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FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK

TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES Issued: 01/15/1998


3.01.1
Revised:

TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES

TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES ..................................................................................1

1. Introduction .......................................................................................................................2

2. The Troubleshooting Process ............................................................................................2

3. Poor Separation Efficiency ................................................................................................6

4. Hydraulic Limitations .........................................................................................................8

5. Inadequate Vapor Capacity.................................................................................................8

6. Inadequate Liquid Flow Capacity.......................................................................................9

7. Excessive Pressure Drop...................................................................................................10

8. Column Instability ............................................................................................................11

9. Interaction With Problematic Peripherals .........................................................................11

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1 Introduction

Distillation, absorption, and stripping columns comprise the majority of separations equipment in most
processing plants. These devices present varying degrees of hydraulic complexity and can represent high
order control problems. Troubleshooting these operations requires a rational approach that encompasses
a large range of knowledge: i.e., fundamental principles of thermodynamics, basic concepts in process
design such as material and energy balances, computer simulation expertise, instrumentation and control
know-how, and understanding of the actual hardware.

The first task facing the engineer is to determine the origin of the problem, and if the problem is process
or equipment related. The determination of the cause of the problem might involve testing and trial and
error situations. Once the origin or cause of the problem is established, the troubleshooting engineer must
develop, alternative solutions to the problem that can be implemented within various time frames and cost
limitations. After a solution is chosen, the troubleshooting engineer should remain involved in the
implementation of the solution and monitor the results carefully.

Documentation of the complete process is of fundamental importance since troubleshooting, in many


cases, becomes an exercise of eliminating possible causes of the problem and proper documentation is
invaluable to prevent mistakes from being repeated.

Troubles with distillation columns can generally be classified as follows:

1. The column does not exhibit the efficiency of separation that is expected of it.
2. The column does not have the capacity for vapor or liquid flows that it is supposed to have.
3. The column shows an excessively high or low pressure drop, compared with design.
4. The column does not perform in a stable fashion.
5. The column exhibits unexpected corrosion or materials problems

Excellent references for troubleshooting information include (49), (80) and (100).

2 The Troubleshooting Process

The general troubleshooting process involves several different and often sequential stages, namely:

a. Statement of the problem and of the objectives.

b. Assess the gravity of the situation, the hazards and dangers and determine if emergency
action is required. Estimate the economic impact of the problem

c. Determine if a temporary, partial, or emergency solution to the problem is warranted and


implement it.

d. Obtain a clear description of the symptoms. Always interview operations people as well as the
unit engineer. Seek second opinions on the symptoms if there are inconsistencies.

e. Information gathering of field data and design documentation. The following is a listing of
information that can be obtained from field data and from the design information for the tower in
question.

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Actual heat and material balance data


Pressure drop profiles
Temperature profiles
Composition profiles
Holdup profiles (liquid distribution and holdup in trays and internals)
Fouling tendency and history
Unusual transient and startup behavior
Design simulations
Simulations that describe current operation
Design specifications
Equipment and internals drawings
Piping and Instrumentation diagrams and layout drawings

f. Visual inspection of the tower.

Assess mechanical damage


Inspect clearances and tolerances
Check for corrosion and plugging

g. Obtain historical information on the problem and on events that preceded its onset.

h. Process design review and comparison with actual conditions. The following items need to
be reviewed to determine if a flaw could have existed in the process design of the tower.

Specifications vs. operating conditions


Thermodynamics (VLE data review)
Physical property data
Stage calculations, minimum reflux and boil up
Heat and Material balances within and around the column (actual vs. design)

This is a good time as well, to determine if the behavior of other columns or associated equipment in the
system can be having an effect on the column in question.

i. Equipment design review and comparison with actual conditions. The troubleshooting
engineer should review the original equipment design to determine possible flaws. This review
should cover the following aspects:

Estimation of capacity
Estimation of pressure drop
Estimation of efficiency
Hydraulic design of each internal
Distribution quality
Internals layout
Heat exchangers
Pumps

j. Instrumentation and control review - At this point one should determine if the problem could
be caused by a faulty control scheme. In some cases control schemes are over- or under
constrained. This is normally indicated by large difficulties in achieving steady state operation
after start-up or after a process upset. A detailed review of action/reaction situations is often

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warranted to assure that all control loops produce the appropriate response to a change. This
includes a review of the appropriate tuning parameters.

A review of the transient behavior of the column can also shed some light into a problem that
could be caused by inappropriate control schemes. Finally, one needs to be reasonably sure of
the quality of the instrumentation readings around the column. Repeatability of measurements
should be such that confidence can be put in a particular instrument. On the other hand, poor
calibration can lead to repeatably incorrect data as well.

k. Review of mechanical integrity - One of the most important aspects of the troubleshooting
process involves the determination of the mechanical and geometric integrity of the internals
(trays, packings, distributors, collectors, etc.) in the column. Damaged internals are a frequent
cause of problems. Normally, mechanical damage to internals can be elucidated by pressure drop
measurements and backed up by scanning results. Since these problems arise and because of
sudden damage to internals, the historical data on the column becomes very important. Problems
due to mechanical damage show themselves after shutdown/start-ups or after process upsets.

l. Development of scenarios that could cause the problem and selection of most likely ones -
Several problem solving techniques can be used to develop scenarios that could explain the
problem.

For example: Brainstorming


What if analysis
Intuitive analysis
Hypothesis formulation followed by testing

Section 1.4 of Kisters book Distillation Operation(49) offers a good description of the process
of developing a testing hypothesis. A point to be remembered always is that testing hypothesis
sometimes involves significant risks and one has to be careful that the search for the cure to a
problem is not more damaging than the problem itself.

m. Solution development and implementation - This is the objective of the troubleshooting


process. Several types of solutions may need to be developed: emergency solutions (as
described above), temporary, and permanent solutions. Temporary solutions may be required
when the permanent solution can only be implemented during the next shutdown or requires
fabrication, supply, and or installation of hardware that will take time. This applies in general to
all solutions that require new or modified hardware.

It is always a good idea to develop an alternative solution in case the one selected does not
remove the problem. Furthermore, one should also be aware of any additional or new problems
that could arise when a solution is implemented. Any solution to a problem will pose some risks
and these need to be assessed carefully.

n. Monitoring and documentation of results - It is important that the results of a proposed


solution be monitored carefully. In case of successful implementation of a solution, this solution
has to be documented so that the appropriate concepts can find their way into new design
specifications and procedures for other relevant applications.

The following is a list of documents and information that can be of great value to the troubleshooting
engineer. It would be a rare luxury to have all or even a majority of them available at any given instance,
but nevertheless, their availability only enhances the possibilities of a rapid and effective solution to a
problem. Much of this information should be collected when the column is operating properly but
unfortunately, at these times few people have the foresight to obtain such data and only when a problem

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appears does the urgency to collect information become evident.

Data Logs (before a problem/after a problem) - These should include flow, temperature,
composition, pressure, and pressure drop information as a minimum. Other variables such as
sump levels can also be of use. The troubleshooter must be aware of the time span of the
historical data recorded using short time intervals. Many times the most important information
that a data log can provide the troubleshooter can be gained in the minutes just before and after
an upset. Data with such short intervals may not be archived long enough for the troubleshooter
to gain access to it an only averages may be available.

Transient Behavior Logs - These record the same data described above but during transient
condition.

Trends - Instantaneous values of process variables are not nearly as useful as trends.
Comparison between normal and abnormal trend response can offer good insight into a potential
control problem.

Baseline Scans (dry, normal operation) - A highly recommended practice is that of taking
gamma scans of towers in their normal condition with and without process loads. A dry scan
of the normal tower will provide a map of what the hardware should look like in an undamaged
condition. Comparison of the normal scan with a dry scan obtained after a problem has been
encountered can quickly point to damaged internals. Without a baseline picture of the tower the
interpretation of the new scan becomes less reliable. The same thing applies to scans taken
during normal operation. A baseline scan taken during proper operation of a column can, when
compared with a scan taken after a problem appears, provide invaluable information with respect
to the hydraulic behavior of internals. Again, without a wet baseline scan, the interpretation of
a subsequent wet scan will be less reliable.

Photographic Evidence - A picture is worth a thousand words. Photographic evidence of


hardware damage can be very valuable.

Step a in the troubleshooting process involves the statement of the problem. This sounds like a very
simple task but more often than not it is a difficult one since the actual problem is different for different
people. For example, the perception of a problem from the operators point of view often differs from
that of the engineers or the superintendent. In order to successfully troubleshoot the problem, it has to be
reduced to an engineering statement that involves the interests of all parties and that describes the
malfunction properly. The engineer should strive to define the root problem as one of the following:

Poor Separation Efficiency


Hydraulic Limitations
- Inadequate vapor flow capacity and/or
- Inadequate liquid flow capacity and/or
- Excessive pressure drop
Column Instability
Interaction with problematic peripherals
Corrosion

The actions taken by operators to overcome one of these problems can make the problem appears as
something else. For example, a column that exhibits low separation efficiency by entrainment at the
appropriate rates may actually flood as the operator increases reflux to compensate for the lack of
efficiency. Thus the problem might be reported as a hydraulic limitation in the column when it is really
an efficiency problem. The way to correct it is to address entrainment and not hydraulic capacity.

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Another example of the real problem not being what it appears is what happens when steam reboilers
leak into vacuum columns that are distilling wet hydrocarbons. The column in these cases can actually
show vapor flow limitations since small amounts of extra water can increase vapor velocities
significantly, especially in low pressure systems. A water balance in the system can be troublesome
because of the small amounts involved and the varying solubility. Nevertheless, the perceived capacity
problem in this case is actually caused by an interaction with a faulty reboiler.

The following is a summary of things to check when finding out what causes one of the three problems
listed above.

3 Poor Separation Efficiency

It is often found that the separation provided by the column is lower than expected. There are several
possible explanations for this:

Faulty equilibrium data


Improper stage model used
Wrong material balance
Scaleup model in error
Column internals are unsatisfactory

a. Check the VLE - For close separations, imprecise VLE or the use of data at the wrong
conditions can lead to a shortfall in separation. For example, the propylene/propane separation
requires 100+ trays and a high reflux ratio. Many studies have been made of the relative
volatility of this binary pair, because of the sensitivity of tray count to it. In another area,
separation of minor components forming non-ideal solutions can have significant variations in
their dilute concentration activity coefficients. One can very easily check the effect of errors in
VLE on stage requirements; one cannot as easily check the reliability of the measured VLE. Still
another area of possible problems is the effect of impurities on the VLE. Small amounts of
impurities can have a large effect particularly when the systems are highly non-ideal.

b. Are stages and minimum reflux/boil up determined correctly - When the more approximate
stage models are used, such as the Fenske-Underwood-Gilliland combination, one can expect
some inaccuracy, and in design one normally allows for this. Theoretical stages are not actual
stages, however, and this must be taken into account when troubleshooting a separation shortfall.
Shortcut methods, and even rigorous methods can provide inaccurate solutions with respect to
minimum reflux, boil up and stages. These inaccuracies tend to be more significant when very
tight simulation specifications on recovery and purity are imposed simultaneously. This is many
times due to the tolerance in the material balance convergence routines. The troubleshooting
engineer should always remember that a different set of values of minimum reflux, minimum boil
up, and minimum stages are required for each performance specification for the column.

c. Check material balance and look for surprise components - There is always the chance that
the column material balance is not what is appears to be. For example, minor yet unexpected
components may appear in the mixture to be separated - or generated in the column by chemical
reaction. If such components turn out to be intermediate boilers they can adversely affect product
purities. In plant testing it is often difficult to get a good closure on the overall material balance,
and adjustments must be made (perhaps on the basis of computer simulations). At any rate, if the
separation is not what was expected, a reasonable "working" material balance needs to be
developed - and it may give clues as to why the separation is off-specification.

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d. Check for entrainment from trays, collectors, and distributors - Separation efficiency
problems can be caused by mixing of gas and liquid in a direction opposite to the separation.
Liquid entrainment up a column can have a deleterious effect on separation. This problem is
normally associated with vacuum tray columns but it presents itself in other tray columns as well.
Entrainment in packed columns can occur from the top of packed beds, and more importantly
from liquid collectors and distributors. Entrainment from these devices can have a very large
negative effect in cases where little margin is available in liquid composition profiles.

e. Check for weeping and leakage from trays, collectors, and distributors - Leakage of liquid
down the tower (i.e., weeping) can also affect efficiency though not as dramatically as
entrainment. On the other hand, there are applications where very little liquid leakage can be
tolerated from collector or redistributor trays. This is most important when these trays are used
to remove side streams from the column that have stringent temperature or composition
specifications.

f. Is the mass transfer efficiency prediction reliable - At some point the troubleshooting engineer
will have to make an assessment as to the quality of the mass transfer efficiency prediction.
Problems and limitations with the prediction methods used to establish the expected performance
of the column can lead to poor separations. These predictive methods can take many forms
including: scale-up from smaller distillations, extrapolation from similar distillations, use of a
mass transfer efficiency correlation.

g. Analyze for mixing patterns on trays . Look for possible axial mixing in packed towers -
Axial mixing in packed towers can be detrimental to separation efficiency due to reduction in the
available concentration gradients for mass transfer. This phenomenon appears to be more
important in high pressure distillations with high capacity/low pressure drop packings though it
can appear as well with random packings and even trays. Mixing or lack of it can also be
detrimental to tray performance, particularly in trays over 4 in diameter. Mixing can reduce the
efficiency of a long flow path tray and the lack of mixing can create large dead zones on the
sides of large circular trays.

h. Look at possible liquid maldistribution patterns on tray towers - Common problems here are
caused by uneven liquid flow across a tray caused by poor design of downcomer inlets or outlets,
inlet an outlet weirs, etc. For very large diameter trays there is the problem of getting
unidirectional flow of liquid across the tray. For multipass columns, there is the possibility of
getting too much liquid down one side of the column or uneven flows into downcomers.

i. Check liquid distributor design and performance. Are packed beds too deep? Liquid
distribution is a critical parameter for packed towers. Many inefficient separations in packed
towers can be traced back to the liquid distributor - or to maldistribution of the liquid within the
bed (especially in deep beds). Be suspicious of packed beds exceeding 25 in depth since
efficiency tends to deteriorate rapidly in deep beds. Maldistribution of inlet liquids and vapors
can be a problem in tray columns, also.

j. Check for balanced flows in multipass trays - Uneven flows in the various passes of large trays
can cause poor mass transfer efficiency. This unevenness can be caused by faulty downcomer
and overflow weir design or by obstructions in the flow of liquid onto the tray.

k. Vapor distribution quality needs to be assessed - Vapor maldistribution can be just as


detrimental to performance as liquid maldistribution even though it is not as common. In
general, vapor maldistribution in packed towers tends to be an entrance or exit effect and affects
the performance of the tower at those points. In most instances vapor maldistribution, unlike
liquid maldistribution, tends to be corrected as flow progresses through the bed. Tray tower can

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also exhibit vapor maldistribution and in many cases this problem is exacerbated as the vapor
flows up the column. Effects such as vapor cross channeling can affect performance in many
trays in a column.

4 Hydraulic Limitations

Hydraulic limitations can be experienced in various ways: flooding by inadequate vapor handling
capacity, flooding by inadequate liquid handling capacity, excessive pressure drop, excessive
entrainment, etc. We will address each one of these.

5 Inadequate Vapor Capacity

Columns are designed to accommodate certain amounts of vapor and liquid flow. Oftentimes they are
sized for vapor capacity and then checked for liquid capacity. Generalized methods are used for
predicting flood points, load points, and so on. The methods are based on the geometry of the column
internals, the properties of the fluid systems, and the practice of the designer in allowing for unforeseen
needs for future operating conditions.

When a column falls short on capacity, there must be some criterion of what the capacity should be. For
vapor flow, the criterion is usually a capacity correlation or a nameplate number. A significantly lower
observed capacity can indicate one or more of the following.

The correlation was not used properly.


Too much was expected of the correlation.
Operation of the column has introduced agents which could cause foaming.
The column internals are not arranged according to design.

Check the capacity correlation applicable ranges - The reasons for limited vapor capacity bear further
discussion. So far as proper use of the correlation is concerned, one must realize that all correlations for
capacity prediction are largely empirical. They are often based on experimental data for hydrocarbon
systems of low viscosity (e.g., the FRI flood data). Unusual properties such as high viscosity and very
low surface tension could invalidate the correlation. Also, the correlation involves a curve fit to scattered
data, and the probability of premature flooding is inherent in such a fitting procedure. Still another pitfall
can be encountered at high liquid loads, beyond the range of the correlations.

Watch for foams and the reliability of foaming tests - Unexpected foaming is often a cause of
premature flooding. Impurities with surface activity can be generated in the process and cause a
foam/froth buildup that results in heavy entrainment or flooding. Suppression of the foam by anti-foam
agents may not be feasible in conventional distillation systems. On the other hand, such agents are often
used in recirculating systems such as absorbers and extractive distillation columns where the agent can
be retained in the solvent phase. Tests for foamability have not been found particularly reliable unless
they can be performed at the actual tower conditions and using the actual vapor and liquid compositions.
When foaming is anticipated in new designs, allowance can be made in the form of extended tray spacing
and/or oversize downcomers. But when it occurs unexpectedly in operation it may be necessary to use a
different type of contacting geometry. Packed column contacting is not subjected to the high hole or slot
velocities of tray columns, and this seems to make a difference in foam buildup. Little is known of the
ability of structured packing to break up foam, but we suspect that they can handle foam better than trays.

Beware of second liquid phase formation or appearance - Distillation trays with two liquid phases can

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be subject to foaming problems. Studies indicate that when the liquid phases are well established, the
total liquid is well-behaved. However, if a tray column operates in the region where the second liquid
phase is being formed, there is the distinct possibility of foaming.

Check internals installation and/or condition against design - Another reason for limited vapor
capacity is that the column internals are not arranged according to design. This can mean that a
constriction has been placed to impede liquid flow and thus precipitate a flood condition that is evidenced
by limited vapor capacity. As an example, if the clearance under the downcomer baffle is found to be
less than the design value; just one location of malfitting can cause the entire column to flood. Another
example is that because of support elements the open area (hole area) for a sieve tray is less than design,
giving higher hole velocities than expected; this can lead to heavy entrainment or aggravated foaming
problems.

NOTE: When improperly designed internals are identified and replaced, it is crucial to update drawings
so the incorrect drawings wont be used in later efforts.

Are all trays and internals where they are supposed to be - Column internals may be misarranged
because of operating upsets. It is not uncommon for trays to be found completely dislodged from their
original positions, and in some cases jammed together with resulting vapor flow constrictions. This
situation will normally be evidenced in pressure drop and efficiency measurements. An external scan,
using gamma ray absorption, can be used to detect building of metal as well as of liquid. The solution to
the problem is, of course, to shut down and make repairs.

Has fouling occurred and is it a factor - Fouling of the internals of a tower can lead to premature
flooding as well since it can reduce available flow areas and increase pressure drops.

Do the plant heat and material balance data support the design values for internal flows - Finally,
we should recognize that internal flows in an operating column may be higher than thought, because of
faulty meter readings, inaccurate simulation results, or erroneous heat and material balances. A column
may be handling its design flow rate, but the instruments or calculations dont indicate that it is.

6 Inadequate Liquid Flow Capacity

Check for liquid flow restrictions and excessive pressure drop - Limitations in the ability of tray
columns to handle the required liquid flows appear in the downcomers but can be caused by problems in
the active area of trays. Excessive downcomer backups can be caused by large liquid flows or by large
pressure drop across the trays. Lack of adequate froth collapse time, excessive pressure drop for
sufficient flow under the downcomer baffle, foreign materials being left in the downcomer by
construction people are examples of problem causes. Dislodged valves from valve trays can accumulate
in downcomers and impede flow. A particular point of concern in the column is the bottom seal pan, if
arranged such that the reboiler return vapor-liquid mixture can impinge against it. Another point of
concern is liquid side draw points where vortexing can occur if sufficient liquid head or proper vortex
breakers are not provided. Gamma scans are useful in locating trouble points.

Check for restrictions to liquid flow in packed columns - For packed columns, liquid flow restrictions
can occur when the distributor or support plate becomes clogged, or when ceramic packings break up and
accumulate in some part of the bed. If dirty liquids or slurries are being handled, plugging is certainly
possible. Liquid distributors are usually designed to allow for overflow if dispersers become plugged, but
the result of such operation is a lowered efficiency. Mention has been made of the use of gamma scans
for detecting zones of liquid buildup in an operating column. This is now quite commonly done, and
there are companies who specialize in the scanning service. The source/detector combinations can be

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moved up and down the column, with varying directional orientations. The results are often indicative of
flow limitations or vapor-liquid maldistribution problems. Meaningful scans can be made of columns
containing metal structured or random packings.

7 Excessive Pressure Drop

Normally the problem here is excessive pressure drop, especially in those columns where pressure loss is
at a premium (e.g. vacuum distillation columns). The result can be a higher than expected bottoms
temperature, or a less favorable relative volatility, or a higher energy cost for moving the gas or vapor
through the column (especially in the case of absorbers). If, as a corrective action, a shift is made to a
lower column pressure, entrainment and flooding problems may develop.

Excessive pressure drop can result from the following:

Flow constrictions/plugging
Bad predictive model
Faulty internals
Changed flow rates
Entrainment

Look for flow constrictions on trays, distributors, and supports - Some of the flow constriction
problem areas mentioned above apply equally to the pressure drop problem. Constricted flow can mean
higher pressure loss. The constrictions can be due to foreign materials plugging, improper fit-up or
installation of internals, accumulated debris, and so on. A gamma ray scan can be helpful in locating
zones of constriction. Crushed or deformed packing elements can plug portions of the support plates with
a resulting increase in pressure drop.

