively low stress produces cracking from round creep voids. When the header is poorly supported damage may be transverse due to bending. Heat affected zone of the butt welds between spindle cast segments. Scale formation. Outlet Headers Creep Aligned creep voids and multiple microcracks longitudinally oriented at the external surface. May be localized in one segment of the header due to temperature or stress overloads. Table 1.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May DAMAGE MECHANISMS Table 1 summarizes the most relevant mechanisms of damage accumulation that dictate the extinction of life in reformer columns. Mechanisms for Life Extinction Reformer Columns Mechanism Creep Damage Aligned creep voids and multiple cracks start in the inner third of the wall. December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. The fusion line acts as a barrier to crack propagation. The most susceptible welds are in the upper third of the columns. Very localized cracking due to stress concentration. longitudinally oriented with respect to the column. loss of thickness. Internal surface of the hotter segment of the reformer column. Centre line of the weld deposit of the welds between cast segments. A main crack propagates at the centre line of the weld deposit starting in the inner third of the wall. They appear in the upper third of the columns. The table also shows the preferential sites for damage accumulation and the damage morphology. growth of interdendritic carbides and carbide precipitation in the austenitic matrix. Multiple microcracks and aligned creep damage very localized in the stress concentration zone. usually nucleated from wedge crack type creep damage due to grain boundary sliding. high temperature creep-fatigue Joint between the header and the tee that leads to the transition piece or between the header and the transition piece where they are welded together. Usually in small lengths of the joint perimeter. The offset may divert the column towards its neighbours or the furnace wall. outlet pigtails. Joint between pigtail and outlet header. and outlet manifolds. following maximum tensile stress due to bending. Low cycle. and gross microstructural changes. May also occur at the joint between pigtail and reformer column. Carburization Carburization Low cycle. with loss of ductility. Aligned creep voids and cracks start close to the column internal surface. In some cases damage is localized at the external radius of bends. Creep at welds Creep buckling May be distributed over the complete length of the column or concentrated in one part. Volume 31. Scale formation. The offset may correspond to several column diameters. Microcracks and aligned creep voids are distributed parallel to the crack. high temperature creep-fatigue Internal surface. Damage may occur by grain boundary sliding with formation of wedge crack cavities: in other cases. Site Sections in the hotter segment of the reformer column. Outlet Pigtails Creep Aligned creep voids and multiple cracks longitudinally oriented.
the boundaries show an alignment of creep voids. an appropriately chosen cross section will show aligned voids and microcracks produced by their linkage. arising from the reduction in radial heat loss from the tubes containing the catalyst. Number 2C December 2006 . in extreme cases. in the extreme. Some microcracks may reach the internal surface and.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May For the furnace columns. but without links between them being present. appearing in the form of round voids randomly distributed on dendritic boundaries. and the effect of increased local temperature causes a dramatic reduction in life because of this. Creep damage generally results in multiple longitudinal cracks. damage can be by creep. such that there are local hot spots. as shown in Figure 9 . Figure 9. The effect of exceeding the design temperature on the expected life of HK-40 alloy reformer furnace tubes Figure 10. can interfere with the fitness-for-purpose of the furnace. The effect of such distortions is to bring tubes locally closer together. From da Silveira and Le May  Damage starts in the inner third of the wall. and accidental overheating. Volume 31. leading to recrystallization and. The most important damage mechanism leading to life extinction of the columns is creep. Their preferred orientation is on boundaries perpendicular to the maximum principal tensile stress. At 50% of the useful life of the column. it may be considered that the useful life is extinct when the cracks reach the outer half of the wall thickness. 108 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. to liquation of the eutectic carbides in the heat–resistant cast austenitic alloys. thermal shock. Microcracks and aligned creep voids in the HAZ at a weld in a reformer column. carburization. After 50% of useful life. On other occasions tubes may suffer gross distortion that. conservatively.
