You are on page 1of 4

Feature Report

Avoid Leakage in Pipe Systems


Selection and proper installation of the
John C. Cox
Swagelok Company correct fitting will minimize leaks

L
eakage costs industry millions of amplitude of alternating stress caused butt-weld fitting. Its ability to resist
dollars every year. For example, a by vibration imposed on the test speci- vibration and fatigue is determined by
few small leaks in a facility using men (fitting connection) being exam- the strength and integrity of the con-
air at 100 psig, with an electric ined. On the horizontal axis, N indi- nection made.
consumption cost of about 6/kWh, cates the number of cycles to failure. However, pipe butt-weld-fitting con-
can waste more than $22,000 annu- This S/N curve illustrates the num- nections do have some disadvantages.
ally. Delaying the replacement of a ber of cycles generated and how soon The welding equipment and special-
leaking $100 steam trap could waste the specimen will fail after repeated ized training required to make the
$50 per week; since an average facility stressing. The findings suggest that connection can be costly. Additionally,
typically has hundreds of steam traps the greater the amplitude of alternat- the amount of time required to install
throughout its operations, leaking ing stress on a specimen, the sooner pipe butt-weld fittings into a system is
traps may be squandering hundred of it will fail. A stress intensification fac- greater than that of the other fitting in-
thousands of dollars each year. In ad- tor, as it pertains to fittings, shows an stallation options. The degree of knowl-
dition to wasted dollars, unattended exacerbated onset of failure which can edge required by the installer should be
leaks can result in downtime, affect relate to the deepness of the groove or factored into the equation, as well. Thor-
product quality, pollute the environ- notch made in the pipe or tubing line ough training is essential to ensure that
ment, and cause injury. by the fitting as it is tightened. quality weld connections are achieved.
The following discussion is aimed at Finally, accessibility for maintenance
minimizing leakage from process-pip- Preventing leakage in fluid-system piping is minimal, un-
ing, analytical-instrumentation, and Proper selection of components and less maintenance people are prepared
utility lines, such as those for steam total system design, as well as product to carry a torch or hacksaw to cut their
and compressed air. Such connections technology, are often overlooked as im- way into a system line.
are typically within the size range of portant factors when developing effec-
1/16 to 2 in. (250 mm). (For a detailed tive, efficient fluid handling systems. Threaded pipe fittings
look at flanged connections with gas- Two of the most critical areas contrib- One of the most common types of
ket or O-ring seals, see CE, June 2005, uting to leakage are: connections found in process fluid
pp. 3845). Types of connecting devices used in handling systems is the threaded or
joining process pipe throughout the screwed pipe fitting connection.
Causes of leakage system NPT fittings: Used as a workhorse in
System vibration, pulsation, and ther- The level of knowledge and practical industry since the inception of joining
mal cycling are all common causes for experience of those installing and pipe, NPT (National Pipe Thread) fit-
chemical-processing-system leakage. maintaining the application tings have a tapered thread on both the
One can assume that any type of Although the ideal connection offer- male and female ends. The seal is actu-
fitting connection may leak, regard- ing total leak-free operation in every ally a crush seal between the joining
less of whether pipe or tube is used, system parameter requirement real- metal surfaces, and occurs on the flank,
especially when mechanical vibration istically does not exist, it is worthwhile crest, and root of the tapered thread.
is present. This vibration fatigue is to evaluate the various fitting connec- Due to the affinity metal has for itself,
an unavoidable factor that can be ag- tion types available in a quest to help especially when mating carbon steel
gravated by poor metallurgical con- prevent system leakage. In addition, re- or stainless steel, galling and tearing
sistency within the fitting material gardless of the connection type selected, of the metal will take place during the
construction, undue stress imposed on proper and effective system energy installation procedure. When joining
the connection from side load or other management must be a high priority. NPT threaded connections, it is imper-
system design characteristics, or sim- Adoption of such an energy manage- ative to apply lubricant, or a sealant
ply improper installation practices. ment program is an important factor with a lubricating agent, on the male
Stress intensification and fatigue in maintaining effective fluid handling threads to prevent damage to them. A
have been widely researched. One systems, and will be discussed later. popular thread sealant is PTFE tape.
study conducted has produced the The following factors are important
Markl Fatigue relationship. This Welded pipe fittings to consider when using tape to lubri-
stress curve (Figure 1) provides a The fitting connection most resistant cate or fill voids in the thread crest,
vertical axis S, which equates to the to both vibration and fatigue is a pipe root, and flanks:
40 CHEMICAL ENGINEERING WWW.CHE.COM JANUARY 2006