How reliable are the pressure drop correlations being used - As in the case of capacity, the
correlations used for predicting pressure drop should be examined carefully. For tray columns, it is
necessary to select a discharge coefficient for obtaining dry pressure drop; the coefficient may not
properly account for a wetted orifice. The variable area correction for valve trays is another point of
concern. For sieve trays, bubble-cap trays or valve trays, estimation of the pressure loss through the
aerated zone is always subject to error. And if the column design model does not have the ability to
correct for flow conditions and compute pressure drop locally, there may be unexpectedly high pressure
drop.

Prediction of pressure drop in packed columns is fairly reliable if operation is below the load point. From
the load point on to the flood point, the pressure drop models are relatively unreliable because of the
difficulty of predicting holdup as a function of dynamic conditions.

Check the pressure drop of peripherals and other internals - Another possible problem can be the
pressure drop caused by the internals in packed towers. Support plates are notorious for this particularly
when they have open areas less than 100% and when the packed beds use small packings. Another
possible problem is high gas velocities (pressure drops) in risers in collectors and distributors. High
pressure drops in these devices can also lead to overflowing and poor liquid distribution. Finally, the
capacity limits and pressure drop of bed limiters are often neglected when designing a tower and in many
cases limit the performance.

Check the meters and the material balance - Sometimes an excessive pressure drop results from flows
that are higher than thought, due to faulty meter readings. It may not be recognized that an increased
reflux ratio results in increased boil up of vapor. There may have been a shift of the column material

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balance.

8 Column Instability

Column instability can manifest itself by unsteady flows, temperatures, pressures, compositions, or a
combination of these. Stability problems are often the most difficult to diagnose since the information
available from the operation of the column will be contaminated by control and operator actions taken
to mitigate instability. Furthermore, instability problems are by their nature unpredictable and difficult to
duplicate. These are some of the things to look at when looking for causes of distillation column
instability:

Review general control problems - Stability problems can often be caused by improper control
schemes, or tuning parameters. A thorough review of the control philosophy and schemes is the first
order of business when addressing stability problems in distillation. Frequently, instabilities manifest
themselves after hardware changes that produce different fluid inventories and, consequently, column
response characteristics.

Look for pressure control problems - Lack of consistent operating pressure in a distillation column is
the single most important cause of instability. This issue can be very significant when columns ride on
header pressure or when the condensing capacity is limited. On the other hand, some systems that use
very large air-cooled condensers can be subject to extreme pressure fluctuations caused by weather.

Check for water presence in hydrocarbon systems - The sudden appearance of water in a hydrocarbon
distillation can have important consequences to stability, especially in systems that exhibit very limited
water miscibility. This effect can be catastrophic in cases where the column operates at low pressures
and temperatures in excess of 300 F.

Check for foaming - The appearance of a foam in a distillation column will manifest itself either as a
premature capacity limit or, in some less severe cases, as an instability that tends to make the control of
the overhead product practically impossible. Foaming, and sometimes entrainment, can usually be
suspected when the temperature profiles do not justify the presence of heavy material in the overhead but
these materials find their way in large quantities to the top product.

Look for feed condition stability - The heat content of the feed can vary slightly but cause tremendous
variations in the volumetric ratio of gas to liquid. These changes can cause stability problems even when
the swings are minor in cases where the feed is flashing. Columns that take feeds that undergo significant
flashing across the feed control valve are very susceptible to instabilities caused by irregular flashing
conditions.

Look for reboiler surging and stability. Look for proper condenser venting or pressure
equalization - Condenser and reboiler stability can have a major impact on the stability of the column
itself. The following section addresses some common exchanger problems.

9 Interaction With Problematic Peripherals

Check for malfunctioning reboilers, external exchangers, and/or condensers -

Vapor disengagement - If head room is not provided in a kettle reboiler for disengaging vapor
from the liquid, excessive entrainment can choke the vapor return line, causing hydraulic
instability and the pressure (and liquid boiling point) in the reboiler to rise. Because the kettle

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reboiler's disengagement space is so much smaller than that in the column, this reboiler is not
recommended for boiling foamy liquids.

Residue accumulation and fouling - The usual overflow baffle in a kettle reboiler can trap
solids in the shell, fouling tube surfaces. A nozzle for a slip stream can prevent such
accumulation. Other kinds of fouling or plugging can affect reboiler stability by either lowering
the process side flow rates or by diminishing heat transfer rates. A common side effect of fouling
is an increase in skin temperature that can cause product degradation problems.

Level control and distribution - Constant liquid level on the reboiler inlet is necessary for
reboiler stability, especially in the case of thermosyphon reboilers. Varying levels will cause
reboiler surge and uneven vapor flow into a column with the ensuing instability. A low liquid
level accelerates vaporization-induced fouling of the uncovered tubes in kettles. An overflow
baffle that sets the liquid level over the tube bundle will prevent this. A high liquid level floods
the vapor disengagement space, causing unstable hydraulics and excessive backpressure. As in
horizontal reboilers, poor inlet liquid distribution can result in liquid stagnation and high-boiling-
liquid blanketing of heat-transfer surface area.

Improper suppression of vaporization - Although vaporization is often suppressed by an outlet


valve or orifice, a large drop in flowrate (hence, pressure drop) may promote vaporization, which
can cause hydraulic problems or vapor bind the heat-transfer area, especially in multiple tube-
pass reboilers. If vaporization is suppressed, a reduction in flowrate will also boost the process
temperature rise, sometimes pinching the temperature driving force for heat transfer.

Improper reboiler circulation - Thermosyphon reboilers are especially susceptible to


diminished circulation caused by hydraulic restrictions. This normally produces and excessive
vaporization fraction in the reboiler which can lead to temperature pinches and two phase flow
limitations

Condenser fouling - Condensers are less likely to be fouled than reboilers because the mass
transfer in the column keeps solids out of the overhead stream. The washing action of the process
condensate usually keeps the condenser tubes clean. Corrosion products or material sublimation
can cause fouling. Process condensate can freeze if the coolant temperature is too low, such as
when a process upset allows high-boiling components to be driven overhead. Such a freeze-up
can plug the condensate drain and flood the condenser, coat the tubes and reduce heat transfer, or
restrict vapor flow.

Coolant-side fouling is a common problem. Low water velocity, especially on the shellside,
can allow silt to accumulate, and a high water-outlet temperature abets mineral deposition on
heat-transfer surfaces. Additionally, algae or fungus and other organisms that thrive in warm
water can foul or plug the exchanger. Regular backwashing can minimize some of these
problems. Of course, the extent of fouling can be estimated from the change in the heat transfer
coefficient.

Low coolant flow - As mentioned, a rise in the temperature of the outlet water of a water cooled
exchanger may indicate reduced coolant flow. A high coolant inlet temperature will, of course,
limit condenser capacity. The temperature can vary seasonally, an even with the time of day,
particularly with air-cooled condensers. A poorly located air cooler can recirculate its air
curtailing its capacity, or exhaust its air into another air cooler, limiting the latter's capacity.

Inert blanketing - Inert gases - such as may flow in through instrument purge lines, and through
pipe fittings if the column operates under vacuum, or be present in the column feed -can reduce
the condenser's heat-transfer coefficient. The problem is more severe near the exchanger outlet,

Page 12 of 17
Issued: 01/15/1998
TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES 3.01.1
Revised:

where a large concentration of inert gas can create a mass-transfer resistance to vapor conden-
sation and may even block off the flow of vapors, if the inert gas is not vented. Condensers that
are operated flooded for pressure control are prone to accumulating inert gas, if the gas is not
shunted via a bypass.

Vent-system over-loading - If a condenser becomes overloaded, a backpressure may build up


from the vent line or vent condenser, which are usually sized for small loads. A hot vapor flow
from an overloaded or poorly performing condenser can be detected by measuring the vented gas
temperature.

Condensate flooding - As can steam condensate in reboilers, process condensate can back up
into a condenser and cover the heat-transfer surface. Poor baffle orientation in a horizontal
condenser can similarly flood the compartments. Excessive entrainment from the column can
overwhelm the condenser's process drain, which should be sized for gravity flow to avoid liquid
backup.

Exchanger leakage - Water or steam leakage into condensers or reboilers can have a deleterious
effect on the capacity or efficiency of distillation columns, especially in low pressure
hydrocarbon distillations. The introduction of unwanted water into high temperature towers can
even cause severe mechanical damage. Small leaks can often cause column instability as well.

Check for malfunctioning overhead accumulators/decanters - Many of the instances of a


malfunctioning overhead accumulator can be traced back to the condenser as described above. Most
commonly the problems are associated with improper venting and pressure surging. On the other hand, a
particular problem with reflux accumulators that also act as decanters is the possible introduction of a
second free liquid phase with the reflux. This can causes significant upsets in the column ranging from
lower overhead temperatures to severe flooding caused by severe flashing in the presence of a second
liquid phase.

Check for malfunctioning bottoms pump - A cavitating or undersized bottoms pump can affect column
operation significantly by improper bottoms level management. In extreme cases, when the liquid level
exceeds the level of reboiler return nozzle, severe column damage can occur.

Page 13 of 17
Issued: 01/15/1998
TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES 3.01.1
Revised:

TROUBLESHOOTING CHECKLIST

The following is a listing of some of the more common causes of problems with distillation, absorption, and
stripping columns. This list can be used by the troubleshooting engineer as a checklist that will apply to a
particular problem. This checklist can help the engineer cover all the possible causes of performance problems.

PROCESS DESIGN

Accuracy of VLE
Accuracy of physical properties
Proper # of theoretical stages (above minimum)
Proper reflux ratio (above minimum)
Proper feed location

SIMULATION - (Model match to operation under normal conditions)

Match material balance


Match energy balance
Match temperature profile
Match composition profile
Reasonable theoretical/real stages ratio (Efficiency)

SIMULATION - (Model match to operation under upset conditions [if steady])

Match material and energy balance


Match temperature profiles
Actual theoretical/real stages ratio
Overall reliability of simulation

PROCESS AND OPERATIONAL ISSUES

Has the pressure changed?


Has the feed composition changed?
Has the feed flow changed?
Have the product flows changed?
Have the utility conditions changed?
Has the feed temperature changed?
Are all levels normal in the tower?
Is the system foaming?
Is the presence of non-condensables accounted for?
Can a second liquid phase appear?
Undesired reactions within mixture or caused by material of construction
Water or steam leakage into tower
Appearance of an impurity
Can an impurity develop a concentration bulge in tower?
Can recycles lead to buildup of undesirables?

Page 14 of 17
Issued: 01/15/1998
TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES 3.01.1
Revised:

EQUIPMENT SIZING

Reliability of capacity estimation model


Reliability of pressure drop estimation model
Reliability of efficiency estimation model
Is foaming factor selected properly?

MASS TRANSFER DEVICE SELECTION

Is packing size and capacity appropriate?


Is tray type and geometry appropriate?

TOWER LAYOUT

Is entrainment disengaging space above and below mass transfer zones appropriate?
Is vapor distribution height below mass transfer zone appropriate?
Are reboiler returns nozzles properly sized and located?
Are flashing feed nozzles properly sized and located?
Are all outlet nozzles properly sized and located?
Are gravity flows and siphoning effects accounted for?

SCAN RESULTS

Tray active area


Flooding Foaming Blowing
Heavy entrainment Loss of seal Weeping
Uneven distribution (multipass) Loss of trays/panels

Downcomers
Back-up Choking Loss of seal

Packing
Uneven liquid distribution Packing dislodged/damaged
Foaming Fouling

Liquid distributors
Overflowing Uneven levels Heavy entrainment
Foaming Damage

Flashing feed distributors


Overflowing Liquid carryover Damage

Vapor space below trays or bed


Liquid carry-over Evidence of collapsed hardware

Mist eliminator
Flooding Dislodged/damaged

Page 15 of 17
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TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES 3.01.1
Revised:

INTERNALS DESIGN/OPERATION

Is liquid distribution quality proper? Design Operating


Is vapor distribution quality proper? Design Operating
Is flashing feed dealt with properly? Design Operating
Is entrainment accounted for? Design Operating
Is weeping accounted for? Design Operating
Is vapor bypassing possible? Design Operating
Is leakage accounted for? Design Operating

Are plugging/fouling/corrosion possible? ________________

Could plugs have been removed by decontamination? ________________

INTERNALS INSTALLATION (or condition after visual inspection)

Are clearances and tolerances satisfactory? _______________

Downcomer clearance Tray/distributor deformation

Evidence of change in flow area by fouling or corrosion

Tray holes Valve openings


Distributor orifices Missing valves or caps

Levelness and plumbness


Tray levelness Distributor levelness
Overflow weir levelness

Other mechanical damage


Dislodged trays or tray panels Displaced distributors and collectors

Construction or process debris


Fastener reliability
Leakage possibility

INSTRUMENTATION AND CONTROL ISSUES

Adequacy of control scheme


Adequacy of pressure control
Poor/improper tuning
Resonance
Inadequate response time
Over-constrained control
Inadequate model based control
Faulty signals from process
Improper meter location

Page 16 of 17
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TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES 3.01.1
Revised:

PERIPHERALS

Reboiler stability
Column and reboiler levels adequate Head loss in reboiler piping adequate
Reboiler circulation rate appropriate Proper heat medium flow system

Condenser
Pressure drop normal Is condenser properly vented?
Condenser properly drained? Is condenser affected by weather?

Ability of pumps to remove streams


Operation of vacuum system
Are gravity lines leaving tower self venting?
Operation of side-strippers normal and stable?

Operation of equipment upstream and downstream


How can it affect tower ________________________________________________________

Are upstream/downstream operations normal ______________________________________

Page 17 of 17
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS
TO AID TROUBLESHOOTING Issued: 01/15/1998
3.01.2
Revised:

DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID TROUBLESHOOTING

DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID TROUBLESHOOTING ...................1

1. Flow Measurement .............................................................................................................2

2. Sampling .............................................................................................................................2

3. Temperature Measurement .................................................................................................3

4. Pressure and Pressure Drop Measurement .........................................................................4

5. Level Measurements ...........................................................................................................5

6. Issues ..................................................................................................................................5

7. Design for Ease of Inspection/Replacement/Removal .......................................................6

8. Miscellaneous .....................................................................................................................7

Page 1 of 8
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3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

1 Flow Measurement

Accurate process and utilities flow measurements are essential if an operating material and energy balance
is to be calculated about the fractionation system to compare with the expected performance. The
following recommendations are made concerning flow measurements for the purposes of troubleshooting:

A. Sufficient flow measurement should be available at column inlets and outlets to permit calculating
a material balance and energy balance about the column. The more important of these streams
should be indicated in the control room. Those that are likely to fluctuate should be recorded. If a
density is necessary to properly calibrate the flow metering device, as is the case for an orifice
plate with differential pressure measurement, a sample connection and thermowell should be
specified for that stream also.

B. The hardware for flow measurement should be properly constructed, installed, and calibrated. For
example, if orifice plates are used, there must be a sufficient straight pipe run upstream of the
orifice to allow time to establish uniform velocity profiles. Orifices should not be used for liquids
at their bubble point as flashing across the orifice will distort the flow measurement.

C. When orifices are used they should be tagged to indicate the proper direction for installation and
the size of the orifice.

D. Flow recorders and indicators should show the relationship between % of scale and flow.

E. Provision should be made for obtaining the flow rates of utilities. Steam flow should be measured
and, when important, indicated in the control room. When fluctuations are likely, steam flows
should be recorded in the control room. For troubleshooting purposes, coolant flow can be
measured with a portable ultrasonic flowmeter. For accurate flow measurements, the piping
should be running full of liquid and the ultrasonic flowmeter clamped onto the piping at least 30
pipe diameters downstream of any flow disturbance such as a valve or bend.

F. Provision should be made for obtaining the flow of streams important to the operation of the
column but not normally metered, e.g. the vapor vent flow from a partial condenser. If not already
available, the addition of appropriate nozzles(s) for radio-isotope or gas tracer flow metering
techniques would be very helpful for future troubleshooting.

2 Sampling

Process samples are also essential for calculating an operating material and energy balance about the
fractionation system. Sampling and analysis is often the only way to identify the presence of components
unaccounted for in the original design. Samples from the column help establish the separation profile and
identify poor contacting device efficiencies. The following recommendations are made concerning
sampling for troubleshooting:

A. Sampling arrangements should be provided on all feed, product, and reflux lines where the stream
is all liquid or all vapor. Nozzles for samples from the column should be provided at the top and
bottom of each energy and material balance zone, according to reference 11. These zones are
defined by points of energy or mass feeds and outlets from the column.

B. Sampling valves should be installed and located so an operator can reach them from a platform,
grade, or as a minimum from a ladder.

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3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

C. Procedures should be established to ensure representative samples are obtained. Vapor samples
should be free of liquid entrainment. Sample lines should be purged to remove a volume of
material in excess of the line before sampling. Liquid samples that could flash when discharging
into the sample container should be cooled below their flash point before sampling, or sampled
under pressure to avoid the flash. Likewise, if the material could react to change composition, the
sample should be taken under conditions to stop the reaction.

D. For tray columns, nozzles for liquid samples should be located in the trays' downcomers near the
bottom, on the centerline, to obtain a rough average of the composition leaving a tray.

E. For packed columns, use the FRI liquid sampler.

F. The size of piping, which is inserted in columns, associated with sampling devices should be kept
to a minimum. A 1/4" diameter is usually adequate. Larger sizes require longer times for sample
line flushing and may interfere with flow within the column.

G. Since it is difficult to obtain a representative vapor sample, liquid samples should be taken if they
will provide the desired information.

H. The AIChE Equipment Testing Procedures committee has prepared a comprehensive guide for
sampling procedures.(17))

3 Temperature Measurement

Process as well as utilities temperature measurements are also essential for calculating an energy and
material balance about the fractionation system. Temperature measurements can also help locate damaged
or missing internals by indicating separation problems and occasionally identify poor liquid and/or vapor
distribution. The following recommendations are made concerning temperature measurements for the
purposes of troubleshooting:

A. The temperature of all major feeds and outlets from columns should be measured. For liquid/vapor
feeds, the temperature should be measured prior to the point of flashing, or at a point of known
pressure.

B. Nozzles for temperature measurement should be located sufficiently close to allow detection of
problems. As with sample nozzles, reference 11 recommends locating temperature nozzles at the
top and bottom of each energy and material balance zone. If a rapid temperature change is
expected to occur over a few ideal stages, additional nozzles for temperature measurement would
be useful for pinpointing the change.

C. For vacuum columns, temperature nozzles should be located with pressure nozzles to maximize
the amount of information provided by the measurements. Compositions can frequently be
inferred from pressure and temperature, but only knowing pressure or temperature introduces
another unknown.

D. If the objective of the measurement is to obtain the equilibrium stage temperature, nozzles for
temperature measurement should be located out of the path of subcooled or superheated feeds
(avoid placing temperature nozzles on trays with external feeds if possible) and liquid descending
from the tray above.

Page 3 of 8
Issued: 01/15/1998 DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID
3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

E. As the compositions change across a tray, the temperature will also. Therefore, it is difficult to
obtain an average tray temperature. An approximate average of the temperature of the liquid
leaving a particular tray can be obtained by locating the nozzle for temperature measurement on
the centerline of the tray's downcomer near the bottom. The thermowell length should be short
enough to avoid striking the downcomer.

F. Provision should be made for measuring the temperature of the streams entering and leaving feed
preheaters, coolers, and condensers. Steam temperatures in reboilers can be inferred from a
measurement of condensing pressure, however, if superheated steam is used, a temperature
measurement of the steam should be provided. Coolant header temperatures can provide the inlet
temperature of coolant to condensers. Monitoring outlet coolant can help identify fouling
problems. Contact pyrometers can be used to measure temperatures, but have limited accuracy for
relatively hot, uninsulated surfaces.

G. Provisions should be made to ensure that the desired vapor or liquid temperature is measured
accurately inside a column. Special care should be taken in the design of the thermowell insertion
to ensure vapor temperature measurements when required. Hardware to prevent entrainment on
contact with falling liquid should be installed to shield the measuring element. Conversely,
assurances of liquid immersion are necessary when liquid temperatures are desired. This can be
problematic in particular in packed towers when temperatures within the packing are to be
determined

4 Pressure and Pressure Drop Measurement

Pressure drop measurements are useful for evaluating column capacity, fouling, foaming, and locating
damaged, missing, or improperly installed internals. The following recommendations are made concerning
pressure measurements for the purposes of troubleshooting:

A. Pressure nozzles should be included in the column system where knowledge of the pressure is
critical to understanding the process. For example, top and bottom column pressures are important
in most services, but particularly in vacuum services. Liquid spray nozzles' header pressures
control the spray discharge pattern which influences packed bed efficiency. Steam condensing
pressure should be measured for reboilers. Pressure drop across feed filters or strainers allows the
troubleshooter to monitor solids accumulation.

B. Pressure nozzles and transmitters should be located to avoid problems, and ensure good quality
data for the troubleshooter. Pressure nozzles should not be within the projected path of feed
streams. Two-phase or vapor feeds can distort measurements and damage instrumentation. To
avoid liquid entrainment into the piping to the transmitter, nozzles should be located well above
the expected spray heights, and/or shielded. Entrainment of liquid into the pressure nozzles can be
minimized by locating the nozzles just beneath a tray and over the downcomer of the tray below.

C. Nozzles for pressure measurement should be located close enough together to ensure that
indicated pressure drops will be sufficient to detect problems. For example, if the pressure drop
measurement is across an entire 50 tray column, flooding may go unnoticed, and the exact location
of any flooded zone will be very difficult to determine. Flooding within a column can only be
pinpointed to as few trays for which a pressure drop measurement is available. Nozzles for
pressure measurements should be located wherever the column changes diameter, a different type
of contacting device is used, the vapor and/or liquid loads are changing (i.e., locations of material
or energy addition or removal), or the tray design significantly changes. In addition to the above,
pressure nozzles should be provided above and below each bed in packed columns, and a

Page 4 of 8
Issued: 01/15/1998 DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID
3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

minimum of every 10 to 20 trays in tray columns.