The stress state within the column is complex. A weld will only develop longitudinal creep cracks due to hoop stress if the adjacent parent metal also develops this type of damage. as should be the case if controlled by hoop stress. The various analytical methods are discussed briefly later in this paper. The location of such welds is towards the top of the furnace. Longitudinal section through the butt weld of a reformer column showing creep cracking. Because of this. The majority of aged reformer tubes that the writer has analyzed have shown damage distributed along their length. the initial use of an analytical method to provide a first estimate is valuable in identifying if there may be a potential problem and whether a more direct evaluation using inspection procedures should be made. December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. Volume 31. The inside surface is at the left. but it is very useful to evaluate the probable extent of damage and remaining life in a particular furnace in a direct manner. even at higher column sections where the wall temperature is relatively low. Number 2C 109 . and an assumed worst case would generally give a pessimistic estimate of remaining life. When the weld is not this weak. there is a loss of cohesive strength on the grain boundaries and cracks initiate and propagate. However.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The basic mechanism involved in causing creep damage is the generation of vacancies (missing atoms) produced during diffusion of species under stress and deformation on an atomic scale: these vacancies tend to congregate on grain boundaries forming pores. and the cracks are longitudinal. Figure 11. but it is apparent that the stress due to internal pressure plays a leading role in damage accumulation. as the assessment of damage and advance planning of column replacement should be made to ensure that failures and unplanned shutdowns during a campaign are avoided. These cracks are transverse to the column and are related to the suspended weight. but useful life was controlled by the damage that accumulated in the welds between tube segments situated in the upper third of their length. this type of damage does not occur. With many pores formed. the weld weakness permits the formation of transversely oriented cracks associated with axial stress. From da Silveira and Le May  The observations of damage distribution may be explained on the basis that welds between spindle-cast segments are more susceptible to long term creep damage than the parent metal. The main cracks may be found in the centerline of the weld or in the heat affected zone (HAZ) as shown in Figures 10 and 11 . Such constraint does not apply in the case of axial tensile stress. the dominant creep damage occurs in the parent metal at the hotter section of the column. As internal pressure varies little along the column length. In some cases. A basic problem with the analytical methods is that there is a large degree of uncertainty involved. DAMAGE ASSESSMENT OF REFORMER COLUMNS Analytical methods have been developed to assess reformer column safe life. where the parent metal acts as a constraint to creep strain in the weld. damage concentrates in the hotter section.
Experience has shown that there are two possible sites for the alignment of the voids. When the weaker link is the weldment. Level B as displaying isolated cavities. 110 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. Thus the aging process in itself should not be considered as a process of damage. different levels of creep life consumption can be attributed to different sections of the reformer tube. Complete sections rather than segments of the tube wall are required for the evaluation. leading to simple assessment criteria based on the qualitative observations. however. An important point is that the extent of creep damage is seldom distributed evenly around the complete cross-section of a reformer tube. the alignment and the cracks that follow are arranged in longitudinal planes within the tube. It is important that the repeated polish–etch procedure is followed as the voids that may be disclosed are not of significant size up to the time that separation occurs along boundaries and microcracks are present.  considers Level A as having no detectable voids. Volume 31. When the weaker link corresponds to the spindle-cast metal. the alignment may be localized in a plane transverse to the tube axis and lying either in the center of the weld or within the heat-affected zone. and Level E having macrocracks.  