Disadvantages of
threaded connections
Although threaded connections of any
type have been a popular
fitting choice in industry for
fluid systems, there is an
inherent disadvantage to

using pipe in both process
and instrumentation lines. Pressure
drop or head loss due to friction from
FIGURE 2. the internal surface of a piping system
FIGURE 1. Shown here are the results of rotary flexing test- SAE straight
ing of a tube fitting. Point A represents the maximum stress threads are can prevent applications from achiev-
at which there is 95% confidence that 90% or more of these mechanical ing necessary flow characteristics. This
tube-fitting connections will survive greater than 107 cycles. types; they do pressure drop effect may be illustrated
(i is a stress-intensification factor relative to a butt weld) not provide a seal through application of the Reynolds
Number, combined with internal geom-
When applying tape to the threads, port. This type of threaded seal offers etry, an application with which chemi-
two to three wraps of the male the advantages of an NPT connection, cal engineers are well familiar.
threads is sufficient with most tapes in that maintenance, accessibility, and The Reynolds Number (Re) is ex-
Never wrap tape over the end of the remake of the fitting are significantly pressed as
first thread, as tape will eventually easier for the installer.
Re = DV/
splinter and enter into the fluid han- ISO parallel and tapered thread
dling system, which may damage the fittings: ISO (International Stan- where D is the inside diameter of the
internals of system components dards Organization) thread fittings tube or pipe, V is the average fluid ve-
Wrap tape in a clockwise direction work similarly to NPT tapered thread locity, is the fluid density, and is
as you are viewing the thread from fittings, relying on threads to perform the kinetic viscosity. An internal fric-
the end of the fitting. If not wrapped the sealing characteristics, and SAE tion factor is calculated by first deter-
in the correct direction, the tape will straight threads, using either an elas- mining the Reynolds Number for the
not properly lubricate, potentially tomer, bonded metal washer, or gasket fluid flow in the pipe. Then by combin-
causing leaks as a backup seal. ing the relative roughness of the pipe
Cut off excess tape and draw the free NPTF national pipe tapered dry- surface with the Reynolds Number,
end of the tape around the threads seal fittings: Dryseal threads have the friction factor is determined. Tests
tautly to conform to the thread. roots that are more truncated than the conducted with this formula indicate
Then, press on the tape firmly with crests, so an interference fit causes the that due to the internal surface rough-
thumb and index finger at the over- roots to crush the crests of the mat- ness of pipe versus tube, flow in pipe
lay point. If the crests of the threads ing threads. The theory behind this typically will be more turbulent and
protrude through the tape, galling thread concept is that when the crest, will require greater pressure drop.
may occur, so additional tape will be root, and flank of the threads are en- Furthermore, to create a directional
required gaged, there is always mating contact, change with pipe, 45- or 90-deg. elbows
If threads are disassembled for creating a seal without lubrication. must be used. Elbows impose abrupt
maintenance, be sure to remove Unfortunately, due to inherent prop- ID changes and rough edges, adding to
all excess tape and apply new tape erties of some metals such as carbon turbulence and even greater pressure
prior to reassembling the threaded steel and stainless steel, galling will drop. Although directional elbows are
connections. Tape that has not been occur in this type of seal without lu- available for tubing systems, the abil-
removed from initial installation brication, making initial installation ity to bend tubing provides a smoother
may act as a leak point on subse- difficult and remake impossible. transition, reducing the amount of
quent assemblies 37 deg. AN flare fittings: These fit- pressure drop or turbulence created.
SAE straight thread fittings: An- tings use straight mechanical threads
other thread type gaining popular- similar to the SAE and ISO straight or Tube fittings
ity is the SAE (Society of Automotive parallel thread design. These straight Tubing also offers a variety of fitting
Engineers) straight thread. The SAE threads are used only for holding, selections for making connections:
straight threads are mechanical types, while a 37 deg. male flared end, ma- Compression fittings: The compres-
designed to only hold the fitting in place; chined on the end of the fitting, mates sion fitting, which was the first tube
SAE threads do not provide a seal. The with a female flared surface at the fitting to be developed, is made up of
sealing function is provided by an elas- base of the female threaded port. three components: nut, body, and gas-
tomer, typically located at the base of This type of connection is found pre- ket ring or ferrule. This design utilizes
the male thread (Figure 2). The elasto- dominantly in hydraulic applications a friction grip (Figure 3) on the tube.
mer compresses against a boss or flat and is commonly referred to as an AN One advantage is that no special tools
surface near the entrance to the female (Army-Navy) fitting. are required in assembly, unlike pipe
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING WWW.CHE.COM JANUARY 2006 41