D. Provisions need to be made to ensure that pressure and pressure drop taps remain clean and
unobstructed, especially in fouling services. Some of these provisions might include inert gas
purging, proper orientation and drainage of nozzles and impulse lines, and the use of sealed
instruments with diaphragms for isolation from the process fluids

5 Level Measurements

Level measurements provide information to detect high base level, explain poor reboiler operation, and
check for adequate liquid head at drawoff points. The following recommendations are made concerning
level measurements for the purposes of troubleshooting:

A. Most level measurement devices are dependent on knowing the density of the material. If the
density of the material changes, then the level measurement can be misleading. If the density is
lowered, the actual level can be higher than the indicated level. When the liquid level has risen
above the upper level nozzle, the indicated level will stay constant. Therefore, if the upper level
nozzle is located at the maximum desired liquid level, the troubleshooter can determine when the
level has risen too high, even if the density of the material has changed as a result of column upset.

B. Level glasses, or some other alternate means of level measurement, should be used in conjunction
with level transmitters if: the density of the fluid is unknown, the level transmitter is considered
unreliable (as for fouling services), or if operating upsets could significantly affect the density of
the fluid. Level glasses used in conjunction with transmitters are also very valuable if the level
measurement is essential and/or highly sensitive to the calculated fluid density (as for interface
control in decanters).

C. High level alarms, operating on a different mechanism than the level measurement technique,
should be installed at the 100% level point for critical levels (as in the base of columns). The
alarm can be used to calibrate the level transmitter and provide a warning of high level to avoid
equipment damage.

D. Additional tips regarding level measurement are available in references 18 to 20.

6 Issues

Proper instrumentation is crucial in identifying and solving problems. Nozzles which have only been included
for troubleshooting can be blanked, provided with valves, provided with partial instrumentation, or provided
with full instrumentation. The ultimate decision is dependent on balancing economics with the risk of needing
and not having access to the proper instrumentation. The following circumstances favor the use of more
instrumentation at nozzle locations:

Large plants
Operation at capacity
Low cost materials of construction
Lack of operating experience
Columns with a history of trouble

If the columns cannot be easily shutdown to remove blanks and outfit nozzles with the necessary valves,
nipples, thermowells, etc. for troubleshooting, it is advisable to provide these arrangements from the start.

Page 5 of 8
Issued: 01/15/1998 DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID
3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

Valves can be added to an operating column by hot-tapping, but this is a fairly dangerous and relatively
expensive procedure.

The following shortcuts can be taken to obtain data from nozzle locations without providing full
instrumentation:

A. Portable or field-mounted recorders or indicators can be used.

B. With pressure measurements, different nozzles can be piped to a single transmitter with valves
installed to isolate the different nozzle locations.

C. With temperature measurements, multiple signals can be sent to a common indicator or recorder.

D. A troubleshooting station can be established in the control room where several spare recorders or data
loggers are available. The spare recorders can be wired to the transmitters of whichever column might
be experiencing difficulties.

All shortcut techniques do, however, limit the amount of data that can be taken. If it is necessary to have
simultaneous pressure drop readings, multiple pressure transmitters will be required. If frequent problems are
expected, such as continually operating a column very near its flood point, recorders should be installed in the
control room to monitor key variables. The dynamics of column operation are usually impossible to monitor
unless a continuous recorder is used.

Economics dictates that the information provided by instrumentation be maximized. This can be
accomplished, in part, by proper location and combination of instruments. Frequently, a single nozzle can be
used for absolute pressure, differential pressure, and level measurement. By placing pressure, temperature,
and sample nozzles at the same location, more information can be obtained than if the nozzles were at three
different locations.

It is important that instrumentation be accessible, working, and accurate. Transmitters should have vibration
free mounting and a watertight housing. Piping to transmitters should be free-draining and traced, or insulated
where necessary to prevent plugging or formation of a meniscus. Purging transmitter piping with inerts will
also help keep the lines clear. Chart paper should have the proper scale.

7 Design for Ease of Inspection/Replacement/Removal

Provision should be made for access to the column and auxiliary equipment for inspection and maintenance.
The following recommendations are made in regard to accessing the fractionation system:

A. For tray columns, manholes should be spaced to ensure all sections of the column can be adequately
and safely accessed and serviced. Spacing manholes every 20 to 30 trays is typical. Larger spacing is
used with clean, non-corrosive services, while smaller spacing is often justified when a considerable
amount of maintenance work inside the column is anticipated during short shutdowns. Having several
manholes can allow different crews to work in the column together and reduce the number of tray
manways that have to be removed to reach the location of the damage.

B. Quick opening manways are often justified if frequent tray inspections are anticipated.

C. All packed tower internals (particularly distributors and redistributors) should be quickly accessible
for inspection, given their importance in the operation of the column. Therefore, manholes for large
columns and body flanges for small columns should be located above and below all packed beds.

Page 6 of 8
Issued: 01/15/1998 DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID
3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

D. Heat exchanger surfaces, which are expected to foul, should be accessible for cleaning. This includes
condenser and reboiler tubes and shells, as well as air-cooled condenser's exterior finned surfaces. If
an exchanger has a removable bundle, room should be provided around the exchanger for removing
the bundle without interference from other equipment.

E. Feed points, diameter changes and contacting device changes should have provision to be easily
inspected since the chances for errors are greater at these locations.

F. Internals ladders should be provided, when necessary, to allow a complete inspection of all
theinternals in a column.

G. For points in the column that are critical to its performance, such as flashing feed entrances and liquid
distributors in packed columns, viewing ports may be justified. When used there should be two
viewing ports installed 90 apart. One would be used for viewing while the other would be for a light
source.

Gamma scanning and video monitoring are two potentially very useful techniques for troubleshooting
fractionation systems.

Video monitoring usually require 1-1/2" to 2" nozzles for insertion and require that the columns be shutdown.
Other instrument's nozzles can be used, but they should be above the tray deck to avoid any interference from
the internals and provide an unobstructed view.

Gamma scanning is employed while the column is operating. Since gamma scans provide a density profile of
the material in the column, its uses include checking for liquid level, flooding, fouling, foaming,
maldistribution, and incorrect installation or damage of internals. It is important that a reasonably clear view
of the column is available for its entire length. A 360 platform at the very top of the column simplifies
hoisting the source and detector. A good external datum point, both vertically and around the perimeter,
simplifies the scanning process. Good, up-to-date drawings are essential.

8 Miscellaneous

Heat Exchangers - The following troubleshooting design features are recommended for heat exchangers:

The heating medium flow rate to the reboiler should be measured, as well as some indication of the inlet and
exit temperatures. If steam is being used, the condensing pressure should be measured, since it is a good
indicator of the available capacity of the reboiler, and can also serve to infer the condensing temperature. For
steam, a direct measurement of the temperature is unnecessary if the condensing pressure is measured. If
steam is superheated, however, the inlet steam temperature should be measured.

A. For feed preheaters and coolers some provision should be made for measuring the streams flows, and
inlet and outlet temperatures. See the discussion under flow measurement and temperature
measurement for specific guidelines.

B. The outlet coolant temperature should be measured for condensers. For a relatively constant duty, the
outlet coolant temperature can give insight into the fouling rate of the condenser.

C. Nozzles should be provided to vent inerts from exchangers. For thermosyphon type reboilers, an
inerts vent nozzle located just below the lowest baffle can also be used to check the exchangerand
steam trap's ability to remove condensate. Additional tips regarding inerts venting can be found in

Page 7 of 8
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3.01.2
Revised: TROUBLESHOOTING

reference 21.

D. Insulation should be avoided on the bonnets of condensers or coolers where the coolant is on the tube
side. For units with multiple tube passes, the troubleshooter can use a contact pyrometer (or hand) on
the bonnet to determine whether the pass partitions were properly installed.

E. Condenser vent temperatures should be monitored to warn of a loss of coolant or excessive vapor
load from the column.

Vacuum Systems - The following troubleshooting design features are recommended for vacuum systems:

A. When cost effective, an isolation valve should be installed in the suction line of vacuum pumps or
jets. This valve will allow deadhead capacity checks on the vacuum equipment and air leak rate tests
on the column. Connections should be installed on the suction piping, between the isolation valve and
vacuum equipment, for a load metering manifold (commonly known as a piccolo) and a pressure
indicator.

B. A connection should be provided at the top of the column, perhaps a tee off the top pressure nozzle,
for attaching a highly accurate pressure indicator for air leak rate tests.

C. For multistage jets, connections should be installed between the stages to monitor pressure.

D. Temperature indicator should be installed in the condensate outlet lines from direct contact
condensers.

Page 8 of 8
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DIAGNOSTICS USING RADIOISOTOPES Issued: 12/16/2009
3.01.3
Revised:

DIAGNOSTICS USING RADIOISOTOPES

DIAGNOSTICS USING RADIOISOTOPES ...........................................................................1

1. Introduction .......................................................................................................................2

2. Basics of Radioactive Techniques .....................................................................................2

2.1 Radiation and Its Detection .................................................................................................. 2

2.2 Radiation Safety ................................................................................................................... 3

2.3 Guidelines for Getting an Accurate and Useful Gamma Scan ............................................. 4

2.4 Gamma Scans and Data Preparation .................................................................................... 5

2.5 Field Test Report ................................................................................................................ 10

3. Gamma Scans ..................................................................................................................10

3.1 Planning for Gamma Scans ................................................................................................ 11

3.2 Interpretation of Trayed Tower Scans................................................................................ 13

3.3 Interpretation of Packed Tower Scans ............................................................................... 33

3.4 Stationary Monitoring Test ................................................................................................ 43

4. Other Techniques Using Radiation .................................................................................... 44

4.1 CAT-Scans ......................................................................................................................... 44

4.2 Neutron Backscatter Methods ............................................................................................ 48

4.3 Radioactive Tracers............................................................................................................ 49

4.3 Mobile Density Gauges ...................................................................................................... 51

Page 1 of 52
Issued: 12/16/2009
DIAGNOSTICS USING RADIOISOTOPES 3.01.3
Revised:

1 Introduction

When a distillation column problem develops that causes off-spec product or loss of production, the engineer
has an urgent need to know what is happening inside the column. The sooner the problem is understood and
corrected, the less loss it will cause. Techniques using radioisotopes enable us to "see" or detect hydraulic or
mechanical status inside columns while they are operating. Since the 1960s, when the first rudimentary
radiation surveys were done on commercial-scale vessels, these techniques have become increasingly
sophisticated and popular for process diagnostics (1).

Modern radioisotope survey methods can be broadly classified into two main categories based on utilization
methods of the radiation sources, i.e. the sealed source method and the unsealed source method. The sealed
source techniques involve radiation sources that are housed in shielded containers, isolated from process
fluids. The unsealed source methods involve radioactive sources that are injected into a process and detected
at one or more points downstream. Obviously the unsealed sources are consumed in one test, while the sealed
sources are reusable for subsequent tests. This document will focus primarily on the sealed source
applications.

The above categories can be further subdivided into sub-groups,

Sealed source methods (commonly referred to as gamma scans)


Gamma Transmission
Gamma Scans
CAT Scans
Neutron Backscatter

Unsealed source methods (commonly referred to as radioactive tracer tests)


Pulse injection
Continuous injection

Gamma scans and radioactive tracer tests for towers are very much like medical X-rays and radioactive
iodine or barium tests for human bodies. These tests help engineers to diagnose tower problems quickly and
accurately. However, also like medical X-Rays, the interpretation of the test results can be subjective.
Drawing proper conclusions requires both knowledge of the gamma scan technology itself and also of the
internals and operating conditions of the column. It should be recognized that it is the engineer (like the
medical doctor), not the test provider (like the X-ray technician) who will play the central role for selecting
the proper tests, validating the data, analyzing the test results, and recommending corrective action whether
through design and revamp or operating changes.

2 Basics of Radioactive Techniques

2.1 Radiation and Its Detection

Radiation sources used for gamma scans must have sufficient photon energy to penetrate through
tower vessels. The common sources used are Cobalt-60 (1170 and 1330 KEV, 5 year half-life)
and Cesium-137 (662 KEV, 30 year half-life). KEV is kilo (thousands) electron volts, a unit used
to scale the photon energies. Half-life is the time it takes for a radiation source to lose half of its
activity through decay. Obviously Cobalt-60 has higher energy so it can be used to scan larger
diameter and thicker walled towers than Cs-137. For special applications, extremely large

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diameter towers or very thick walls, Sodium-24 (1370 and 2750 KEV, 15 hour half-life) has been
used as a scanning source.

During gamma scans, a radiation detector is placed on the opposite side of the tower from the
radioactive source along a scanline of interest to detect the gamma signals or number of photons
passing through the tower (see Sec. 3.2.1 for more discussion about scanlines). The detector is
normally a 22 (or 11) sodium-iodide crystal optically coupled to a photomultiplier (PM)
tube. The 2" detector has greater sensitivity than a 1" detector, but the 1" detectors compact size
is more convenient for scanning a tower with congestion from external interference (e.g.
numerous nozzles and manways, and tight platforms). However because of the higher sensitivity
of the 2 detector, its use allows better energy calibration for higher resolution even while using
smaller radiation sources.

When gamma rays penetrate through towers, there are primarily two ways a gamma photons can
be attenuated (many folks, including service providers, refer to this as radiation absorption) by
material in the scan path: the Photoelectric Effect and Compton Effect. The photoelectric effect
takes place when a gamma-ray collides with an orbital electron of an atom of the material
through which it is passing. The gamma-ray passes all of its energy to the electron and ceases to
exist. The gamma-ray is totally absorbed in the process, hence the use of the term radiation
absorption. The Compton Effect occurs when a gamma-ray strikes a valance electron and
transfers only part of its energy. The gamma-ray deflects off in a different direction to that which
it approached the atom and this deflected or scattered gamma-ray can undergo further Compton
effects within the material. This effect is also known as Compton scattering. Some of the
scattered gamma-rays are able to penetrate through the vessel and also reach the detector. These
scattered gamma-rays will have lower energy, or in other words, they have been attenuated (2).

Ideally all the scattered low-energy signals should be rejected by calibration since the scattered
gamma-rays do not have predictable correlation with the material density in the scan path.
However if one were to rely only on the Photoelectric Effect then larger and higher-energy
radiation sources and/or extremely sensitive (and fragile) detectors would have to be needed. In
the real world, commercial scanning systems count a significant part of the scattered signals in
order to scan columns with reasonable sized sources and existing detector technology. Very
importantly using as small a gamma source as possible improves worker safety. There is a
difference between service providers on how much filtering of scattered gamma-rays are done.
Measuring a large amount of scattered radiation will reduce the resolution of gamma scans.

2.2 Radiation Safety

Gamma scans and radioactive tracer tests have been proven to be very safe techniques, since
radiation safety and protection have been one of the most rigorously regulated fields in most
countries. The service crews are typically trained for radiation safety, equipped with radiation
monitoring badges and survey meters, and experienced with radiation source handling
techniques.

The service provider should be familiar with specific regulations, procedures or permits for the
specific location (state, city and plant); be licensed or approved by the local regulatory agency for
the handling and transportation of radiation sources; and have available on-site documentation of
said licensing or approval, proof of workers safety training, and written emergency procedures.
The service provider should have a standard Job Safety Analysis (JSA) sheet for the client to
review and approve. A job safety review meeting might be needed on site before the job is
scheduled or started, especially for radioactive tracer tests. The client should ask questions and be
comfortable about all the safety concerns before allowing the tests to proceed. In the instance of

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radioisotope tracer tests special attention should be paid to the tracer half-life, emission volume
or concentration of the radioactive tracers, and potential contamination to products, process
equipment, or environment. The service crews must perform proper surveys around the job area
after the tracer job is finished to make sure there is not any unsafe radiation left behind.

The service crews should set up proper barricade tape and radiation warning signs around the job
area to prevent undue radiation exposure to plant personnel. The client should provide an on-site
radio for the crew to communicate with the unit control room. When plant operators must enter
the restricted area for a short period of time, to read a flow meter or to adjust a valve, the
operators should first contact the scan crew so they can put the scan source in a safe place to
allow the operators access inside the restricted area.

Planning and precautions must be taken when gamma scanning will occur in the vicinity* of
nuclear-based instrumentation, e.g. nuclear level gauges, and fireye flame control systems.
Typically the installed instrument radiation source, being extremely well shielded, will not
interfere greatly with the gamma scan data. However it is possible that the nuclear instrument
detector system could respond to the scanning source giving a false reading to the control room.
While limited measures can be taken to avoid or minimize this possibility it is highly
recommended that these instruments be placed in manual-mode or standby during the scan.
Plants should have procedures for dealing with this situation, as radiography (weld and pipe X-
raying) would be even more risky.

* In the vicinity could mean the plant instrument is installed on the process equipment being scanned,
installed on neighboring pieces of equipment, direct line-of-sight from instrument to scanning source,
etc.

2.3 Guidelines for Getting an Accurate and Useful Gamma Scan

Gamma scans, by design, are quick and after 30+ years of commercial application are also fairly
routine. However to ensure that you get the most useful information possible from this service
there are several things for you to provide the scan contractor.

Prior to the scan the scan contractor will need to be issued the appropriate work permits for your
site. The scan contractor should be supplied with a plant or unit radio so constant
communication is available between unit operations and the scan crew in case of emergencies
and in case operating conditions on the tower change substantially (see below).

The scan contractor, to do a competent job, will need good drawings of the tower to be scanned.
At a minimum the drawings should show the elevation placement of all major internals and show
tray and/or distributor orientations. Detailed drawings showing wall thickness, placement and
identification of nozzles, insulation or shell support rings, etc. should allow the scanning
contractor to better analyze the scan results. Having good, up-to-date drawings cannot be over-
emphasized. The interpretation of the scan results, especially concerning the placement and
physical condition of tower internals completely depends on using the drawings provided as a
reference. In essence the scan results are matched up against the drawings to confirm that
internals are in their proper places.

One feature of a scan is that it is a snapshot of your tower hydraulics at the set of operating
conditions during the time of the scan. First, it is important that your tower be operating as stably
as possible. Separation towers, by nature, are a dynamic process but on a macro scale the scan
should be done when feed/draw flows, column pressure, differential pressure, temperatures, etc.
are relatively stable. If any of these parameters varies significantly this should be documented
and reported to the scan crew. Secondly, the scan results will reveal the hydraulics for the

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operating condition as they are during the scan. If the problem of interest, high P, off-
specification product, etc. is not occurring at the time of the scan then the scan may not reveal
any significant abnormality. It is important that the tower be operating at conditions with the
problem of interest occurring, or as close to that condition as possible while maintaining stable
operation, so the hydraulic conditions seen from the scan will correlate to the problem of interest.
Consider making a tower scan under stable operating conditions and an additional tower scan(s)
that represents the onset of the deleterious issue. For example, a scan can be made of a tower
operating stably at a lower feed rate and another at the onset of flooding at a higher feed rate.

It is advisable that repeat scans be done with the same type of source isotope. Due to the
different energy levels it is not a straightforward comparison between sets of scan data taken with
dissimilar sources, e.g., one scan with a Cesium source and one with a Cobalt source. However
scan sources on repeat scans do not have to be exactly the same source. Scan data taken with two
different activity levels but of the same isotope can usually be normalized one to the other.

Communicate the symptoms of the problem to the scan contractor at the onset of the discussion
about the project scope. Your concerns and what information you wish to learn should set the
agenda for how the scan(s) are carried out. For example if your concern is tray damage and your
tower has four-pass trays, do you want only one scan covering one of the four passes, or do you
want to scan across all four passes? Another example, a packed tower has an abnormally high
P, do you want a single scan line to look for flooding or a complete grid scan to look at liquid
distribution? These issues should be discussed beforehand with the scan contractor so you are
comfortable with the options available.

As a good practice in troubleshooting a tower, do not limit your investigation simply to the areas
and probable causes where you suspect the problem exists.

A gamma scan of one tower should be accomplished in a matter of a few hours, so there should
be ample time to discuss the results with the scanning contractor. Once the scan data collection is
complete, the scan contractor should prepare a preliminary field report while still at your site. It
is highly recommended that time be spent with the scanning contractor while they are at your site
in case circumstances call for additional scans which may be started immediately or planned for a
later time.

Gamma Scans of a tower that is 6 inches or more in wall thickness are impractical and potentially
unsafe. A wall thickness of 3 to 6 inches requires a special radiation source, Sodium-24.

2.4 Gamma Scans and Data Preparation

The detector measures the gamma intensity passing through the tower, expressed as a detector
count rate, and the gamma counts for each elevation are stored in a computer while the source
and the detector move down or up simultaneously along the outside of the tower. Normally the
scan speed can be expected to be 20 to 30 feet per hour, depending on the required time for data
acquisition and the number of external interferences. For some difficult situations where there are
very tight platforms and much external interference in the scan path like piping or stiffening
rings, the scan speed will have to be slowed significantly.

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The scan system should properly collect or record the following information during the scan:

Start time
Scan purpose (e.g. high rate or low rate)
Timing of each elevation measurement
Process changes (e.g. bottoms level surge)
External interferences (e.g. manway, feed nozzle or platform, etc.)
Un-expected interruptions or influences (e.g. windy weather)
End time

These field records can be extremely vital for data validation and analysis. If some distorted or
fuzzy scan data is caused by an external interference that was not identified properly, the
troubleshooting engineers could be misled into a completely wrong diagnosis. Record the
continuous operating conditions (strip charts, DCS, trend lines screen shots) over the time that the
scan is taken for additional documentation.