Figure 12 illustrates the form of the creep damage within a section of a furnace tube and the manner in which it can be classified . the damage is assessed from a furnace tube removed at the end of a campaign. as used for reformer furnaces. in which damage was ascribed to four different levels. Experience has shown that the process is sufficiently slow that an effective forecast of the remaining life expectancy can be made by simple qualitative metallography applied to the cross-sections of an extracted sample tube. Reformer tubes are fabricated from several spindle-cast segments butt-welded together. ranging from the formation of isolated cavities to the presence of macrocracks. as indicated after metallographic preparation. The microcracks that develop propagate to the internal surface to produce leakage. The changes in microstructure are. the ductility at ambient temperature falls to the extent that the tensile elongation may be less that 5% for material aged between 600 and 700ºC. The initial mechanism of void formation is thought to be decohesion at the interface of a precipitate . In this metallographic procedure. and chosen to be as representative as possible of the overall condition of the furnace. The five levels of damage that are assigned are based on the classification adopted by Neubauer and Wedel  for steam generators. Their alignment follows a direction normal to the principal tensile stress. based on the distribution of voids and cracks. The microstructures of the cast austenitic stainless steels of the ASTM A297 type. Level C having oriented cavities. Grades HP. The approach adopted by Le May et al. useful indications of the actual wall temperature. and this needs to be considered in the sampling procedure for metallographic examination.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 12. Such behavior is normal and the furnace geometry is such that the limited ductility does not interfere with the fitness-for-purpose of the tube. the small gap opening up through the repeated application of the polish–etch cycles [12. Level D having microcracks. They may be evaluated by field metallography using replicas or by the more conventional destructive metallography applied to cross-sections of a sacrificed reformer furnace tube. The voids that are disclosed on tube sections having the form of rings are arranged initially at the dendritic boundaries approximately one-third in from the inner surface. HK or similar. change substantially with aging at high temperature and so do their mechanical properties. Number 2C December 2006 . 13]. Classification of the damage in the wall of a reformer tube. Damage is revealed through careful (and repeated) polishing and etching of sections from the tube to emphasize the damage as indicated by cavities and microcracks as demonstrated by da Silveira and Le May . For example. Thus. From Le May et al.
Characteristic curves for a reformer column of HK40 steel. secondary carbides nucleate in the interior of the austenite matrix. Figure 13. For material exposed to temperatures between 900 and 1000ºC. 14]. producing State III of aging. their numbers being much less than at lower temperatures. Between 800 and 900ºC the morphology of the primary carbides stabilizes and the secondary carbides coalesce. and their development is described in the following paragraphs. the most important factor is temperature. removed after 4. secondary carbides disappear and the austenite matrix has an appearance similar to the as-cast condition: this is termed State VI. Below about 600ºC microstructural changes are not detectable with light microscopy. Between 700 and 800ºC the primary carbides transform completely from a eutectic morphology to form compact blocks. These are termed “characteristic curves” and examples are shown in Figures 13 and 14 [1.85×104 h of service. This is termed State IV. and examining these metallographically for microstructural changes and creep damage. there is a loss of secondary carbides along the dendrite boundaries. While time has an influence.  December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. precipitating first along the edges of the dendrite arms. and very fine secondary carbides are dispersed throughout the matrix. and this is designated State I of aging. larger coalesced secondary carbides are observed. From Le May et al. and the microstructures that result can be correlated closely to the service temperature. Thus. This is termed State II. The observed state of aging is shown on the plot on the left with the temperature value corresponding to the observed microstructure. The microstructural features that relate to the assessment of service temperature are shown in Figure 8. Number 2C 111 . From 600 to 700ºC the primary carbides tend to coalesce and become blocky: as well. plots of estimated temperature and of creep damage can be prepared. Observations of the transformations of steels of the types discussed indicate that the initial changes in microstructure take place relatively rapidly at a given temperature level (within a few thousand hours) and that thereafter the extent of the change with time becomes small. By removing a single tube from a reformer furnace. Because of carbon diffusion to the primary carbides. the microstructural changes provide a reasonable estimate of the temperature profile to which a furnace tube has been subjected provided they have been in service for several thousand hours. cutting a series of ring samples from along its length. A zone denuded in secondary precipitates surrounds the primary carbides: this is State V. Volume 31.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The microstructural changes that take place as a result of prolonged exposure to temperature are primarily alterations in carbide morphology. Above 1000ºC.