Feature Report

FIGURE 4. Mechanical grip-type


connections, which require thread fittings have a hinging-colleting
chasers and dies to make the threads.
feature for achieving both tube
Further, the seals can be (but are not grip and vibration resistance
always) line-type, which creates a
dominant force in one small area and hands, the obvious breaking or
is one of the most effective metal-to- cracking point would occur at
metal seals available. However, the the notch. This same scenario
disadvantages of this type of connec- may occur on bite-type fittings,
tion are that it can withstand only min- FIGURE 3. No special tools where the gripping or biting fer-
imal pressure, it is available in just a are required to assemble rule places an indent or a stress
few materials of construction (mostly compression fittings riser on a single point on the tub-
brass), and it does not often function ing, which puts the fittings grip
well in systems having vibration, ther- bites into the skin of the tubing to into a potential failure mode. In this
mal cycling, and other dynamic forces. achieve holding ability. A second seal same pencil example, colleting would
Additionally, disassembly and remake is made on the long, deep surface be- be described as placing the notch in
of this type of connection is very dif- tween the ferrule and internal body the middle of the pencil and wrapping
ficult because of variables in the fit- taper. Original bite-type fittings are your entire hand over the notched
ting that may prevent the reseal in typically single ferrule in design. This area. With this additional support,
the same line-type area. Factors such requires the nose of the ferrule to per- bending the pencil would not create
as manufacturing inconsistencies, form two functions: bite into the tube breakage or cracking at the notch,
scratches or blemishes on the sealing to make the grip, and provide a seal- but rather some place outboard of the
surface can contribute to the compres- ing element for the coupling body, an notch, reducing the intensity of the in-
sion designs inability to reseal. action which can too easily compro- dent or stress riser on the tube.
Flare fittings: The flare fitting was the mise one or both functions. A two-fer- Another strong advantage that this
next variation in tube fitting designs. rule bite-type fitting performs sepa- design offers over the bite-type fit-
As compared to the original compres- ration of functions (the first, or front, ting is that dissassembly and remake
sion fitting, the flare fitting can handle ferrule to seal, the second, or back, of the fitting after installation can be
higher pressures and wider system pa- ferrule to grip the tube). This separa- more successfully accomplished with-
rameters, is available in a greater vari- tion permits each of the elements to be out damage to either the fitting com-
ety of materials, and has a larger seal designed specifically for the task it is ponents or the tubing. This is a result
area, which provides remake capabili- required to address. Once again, a line of a burnishing or polishing contact
ties in maintenance applications. seal is being created, similar to that between the sealing ferrule and the
The fitting is made up of three compo- of the compression design, which may body bevel, which does create an effec-
nents: nut, sleeve, and body with a flare create resealing problems. tive line, or point of contact seal, but
or coned end. In some instances, the Mechanical grip-type fittings: Me- also generates a back-up sealing area
sleeve is used as a self-flaring option, chanical grip-type fittings are typi- because the polishing effect provides
usually on thinner wall or softer tub- cally two-ferrule in design. This fit- a longer or secondary sealing. In ad-
ing materials. The disadvantage of this ting may also utilize a live-loaded seal dition, some manufacturers offer an
fitting is that ease of assembly takes characteristic, which means the fitting inspector gauge to ensure proper and
a step backwards. Special flaring tools pull-up spring loads the front ferrule sufficient pull-up on initial installa-
are required to prepare the tubing for as it seals by coining the surfaces of tion. Under-tightening of tube fittings,
installation. Additionally, flaring of the the tubing and coupling body. A radial especially in harder materials such as
tubing may cause stress risers at the colleting or holding action of the back stainless steel, is considered a major
base of the flare or cause axial cracks ferrule grips the tube for a distance cause for tube fitting leakage.
on thin or brittle tubing. Uneven tube just out-board from the tube holding
cuts with poorly designed rotational point of the ferrule nose, to enhance Energy management programs
tube cutters or ineffective hacksaws vibration resistance. In addition to selecting the proper fit-
will create an uneven sealing surface. A hinging-colleting feature of a me- ting for a system, process system en-
Sealing with this design is dependant chanical grip-type fitting is the most ergy management can also be an im-
on the effectiveness of the flared tubing. desirable in achieving both tube grip portant factor in maintaining effective
A quality flare by the installer should and vibration resistance. Colleting of fluid handling systems. While there
provide a successful seal. the gripping or back ferrule simply are many types of energy manage-
Bite-type fittings: The bite-type fit- means that the more material of the ment programs to consider, the follow-
ting needs no special tools for assem- back ferrule comes in contact with the ing discussion and recommendations
bly and accommodates higher pressure tubing to reduce the damaging effects are outlined from the viewpoint of:
ratings than the original compression of system dynamics. As an example, Process and instrumentation lines