The physical law underlying the gamma scan procedure is Beers law on radiation attenuation,

- ln (I/Io)

In the above expression, Io and I are the intensity of the incident radiation and intensity through
the material, respectively; is density of the material that absorbs the radiation.

It should be understood that there are many conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for Beers
law to be valid. For instance, the absorbing medium (the material the radiation is passing
through) must be homogeneously distributed and must not scatter the radiation. In the real world,
the tower itself, its internals, and the process fluids are not a homogeneous density body and the
gamma ray energy will be scattered significantly by the metal internals and frothy liquids. Due to
the scattered radiation and its detection Beers law does not hold valid for the calculation of
density from typical gamma scan data (see earlier discussion in Section 2.1). Nevertheless count
rate has proven to be a convenient parameter to approximately correlate to the average material
density () between the gamma source and the detector. The correlation can be qualitatively
expressed as,

1

ln(count rate)

The formula indicates that the higher the count rate, the lower the average process density (),
where count rate is the gamma signal rate counted by the detection system.

Some scan providers intend to use density as the scale of scan plots, by manipulating the
gamma counts per many subjective assumptions. When interpreting the results, the engineer
should recognize that the reported values of density are not necessarily meaningful.

For gamma scans, this clearly shows why the count rate is usually plotted on a logarithmic scale
against vertical position to show density variations within the column. A typical gamma scan plot
for a single-pass tray tower is shown in Figure 1 on which the following information is indicated.

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The Scan started at 9:24 am and ended at 10:51 am.


The purpose of the scan was to check the Active Area of the trays at design rate.
The X-axis covers a range of gamma counts 100 30,000 on a logarithmic scale.
The time span for the counts may vary among scanners, so the absolute counts
are immaterial. It is important to allow the plots to be properly positioned and
expanded in the frame.
The Y-axis starts from 0' (the top tangent line) and ends at 52' (bottom tangent
line of column).
There is a mist eliminator in the top of the column.
There are total of 18 trays in the column.
There is a reflux nozzle with a distributor above the top tray.
There are insulation support rings above Tray #3 and between Trays #9 and #10.
The measure of aerated liquid levels for each tray is shown.
The height at which the bottoms liquid level was detected.
The Clear Vapor Bar is located at ~23,000 counts
The Liquid Line has about 1,100 counts

In addition it has two extra items included: the Clear Vapor Bar and the Liquid Line for the
convenience of scan plot analysis.

The Clear Vapor Bar is intended to represent the empty column (devoid of mechanical
obstructions) filled with vapor at operating conditions. The lowest density (i.e. the highest
detector count rate) measured through a specific column (set diameter and tower wall and
insulation thicknesses) establishes the Clear Vapor Bar. It is generally shown on the gamma scan
plot as a relatively narrow band that represents the observed minimum absorptions with a modest
allowance for variation. Towers with multiple inside diameters, wall thicknesses, or insulation
thicknesses can have a different clear vapor bar for each distinct section, or these physical
changes must be normalized in the scan data.

The Liquid Line is intended to be a reference line that provides an estimate of the height of the
froth on the tray deck. The point at which the Liquid Line intersects the scan plot is that height
estimate. The placement of the Liquid Line is specific to each supplier.

The Liquid Line is estimated by a couple of different methods. One method averages the highest
counts (lowest density) and the typical minimum tray counts (highest tray liquid density) from
the scan data. The second method, when a relative density plot is used, uses the median density
as the froth height density. Some practitioners measure tray liquid heights without regard for the
effect of tray supports while others do. In any case the tray liquid heights should not be
considered as an absolute measure of the tray froth heights tray froth heights are anything but
static, and should be used only in relative comparisons. When trays are designed to hold a froth
level, the trays likely have a physical or process related problem when a froth level is not
detected. Furthermore, early studies and field tests have shown that when the froth height
measurement nearly matches the tray spacing or the density of the vapor space between trays is
close to or below the Liquid Line, the trays have severe entrainment and are generally close to
flood.

The measurement of liquid levels from gamma scanning, whether on chimney trays, fractionation
trays, or in the base of the column, has a maximum accuracy or resolution of 1 inch (2.5 cm).
The typical elevation scan increment is 2 inches (5 cm) with either a 1 or 2 tall detector (size of
radiation sensitive crystal in the detector). Tests have shown no improvement in scan resolution
at elevation increments smaller than this.

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Figure 1 Typical Gamma Scan Plot

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An experienced scan crew should be able to identify many mechanical or hydraulic abnormalities
of trayed and packed towers, as depicted in Figure 2. More details on interpretation of the scan
plots for trayed and packed towers will be discussed in following sections.

Figure 2a Operation Abnormalities of Trayed Tower from Gamma Scans

Figure 2b Operation Abnormalities of Packed Tower from Gamma Scans

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2.5 Field Test Report

A gamma scan of one tower should be accomplished in a matter of a few hours, so there should
be ample time to discuss the results with the scanning contractor. Once the scan data collection is
complete, the scan contractor should prepare a preliminary field report while still at your site. It
is highly recommended that time be spent with the scanning contractor while they are at your site
in case circumstances call for additional scans which may be started immediately or planned for a
later time. The field report should contain the following minimum information:

Tower Identifying Information


Specifics on Scan Line Orientation
Date and Beginning and Ending Times of the Scan(s)
Reason for Conducting the Scan
Measurement of Liquid Levels where Appropriate
Findings Specific to the Reason for Conducting the Scan
Other Major Findings from the Scan

Following the on-site work the scan contractor should issue a formal, written report documenting
the job. The final report should cover all the items mentioned above for the preliminary report
but go into sufficient detail to explain how the scan was conducted, any event (from the plant
operation or from conducting the scan) that may potentially impact the scan results, and expanded
details on the scan findings. The scan contractor should offer to include pertinent process data in
the final report. If you do not wish to share this information, then you should have it available to
file with the final report in your archives. In any case during the scan you should communicate to
the scan crew on any change in tower operating conditions such as a change in operating
pressure; feed, reflux, or product draw rates; reboiler or condenser duties, etc. Any substantial
change in tower operation could have a huge affect on the scan data and lead to misinterpretation
if the scan crew is left unaware of these changes.

3 Gamma Scans

Scan plots of trayed towers generally show a series of peaks corresponding to the tray decks and froth,
and packed towers show high density bands corresponding to the packing beds, with peaks for
distributors, collector trays, etc., separated by low density sections in between.

Gamma scans can show a lot of information about a tower and its operation. The following is a list of
phenomena that can be determined from gamma scans:

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Presence or absence of internals or significant damage to internals such as trays, mist eliminator
pads, distributors, and packing;

Froth or spray height on active trays and the liquid level on collector trays and certain types of
liquid distributors;

Extent and location of jet or downcomer flooding;

Location and density characteristics of foaming;

Occurrence of flooding or fouling in a packed bed; and

Existence of significant liquid maldistribution on multi-pass and dual-flow trays or in packed


beds.

The technique is straightforward and rapid, and can be applied to practically any column to which
external access is available. In practice, most columns have convenient platforms or walkways from
which source and detector can be suspended; additional scaffolding is rarely required. Where platforms
are not available or do not provide adequate access the scan can be performed from a man-basket hoisted
by a crane. All sizes of columns can be scanned, from units less than one foot (300 mm) in diameter up
to large crude vacuum columns of fifty feet (15 meters) diameter. Nevertheless, meaningful scan data will
need thoughtful and strategic planning for the elevation, orientation, and timing of the scans, with proper
consideration of the process operating conditions of the tower and the operating problem being studied.

3.1 Planning for Gamma Scans

Since gamma scans involve moving source/detector pairs up or down a column simultaneously,
scan lines must be chosen that avoid as many platforms, external supports and nozzles/pipes in
the vertical direction as possible. It may be necessary to choose desired scan lines and cut holes
for removable plates in the platform decking around the tower. For trayed towers, scan lines that
traverse an active tray area or downcomer do not have to orient exactly parallel to the downcomer
panels, but the scan lines should not cut across adjacent active and downcomer areas, as this
greatly and unnecessarily complicates interpretation of the results. Accurate drawings showing
tray and downcomer orientations are essential in order to adequately plan for the scan line
orientations.

When scanning multi-pass trays, or examining bubbling-area and downcomers, multiple scans are
needed in a short period of time while the tower is kept in a steady state. Additional planning for
non-conventional (e.g. multi-downcomer type trays) needs to be employed because of the
complexity of the particular equipment. In addition, the insight from result of a non-conventional
tray type scan can be limited compared to more conventional trays. For example weeping,
foaming or tray damage will be harder to detect. Some tests have been performed by
simultaneously scanning all desired adjacent areas at the same time by use of multiple gamma
sources or multiple detectors. However, the simultaneous scan results were difficult to interpret
because of inconsistency and interactions between sources and detectors. Therefore simultaneous
scans with multiple sources or detectors are not recommended. When it is difficult to hold the
operation of a tower steady over the entire scanning period, another technique may be considered.
The gamma source and the detector can be stationed at a fixed elevation to monitor the hydraulic
dynamics inside the tower. This technique, referred to as Stationary Monitoring, will be discussed
later.

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Gamma scans are recommended when the tower is in sound condition and operating normally in
preparation for future analysis or troubleshooting. These tests, called baseline scans, are very
helpful to document the effect of internal supports, external support rings and any other
externals/internals in the scan path.

It is desirable to have a dry scan or non-operating baseline scan on packed columns before the
column is brought online for operations, i.e. the column is scanned while there is no vapor or
liquid flows inside. The dry scans would not help very much for trayed columns, but for packed
columns, the dry scans will be able to tag following critical information,

Start and end elevations of packed beds and the relative density of the dry
packing;
Elevations and spans of liquid distributors, collectors and redistributors;
Characteristics of gamma absorption peaks of the internals due to their metal
content only;
The effect of any internal or external interference on the scan data that could be
due to the column itself or internal piping, etc.
Afterwards, the operating scan data will reflect the change in density due to
liquid traffic only or lack thereof.

Many internals in packed towers are proprietarily designed and installed, and their effects on
gamma signals will need the baseline scans to be properly interpreted.

One alternative is to dry scan only the complex columns that have many nozzles and custom or
unusual internal hardware, and skip towers that have standard internals and few intermediate
nozzles. Another circumstance when dry scans are valuable is when there is concern about bed
flooding or fouling or a particular service has a history of being a problem tower. Packed crude
vacuum towers are examples of towers that should have a dry scan done due to their large size,
relative complexity of some of the liquid distributors, and the typical desire to monitor the
beginning of coke buildup in the wash beds.

Some towers may need multiple scans periodically for monitoring performance (e.g. plugging or
fouling on trays or in packed beds) over their run-length. It is important for the scan crews to
understand the purpose of those scans and make sure to repeat the scans on identical paths with
an equivalent gamma source.

A full-height scan (from tangent to tangent of the tower vessel) should always be performed
when the process conditions allow. Very often the root cause of tower trouble happens or starts
from other than where expected. For instance, a high liquid level in the bottoms could easily
cause a tower to be heavily loaded with entrainment, possibly even flooding from the base liquid
being blown upwards (entrained) by a reboiler return or vapor feed. The entrainment
accumulates tray by tray and propagates up to a higher section of the tower. If the scans were
stopped before reaching the bottoms level, the root cause could be missed or more scans would
need to be done later for diagnosing the root cause. Foaming is another example where the
location of the foaming problem can be affected by operating conditions and can move around in
a column.

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3.2 Interpretation of Trayed Tower Scans

3.2.1 Scan Line Orientations

A scan line is the gamma ray path between the radioactive source and detector. One or
more scan lines are typically needed for investigating specific areas (e.g. bubbling area or
downcomer area) of the trays in a tower. Each of the scan lines must be strategically
positioned in the right location.

Scan line orientation diagrams that are most commonly used for cross-flow trays. The
scan lines for 4-pass trays are not shown in Figure 3, since the scan-line orientations
would be very similar to those for 2-pass trays.

The diagonal scan lines for tray bubbling areas as show in Figure 3(a) and (d) are
generally used for tower diagnosis, since the diagonal line is transmitting through an
average froth density and froth height between the inlet and outlet of the bubbling area.
Nevertheless when the liquid gradient across the bubbling area is a concern, the parallel
scan lines as shown in Figure 3(b) and (e) should be applied. See the section on Liquid
Gradient below for more details.

Figure 3 Scan-line Orientation Diagrams for Cross-Flow Trays

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If scanning is for the purpose of detecting a liquid gradient across tray bubbling areas, the
scan line (b) should be as close to the inlet and outlet of the tray as one can get, but still
be assured of staying out of the downcomer. For scanning parallel through side
downcomers as shown in (c) the scan line does not necessarily need to get so close to the
downcomer wall. However since the scan line is on the very edge of the column, the line
should get as far into the column as possible while still keeping the line inside the
downcomer.

The scan lines for side downcomers as shown in Figure 3(c) and (f) are typically very
close to the tower wall edge, and the scattered gamma signals around the tower can be a
significant part of the detector counts. Specially designed collimators (shielding devices)
should be used to reduce the scatters.

3.2.2 Tray Damage

Tray damage can manifest itself in several ways. If tray panels have been jarred loose,
the tray may show a very rapid decline in density just above the tray deck rather than a
more normal density decline slope, indicating that the tray is not holding liquid and/or
not generating froth. Scans can also show one or more missing tray peaks, indicating that
the trays in question have been dislocated. Often an unusual peak at the bottom of a
blown-out section will signify tray parts lying on a tray that is supporting them. An
example scan showing possible tray damage is given in Figure 4.

There are a couple of limitations that should be understood by the client. The scan does
not detect the tray deck itself since the usual tray deck is only a few millimeters thick, but
instead detects liquid that is sitting on the tray deck, or where the tray deck is supposed to
be.

If the tray support ring is a "shelf" or ring welded onto the side of the column this usually
has minimal affect on the tray "absorption". Heavier supports such as I-beams could
have a big response on the scan data if the scan line passes through them. However in
any case, especially for the I-beam or similar heavy support, this response should be
below the elevation of the tray deck itself. Good practice dictates that any deflection due
to supports should not be counted as part of the liquid level. But tray support
interference will reduce the vapor space counts just below the tray thus making
inexperienced scanners think there is entrainment. Detailed tower drawings with
mechanical details of the internals and supports should be carefully checked to avoid
misinterpretations.

Therefore it is the absence of liquid where liquid should be that is the basis for
diagnosing tray damage. Likewise the scan may not detect partial tray damage.
Partial tray damage is defined when most of the tray deck is still in place but perhaps
the tray manway is out-of-place, or a section of the tray deck is bent, corroded or
cracked, commonly near the walls. Recall from earlier discussion that gamma scan
counts are the average of everything in the tower across the scan path. If liquid is
detected across the majority of the scan path then the tray froth height may appear
normal. Usually partial tray damage is localized such that the scan path may not even
pass through the damaged area, and liquid flow appears normal across the remainder of
the tray deck. So the damage detected by a gamma scan has to be to such an extent that
the damage prevents the tray (or liquid distributor or collector tray) from holding a
suitable level of froth.

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Damaged
Trays

Figure 4 Tray Damage as Shown on Gamma Scans


Comparison of Damaged Trays (Trays 9 18) vs. Normal Trays (Trays 1 8)

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3.2.3 Entrainment

The gamma scan profile for a tray that is entraining is typically characterized by a
reduction in the radiation counts in the vapor space between the trays. As seen in Figure
5, the data curve count rate drops in a sloped gradient from the vapor space to the tray
peak. This reflects the density
gradient through the froth height
on the tray the heavier, larger
liquid droplets stay closer to the
tray but as one proceeds upward
from the tray the liquid droplets
are smaller and less dense. The
extent to which the minimum
observed density is offset from
the clear vapor density (as
referenced by the Clear Vapor
Bar) is considered an indicator of
how heavily the tray is entraining.
As entrainment increases the
vapor space becomes denser with
heavier liquid droplets the tray
liquid height increases as the
vapor lifts liquid higher off the
tray. Once the data curve does
not cross back over the tray
Liquid Line the entire tray
spacing is now filled with aerated
liquid and the tray has severe
entrainment or flooding.

Figure 5 Diagram showing degrees of entrainment


as seen from a gamma scan

In Figure 6 a close look at the bottom trays, Trays 1-20, shows that the entrainment was
gradually increasing from Tray 1 to Tray 20. In other words, liquid was being entrained
upward tray-by-tray, and the overall liquid rate passing through each tray downcomer
(liquid from the tray above plus the entrained liquid) was higher than the tray below. But
the entrainment propagation stopped at Tray 20, where the tray spacing increased due to
a manway. It was the larger spaces at the manways that saved this column from reaching
a fully flooded state.

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Figure 6. Entrainment and its Accumulations on Trays

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3.2.4 Weeping

The gamma scan profile for trays that are weeping is as distinctly different from
entrainment as is the hydraulic cause. Since by definition weeping is a hydraulic state
where the tray liquid is not
being highly aerated the scan
profile for weeping is
missing the sloping gradient
through the tray froth height,
refer to Figure 7. Typically
the transition from liquid
counts to vapor counts above
the tray deck is quite sharp.
Above this, the data response
through the vapor space
tends to be flat due to
approximately constant
density for the vapor space
between the tray peaks. It is
thought that the scan data
also has a jagged appearance
through the vapor space
since weeping, especially for
valve trays, tends to oscillate
rapidly so bands of liquid
droplets are falling through
the tray spaces.

Figure 7. Diagram showing degrees of weeping as


seen from a gamma scan

Weeping is a frequent problem with the towers operating at low vapor rate or turndown
conditions. Figure 8 is a classic example of weeping trays in an Amine Contactor. Note
the characteristics from above displayed on Figure 8: the jagged vapor spaces, the rapid
decrease in count rate from vapor to tray liquid (i.e. without the sloped gradient typically
seen for entrainment), signifying lack of liquid aeration. In this particular example the
trays could be classified as severely weeping or dumping. Most trays, especially in the
bottom of this Contactor, were holding the bare minimum of liquid. In Figure 8 the
discrete data points have been enumerated. Note that on most trays there is only one data
point registered within the tray liquid. The elevation increment between data points was
2 inches (5 cm). Less liquid than this would appear as a completely dry or missing tray!

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Figure 8 Weeping Trays

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3.2.5 Downcomer Backup

Downcomer backup can be seen on a properly conducted downcomer scan. A normal


downcomer scan will show maximum fluid density at the outlet (bottom) of the
downcomer, with a profile of decreasing density proceeding toward the top of the
downcomer. When the downcomer approaches flood, high fluid density (non-aerated
liquid) will be observed throughout the height of the downcomer. Interestingly, the
downcomer density profile may not change much over a wide range of process loads
until the flood point is approached, then the material in the downcomer will have a
sudden increase in density as liquid stacks up.

Figure 9 shows the gamma scans for both active area (blue curve) and the center
downcomer area (red curve) of a gas stripper tower with two-pass trays. The liquid level
(downcomer backup) can be measured approximately from tray deck elevation line up to
the elevation of lowest density (highest counts) between the trays. From the red scan
curve on Figure 9, it can be seen that the downcomer backup was 65% of the tray
spacing.

It should be clarified that when reading the downcomer backups, the "lowest density or
highest counts between the trays" is not referring to the clear vapor bar. On downcomer
scans the vapor space reading never makes it back to "clear vapor" because of the
entrained droplets or jumping froth above the downcomer inlet. Reading the downcomer
backups sometimes needs more art or experience than science.

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Figure 9. Downcomer Backup in Center Downcomers (Red Plot)

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3.2.6 Flooding

Flooding is a dynamic process of liquid accumulation that develops from the incipient
flood point into a fully flooded condition. The flooding process can be fast (in minutes)
or slow (in hours), and some flooding symptoms can show up sooner or later than others,
depending on column size, type of internals, flow rates and system properties.

Incipient flood point (IFP) is the combination of vapor and liquid loads at which liquid
downward traffic begins to choke or slow down. Incipient flood may initiate on a tray, in
a section of a packed bed, at a feed or draw device, or at any other internal in a column.
Most flood-point data in literature were collected from observations of IFP in laboratory
test columns. Literature flood-point data typically shows good consistency because most
of it was measured from small and well-controlled test columns.

The flooding process starts from the incipient flood point and ends with a fully flooded
column, if the vapor/liquid loads in the column are not reduced. Once the flooding
process begins, high liquid inventory inside the column will increase the pressure drop
across the column, impede phase separation, and lower the separation efficiency. The
column may become inoperable or uncontrollable due to excessive retention of liquid
inside the column. During the flooding process, one or more trays might become fully
flooded (Figure 10), but the column may still be functional hydraulically. Flood-
point data of industrial columns tends to be observations of some point during the
dynamic flooding process. Refer to section 3.3.4 ahead for flooding in a packed tower.

A fully flooded state is the end of the flooding process where it is impossible to obtain
net downward flow of liquid, and any liquid fed to the column is carried out with the
overhead vapor. A significant part, or the whole volume of the column, is full of liquid
and vapor bubbles through the liquid. The column completely loses its operability or
function when fully flooded. Figure 11 is a comparison of the gamma scans for a trayed
tower in a fully flooded state and a normal operating state.

Traditional measurements of pressure drops, temperature profiles, or liquid levels usually


cannot tell exactly where flooding originates in a column, particularly with a large
number of trays or large height of packing bed. In these cases the incipient flood point
will have come and been surpassed before the traditional measurements show any
response.

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Figure 10. Gamma-Scans of a Partially Flooded Tower


Flooding Initiates at the Feed Nozzle Causing the Top Section (Trays 28 40) Flooding

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Figure 11. Gamma Scans of a Fully Flooded Column (the Blue Curve) as Compared
To a Normal Operating Column (the Red Curve)

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3.2.7 Tray Hydraulic Gradient

The hydraulic gradient or liquid head from inlet to outlet of a tray bubbling area is
necessary to overcome the frictional resistance to the passage of the froth across the tray
deck. However if the gradient is excessive, the upstream portion or inlet area of the tray
bubbling area may be not aerated well, which could be problematic for trays with long
liquid flow paths.