as this is a more sensitive technique. A test program demonstrated that damage in welds can be detected with good sensitivity. it would be good practice to remove a tube for confirmatory metallographic examination. Volume 31. From Le May et al. The former provides for detection of cracks within the plane of the weld metal at right angles to the tube axis. but following removal of the catalyst from it. while the latter gives better detection of cracks lying within the heat affected zone. Radiography is conducted in place without removal of the reformer tube.  Welded Joints When the life of the reformer column is limited by creep crack propagation in the welds. Cracking may also be observed in the heat affected zone and this may also be the limiting factor. In the event of serious levels of damage being found. Characteristic curves for a column of HK40 steel after 6.5×104 h of service. Figure 15 illustrates the criteria that are used for the evaluation of the level of accumulated damage in welded joints between the centrifugally cast sections of a reformer column . Only rarely is the life limited by cracks transverse to the weld deposit. stage. In the majority of cases the useful life of welded joints is limited by the propagation of cracks in the plane of the weld and lying within the deposited metal. In such a situation the positions of the cracks that develop are well defined. and extending into the base metal of the centrifugally cast tube.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 14. but not yet terminal. Number 2C December 2006 . These utilize γ-radiography oriented (a) in line with the weld deposit (angle of incidence of 0°) and (b) at an angle of incidence of approximately 15° to the weld. The damage levels (A to E) correspond to those already discussed. those that are most prone to damage are the two nearest to the top of the radiation chamber. and it has been found possible to use radiography to evaluate creep damage that is in an advanced. Radiographic procedures have been developed and qualified for the detection of damage at the various levels indicated . lying along the tube axis. 112 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering.
From Le May et al. Volume 31.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 15.  December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. Criteria used for the level of accumulated damage in welded joints between centrifugally cast sections of a reformer column. Procedure for preparation of the inner tube surface of specimens for examination by liquid penetrant. Number 2C 113 . From Le May et al. as shown by sectioning and metallographic preparation.  Figure 16.
As the creep damage does not initiate near the outer surface of the tubes. Curves 1 and 3 represent the damage distribution at a rupture life of 110 000 h and a life of 90 000 h. If cracking is present it will be in the form of longitudinal radial cracks in the wall. or using the Generalized Local Stress Strain (GLOSS) robust method . respectively. one pigtail can be removed for detailed evaluation. However. Local increases in internal diameter are indications of creep deformation. Other NDE Procedures Various NDE procedures have been proposed for the detection of creep damage in reformer furnace columns. Casting Defects From time to time casting defects can lead to premature failure of reformer columns. and this will appear as linear indications on the chamfered area. it can be assumed that the risk of failure is sufficiently low that a further campaign can be undertaken. such defects have been observed in columns produced by different well-recognized foundries. However. The temperature distribution was obtained in the same manner as done by Le May et al. Including metallographic observations in the analysis. It is not clear how this was added into the analytical data. Mahlangu  has presented the results of an inspection programme on more than 300 tubes using an automated crawler that provides a continuous record of tube outer and inner diameters with eddy current evaluation of the tube wall. computer methods [17.  have modeled a reformer tube of HK-40 steel containing welded joints.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Rapid Evaluation Procedure When a reformer column is removed for metallographic examination it may be useful to have a relatively rapid indication of the state of damage. 18]. in which a light source (a diode laser) is passed down a tube and produces a continuous record of the inside topography of the tube. This emphasizes the fact that the nondestructive methods require to be verified before they can be depended upon to fully quantify the nature and extent of damage and hence estimate remaining safe life. Damage Assessment of Pigtails and Headers Damage assessment of the outlet pigtails and headers is simpler than for the columns as the creep and the creepfatigue damage initiate at the external surfaces. Five segments cut appropriately from the column length can be prepared for examination as shown in Figure 16. as the metallographic assessment is time consuming. The damage distribution estimated by means of a continuum damage finite element technique  and the estimated effective temperature in the reformer tube are shown in Figure 17. carburization is relevant only if weld repairs are necessary and a magnet can be applied over the bevel or on the well-cleaned internal surface of the manifold. if they extend through more than 25% of the wall thickness. The surface of the chamfered area should be kept as smooth as possible. it is to be noted that Mahlangu followed up the automated crawler examination by sectioning the tubes for metallographic examination. Liquid penetrant testing is conducted over the chamfered surface. If the magnet shows any attraction. Xiang Ling et al. Another nondestructive method of interest is laser profilometry . ANALYTICAL PROCEDURES Analytical procedures that can be used in an assessment of reformer furnaces include the procedures described in API Recommended Practice 530 . Liquid penetrant inspection made on adequately prepared surfaces will indicate damage at the microcrack level well before life extinction.  