design. This design is comprised of a if you place a notch in the middle of Plant utilities ( compressed air, hot
fitting with a nut, body and ferrule(s) a wood pencil and apply downward water, steam, and chilled water)
having a sharp leading edge, which pressure on either side with your Hydraulic systems
42 CHEMICAL ENGINEERING WWW.CHE.COM JANUARY 2006
The chemical industry is the second the case of several tube fitting designs, This case is just one example of how
largest energy user within the U.S. then the tube fitting has been safely focusing on proper component selec-
manufacturing sector. Energy costs and sufficiently installed to the recom- tion, total system design, and energy
represent approximately 9% of the mended manufacturers installation in- management programs can help de-
value of shipments. To identify oppor- structions. Although there are multiple velop an effective, efficient fluid han-
tunities for energy conservation and gauge types available on the market, dling system.
cost saving measures, consider an en- the key objective is to assure safe reli- If you would like to conduct an en-
ergy audit, which can be performed by able connections. The consistency, the ergy audit and require additional
an experienced entity within your own quality and the ease of use in a gauge is information, readers are welcome to
organization. imperative in its appropriate use. contact the author. Additional infor-
Periodic maintenance plays an im- As an example of the benefits of an mation and resources can be found on
portant role in reducing energy con- energy survey and the use of gauge- the Alliance to Save Energy web site
sumption and costs. For example, able fittings, consider the following. (www.ase.org).
consider compressed air leaks, clogged One specific energy survey conducted Edited by Gerald Ondrey
filters, and warm air leaks into the for a pulp and paper company revealed
compressor. Steam system auditors 23% leakage in its pneumatic systems. Author
John Cox is business devel-
have documented that a typical plant, When gaugeable tube fittings were in- opment manager and product
without a preventive, predictive main- stalled, the leak rate dropped to zero. specialist at Swagelok Co.
(31500 Aurora Road, Solon,
tenance program in place, will have Typically, all fittings in a given area of Ohio 44139; Phone 440-349-
approximately 28% of its steam traps a plant where gas (not liquid) service 5934; Fax: 440-349-5843;
Email: john.cox@swagelok.
in a failure mode at any given time. is common are tested for leaks. Once com). He has been with
To significantly improve steam utili- leaks are identified, the use of gauge- Swagelok for over 30 years,
working in field sales, sales
zation, employ proper testing of steam able tube fittings can lead to improved management, training coor-
dination and product design.
traps to identify leakage, repair the equipment reliability and energy con- He has a B.A. degree in communications from
leaks, and when appropriate, replace servation. Midland Lutheran College.
steam traps not working properly.
Another example of important pe-
riodic maintenance can be found in
checking for air leaks in a compressed
air system. Working from as many as
1,000 check points in a typical system,
about 24 to 30% of the points can be HEAD R&D
identified as leaking. This statistic Global Carbon Black Business
The Aditya Birla Group, a US$ 7.5 BN multinational having
is then applied to the companys cost
operations in 9 countries , is Indias largest and most diverse
per kilowatt-hour and losses are de- conglomerate. Our Carbon Black business spans India, Thailand,
termined. A performance contract is Egypt & China, producing 640,000 MT annually.
established to correct the problems. We seek interested candidates for the post of HEAD-R&D to lead
a team of scientists and engineers to:
Studies show that properly installed Develop an R&D strategy and align it with Business strategy to
fittings from certain manufacturers attain a competitive edge through process and application
correct leakage to less than 3%. development
The audit should encompass energy Develop and execute R&D programs for Carbon Black business
Pre- empt customer needs to develop new grades of Carbon
supply and consumption, including Black
a detailed analysis of the past years Develop a cohesive talent pool of research associates across
energy bills. Energy supply consid- various facilities of the business
Essential:
erations will show the current rate Doctorate in Chemical Engineering and 15+ years of industrial
schedule and costs from alternative research, 5 years as Head of R&D; experience in carbon black
suppliers. Opportunities for energy ef- industry would be preferred
An innovator with multi - faceted experience including
ficiencies will begin surfacing as this bench/lab, pilot plant, process modeling, etc
work continues. Energy and cost sav- H as interacted with manufacturing plant workforce and senior
ings calculations should include esti- management executives.
mated costs for implementation. Report ing to the Global Business Head of Carbon Black, the
incumbent would have R&D departments at various locations of
the Business functionally reporting to him/her.
Gaugeable-tube fittings The position, based in Mumbai /Chennai (I ndia), would require
Using a gaugeable-tube fitting can frequent traveling to various locations.
Compensation would be commensurate with experience.
often solve many leakage problems at Please send your profile and detailed research achievements to
a plant. After the connection has been carbonblack@adityabirla. com
made, a so-called no-go gauge is in- For further details visit
serted between the hex of the fitting nut www.adityabirla.com
and body. If the gauge does not fit, in
Circle 33 on p. 51 or go to adlinks.che.com/5825-33
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING WWW.CHE.COM JANUARY 2006 43