With an excessive hydraulic gradient a tray deck might not operate in one uniform flow
regime. For instance, the inlet area could be operating in a froth flow regime, and the
outlet area in a spray regime, while the middle area of the tray could be in a mixed flow
regime. These phenomena can get more complicated or troublesome at extreme
conditions (Kister, 1992).

The parallel scan lines shown in Figure 3 should be used for investigating the possibility
or severity of liquid gradients. More details on evaluation of hydraulic gradient and flow
regimes on trays by use of gamma scans have been discussed elsewhere. (Xu and Pless,
2001)

Figure 12 shows an example of a scan where a liquid gradient was observable. In this
case the scanline was positioned parallel near the edge of the active area in order to avoid
some external physical interferences. Detecting the liquid gradient was actually
accidental. The gamma scan shows that the even-numbered trays (scanline was on the
inlet side of the even-numbered trays) above the feed had higher liquid loads and
appeared to have a higher degree of entrainment as compared to the odd-numbered trays.

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Figure 12. Liquid Gradient across the Bubbling Area of a Tray as Seen From a Gamma Scan

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3.2.8 Foaming

Foaming is characterized by a sloping, gradual density gradient through the tray liquid or
forth height. From a gamma scan foaming would appear similarly to normal tray
entrainment. A diagnosis of foaming depends a lot on the system itself. For example the
scan evidence of foaming on an amine contactor would very likely be foaming. However
scan evidence of foaming on a system not known to have a foaming tendency may be
an example of a sustained froth. A sustained froth, where the bubbles of liquid do not
readily collapse is more prevalent on scans of light hydrocarbon systems or vacuum
systems operating in or near the spray regime. Sometimes the foaming cannot be clearly
verified by the gamma scan plots only, and more analysis of fluid properties and/or
process conditions is required. When the conditions are available, the best way is to
compare the scan plots before and after an injection of anti-foaming chemicals as shown
in Figure 13.

It is typically difficult to clearly distinguish between foaming and entrainment in a trayed


tower. The scan is not meant to substitute for knowledge of the particular system. For
example, a tower may have a predicted jet flood that is far away from current operation,
yet the scan shows the tower is fully flooded. Foaming is typically indicated by a step
change in the froth height density.

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Figure 13. Comparison of Gamma Scan Plots Before (Red) and After (Black) the
Injection of Anti-Foaming Chemicals

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3.2.9 Fouling

Fouling on trays can occur in hours, days, months, or over several years of tower
operation. Fouling plugs the bubbling areas or builds up in downcomers to restrict the
throughput and performance of the tower. A baseline scan performed under clean
conditions is always advisable, since gamma scans cannot detect or measure the fouling
directly. Instead the scan diagnosis depends on the hydraulic abnormalities caused by the
fouling. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate with a gamma scan alone if
the abnormalities seen were caused by fouling or by tray design, if there was not a
comparative base. An alternative way to get a comparative base is to carry out a gamma
scan before and after a chemical or water wash to the suspected fouled trays (Figure 14).

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Figure 14. Diagnosis of Fouled Trays by Comparison of the Gamma Scans Before (Red) and After (Blue)
Chemical Wash to the Suspected Fouled Tower

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3.2.10 Spray Regime

Discussion of the hydraulic gradient normally assumes that the vapor-liquid mixture on
the tray deck is in the form of a bubbly liquid, or froth where the liquid phase is
continuous. However under high vapor rates and low liquid rates, many studies have
shown that the flow regime can invert to a spray, where vapor is the continuous phase
and the liquid is dispersed into droplets.

Trays operating in the spray regime, while not a common occurrence, when encountered
give very distinct characteristics on a gamma scan plot. Figure 15 shows an example of
trays operating in the spray regime as seen from a gamma scan.

From a gamma scan the peaks of trays in the spray regime show a small layer of dense
liquid phase on the tray deck with a lighter or spray phase above, i.e. there is a step
change in the phase densities. Please note that in other previous examples the scan peaks
typically have a smooth density gradient from tray deck to the froth top, which is typical
for trays operating in the froth regime.

Tray hydraulics and process properties should be carefully analyzed to validate the flow
regimes on trays, since sometimes foaming on trays could generate scan peaks similar to
that of the spray regime.

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Figure 15. Gamma Scan Plot of the Trays in Spray Regime

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3.3 Interpretation of Packed Tower Scans

Tower performance, as measured by separation efficiency or lack thereof, temperature readings,


etc., may strongly suggest a packed tower is suffering from liquid maldistribution. A grid scan,
as explained below, is a quick and handy screening tool that can be used by the engineer. If the
grid scan shows a liquid distribution problem, then one definitely exists. However in some cases
even when the grid scan shows what appears to be even liquid distribution there could be a liquid
maldistribution pattern, e.g. annular flow. Examples are discussed in the following sections.

3.3.1 Scan Line Orientations

The key to good packing performance is uniform liquid and vapor distribution. Thus the
primary information sought from scanning packed towers is whether the density through
the packing is consistent by comparing several scan chords. It is normal practice to scan
four chords of equal length, which are equidistant from the tower center in pairs that are
perpendicular to each other as shown. This layout is commonly referred to as a grid
scan. Other combinations of equal length scan lines are also acceptable as long as they
cover a good portion of the tower cross section. Figure 16 shows typical orientations for
grid scans demonstrating the change in the overall pattern as tower diameters get smaller.

Typical for diameters 5-6 feet (1.5-2 m) and larger.

Typical for diameters 1.5-5 ft (0.5-1.5 m).

Typical for diameters <1.5 ft (0.5m).

Figure 16. Typical Scanline Orientation Patterns for Packed Towers

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The multiple scan lines are usually rendered in different colored and/or patterned lines on
the plots of the scan data. If the liquid load through the bed is nearly constant and the
packing type (density) does not change, the scan lines should follow a vertical path
down the plot; i.e., they should show approximately constant density from the top of the
bed to the bottom. If the liquid loading changes appreciably or the packed bed has two or
more different densities of packing, the scan plot curves may be sloped (show a density
gradient) or may show sudden step changes. The analyst should verify that the observed
behavior makes sense.

Regardless of any sloping or step change of the scan plot curves, the data curves should
closely overlay each other through the bed, within the density fluctuations seen for
individual scan lines. This would be an indicator of good liquid distribution since all the
scan curves from the various sides of the tower all show approximately the same bulk
density (the underlying presumption is that the packing density is uniform across the
tower). When the scan curves separate from each other at the same elevation, this is
evidence of differing bulk density or poor liquid distribution.

The overall orientation of the grid should be positioned to match squarely with the
liquid distributors, i.e. the grid lines should be oriented to cross either parallel or
perpendicular through the troughs, parting boxes, or the gas risers of liquid distributors.
In this arrangement the grid scan will provide the most useful information about the
hydraulics on the liquid distributors, e.g. composite liquid levels in parting boxes or
troughs.

3.3.2 Damage of Packed Towers

Packed beds in towers can be damaged by process surges, corrosion, or fouling. The
damage can be seen on gamma scan plots as loss of bed height, dislocation of internals
from their expected elevations, variance of bed bulk densities, or maldistribution of
liquid. Figure 17 shows a grid scan of a packed tower. Drawings were consulted to
ascertain where the internals should be located. The scan showed that the top bed and its
reflux distributor were in their correct places. The grid scan also showed the top bed
(looking past some external interference effects) had good liquid distribution. By
comparison the bottom bed had lost about 3 feet of packing. The liquid distribution
through the bottom bed was terrible with the Southwest side (black scan curve) appearing
much denser (more liquid) than the other sides. The scans also revealed that the bottom
bed support had apparently given way, with packing and liquid filling up the base of the
column.

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Figure 17. Gamma Scans Showing a Normal Bed (Top Bed) and a Damaged Bed (Bottom Bed)

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3.3.3 Liquid Maldistribution

A grid scan of a packed tower is recommended as the first step to diagnose liquid
maldistribution. As discussed previously the theory behind this procedure is that a
uniform grid scan (comparable data profiles from all four scan lines) is an indication of
uniform process density inside the packed tower. Any significant deviation among the
scan lines could be an indication of a density maldistribution, i.e. denser readings
indicate an excess of liquid while less dense readings indicate a liquid deficiency.

Figure 18 shows the grid scan results from the same tower one scan from the time the
tower had operating problems and one scan post-turnaround after the problems were
repaired. The left-side plot shows the scan results when the tower had operating
problems. Actually several hydraulic problems or their appearance can be seen in Figure
18. Bed 1 shows a case of liquid maldistribution with the four scan lines varying from
each other. The blue (east) scan line had the highest number of counts; this side of the
tower was the least dense or had a deficiency of liquid. Conversely the green (north)
scan line had the least counts, so this side of the tower was the densest or had an excess
of liquid.

By comparison the right-side plot in Figure 18 shows grid scan results where it appears
that the tower had good liquid distribution. However one limitation of a grid scan is that
it is possible to have liquid maldistribution patterns that from a grid scan would appear to
be uniform. Annular maldistribution is an example of liquid maldistribution that could
appear as uniform liquid distribution from a grid scan. In situations where this is a
possibility, a CAT-scan could resolve the problem (CAT-scans are discussed in Section
4.1).

In addition, in lightly liquid loaded towers (e.g., less than about 1 gpm/ft2 ), there may
not be enough density difference between a dry tower and a lightly liquid loaded tower to
see if any distribution (much less maldistribution) exists. Radioisotopic tracer tests are a
better alternative for lightly liquid loaded towers.

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Figure 18. Liquid Maldistribution in a Packed Tower


Bed 1 on left-hand plot had classic liquid maldistribution.

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3.3.4 Flooding

Flooding in packed towers often initiates at the top or the bottom of a bed, since one of
the two locations generally receives the highest vapor/liquid loading in the bed. When
flooding occurs, the liquid holdup in the bed will start to increase, or the bed bulk density
will increase in the flooding section. Gamma scans can easily detect the high-density
section that is holding more liquid than rest of the bed, as shown in Figure 18.

For a given size of packing and vapor rate there is a maximum amount of liquid that can
pass through the packing. When this limit is exceeded liquid accumulates in the packing
causing flooding. Usually below the affected section of packing the operation of the bed
appears normal as the hydraulic limitation essentially acts as a metering device. The
flooding will cause liquid to build upwards in the tower until the operability limit of the
tower is surpassed. If the flooding point is at the bottom of a bed of packing then the
entire bed could be completely inundated with liquid. In Figure 18 the top of Bed 2 was
flooding. The top 5 6 feet of packing was very dense with excess liquid accumulation,
but the liquid flooding had not yet reached the distributor above Bed 2.

3.3.5 Fouling

Fouling in packed beds could take place anywhere (e.g. top, middle or bottom sections of
the bed) over a time period of hours, days or months, depending on the fluid properties
and operating conditions. Polymerization, coking, and solids deposit are among the most
common types of fouling. The best way to diagnose or monitor the fouling process is to
start from a baseline operating scan, where the tower is started up and operating in a
known clean status. The tower is then scanned with the same scanning setups
periodically to detect the changes of the bed density profiles. For most industrial towers
the periods between successive gamma scans can be weeks, months, or up to one year.
Scans monitoring the growth of fouling in beds can provide invaluable information on
the fouling mechanism itself, and help those responsible to schedule turnarounds or select
proper packings for longer run-length.

As with fouling in trayed towers, scans of packed towers usually do not detect fouling
directly. One possibility to directly detect fouling in packed towers is to scan the tower
dry, when not operating. Dense spots in beds of packing, or on or below distributors, bed
supports, etc. would be suspect areas where fouling may have built up. However, usually
an operating scan showing the origin of problems such as flooding is enough to let
operations know the source of the problem. The hydraulic problems (flooding and liquid
maldistribution) seen in Figure 18 could easily be the result of fouling. Fouling in the
bed could result in liquid maldistribution seen through Bed 1. Likewise fouling material
carried into the top few layers of packing in Bed 2 could cause this type of flooding.

3.3.6 Foaming

Foaming in packed beds is more difficult to diagnose than other hydraulic phenomena in
packed towers, because of its unstable or irregular signatures on gamma scan plots. When
liquid foams in a packed bed, the bubbles could be large in some areas and small in other
areas. The large bubbles could move around or form and collapse in the bed, which
would change the bed bulk densities randomly with time and locations. The foam

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bubbles increase resistance to the liquid flow through the packing causing local areas of
excess liquid holdup. These random changes may or may not be visible on conventional
sensors of temperature or pressure drop on the tower.

When a packed tower grid scan shows dramatic spreads among the four scan plots, or
there are large density fluctuations down one single scan line, then foaming is suspected.
Dramatic fluctuations of the bed density profiles with time, at constant throughput, would
be a good indication of foaming in the packed bed. Figure 19 shows a grid scan that
found foaming. The left-hand plot in Figure 19 is the scan of the Absorber tower while
at low gas rates. The scan showed some liquid maldistribution in the bottom bed and a
density gradient of increasing density from bottom to top of bed, signifying there was
some liquid holdup in the top section of the bed of packing. The right-hand plot in
Figure 19 is the scan of the Absorber while at increased gas rates. Note the liquid
maldistribution has worsened and the flooding seems to have propagated up the tower,
through the distributor area and into the top bed of packing. But note the response of the
green scan line through the bottom bed there is a decrease in bulk density in the middle
of the bed. This is a sure sign of foaming or frothing in the middle of the bed that was
not present at the lower gas rate scan. Some of this lighter density liquid or foam also
seems to have propagated up into the distributor area.

Note that it may be difficult to distinguish between classical maldistribution and foaming
induced maldistribution. When foaming occurs in a packed tower, a higher pressure drop
is typically observed and the pressure drop may show signs of instability.

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Figure 19. Unstable and Irregular Scan Profiles could be an Indication of Foaming in Packed Bed

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3.3.7 Other Internals in Packed Towers

As for trayed tower scans, a scan of a packed tower is invaluable for checking the
location of all packed tower internals. When collector trays, liquid distributors and re-
distributors are designed to maintain a liquid level, a gamma scan can be used to measure
these liquid levels. When the levels are measured it is critical to know the detail design
of the vapor risers. With that information the measured liquid level can be compared to
the vapor riser height to determine if liquid is overflowing or nearly overflowing the
risers. Any liquid overflow can severely degrade the performance of the liquid
distributor device below. Figure 20 shows the scan results when a liquid distributor was
found overflowing. In Figure 20 between the 6 and 7 meter elevation the blue and red
scan lines cross perpendicular through the distributor parting box so that the liquid level
in the parting box can be measured. The measurement on the red scan line showed
approximately 120 mm of liquid; however, the blue scan line showed the parting box to
be liquid full at that end and likely overflowing liquid. Below the parting box the blue
scan line showed liquid flooding at the top of the bed of packing. This distributor was
either out-of-level or damaged in some way that prevented it from working properly. As
a consequence the liquid distribution through the bed of packing was not good.

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Figure 20. Scan Results Showing Overflowing Liquid Distributor

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3.4 Stationary Monitoring Test

Conventional gamma scans discussed above presents a density profile of a tower as a function of
tower elevation. Stationary Monitoring uses an immobile radiation source and detector to monitor
changes in density versus time, instead of density versus elevation, as shown below. This
technique has been found to be useful in numerous applications, such as:

Identifying the incipient flood point of trays or in packed beds,


Differentiate the mechanisms of tray flooding between bubbling area or
downcomers,
Calibrate existing level indication instruments.

Stationary monitoring is similar to radioactive level controllers. However, the source for this
application is much smaller than what would be commonly used in a permanently mounted
device. Stationary monitoring also makes up for one of the other limitations of gamma scanning.
A gamma scan is a snapshot of what the tower hydraulics are at that moment. The underlying
assumption with the gamma scan procedure is that the tower stays relatively stable so that the
scan data is representative of how the hydraulics are doing at the particular set of operating
conditions in steady state. When it is not possible to hold the tower operation stable long
enough to complete a desired scan, then stationary monitoring can be a viable substitute. To
offset the limitation that stationary monitoring is only at one tower elevation. Multiple radiation
sources and detectors may be employed to monitor several points simultaneously. Figure 21
shows an example when three points on a tower were monitored to see which point went into
flooding first. The chart showed that Tray 2 (data represented by the red detector) flooded first.
Crosschecking the monitoring time bar with the recorded process variables would show at what
operating condition the flooding commenced.

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Figure 21. Results from Stationary Monitoring


Showing What Point in Tower Flooded First

4 Other Techniques Using Radiation

4.1 CAT-Scans

CAT Scans (Computer Aided Tomography scans) are used to generate three-dimensional
images of density for particular tower cross-sections, each at a single elevation. Whereas
gamma scans (above) produce density profiles versus tower elevation, CAT scans produce
density profiles in a horizontal plane. The idea and name are similar to the X-ray CT imaging
used on human bodies, but higher energy gamma radiation is required for imaging towers.

The basic methodology of CAT scans is shown in Figure 22. The scan lines fan out from the
source and cut across the tower in multiple directions, while the detector picks up the gamma
penetration signals on the opposite side of the tower. After a full set of absorption measurements
are taken for a chosen source orientation, the source is rotated to a new orientation and another
set of absorption measurements are taken. Typically, at least nine source orientations are used, so
this requires unhindered 360 access around the tower at the elevation of interest. The CAT scan
as shown in Figure 22 would supply 27 independent measurements of gamma signals, but most
process applications utilize a 9 X 9 or 11 X 11 grid resulting in 81 or 121 independent
measurements (3,4).

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Figure 22 Layout of the Fan Beams and Image Result of CAT-Scans

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To generate a density image or plot from CAT scan data the density is regressed to a 4th order
polynomial with respect to x and y directions. Although equations of other forms or degrees can
be used, a 4th order polynomial is thought to give a reasonable compromise between sufficiency
of detail and extent of data collection / computation.

The measurement plane of CAT scans should be at least 1 foot (305 mm) away from the top or
bottom of a packed bed (within the packed bed itself), in order to reduce the backscatter signals.
For evaluating spray header distributors, a CAT scan could be performed above the top of the
bed. A grid scan should be performed on the tower to provide an initial look at the overall
internal layout and liquid distribution patterns. The grid scan is also helpful to determine the
exact elevations of CAT scans.

It is recommended to overlay a liquid distributor sketch on the CAT scan images for the
convenience of the liquid distribution analysis, with respect to the orientations of the parting
boxes, troughs or vapor risers.

The CAT scans compensate for a limitation from only using a grid scan of a packed bed. As
mentioned earlier, a grid scan could possibly show what appears to be good liquid distribution
when in fact there is liquid maldistribution, e.g. an annular flow pattern. Figure 23 shows a grid
scan of a tower that had poor separation efficiency. The grid scan seemed to show what appeared
to be fairly good liquid distribution. However, since the tower was not performing well a CAT
scan was done near the top of the bed at the elevation shown in Figure 23. The CAT scan results
are shown in Figure 24. The CAT scan showed a pattern of liquid maldistribution where more
liquid was being distributed in the middle of the tower and less liquid was making it out to the
end of the laterals. With the grid scan lines superimposed on the CAT scan results; one can see
that all four scan lines passed through similar areas of density so that the average densities from
each scan line were nearly the same.

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Figure 23. Grid Scan Shows Seemingly Good Liquid Distribution

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Figure 24a CAT Scan showing liquid distribution relative to the liquid distributor
Figure 24b CAT Scan showing liquid distribution relative to grid scan lines
Scale is calculated density in lb/ft3

4.2 Neutron Backscatter Methods

The neutron backscatter device consists of a fast neutron source next to a slow neutron detector.
Fast neutrons from the source collide with hydrogen nuclei in the material inside the vessel being
scanned. The collisions transfer some of the energy to the hydrogen nuclei, reducing the
neutrons speeds and changing their direction of travel in a process known as neutron moderation.
Some of the affected neutrons are deflected back to the detector where they are received and
counted. A high concentration of hydrogen nuclei in the material adjacent to the source will
result in a large number of slow neutrons detected. In other words, the neutron backscatter
technique is basically detecting the concentration of hydrogen atoms in the process fluids
adjacent to vessel walls.

Compared with gamma scans, the neutron backscatter device is easy to use and can usually be
operated by a single person. The disadvantages of the technique are:

Poor performance with a wall thickness greater than about 1.5" (40 mm);
Maximum penetration into a vessel is only about 6" (150 mm);
Insulation can make the results unstable or inaccurate because of moisture in the
insulation, or by increasing the distance to the vessel walls, making it necessary to
remove sections of insulation;
It is only useful for detecting hydrogen-containing materials.

The neutron backscatter technique can be used to locate interfaces between materials having
different concentrations of hydrogen atoms. In a storage tank, it can differentiate between the
interfaces of vapor, oil, water, and sludge (Figure 25). In a column having trays with
downcomers, it can determine the froth height or liquid backup in downcomers. It is particularly
useful for measuring the liquid height on chimney trays, on draw sumps, or in tower bases
without having to do a full column scan.

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Figure 25 Neutron Backscatter Survey Measuring Liquid Interfaces

Generally speaking, the neutron backscatter device can be used to detect or estimate:

Liquid levels;
Position of material or phase interfaces;
Polymer buildup or plugging in pipelines;
Relative vapor fractions in two-phase flow pipes, e.g. stratified flow.

4.3 Radioactive Tracers

The radioactive tracer technique involves injection of a very small amount (typically a few grams of
material) of a radioactive substance into a process stream, which is then monitored with one or more
radiation detectors positioned externally on the process equipment downstream of the injection. This
technique is useful for measuring flow velocities, reactor residence times for back mixing or
dispersion studies, equipment leak tests, and flow distribution. These tracer tests may also be used
with non-radioactive tracers; however, sampling requirements can become onerous for some
applications.