from microstructural examination. If such cracks are detected but are less than 25% of the wall thickness in radial dimension. Any unexpected reformer column failures should be submitted to a full analysis and the results used to adjust the inspection plan of the specific reformer column battery. Although a strict quality control policy is expected for this type of component. a characteristic damage curve (curve 3) was obtained. Volume 31. Severe carburization of the internal surface of the pigtails can be identified in a simple manner by the application of a magnet to the external surface of the component after this has been cleaned to remove the oxide layer completely. Eddy current (ET) and ultrasonics have both been employed to estimate creep damage. it is not a straightforward matter to detect and evaluate it. but it may be seen that curves 1 and 2 are not satisfactory in predicting 114 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. Number 2C December 2006 . Carburization is not easily detected in the outlet header owing to its greater wall thickness. However. This may be done simply by a qualified technician using liquid penetrant inspection procedures . then a more detailed metallographic examination should be made. Field metallography using replicas gives a long-term picture and can eliminate any doubts arising concerning the validity of the liquid penetrant indications. while evaluation of the stress distribution was made by FEA.
After Xiang Ling et al. without consideration of the welds. the FEA data do emphasize the local nature of the largest damage in a furnace tube some three-quarters of the way from the top.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May damage over a significant part of the tube (particularily the upper part). CASE STUDY: ASSESSMENT OF A DAMAGED REFORMER FURNACE Background Furtado and Le May  have discussed the case of a reformer furnace that had developed cracks at the inlet manifold or header after approximately 12 000 h of operation. and computer programmes have been developed by Saxena  and further by Peace et al. In cases where cracking is present. The cracks were at a tee connection as shown in Figure 18. The review is not a complete one but may serve to provide some insight to the damage mechanisms to be considered in high temperature petrochemical plant such as reformers. Number 2C 115 . Also the analytical method did not take into account the local damage at welds. and that metallography is a very useful tool in carrying this out. December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. it may be necessary to apply fracture mechanics principles to determine the length of a crack that can be tolerated without the risk of penetration through a pressure boundary or before fast fracture would occur. Figure 17. A comprehensive review of the methodology is provided by Saxena .  REMAINING LIFE ESTIMATION The metallographic and other inspection methods outlined above can be used in the estimation of the extent of damage and thus the remaining life of reformer furnaces. Assessment of remaining safe life of a reformer furnace.  that allow quantitative predictions of remaining life to be made. while the time to reach the critical size may be estimated from crack growth relations that may involve combinations of creep damage and fatigue damage and may use non-linear fracture mechanics approaches. However. Volume 31. for example at welds. A first estimate will establish the critical crack size for the given loading and geometry. It should be emphasized again that the various non-destructive methods that are being increasingly employed to evaluate reformer furnace tubes need to be calibrated and justified.
Schematic drawing of the inlet piping to a reformer furnace. showing the positions of the cracking and the support arrangements. Volume 31.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May Figure 18. The geometry as recorded before welding is shown in Figure 19. Number 2C December 2006 . From Furtado and Le May  116 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. but it was found impossible to completely remove the crack at the other location. Figure 19. Sketch of the cracked region at the tee connection to the right in Figure 6 after grinding and before welding. A sketch was made by company personnel of the crack that remained at the ground area before weld metal was finally deposited to cover it. as the crack kept growing with further grinding. From Furtado and Le May  The operating conditions were 4. Repair was made by welding at one of the cracked positions.5 MPa pressure and 585°C within the 305 mm diameter 321 stainless steel piping that had a wall thickness of 16 mm.