Selection of radioactive tracers for a specific process is critical for both data quality and
environmental safety. An incorrectly chosen tracer may react with the process fluid and do
unexpected things, resulting in erroneous conclusions. A tracer should be selected with a short half-
life (typically measured in hours) such that the level of residual radioactivity will not interfere with
downstream processes or cause a personnel or environmental hazard.

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In general, the sealed source radiation methods discussed above should be considered first for tower
troubleshooting. However, if the problem is not clearly identified by sealed source measurements
tracer methods could be invaluable in getting important answers about internal flow behavior.

Tracers could be used to detect entrainment in a tower. In this case, a nonvolatile tracer can be
injected into the tower in a place where entrainment is suspected. Products above the injection point
would then be monitored for presence of the nonvolatile tracer.

In one instance a side-draw product from a crude oil distillation tower was off-specification due to
high (dark) color. This would mean that heavy components were contaminating the side-draw
product. The typical mechanism for this to happen could be tray damage, flooding, or high
entrainment. A gamma scan had been done but none of these scenarios seemed to be taking place;
only slight entrainment was noticed from the scan results. However since the problem persisted the
decision was made to perform a tracer test to determine if entrainment was the problem. A
radioactive tracer made from a high-boiling compound was injected into the crude tower below the
product draw. The tracer compound was not volatile at the process conditions in the crude tower so
the only mechanism for the tracer compound to appear in the side draw would be from entrainment.
Radiation detectors were placed on the side-draw downcomers and piping to monitor for any tracer
material as shown in Figure 26. Detectors on the side-draw downcomers and piping showed a
positive response to the radioactive tracer material, conclusively proving that high-boiling
compounds were being entrained to the side-draw product.

Figure 26. Radioactive Tracer Injection Showing Entrainment

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When applied to towers, radioactive tracers can be used to detect if a total draw tray is leaking or not.
Such a test would involve choosing a non-volatile radiotracer, injecting it above the draw tray, and
then monitoring a product stream below the draw tray for the presence of any radiation.

One limitation to sealed source gamma scans is that they measure the density of the liquid phase in
separation equipment. The density of the vapor phase is too low to be detected. An alternative
method this is to study the vapor phase flow and distribution using gas radioactive tracers.

At times problems in the ancillary equipment around a distillation or separation tower can be
exacerbating or causing a problem. For example leaking reboilers or condensers could be the
introducing a contaminant into the tower, or overloading it; or a leaking valve may be falsely loading
up a tower. A radioactive tracer leak test could prove if such were the case.

A material or energy balance required for troubleshooting or debottlenecking may not be closing.
Some critical process streams may not have flow meters or the existing flow measurement may be
questionable. Radioactive tracers can be injected to measure process flow velocities from which
volumetric flows can be calculated.

4.4 MobileDensityGauges

Specialmobilegammadensitygaugescanbeappliedforamoreaccuratedetectionoftwo
phaseflowdensityinpipesthancanbeacquiredwithtypicalgammascanequipment.The
mobiledensitygaugesarebasedonthesamefundamentalsasgammascans;however,the
densitygaugeusesabettergammasourcecollimator,moresensitivedetector,andmore
deliberatecalibration.Convenientaccesswillalsobeneededtoinstallthedensitygaugeinthe
appropriatelocation.Commonapplicationsofmobiledensitygaugeswithdistillationtowers
aretodetectormonitor:
Liquidentrainmentintooverheadlines
Liquidfractioninreboilerreturnlines
Vaporcarryunderintoliquiddrawpipes

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Acknowledgement
The Design Practice Committee gratefully appreciates the contributions and reviews of Lowell Pless,
Business Development Manager of Tracerco to this section.

References and Further Readings


1. Severance, W.A.N., Advances in Radiation Scanning of Distillation Columns, CEP, 81(9), P.38,
1981.
2. Basic Physics of Nuclear Medicine/Interaction of Radiation with Matter, Wikibooks Web site,
http:wikibooks.org, 1 November 2007, Accessed June 12, 2009.
3. Xu, S. X. and G. Kennedy, Gamma-Ray Computer-Aided Tomography of Industrial Packed
Columns, Paper presented at AIChE Spring National Meeting, Houston TX, March 17, 1999.
4. Xu, S. X., G. Kennedy, C. Conforti, T. Marut, and J. Dusseault, Troubleshooting Industrial Packed
Columns by Gamma-Ray Tomography, Paper presented at CE Expo 99, Houston TX, June 9-10, 1999.
5. Bowman, J. D., Use Column Scanning for Predictive Maintenance, CEP, 87(2), P.25, 1991
6. Bowman, J.D., Troubleshoot Packed Towers with Radio-isotopes, CEP, 89(9), P.34, 1993
7. Kister, H., D.E. Grich and R. Yeley, Better Feed Entry Ups Debutanizer Capacity, PTQ Revamps
and Operations, 2006
8. Kister, H., Distillation Operation, P.424, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1990
9. Xu, S.X. and W. Mixon, Diagnosing Maldistribution in Towers, CEP, 103(5), P.28, 2007
10. Xu, S.X., C. Winfield and J.D. Bowman, How to Push a Tower to its Maximum Capacity,
Chemical Engineering, 105(8), P.100, 1998
11. Xu, S.X. and L. Pless, Distillation Tower Flooding - More Complex than You Think, Chemical
Engineering, 109(6), P.60, 2002
12. Xu, S.X. and Pless, L., Understand More Fundamentals of Distillation Column Operation from
Gamma Scans, Paper presented at AIChE Spring Meeting, Houston TX, April 22-26, 2001
13. Kister, H., Larson, K., Madsen, P., Vapor Cross-flow Channeling on Sieve Trays: Fact or Myth ?,
Chemical Engineering Progress, P. 86, November 1992

Page 52 of 52
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DESIGING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO
AID MAINTENANCE Issued: 11/01/1988
3.02
Revised:

DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID MAINTENANCE

DESIGNING FRACTIONATION SYSTEMS TO AID MAINTENANCE ............................1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................2

2. Tower Manholes .................................................................................................................2

3. Tray Manways .....................................................................................................................4

4. Ladders and Platforms ........................................................................................................4

5. Heat Exchangers .................................................................................................................4

6. Miscellaneous .....................................................................................................................5

Page 1 of 5
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3.02
Revised: MAINTENANCE

1 Introduction

Maintenance of fractionation systems often requires workers to enter the column to inspect the interior,
fix damaged internals, clean plugged internals, and replace missing internals. Repair of fractionation
systems can often be simplified by considering maintenance needs during the design phase. By providing
cost-effective measures to aid maintenance crews, workers will be able to complete repairs more quickly
in a safer environment to reduce column downtime.

Fractionation systems require maintenance work due to three major causes:

1. Mechanical failure or deterioration of the column or internals


2. Plugging of the column internals
3. Routine inspections such as annual pressure vessel inspection

Tower internals may fail due to process flow surges, vibration,, corrosion, erosion, or coking.

Columns should be designed to minimize the need for maintenance when economical. Trays which will
experience surging flows should be designed with greater mechanical strength. Hardware should be made
of a resistant material to avoid general thinning and weakening due to corrosive attack. Weak or thin
hardware can allow trays to slip free of clamps and collapse.

Provisions should be made for access to the column and all auxiliary equipment. As a general rule, all
internals as well as external hardware (valves, transmitters, etc.) should be accessible for removal and/or
repair with the equipment normally used during their routine maintenance.

2 Tower Manholes

Locating Manholes - For tray columns, tower manholes should be spaced to ensure all sections of the
column can be adequately and safely serviced. Spacing tower manholes every 20 to 30 trays is typical.
Larger spacing is used with clean, non-corrosive services, while a smaller spacing is often justified when
a considerable amount of maintenance work inside the column is anticipated during short shutdowns. For
example, if the trays must be frequently removed for cleaning, the number and size of the manholes
should be increased compared to columns where the trays either do not require cleaning or can be cleaned
in place. Having several tower manholes can allow different crews to work in the column together and
reduce the number of tray manways that have to be removed to reach the desired location.

For very large diameter tray columns operating in dirty services with major support beams, multiple
tower manholes at a given elevation may be justified. In general, however, providing more than one tower
manhole at a given tray is not economical. Besides the cost of more manholes, it requires larger access
platforms, additional lighting, and creates added sources for leakage.

With multi-pass trays, removable downcomer sections are preferred over multiple tower manholes at a
given tray elevation to provide adequate access.

Tray spacing might need to be increased to allow for the manhole size. Therefore, manholes should be
installed in the space above the feed trays (where the tray spacing is often raised), above the top tray, and
below the bottom tray. When manholes are installed at the feed tray, their orientation and elevation
should be specified to avoid feed distributors and other internals that might impede entry.
All packed column internals (particularly distributors and redistributors) should be quickly accessible for

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inspection given their importance in the operation of the column. Therefore, tower manholes for large
columns and body flanges for small columns should be located above and below all packed beds.

Elevations where the column has a feed diameter change, or contacting device change should have
provisions to be quickly reached since the chances for errors or failures are greater at these locations.
Therefore, tower manholes should be located at, or very close to, elevations where there is a feed,
diameter change, or contacting device change.

Sizing Manholes - Tower manholes are typically 18 inches to 24 inches. As a general rule, tower
manholes should be adequately sized to ensure that all repair and/or replacement parts or tools can be
passed to the columns interior. Larger tower manholes have the following advantages:

a. Allow fabrication of larger panels or beams for internals and may therefore lower the internals
cost.
b. Allow the fewer, larger panels or beams for the internals to be more quickly installed or removed.
c. Provide easier and safer access to the column, particularly if a breathing apparatus must be worn.

Very large diameter columns with major beams may require 36 to 48 inch diameter manholes for removal
of the beams. As the beams are usually attached prior to welding the heads onto the vessel shell, extra
large manholes are not, however, required to install the beams during initial construction. Although they
will allow removal of the beams without cutting holes in the vessel shell, extra large manholes economics
should be carefully evaluated. Drawbacks of these extra large manholes include:

a. They are more difficult to seal and provide more surface area for leakage.
b. They are more expensive.
c. They are much more difficult to open and close due to the greater cover weight which requires
larger
d. They require an increase in the tray spacing and a subsequently taller column - a significant cost
for large diameter columns.

Orienting Manholes - For tray columns, tower manholes should be located above their respective trays
bubbling area, not behind their downcomers.

Tower manholes should be oriented so they can be easily reached by a crane lifting column internals.
Also, manholes and their service platforms, should be oriented away from major pipe runs and other
possible interferences to provide an unobstructed drop for lowering column internals by rope.

Accessing Manholes - All tower manholes should be equipped with a platform if the manholes are not
easily accessible from a floor level. The platform should be large enough to allow workers to open or
close the tower manholes, enter the column, and remove internals (feed pipes, tray panels, beams, etc.) as
needed. Platforms should be located 12 to 36 inches below the bottom of tower manholes to provide easy
access. The platform and ladders should be oriented so the manhole cover can be opened away from the
ladder leading to the platform. Also, the manhole cover should be capable of being fully opened without
interference from rails, nozzles, pipe supports, etc.

Tower manholes should be located at an elevation no more than 36 inches above an internal that provides
an adequate footrest. For example, tower manholes located too far above the bottom head would cause a
serious safety hazard for workers entering or leaving the column base unless there was an internal ladder.

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3 Tray Manways

Tray column manways should be top and bottom removable, so maintenance crews can work up or down
the column to open it for initial inspection. Quick-opening tray manways are often justified if frequent
tray inspections are anticipated due to a fouling, corrosive, etc. service.

Tray manways should be large enough to allow passage of workers and tools and light enough to be lifted
by a single worker. Thrift in reference 23 has recommended that manways be a minimum of 12 inches x
16 inches and not exceed 65 lb.

Tray manways are usually vertically aligned between tower manhole elevations to provide a clear vertical
shaft for workers to easily pass tools and tray parts from one elevation to another. It is preferable to
stagger manways in adjacent tray sections (as bounded by tower manhole elevations). Vertically aligned
tray manways make it easier to evacuate the column in the event of an emergency and to communicate
from one elevation to another. Care must, however, be exercised by mechanics to avoid dropping tools or
tray parts on those working below them. In addition, mechanics must be careful to avoid slipping, as they
could fall a great distance with vertically aligned tray man ways.

Tray manways should be located to provide access to all parts of the tray. Multi-pass trays will require a
tray manway in each pass. Large diameter columns with deep beams will require a tray manway in each
tray section workers cannot reach by crawling below the he beams.

Trays should be spaced to provide a minimum clearance of 14 inches from the bottom of the deepest truss
or beam to the top of the tray below (or the top of the caps for a bubble cap tray). This clearance allows
most workers to reach all sections beneath trays by crawl ing under the beams.

4 Ladders and Platforms

Internal ladders should be provided when necessary to allow a complete inspection of all the internals in a
column.

If the expense can be justified, towers can be grouped to allow access to their platforms from a common
stairwell with an interconnecting walkway or, preferably, a common floor can be provided to access all
columns. Stairs are much easier to climb than ladders and provide a safer passageway for a mechanic
carrying heavy tools. A service elevator connecting floor and/or walkway elevations provides mechanics
even quicker access to the towers.

Valves and pressure, differential pressure, level, and control temperature transmitters should be accessible
from a floor, platform, stairway or ladder.

If platforms are only accessed by ladder, then the platforms should be no greater than 30 feet apart to
avoid fatigue of the climbing worker.

Providing platforms to access column body flanges may avoid the need to use two cranes (one to hold a
basket with mechanics to unbolt the flange and a second to lift the top section) to disassemble the column
sections at a later date.

5 Heat Exchangers

Heat exchanger surfaces which are expected to foul should be accessible for cleaning. This includes

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3.02
Revised: MAINTENANCE

condenser and reboiler tubes and shells as well as air cooled condensers exterior finned surfaces. If an
exchanger has a removable bundle, room should be provided around the exchanger for removing the
bundle without interference from other equipment.

As shutdown time is often costly in terms of lost production, consideration should be given to minimizing
the time required to access the column or auxiliaries. For example, using A or C style top heads for
large, vertical thermosiphon reboilers only requires that one flanged joint be unbolted to access the tubes
for cleaning as opposed to two flanged joints with a B style head.

6 Miscellaneous

Sufficient room should be provided to allow maintenance equipment access to the process equipment in
the fractionation system. Particular care should be taken in the plant layout to make certain that cranes
can reach columns and auxiliary equipment. Occasionally the use of monorails and hoists is economical
given maintenance requirements for difficult to access pumps, compressors, etc.

When practical, internal, feed distribution pipes, or spargers, should be designed to be removable by
mechanics located outside the column. This allows the feed pipe to be removed so interferences with
installation or removal of the other tower internals is avoided. Also, maintenance or modification of the
feed pipes can be done without having to clean the column sufficiently to allow workers to enter.

For columns with body flanges, breaking piping and ladders at the body flange joint greatly eases
disassembling the column. In addition, adjacent shell sections should be punch marked to aid accurate
alignment when the sections are assembled.

A utility station should be installed close to columns to allow mechanics quick access to power for lights
and welding machines, air for pneumatic wrenches, water for high pressure cleaning equipment, etc.

As pressure relief valves are often heavy and require frequent inspection, consideration should be given
to locating them at the condensers inlet, which may be accessible from a top floor elevation, as opposed
to requiring the use of a crane to remove them from the columns top head.

Tower internals should be designed to aid in their own removal. Material of construction for bolts and
nuts should be chosen to avoid galling and corrosion so they can be quickly untightened. It is preferable
that nuts be located on the top side of tray decks and the outside of downcomer panels. Tray parts should
be clamped together and to support rings to avoid problems in aligning with bolt holes. If through bolting
is used, the bolt holes should be oversized or slotted to allow for fit up.

For fouling systems which will be chemically cleaned, adequate nozzles must be provided on the column
and external piping to allow for the addition, circulation, and draining of the solvent(s).

It is usually desirable to design the column shell and foundations for a full hydrostatic load. This allows
the column to be hydrostatically tested in-place, filled with water to rinse the column, or provides for
vessel integrity in the event the column base level rises up into the column proper. Column rinsing is
often necessary if steaming or other forms of displacement may not completely remove all hazardous
materials.

To provide a safe working environment, drainage should be provided for areas in the column where liquid
can accumulate. Although drain holes may plug, they should still be used. Also, the column operator
should adequately prepare the column for entry by required suitable washing techniques. A record of
potential stagnant areas should be included in the operating procedures and maintenance records.

Page 5 of 5
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES Issued: 12/15/1990
3.03
Revised:

DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES

DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES ..............................................................................1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................2

2. Selection of Device .............................................................................................................2

3. Trays ...................................................................................................................................3

4. Packed Columns .................................................................................................................3

Page 1 of 4
Issued: 12/15/1990
DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES 3.03
Revised:

1 Introduction

Fouling of column internals can be caused by a number of different mechanisms. These include thermal
degradation (coking), polymer formation, corrosion, salt formation, ingress of external matter, etc.

Fouling has the common result that column performance deteriorates, often to the point of shut down. In
severe cases permanent damage to the shell and internals can occur. Product quality and unit capacity can
be adversely affected.

In many instances the extent of fouling and its effects can be minimized - or avoided - by appropriate
design and selection of internals. This section considers what design practices can be used to achieve that
objective.

2 Selection of Device

Whether or not trays or packings are selected will depend on the particular application, previous
experience, user preferences, etc. While specific comments are given later on trays and packings, the
following general points should be borne in mind.

a. A clear distinction should be made between fouling and corrosion. While both cause fouling in a
generic sense, fouling normally refers to blockages resulting in a change in fluid state, whereas
corrosion refers to blockages resulting from chemical action of the fluids with the hardware.
b. Often the exact nature of fouling (even if known) is not conveyed to the vendor. If the choice of
internal is going to rely on vendor experience it is of the utmost importance that the known
fouling characteristics or tendencies are conveyed.
c. The user should consider the use of internals which better resist fouling even though these may
be regarded as being less efficient devices. Continuous operations with a less efficient internal
may well prove to be more cost effective than intermittent operation with high efficiency
internal. The use of a larger than normal safety factor may be required.
d. While it is difficult to give specific recommendations on suitable internals, the following guide
may be helpful, and generally summarizes the data given in this section.

DEVICE COMMENT
All trays Do not use seal pans
Avoid the use of inlet weirs if possible
Maintain 1.5 inch downcomer clearance minimum
Sieve tray Usually acceptable with hole size 0.5 inch or
greater
Dualflow tray Commonly used with 1 inch hole size
Valve tray Caged or fixed valve preferred
Packing Discuss with vendor
Distributor may be the problem
Bubble Cap Not advised for fouling services
Baffle Tray Use sloped baffles

Page 2 of 4
Issued: 12/15/1990
DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES 3.03
Revised:

3 Trays

The basic philosophy should be to ensure that there are minimal stagnant areas or areas of abnormally
low velocity where either corrosive products can accumulate or where localized residence times can be
sufficiently high to cause thermal degradation or polymerization. The residence time profile on a tray is
influenced by the shape of the downcomer baffle and specific modifications may be possible. The reader
is advised to refer to reference (30) for further background on this subject. Relatively stagnant zones
can also occur in large downcomers where liquid flow is low. Consider carefully the layout of the tray,
particularly with respect to inlet streams and manifolds.

The following specific points should be observed:

a. Avoid the use of recessed seal pans as these contain stagnant liquid zones. They are also liable to
accumulate solid material which can promote corrosion.
b. Avoid the use of inlet weirs. These can cause the accumulation of debris which may reduce the
effective under downcomer area.
c. Sieve tray hole size should not be less than 0.5 inch otherwise blockage or partial blockage may
occur. It should be noted that even a small diameter reduction (for example, to 0.375 in) can
considerably increase the probability of fouling. Use of larger hole sizes would not be expected
to reduce efficiency. Dualflow trays with a 1 hole size are commonly used in fouling service.
d. In corrosive service tray deck metallurgy should be particularly carefully considered. Corrosion
can cause hole size to increase in both sieve and valve trays. In the case of valve trays, caps can
then become dislodged. In all cases tray efficiency will deteriorate.
e. In some corrosive services products of corrosion can exert a considerable force on such items as
fastenings, bolts, etc. Bolt torque settings recommended by the vendor/manufacturer/licenser
should be strictly adhered to.
f. Where valve trays are used, it is important to ensure that the valves are operating fully open.
Under part load conditions, valves are generally either fully open or fully closed. It has been
specifically noticed that under some fouling conditions (for example, where ammonium salts can
deposit), closed valves are likely to become blocked and remain closed. The possible problems of
associated flexibility should be discussed with the tray manufacturer. The use of fixed as opposed
to movable valves, should be considered where turndown characteristics permit.
g. Where valve trays are used, the caps should have indentations to prevent full contact with the tray
deck. If this form of cap is not used, there is a danger of the cap sticking closed.
h. Caged type valves, where the cage legs are less susceptible to frictional wear or corrosion than
noncaged valves, are generally preferred.

4 Packed Columns

While the most critical area in a packed column is the distributor, all internals need to be carefully
considered. The following guidelines should be noted which in many cases also constitute good design
practice for all systems. Note that in some cases trays would be preferred.

a. Where a spray distributor feed consists of, or contains, recycle streams, 100% duplex filters
should be used. It should be particularly noted that although the anticipated contaminant particle
size may appear small in relation to the distributor hole size, agglomeration may occur which can
ultimately lead to orifice blocking. A filter mesh size of 0.5 mm is commonly used. Filters may
be duplex.
b. Discharge from gravity distributors should always be from above the distributor base so that
orifices do not become blocked with debris or corrosion products.