First. From Furtado and Le May  Figure 21.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The action to weld over a crack that had not been completely removed was taken to allow production to continue on a temporary basis and because it was desired to avoid cooling down the unit completely as the ambient temperature was around –40°C. Immediate re-evaluation of the support system was recommended to ensure that failure would not occur from this cause in future. when the unit was cooled down. the design was such that the piping was suspended from the top of the furnace by means of spring hangers. and there was a long semi-rigid connection between this line and the second of the two inlet manifolds. based on a small initial crack size. showing the effect of initial crack size and shutdown frequency. From Furtado and Le May  December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. producing large bending stresses at the tee connections to both manifolds. Subsequently it was requested that the unit be continued in operation for a longer time than originally envisaged and it was necessary to examine the structural integrity of the unit. Figure 20. The possibility of spring “hang-up” had not been considered in the design. It was discovered that. Volume 31. Number 2C 117 . with the vertical feed line supported on a platform at the bottom. Remaining life prediction for the reformer header. Structural Integrity Evaluation Two aspects of structural integrity are of relevance here. and the operating personnel had not appreciated the potential for failure when the bottom support was not acting as was intended. the adjustment of the top support springs was such that the vertical feed line contracted and no longer rested on the bottom support. The effect on the remaining life of additional stress from partial suspension of the inlet piping due to malfunction of the hangers.
49 (2002).L. da Silveira. the estimated safe life in the absence of excessive bending loads created by suspension of the feed line was no more than one year. dos Santos. F. pp. de Almeida. Ribeiro. T. Woodford and J.H. Figure 21 shows the effect of external load on remaining life corresponding to the presence of a small buried crack. 119 (1997). 1983. J. and no extension of the temporary operation was considered possible. Nunes.2 mm.H.M.J. Le May. “Precracking Structures in a Creep-Ruptured Low-Carbon Cr-Mo Steel: their Nature and Detection by Light Microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy”.” in ASME International Conference on Advances in Life Prediction Methods. Heat Resisting Alloys for the Petrochemical Industry. Materials Characterization. Volume 31. Mayer. Acta Microscopia. and Figure 20 illustrates the results of this analysis. assuming that there was remedial action taken to eliminate the possibility of the feed line becoming unsupported at its lower end during cooling down of the plant. 1986. 1996. Mann. 3rd Edition. American Society for Nondestructive Testing website.J. p. Canada: CIM. eds. T. 58 (2007). Noronha. based on some analytical approach. Supplement C. This required assumptions to be made concerning the crack size based on the dimensions recorded by the maintenance staff before the crack was welded over. OH: American Society for Metals. Trans. Microstructural Science. Dille. Materials Characterization. Jones.J.L. L. Number 2C . APV Paramount Ltd.R. L. R. 28 (1992). da Silveira. 423–427. 12 (2003). and C. T. “Microstructural Characterization of HP Cast Stainless Steel with Yttrium Addition”. Delplancke. and L. and L. 1994. Volume 11.A.ndt/article/v04n02/roberts4/roberts4. da Silveira and I. 1986.L. Nunes. “Verification of Inspection Method Used to Predict Premature Failure of Primary Reformer Tubes”. “Damage Assessment and Management in Reformer Furnaces”. pp.C. (2001). The approach used was to employ the simplified crack growth program developed by Saxena . Wedel. showing the estimated remaining life as a function of initial crack depth for different shutdown frequencies. “Effects of Metallographic Preparation Procedures on Creep Damage Assessment”. R. Sastri. F. in Metals Handbook. REFERENCES        I.” in Materials Performance. As the historical frequency of shutdowns was greater than 10 per year. API Recommended Practice 530. Materials Characterization.S.H.R. P. Neubauer and V. “Failure Analysis and Prevention”. 233–241. F. UK: EMAS. Coade. DC: American Petroleum Institute. Le May. Materials Characterization..htm . 181–191. 231–232. PA: American Society for Testing and Materials. considering one shutdown only per year. Based on the sketch made by the maintenance staff and the geometry of the beveled surface after grinding. T. Austenitic-Ferritic (Duplex). L.219–229. “Microstructural Changes Caused by Yttrium on NbTi-Modified Centrifugally Cast HP-Type Stainless Steels”.L. Supplement C. M. F.S. pp.L. Vianna. 132–142. “Yttrium Particles Observed in a Modified HP Stainless Steel”. Mahlangu. Maintenance and Plant Life Assessment. Le May. New York. Calculation of Heater-Tube Thickness in Petroleum Refineries. D. Metals Park. a reasonable estimate for the initial crack depth (2a) was taken as 10. pp. de Almeida.C. Le May. “Microstructural Characterization of Modified 25Cr-35Ni Centrifugally Cast Steel Furnace Tubes”. Ferreira. de Almeida. P.E. pp. NDT Solution: Laser Profilometry as an Inspection Method for Reformer Catalyst Tubes. J. N.W. Penny. Le May. and an analysis of the time and operating cycles until it reached a critical length. J. Roberge and V. and I. Austenitic. December 2006          118 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. 12 (2003). Acta Microscopia. Whitehead. 79–93. Le May. Philadelphia. and S. eds. 1999. 353–356. pp. for PressureContaining Parts.D. B. 29 (1992). pp. 253–254. in Cape 2001: Ageing of Materials and Methods for the Assessment of Lifetimes of Engineering Plant. de Almeida. Journal of Pressure Vessel Technology. Samuels. “Characteristic Curves for Damage Assessment in Reformer Furnace Tubes. Montreal. pp. Washington. 1991. http://www. I.H. da Silveira and I. ASME. A351/a 351M-91: Standard Specification for Castings. Nunes.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May The second aspect concerned the question of crack growth from the latent defect.C. West Midlands. 290. Noronha. pp. pp. pp. 75–85. International Journal of Pressure Vessels and Piping.A. D. ed. “Criteria for the Evaluation of Damage and Remaining Life in Reformer Furnace Tubes”. “Restlife Estimation of Creeping Components by Means of Replicas.H. and I. M. NY: ASME .K. 343–363.H. and I. 66 (1996). L. Le May.
E. 1994. P. Failure Analysis.R. pp. H. and K. 83 (2006). S. pp. Gong. Number 2C 119 . Version 3. Le May. I.S. Palo Alto. Roberge.F. “Damage Mechanics Considerations for Life Extension of HighTemperature Components”. Furtado. Peace. and R. Gomes. Nonlinear Fracture Mechanics for Engineers. in Materials Performance. and Jian-Ming Gong. Shan-Tung Tu. Canada: CIM. 173–179. Sastri. pp. ASME. S. pp. Boca Raton. H.-B. Saxena. Materials Performance. Volume 31.-M. Le May. eds. I. pp. Mayer.A. 1998. “Damage Evaluation and Life Assessment in High Temperature Plant: Some Case Studies”.D. Seshadri.C. “Remaining-Life Prediction for Equipment in High-Temperature/Pressure Service”. A. A. Simonen and C. 491–499. CA: Structural Integrity Associates. Viswanathan.C. “PCPIPE.C. Trans. London: Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 61–67.0: A Computer Code for Integrity Analysis of Elevated Temperature Steam Pipes”. Le May. “Remaining Life Evaluation of Catalytic Furnace Tubes”.E. Montreal. 122 (2000). Xiang Ling.C. pp. 30 (4) (1991). 107 (1985). L. Journal of Pressure Vessel Technology. pp. USA: CRC Press. “A Computational Model for Prediction of Life of Tubes Used in Petrochemical Heater Service”. J. 1994. Eng. J. 143–153. Saxena.-T. 798–802. Jaske and R. 174–179. Jaske. Tu. Trans ASME. and V. and I. Journal of Pressure Vessel Technology. 1989. 1996. C. 239–246. Maintenance and Plant Life Assessment. Furtado and I.Tito Luiz da Silveira and Iain Le May    F. Int. R. “Remaining Life Assessment of Welded Pipes Containing Cracks”. Pressure Vessels & Piping. Le May.       December 2006 The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering. in Sixth International Conference on Creep and Fatigue. Bhole. Yoon “Damage Assessment and Maintenance Strategy of Hydrogen Reformer Furnace Tubes”. 6 (1999). P.
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