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DESIGNING FOR FOULING SERVICES 3.03
Revised:

c. Packing size and orientation should be such yes to minimize the accumulation of contaminants.
Ordered packings, particularly those with a predominantly vertically oriented structure, are more
likely to resist the accumulation of fouling material. Note, however, that the formation of such
material will not be avoided - it will merely be passed on to another part of the column.
d. Thin materials are increasingly used in modern packings. Consequently, corrosion which may be
tolerated on other internals, can cause considerable problems. Choose the metallurgy carefully.
Oxidation, for example, is a form of corrosion which commonly causes problems with carbon
steel packings. Where cost considerations prevent the use of alloy steel, ensure that operating
procedures are available to handle correct shutdown and start up procedures.
e. Complex internal pipework or other restrictions that may become blocked should be avoided.
f. The assembled distributor should be protected from corrosion products generated within its own
environment.
g. While it is not practical to state specific orifice sizes, the minimum diameter should be
significantly larger than the normal minimum used in clean services. The use of V-notch
distributors is often preferable in fouling services. Where orifice distributors are used, V-notch
overflows should always be specified.

Page 4 of 4
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DESIGNING FOR EASE OF INSTALLATION Issued: 1/15/1996
3.04
Revised:

DESIGNING FOR EASE OF INSTALLATION

DESIGNING FOR EASE OF INSTALLATION......................................................................1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................2

2. Vessels ................................................................................................................................2

3. Plant Layout ........................................................................................................................4

4. New Installations ................................................................................................................6

5. Order of Installation............................................................................................................6

6. Field Service Companies ....................................................................................................7

Page 1 of 7
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1 Introduction

Proper installation of tower internals is necessary for a distillation column to operate as designed. If the
internals are difficult to install, however, then the time required for installation can lead to high labor costs
and unnecessarily extended plant shutdowns. Installation of tower internals can be expedited by

1. Providing easy access to the vessel interior.

2. Providing suitable means of transporting parts to the proper location, both on the plant site and
within the tower.

3. Simplifying designs and installation procedures so the internals can be installed quickly.

All three of the items listed above can be accomplished, to a large degree, by incorporating certain features
into the tower design and plant layout; some of these features will be discussed in the sections that follow.
Other ideas for expediting internals installation will be mentioned as well.

This discussion focuses on the things that can be done to make internals installation easy. Detailed
installation procedures are not covered. Internals suppliers can provide detailed installation procedures for
any products they manufacture.

2 Vessels

The vessel should be designed to allow easy access to the tower internals. The most critical item is the
point of entry - either a manhole or a body flange. Access to the entry points must also be provided, and
the best method of transporting material from the ground to the entry points must be considered.

Manhole - The most common method of entering vessels is via a manhole. A manhole should be located
at the top and bottom of the tower, and at appropriate locations in between. For trayed towers, this is
usually every 10 to 30 trays. If the tower contains two-pass trays, then any manholes in the trayed section
should be located above trays with central downcomers. For packed columns, a manhole should be located
at each distributor/redistributor.

Several factors must be weighed when determining the optimum number of manholes for a given tower.
The benefits of each additional manhole are:

1. Access to the tower - During turnarounds, a crew can be working at each manhole. The more
manholes that are available, the shorter the time the tower is out of service.

2. Reduced transportation distance within the tower - Parts have to be transported from the
closest manhole to the proper location inside the column. If only a few manholes are available,
then the distance that parts must be transported within the column can be quite large; this
transportation time can extend the shutdown.

The costs associated with each manhole include:

1. Additional tower height and weight - Typical tray spacings do not allow a manhole to be installed;
the tray spacing should be 30 to 36 inches (762-915 mm) at an entry point. The manhole nozzle
and cover are relatively thick and can add substantial weight to the tower. Unless the condenser
and reflux

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drum are mounted above the column, the additional height requires slight increases in the lengths
of reflux piping, overhead vapor piping, and access ladders, as well as a slight increase in the head
requirements of the reflux pump (and the feed pump, if the manhole is to be located in the
stripping section). The additional height may also result in a thicker shell at the bottom of the
tower in order to meet pressure rating requirements, and the additional height and weight must
be considered in evaluating the foundation/support requirements for the vessel.

2. Access to the manhole must be provided - usually, this means a platform of sufficient size to
make the manhole useful as an entry point.

Manholes are normally installed on the vessel straight-side, but it may be more convenient in some
instances to locate the top manhole in the top head. Manholes on the vessel straight-side should be in line,
or approximately so, and facing an open area in the plant, such as a courtyard or alley. The manhole cover
is usually supported by a davit or hinge for safety reasons. The cover should swing away from the access
ladder. The cover should open fully - no piping, instruments, etc., should be located so that they interfere
with the manhole cover, or with access to the open manhole.

Adequately sized manholes will greatly simplify internals installation. Most manholes are nominally 24
inches (610 mm) in diameter; occasionally 18 or 20 inches (457-508 mm) is used. Determining the
optimum manhole size requires consideration of several cost factors. The larger the manhole, the wider
the tray panels or larger the distributor pieces that can be fabricated. This reduces the number of parts that
must be transported within the column and the number of fastener assemblies that must be tightened in the
tower, shortening installation time. Unless there are some unusual considerations, manhole sizes in excess
of 24 inches (610 mm) are not practical since internals designed to pass larger manholes become unwieldy.
The cost of an incrementally larger manhole is affected by the tower metallurgy and pressure rating. In
addition, an incrementally larger manhole increases the tower height by an incremental amount, so all the
factors listed under Item 1 of the list of costs associated with each manhole apply here as well.

Whatever the manhole size, it is important to communicate the exact size to the internals vendor when
ordering internals. The nominal diameter usually corresponds to the outside diameter of the entry nozzle,
but it is obviously the inside diameter that is of interest in designing the internals. If the vessel is clad,
then careful attention must be paid to ensure that the diameter through which parts must pass is the
diameter reported to the vendor. If the internals are fabricated in parts too large to pass the manhole, the
necessary field modifications can be very costly and time consuming.

Body Flange - Access to the vessel interior can also be provided by breaking a body flange and lifting
the top section of the column off with a crane. This method of access is common for towers too small to
enter, but may be used for larger diameter towers as well. This allows internals to be fabricated in pieces
of the largest possible size (even single piece, if desired). For towers containing trays clamped to welded-
in support rings, the installation of downcomer aprons that extend across a body flange require special
consideration.

Ladders and Platforms - Worker access to the manhole or body flange is essential. The most common
method of providing this access is to locate a platform just below each manhole or body flange.

Access to the platform is by means of ladders which are bolted to clips on the vessel. In the United States,
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that a ladder run between platforms
not exceed 30 feet (9.1 m). A small platform can be used if its only function is to comply with the OSHA
regulation, but platforms that are to be used for tower access should be as large as practical.

Towers that are located inside buildings may be accessed from the floors within the building. If this
means of access is to be used, the designer should take care to locate the manholes such that they are

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roughly 3 to 5 feet (0.9-1.5 m) above a floor.

Davits - A davit arm is often installed at the top of a tower to allow the tower internals and other items
necessary to install them to be raised to a platform from the ground. If a crane of sufficient capacity is
available to the plant site, davit arms may not be necessary. At refineries, davit arms are usually used
because of the large number of towers that must be serviced during a turnaround.

Davit holders are sometimes installed inside vessels near the top head. During the shutdown, a davit can
be placed in the holder to allow material transport within the tower. This design feature would also
facilitate the removal of an injured worker.

Other Considerations Related to Vessel Design - Attention should be paid to vessel out-of-roundness;
cases have been reported of even large diameter towers being so out-of-round that tray panels, designed
and fabricated under the assumption that the tower was within ASME roundness tolerances, would not fit.
If a vessel is known to be out-of-round, the internals vendor should be apprised of this fact when internals
are ordered.

Some random packed tower designs use a large nozzle near the bottom of each packed bed to allow the
packing to be dumped. With the advent of vacuum trucks that can remove the packing from a tower, this
design practice is declining in popularity.

Small diameter towers may require special considerations. Access is often provided by body flanges, but
hand holes are sometimes included near critical internals to allow cleaning or maintenance without
disassembling the vessel. If cartridge trays or structured packing in which each layer is a single piece is to
be used in the column, then the walls must be smooth; no rings or clips can be used for distributor support,
and nozzles may not protrude into the vessel.

3 Plant Layout

There are features that should be incorporated into the plant layout and piping arrangement that can make
installation of tower internals much easier. The tower should be sited near an open area, such as a
courtyard or alley. This area can be used to park a crane, if necessary for column access, or to loosely
assemble trays or distributors prior to installation in the tower. Loose assembly of internals on the ground
is a practice recommended by all internals vendors; it ensures that the proper parts and hardware are
available, that they fit correctly, and that they are installed in the tower in the proper order.

If a body flange is to be used for access, then any piping extending across the flange should either be
flanged or easily removable. Any electrical conduit crossing the flange should have a junction box near
the flange.

Internals - There are also features that can be incorporated into the design of the internals that can
expedite the installation procedure.

Manways - It is critical that the internals be fabricated in pieces that are sized to pass not only the
manhole, but any manways as well. Manways are worker passages located in each tray; the manways
should be removable from either the top or bottom of the tray. Manways are usually designed to be in-
line; that is, the manways on each tray are in the same location as those on the tray above. When all the
manways are open, a "mineshaft" is created, giving the greatest open area for worker and material passage.
Sometimes, in an effort to minimize the distance that a worker could fall, the manways are designed to be
partially in-line; that is, the manways are staggered from tray to tray. This gives a large opening on any
given tray, but creates a smaller "mineshaft". Sometimes, shorter "mineshafts" are created by staggering

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the manways every 10 trays or so. For towers that require frequent entry, quick-opening manways can be
used. Each quick-opening manway uses only a few heavy-duty fasteners, allowing the manway to be
removed much more quickly than conventional manways.

Fasteners - Trays are usually attached to a support ring by means of a ledge clamp. The bolt may be loose
or welded to the ledge clamp. If the bolt is welded to the clamp, then the top of the bolt has a screwdriver
slot or some other directional marking that allows a single worker on top of the tray to install the tray
fastener assembly. If the bolt and clamp are separate pieces, then two workers may be required to
install a fastener assembly, one above the tray and one below. The separate piece design is less expensive,
and allows the bolts to be replaced independently of the clamp, but may incur a higher installation cost
than the single piece design.

Tray panel connections are made with fasteners featuring frictional washers or by through-bolting the tray
panels. The installation of these tray panel connections can be greatly expedited if the nut is tack welded
to the underside of the tray deck or the outside of a truss. In corrosive or fouling services, where frequent
replacement of threaded parts will be required, this may not be advisable. Internals vendors will typically
use a single nut for all tray fastener assemblies other than manway fasteners. Double nuts can be specified
for severe services.

Installation costs can be reduced if the spacing between fasteners is increased. This could compromise the
leak resistance and structural integrity of the tray or distributor, however, and is not recommended. It is
best to allow the supplier to specify the number and location of the fasteners.

Other Considerations Related to Internals Design - If beams are used to support the trays or other
internals, installation may be more complicated than otherwise. At the very least, a set of manways on
each side of the beam should be included in the tray design.

If a beam or other internal part (such as a distributor trough) is to span the entire column diameter, then the
manhole nozzle should not protrude into the vessel. It may be impossible to get the part into the tower
unless the protrusion is removed.

If lattice trusses are used, and the nominal manhole diameter is less than the tray spacing, then one
oversized manhole may be justified to avoid building or splicing the trusses in the vessel.

Installations that involve internals that vary slightly in some minor details, such as sieve trays or
distributors with different hole sizes or metallurgy, can be easily botched. The installation can be
simplified by making as many parts identical as possible. When the differences are critical, the part
numbers and metal mark, if appropriate, should be clearly stamped on each part and the trays or
distributors should be loosely assembled on the ground. Another good idea is to install all trays of one
design before the crates containing the other trays are opened.

When performing maintenance installations (i.e., replacement-in-kind), care must be taken to order parts
of the exact size needed, particularly when obtaining the parts from a source other than the original
vendor. Frictional washers must be large enough to adequately overlap both panels, and the lip on the
ledge clamps should be of the proper length to allow the assembly to properly clamp to the support ring.
Replacement valves should be of the proper thickness and have the proper leg length. Bubble cap/riser
assemblies should be of the correct dimensions and provide the desired slot area. Replacement random
packing should be of the proper size.

The use of the proper tools will greatly expedite the installation of tower internals. Air-driven wrenches,
if used, should have torque control to prevent overtightening the fasteners. If new round valves are being
installed in existing valve trays, then the vendor's recommendations for spreading the valve legs should be
followed, and a tool supplied by the vendor should be used to perform this task. If structured packing is

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DESIGNING FOR EASE OF INSTALLATION 3.04
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being installed, suitable shoehorns should be used for installing the final bricks in each layer.

The installation of trays can be speeded up by using templates as much as possible. Templates can be
made to set the distance between sieve holes, for example, in adjacent panels; this greatly reduces the
amount of time that the workers must spend locating the panels for proper overlap of the frictional
washers. Templates can also be used to set downcomer clearances, weir heights, etc.

Avoid welding (especially seal welding) internals in situ if at all possible. Seal welding is time-consuming
and shutdowns could be unnecessarily prolonged if it is required indiscriminately.

When seal welding internals, the use of pilot bolting should be considered. Pilot bolting has the advantage
of ensuring that all of the parts are in proper alignment prior to welding. The disadvantage is that the pilot
bolts must also be seal welded.

It is a good idea to notify the internals manufacturer if the internals are to be installed at the vessel
fabricator's shop, particularly if the tower is to be a packed column.

4 New Installations

Much of the discussion to this point has been directed to maintenance/revamp concerns related to tower
internals installation, primarily because time is of the essence during a shutdown. During the construction
of a new plant, internals installation is seldom on the critical path, but there are some things that can be
done to speed up installation. For vessels fabricated at a vendors shop, trays can be shipped to the vessel
fabricator and installed there so that the tower is delivered completely assembled. Once the tower is set,
the manways should be removed and the installation inspected. It is possible to have the vessel fabricator
install packed tower internals, but this is generally not recommended. The tower should be in an upright
position when it is packed with random dumped packing to minimize non-uniformity in the beds. The
structured packing in a tower could become crushed or deformed during shipment in a column. The tower
must also be vertical when the distributors are leveled.

5 Order of Installation

Installation of internals inside the tower will go much more smoothly if another crew is working outside
the tower on the ground, loosely assembling each tray or distributor. The hardware can be loose-fitted into
the appropriate tray panel or distributor part. The parts can then be hoisted into the tower as needed by the
installation crew. This procedure ensures that the correct parts can be supplied quickly and in the correct
order. The usual order of installation for tray parts is:

1. Under downcomer pieces


2. Downcomer apron
3. Tray panels farthest from column center
4. Tray panels closest to column center
5. Manways

This order usually allows the parts to be installed with the minimum amount of rework (for improper
overlap of frictional washers, etc.). The vendor's recommended installation procedure should be followed
as closely as possible.

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6 Field Service Companies

Another means of having tower internals installed quickly is to contract the job to a field service company.
Most internals suppliers are affiliated with a field engineering organization, and there are independent
companies that install internals. Field service crews are typically more experienced at internals installation
than the maintenance crews at a refinery or chemical plant. These crews have the proper tools to perform the
necessary tasks. The field service organizations that are affiliated with an internals supplier also have quick
access to any parts that must be supplied on an emergency basis.

Page 7 of 7
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
LOCATION OF INSTRUMENTS Issued: 1/15/1995
3.05
Revised:

LOCATION OF INSTRUMENTS

LOCATION OF INSTRUMENTS ............................................................................................1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................2

2. Pressure Measurements ......................................................................................................2

3. Temperature Measurements................................................................................................3

4. Level Measurements ...........................................................................................................4

5. Flow Measurements .............................................................................................................5

6. Alarms and Shutdowns ........................................................................................................6

Page 1 of 16
Issued: 1/15/1995
LOCATION OF INSTURMENTS 3.05
Revised:

1 Introduction

The purposes of column instrumentation are:

1. To provide stable operating conditions.


2. To make sure the outflow streams meet the distillation specifications.
3. To minimize the operating cost of the distillation step.
4. To provide column diagnostic data.
5. To help operators startup and shutdown distillation columns.
6. To help operators recover from column upset conditions.

While normal fractionating column operation requires a minimum of instrumentation, additional


instrumentation is helpful in troubleshooting column problems and in debottlenecking column operations.
Where the cost of the additional instrumentation is excessive, consider installing nozzles and thermowells
so that additional instrumentation can be installed later without altering the column. Reference should be
made the Troubleshooting section of this Design Practices Handbook which discusses the location and
use of instrumentation for troubleshooting.

"Information supplied by instruments is vital for column control and operation. False information prompts
wrong operator (or control loop) action, erratic column operation, and incorrect diagnosis of problems"(49).

Instrumentation connections should be designed to avoid hydraulic interference that could cause erroneous
measurements or instrument malfunctions(49). H. Kister lists 12 general considerations for instrument
connections on pages 123-125(49).

Smart transmitters have greater accuracy (about three times as accurate) compared to conventional
transmitters. A smart transmitter automatically compensates for ambient temperature and operating
pressure effects on the transmitter output. Their lower maintenance costs often make them a good choice.

2 Pressure Measurements

The minimum instrumentation recommended is the pressure drop across the entire column and the
pressure at the top of the column. Additional useful instrumentation includes the pressure drop across
each section of the column, the pressure of the reflux drum and in some instances, the reboiler steam chest.
Where high pressure drop is the symptom of operating problems, it is very helpful to locate the section of
packing or trays having the high pressure drop. In vacuum towers or any mixed phase line where
temperature measurements are used to estimate composition, it is important to have a pressure sensor near
the temperature sensor. This is because accurate pressure and temperature measurements are required to
accurately estimate composition.

H. Kister lists seven important considerations for pressure and differential pressure measurements
connections on page 130-134(49). Generally locate the pressure taps to avoid high liquid or vapor velocities
and where entrainment into the pressure lines is unlikely.

Pigtails (Figure 1) should be installed in lines to pressure gages measuring condensing vapor pressure,
e.g., steam pressure, to generate and keep a liquid seal. This seal prevents condensing vapors from
causing vacuum formation that could cause fluctuating pressures and excessive wear on the pressure
gages.

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Generally locate the top column pressure tap in the top head of the distillation column. Where installation
into the top of the head is very difficult, a side mounted tap should be considered. Sometimes the pressure
tap is on the overhead line. When a pressure measuring element is on an overhead vapor line that is near a
building ceiling, there can be a tendency to mount the element under the line. This makes it more readily
accessible. However avoid installing pressure sensing elements such that they do not self drain into the
process line. This prevents an altered pressure reading caused by liquid accumulation in the sensor line
(Figure 2).

Measure the pressure drop across groups of trays or a packed bed with a differential pressure sensor. A
less preferred alternative is to infer the pressure drop by difference between two pressure measurements.
Figure 3 shows pressure drop measurement across a column.) A differential pressure sensor is especially
important when the measured pressure drop is less than ten percent of the absolute pressure. A differential
pressure tap should not be located in the overhead vapor line. A tap in the overhead line does not only
measure the pressure drop across groups of trays or a packed bed. It adds to that overhead head line
entrance loss and pressure drop. Also there can be a velocity effect error caused by flow across the tap.

Conventional pressure instruments are accurate to about plus or minus 0.5% of the calibrated span. Thus
for a column operating at 100 psia (6.9 bar) with conventional pressure sensors calibrated for 150 psia
(10.3 bar) at the top and the bottom of a section having a 5 psi (0.34 bar) pressure drop, the accuracy
would be plus or minus 1.5 psi (0.10 bar). A conventional differential pressure instrument should have an
accuracy of about 0.5% of the calibrated span. Thus a differential pressure sensor calibrated for 10 psi
(0.69 bar) would have an accuracy in this application of 5 psi (0.34 bar) plus or minus 0.05 psi (0.003 bar).
Smart transmitters are about three times as accurate as conventional transmitters. If this example used
smart pressure transmitters, the accuracy would be plus or minus 0.5 psi (0.03 bar). If the example used a
smart differential pressure transmitter, the accuracy would be plus or minus 0.02 psi (0.0014 bar).

When measuring differential pressure across a column with a high density vapor (such as a depropanizer),
be aware that unlike a vacuum column, the static vapor head is significant compared to the flow induced
pressure drop. Consider biasing the transmitter output to eliminate the static vapor head reading.

When measuring the pressure in a high vacuum system with a gage, use an absolute pressure (capsule)
gage. Regular pressure gages balance the measured pressure against the atmospheric pressure that changes
from day to day. An absolute pressure gage has an internal standard.

When using a single differential pressure instrument (upper sketch in Figure 3) the transmitter to bottom
connection leg must be sufficiently large to permit proper drainage and venting. Insulating the legs will
help avoid excessive condensation. If the vapor condensing temperature is above ambient, condensation
can be a problem even if well insulated. Heat tracing or gas purging of the legs may be necessary.

Figure 4 illustrates problems with pressure tap locations. In Figure 4a, excess weld metal on the column
inside deflects the flow pattern causing low pressure readings. The middle drawing illustrates an incorrect
pressure reading caused by the disruption of flow on a bend in the piping. The bottom drawing shows a
correct pressure measurement.

3 Temperature Measurements

Recommended temperature measurements are the column top and bottom, the reflux drum and in all feed
lines to and sidedraw lines from the column. For a single-phase feed, it is best to locate the temperature
point close to the tower. For a two-phase feed, the best temperature measurement location is the last point
where a single phase exists. If heating or cooling takes place downstream from that point, a temperature
and pressure measurement in the two-phase flow is also recommended. It also allows a more accurate

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feed enthalpy measurement needed for a column energy balance. Any temperature measurement in the
two-phase feed should be located close to a pressure measurement in the same line.

Where temperature measurements are used for control, install sufficient thermowells to cover the entire
probable range of points where the temperature could be most sensitive to column upsets. The most
sensitive temperature point for a new column can be determined with a dynamic analysis of the column or
by perturbations around a steady state design. The designer should take into account all possible modes of
future operation. For an existing column, an analysis of temperature profiles for steady state operations
plus upsets should show the most sensitive temperature point location. The most sensitive point is where
rapid changes can occur and its measurement has a significant effect on column monitoring and control.
Additional temperature sensing points should be installed above and below the calculated optimum point,
since fractionating columns rarely operate exactly as designed. Consider installing some additional
thermowells, suitably spaced, across column sections where none exist. This allows better comparison of
the actual column temperature profile with the simulated profile for the same feed and separation.

It is better to measure liquid instead of vapor temperatures. This is particularly important in services such
as pumparounds in refinery fractionators where the vapor temperature differs from the liquid temperature.
The best column measurement location is near the bottom of the downcomer and close to its widest point
(Figure 5). If it is difficult to locate the measuring element in the downcomer, then locate it in the tray
liquid. Locate temperature sensing nozzles out of the path of subcooled liquids or superheated vapors.

Vapor temperatures at the top of the tower are often measured to get a true top temperature, e.g., one not
affected by subcooled reflux. In direct heat transfer applications, such as desuperheating catalytic cracker
effluent vapor or condensation in refinery pumparounds a vapor temperature measurement is usually
needed. It is needed for evaluating heat transfer or for protecting downstream equipment from excessive
temperatures. Where measuring vapor temperatures, it is important to shield adequately the
thermocouples from any liquid. Temperature sensors respond slower to vapor temperature than liquid
temperature changes.

Often a thermocouple is put into overhead vapor lines to measure the temperature of the vapor leaving the
column. Where the unit is inside a building and the vapor line is close to the ceiling, the thermowell tends
to be put in the bottom of the line to improve accessibility. Subcooled condensate can collect in the
bottom of the line resulting in an incorrect top column temperature measurement, even if the line is sloped.
It is important not to put the thermowell into the bottom of the line and to provide sufficient shielding
to prevent temperature loss (Figure 6).

H. Kister lists eight recommended guidelines for column temperature measurement connections on pages
134-136(49).

4 Level Measurements

Losing track of the liquid level is a prime source of column upsets and damage(1) and is often the cause of
maloperation.

Level instruments are needed in the bottom reservoir of the column, the reflux drum and in condensate
drums. In packed towers additional level instruments in liquid collectors and on distributor trays are very
helpful in troubleshooting a distillation problem. High level switches assist in avoiding submerging vapor
inlets that could result in damaged trays or in lifting of the bottom packing support.

Locate column bottom level taps in places that will avoid interference from high velocity streams. When
the bottoms liquid is very temperature sensitive, there is a tendency to reduce the inventory of bottoms

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liquid to a minimum. At times one of the two sensing points is located in the pipe carrying liquid from the
column to the reboiler pump (Figure 7). If the flow rate is high, the liquids can produce a reduction of
pressure at the lower liquid sensing point and thus an erroneous liquid level reading.

Accurately measuring the liquid level in columns having large turnovers of liquid can be difficult unless a
stilling chamber or bridle is used. Forced circulation reboilers operated at high rates can result in a high
turnover of liquid. Figure 8 shows a configuration with a high liquid turnover with a stilling chamber and
a bridle. (The waves shown in the column sump are the result of high liquid turnover.) These usually
provide accurate level readings. A less preferred alternative is to use transmitter output damping instead
of a stilling chamber or bridle. (The transmitter is then connected directly to the column level taps.) Its
disadvantage is slower response to liquid level changes.

If the stilling chamber or bridle is heat traced and insulated there can be a tendency to boil out liquid in
summer. If the stilling chamber or bridle is not heat traced and covered, the liquid could freeze in winter.
Turning off the heat tracing in summer and turning the heat tracing back on in late fall often will correct
the problem.

The upper and lower level taps should be at least 12 inches (300 mm) apart. In large diameter columns it
is a good practice to make this distance larger to handle possible waves, turbulence and frothing above the
liquid surface. Usually they are farther apart than 12 inches (300 mm) to provide adequate surge capacity.
Surge capacity is generally dictated by process operation or control requirements.

H. Kister lists eleven guidelines for level measurement connections on pages 125-130(49).

5 Flow Measurements

Ideally the reflux and all incoming and outgoing stream flow rates should be measured so that a complete
material and energy balance can be made. Heating/cooling medium flow measurements to the reboiler and
condenser are necessary for the energy balance.

Generally locate a flow measuring device where the liquid pressure is highest and the temperature lowest.
This suppresses vapor bubble formation at the flow measuring device that could affect the flow reading.
Usually this is between a pump discharge and a downstream flow control valve (Figure 9). If a cooler is
present in that line segment, such as a bottoms product cooler, locate the flow measuring device
downstream of it. If orifice plates are used, there must be sufficient upstream straight pipe lengths to
establish uniform velocity profiles. See Perry's Handbook Chapter 5 for where to locate the metering
device in a line(88).

Install gravity flow reflux line flow measurement devices in the low portion of the line so that they are
always liquid full. Figure 10 shows the correct and incorrect methods of locating the flow instruments for
a gravity flow system. Non-pumped or pressured column bottom product flow measurement also requires
special attention. If a bottoms product cooler is present, locate the flow measurement device downstream
of it. Again this is to avoid vapor bubble formation as the liquid passes through the flow measurement
device. If there is no bottoms product cooler, locate the flow measurement device below the column low
liquid level. Also minimize piping pressure drop from the column to the flow measuring device. Always
check that vapor bubble formation will not occur in the flow measuring device when the column bottoms
level is low.

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6 Alarms and Shutdowns

Alarms may be taken from high or low measurements of control instruments. Since malfunction of the
control instrument is often the cause of the alarm, it is good practice to use a separate sensor for the alarm.
Install a separate instrument when the measurements are critical. Critical instruments are instruments that
must operate properly for a safe operation of the unit. Often duplicate critical instruments are installed with
separate taps. Thus if one of the measuring devices malfunctions, the column would not require an
unnecessary shutdown to repair it.
Install gravity flow reflux line flow measurement devices in the low portion of the line so that they are always
liquid full. Figure 10 shows the correct and incorrect methods of locating the flow instruments for a gravity
flow system. Non-pumped or pressured column bottom product flow measurement also requires special
attention. If a bottoms product cooler is present, locate the flow measurement device downstream of it.
Again this is to avoid vapor bubble formation as the liquid passes through the flow measurement device. If
there is no bottoms product cooler, locate the flow measurement device below the column low liquid level.
Also minimize piping pressure drop from the column to the flow measuring device. Always check that vapor
bubble formation will not occur in the flow measuring device when the column bottoms level is low.

References and Further Readings


49. Kister, H. Z.," Distillation Operations", McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York (1990).

88. Perry, R.H. & D.W. Green, eds, "Perry's Chemical Engineering Handbook", 6th Edition, McGraw-Hill
Book Company, New York (1984).

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Figure 1. STEAM PRESSURE MEASUREMENT

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Figure 2. PRESSURE GAGE INSTALLATION

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3b. Incorrect Method for this Pressure

Figure 3. PRESSURE DIFFERENTIAL MEASUREMENT

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Figure 4. PRESSURE TAP LOCATIONS

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Figure 5. THERMOWELL LOCATIONS FOR MEASURING


TRAY LIQUID TEMPERATURE

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Figure 6. THERMOWELL LOCATIONS FOR MEASURING COLUMN

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Figure 7. COLUMN SUMP LEVEL TAP LOCATIONS

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Figure 8. USE OF A STILLING CHAMBER OR BRIDLE

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Figure 9. FLOW ELEMENT LOCATION

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Figure 10. MEASUREMENT OF GRAVITY REFLUX TO A


DISTILLATION COLUMN

Page 16 of 16
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS Issued: 10/10/2008
3.07
Revised:

DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS

DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS .............................................................................1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................2

2. Tower Layout .....................................................................................................................2

2.1 Bed Heights & Packing Selection .............................................................................2

2.2 Other Considerations .................................................................................................3

2.3 Summary ....................................................................................................................3

3. Tower Internals Design & Selection ..................................................................................4

3.1 Distributors ................................................................................................................4

3.2 Redistributors.............................................................................................................5

3.3 Packing Support Plates ..............................................................................................6

3.4 Hold-Down Grids/Bed Limiters ................................................................................7

3.5 Chimney Trays ..........................................................................................................7

3.6 Feed Inlets..................................................................................................................8

4. Other Mechnaical Considerations.......................................................................................9

4.1 Vessel Body Flanges..................................................................................................9

4.2 Hand Holes ................................................................................................................9

4.3 Nozzles ......................................................................................................................9

4.4 Vessel Suppliers.........................................................................................................9

4.5 Tower Attachments ..................................................................................................10

5. Case Study ........................................................................................................................10

6. References.........................................................................................................................10

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1 Introduction

Special design considerations must be given to small-scale columns with tower diameters of 36
(915mm) or less. Small-scale columns can be equipped with cartridge trays or packing. Sectional trays
have also been provided in tower diameters as small as 29 (740mm). Refer to section 1.19 Cartridge
Trays for more information. Depending on regional labor and material costs it may be more economical
and convenient to pack small diameter columns than to utilize cartridge or sectional trays. In addition,
tray efficiencies are likely to be lower in a small diameter column since the flow path length is too small
to capitalize on crossflow enhancements. Other design considerations may favor trays such as fouling,
two liquid phases, and multiple feed and drawoffs.

Small scale packed towers can be installed as standalone pieces of equipment or as part of a skid unit.
These small diameter towers may come pre-packed and fully assembled from the manufacturer.
Prepacking the vessel is not recommended as this may lead to premature flooding. The packing can
compress and internals may become dislodged during shipment. This applies for random packing,
structured packing, and most especially ceramic packing. It is strongly recommended that the packing and
internals be installed at the field. These issues and other design considerations related to small packed
towers are discussed in this section.

2 Tower Layout

2.1 Bed Heights & Packing Selection

As with large diameter columns packing selection is an important step in designing a column.
The designer must pick the correct packing size and type suitable for the process flow conditions.
Consideration must be given to the type of service and process constraints such as; high liquid
rate, pressure drop limitations, foaming, fouling, high liquid viscosity, etc.. Corrosion and
material of construction must not be forgotten. Fouling due to corrosion of the internals and
vessel wall may lead to premature flooding. Ceramic and plastic packings have a smaller void
fraction than their metal counterparts resulting in lower capacity for the same ring diameter.

Flow data on random packing shows that radial distribution clearly increases as particle diameter
increases, so the tendency to develop wall flow will go up as packing diameter increases.
Excessive liquid along the column wall will cause poor packing performance. Large random
packing rings of >3 inches (> 75mm) are particularly vulnerable to wall flow. Many designers
recommend limiting the column diameter to packing size ratio to at least 10 for random rings
(1,2). The packing size is defined as the largest dimension of the ring. Some organizations limit
this ratio to as high as 15. Smaller than 10 may lead to the packing elements stacking-up along
the vessel wall, resulting in liquid channeling (1). This effect is more pronounced with low liquid
loads. If large rings are needed to debottleneck a given tower diameter, structured packing should
be considered. Radial flow distribution data on structured packing shows that structured packing
does not push the liquid outwards as rapidly as random rings. In addition, most structured
packings have wiper bands or collars that help collect the liquid off the wall. Crimp height, crimp
angle and surface texture have an effect on radial flow.

For the moment, there is insufficient data to recommend a maximum packing size based on
column diameter for structured packing. However, recent work with Montz B1-250 in air/water
concluded that capacity decrease becomes significant when the column diameter approaches the
height of a packing element (3). The minimum recommended tower diameter for sheet metal
structured packing is 4 (100mm) (4) . The minimum tower diameter actually depends upon

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crimp sizes. Gauze type packings in diameters as low as 2 and sheet metal as low as 4 are in
service with no operational problems reported (4) and a 250m2/m3 packing minimum size is 4
ID. It is advocated that small crimp sizes and shorter bed depths be utilized for structured
packing.

Packing performance can be jeopardized if the bed depth to tower diameter ratio is too large,
especially with large size packings. Bed depths for towers in this diameter range should be
limited to 20 feet (6100mm) maximum and a bed depth to column diameter ratio of no greater
than 10 to 1. In addition, the number of theoretical stages in a single bed should be restricted to a
maximum of 10-12. One manufacturer recommends maximum bed height to column diameter of
12 and a maximum of 20 theoretical stages (8).

2.2 Other Considerations

Most small-scale towers up to and including 24 inches (600mm) in diameter are constructed from
standard pipe sizes. Larger diameters or towers constructed with exotic materials may be rolled
from plate. The designer must be aware of the pipe wall thickness and use the true inside
diameter of the pipe when determining packing selection and hydraulics.

Normal derating factors for foaming systems or uncertainty in the design correlations should be
applied. Please refer to section 2.10 De-Rating Factors Packed Columns for more
information on this subject. Additional derating factors are not generally applied to small
diameter columns. FRI and SRP data comparisons have shown that the capacity and efficiency of
structured and random packing is comparable between the 4 feet (1200mm) and 16 5/8 inches
(425mm) diameter columns. However, larger size random packings in small-scale column towers
tend to have 5 to 10% more capacity than their larger cousins due to the wall flow mentioned
above.

Economic consideration must be given to the overall tower height versus tower diameter. The
relative cost between an 18 inch (450mm) and a 20 inch (500mm) diameter pipe is relative faily
small but the tower capacity advantage is close to 25%. Additionally, tower height may be more
of a factor in the overall cost of the tower than diameter, due to the more complex support
structure needed. There is very little economic incentive to design the column close to the flood
point for small diameter columns. In general, it is more economical to design the column with a
smaller packing size. This will result in a slightly larger column diameter, but significantly
smaller tower height. When increasing the tower diameter, the designer needs to consider
minimum wetting rates at turndown conditions.

The physical location of the tower may restrict the final size and layout of the column. Small
towers may have to fit inside an enclosed building or an existing skid unit. In the first case, the
overall tower height is important, while in the second case the tower body flange diameter may
be the controlling variable.

2.3 Summary

It is recommended that small-scale towers be designed under the following guidelines:

1. The bed depth to tower diameter ratio should be less than 10:1, with a maximum bed
depth of 20 feet (6100mm).
2. Limit the bed depth to less than 10-12 theoretical stages.
3. The column diameter to packing diameter ratio for random rings should be at least 10:1.
4. Additional derating factors for small diameter columns are not needed. Normal derating
factors should be applied to small columns as with large columns.

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5. Minimum tower diameter for structured packing applications is 4 (100mm).


6. Beware of overall vessel height to tower diameter ratio limitations imposed by company
specifications or building enclosures. A good rule of thumb is a maximum allowable H/D
ratio for the vessel of around 22 to 1.

3 Tower Internals Design & Selection

3.1 Distributors

Although the effect of maldistribution is not as severe in small diameter towers as it is in large
diameter towers, uniform liquid distribution is critical to obtain maximum packing efficiency.
Data from Billet, Stilkkleman, Stoter, Zuiderweg, and Separation Research clearly show that the
liquid distribution quality has an impact on HETP in small diameter vessels, especially at low
liquid rates.

The pan or bucket type is the most common distributor device used for small diameter towers,
although troughs can be applied for towers larger than 30 (750mm) in diameter. Pan type
distributors provide maximum open area while maintaining an even drip point pitch across the
tower. In addition, they can be leveled. Pan type distributors can be fitted with orifices on the
floor or with raised orifice drip tubes for fouling services. Drip tubes are also used for high
turndown or low liquid rate services. Depending on the size of the column, it may be equipped
with or without risers for vapor flow a gap between the vessel wall and distributor is usually
provided. Because of this annular space, flow irrigation around the perimeter of the vessel may
not be very good. Care must be taken that the orifices are placed as close as possible to the pan
wall in a uniform manner. Risers that serve as both vapor and liquid passageways should not be
used, as this can lead to liquid entrainment and carryover.

Another approach is to use orifice plate distributors that are placed in between body flanges of
the vessel. These plates are thicker than normal orifice plates to allow machining on both sides to
seat the gaskets between the flanges.

Pan distributors are usually constructed in one or two pieces, depending on the size of vessel and
accessibility. The distributors can be supported on a continuous support ring or clips. Clips are
preferred over a continuous support ring, since it obstruct less tower cross-sectional area.

Some designs do not allow the distributor to be affixed to the vessel. It simply rests on top of the
packing. Jackscrews are provided on the side of the distributor to keep it centered and provide
additional frictional resistance to uplift. This type of support mechanism is not recommended
unless the user is sure that the vessel will not be susceptible to transients or upset conditions,
which may dislodge the distributor. It is not very expensive or time consuming to provide bolting
assemblies to permanently affix the distributor.

As with all distributors, considerations must be given to levelness. For assemblies in which the
distributor is affixed to a bottom support, washers can be used at each bolt or leg to level the
distributor. However, this becomes cumbersome during installation, since the distributor must be
removed each time a washer is needed for leveling. Many times installers simply ignore this
process. The preferred method is to have the distributor hung from clips above the distributor. A
leveling adjustment mechanism can be provided allowing the distributor to be easily leveled from
the topside.
For structured or gauze type packed tower distributors, support clips or rings should not be
installed, since the packing often comes in one piece and may snag on the tower attachments. For

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these cases, a ring is installed


between two tower body flanges
from which the distributor is
suspended. See Figure 1.

Tall small-scale columns are more


susceptible to swaying than towers
with large diameters. Sufficient
freeboard must be given between
the maximum liquid level and the
top of the riser and pan wall to
avoid spilling over the wall and
risers. A minimum clearance of 4
to 6 inches (100 to 150mm)
between the maximum liquid level
on the distributor and the edge of
the pan is recommended. In
addition, a minimum of 3 inch
(75mm) liquid head at turndown is
needed to minimize the swaying
effects on liquid distribution Figure 1 MTS 109 Distributor with integral bed limiter below and
quality. A minimum distance of 4 wiper ring above. Courtesy of Sulzer Chemtech
to 6 inches (100 to 150mm) between the distributor and the packing is recommended for
vapor/liquid disengagement. See Figure 8.

For random and structured packings, a minimum drip point density of 6 to 9 points per square
foot (65 to 100 pts/m2) is recommended, although drip point density as low as 4 points per square
foot (40 pts/m2) has been used successfully. For gauze type packing, a minimum of 9-10 points
per square foot (100 to 110 pts/m2) is recommended. However, if the tower is very small, the
point density may have to be increased. For example, using the 4-pts/ft2 (40 pts/m2) density
guideline in a 6 (150mm) column will result in a single distribution point. Obviously, this is not
recommended. For such small towers, a point density of 15 or 20 pts/ft2 (160 to 215 pts/m2)
should be applied. In tower diameters below 4 (100mm), a distributor may not be required. A
single point distributor is all that may be needed.

When increasing the point density, smaller diameter orifices will result, increasing the risk of
plugged orifices. Depending on the service, a minimum orifice diameter may be required. For
fouling services, a drip tube with raised orifices or notches is more appropriate as illustrated in
Figure 1. In addition, dual inlet filters feeding the distributor is strongly recommended with a
mesh size of about of the orifice diameter. Please refer to Section 2.02.2 Liquid
Distributors for more general distributor guidelines and Topical Reports 118 & 122 for orifice
sizing equations.

3.2 Redistributors

Wall flow can become significant in small diameter columns, which can reduce the efficiency of
the packing. The degree of wall flow depends on the packing diameter, type and irrigation rate.
Wall wipers alone will not redistribute and re-mix the liquid properly and thus, are not
recommended. In addition, a large risk exists that wall wipers will actually reduce tower capacity.

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Section 2.02.3 Redistributors, lists a


number of rules-of-thumb guidelines
to define the maximum bed height.
Most of these guidelines are also
applicable for small diameter towers,
especially the ratio of bed height to
column diameter, which takes into
account packing size. For this
diameter range, the packed bed depth
should be limited to 10 times the
tower diameter to a maximum height
of 20 feet (6100mm) or when the
number of expected theoretical stages
is 10 to 12 or greater.

Orifice pan and plate redistributors


can easily be converted to a Figure 2 Norpro Intallox Pan Redistributor
redistributor by simply adding hats to Model 107 Courtesy of Koch-Glitsch
the risers. See Figure 2. With pan
distributors, a wall wiper is required around the periphery of the column to redirect any liquid
along the tower wall into the redistributor. If the redistributor is hung from a support ring, the
support ring can act as a wall wiper.

3.3 Packing Support Plates

As with large towers, there are two main


types of packing support plates: gas
injection and grid bar supports. The gas
injection type is used to support packing
support plates: gas injection and grid bar
supports. The gas injection type is used
to support random packing and the grid
bar style is used to support structured,
gauze or grid packing. The main function
of these devices is to support the packing
and not to distribute the vapor into the
packed bed. Spacing of grids, openings
in gas injection plates, and clearance
around the periphery of the wall must be
sized so that the packing does not fall
through. This is a common pitfall when
saddle type rings are being used.

Since the support span in small towers is Figure 3 Gas Injection Support Plate EMS 403. Courtesy
short, a large beam depth is not of Sulzer Chemtech
necessary. For small diameter columns,
the gas injection support plate is typically around 4 to 6 inches (100 to 150mm) tall. Similarly,
grid supports are typically 2 inches (50mm) high, depending on bed depth. The mechanical
integrity of the support plate must take into account the operating weight of the bed, the
appropriate corrosion allowance for the service and any future fouling weight.

Support plates for small columns are typically constructed in one piece for tower diameters of

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12 (300mm) or less and two or three pieces for larger towers, depending on tower accessibility.
If tower body flanges are available, most of the supports will be provided in one-piece assembly.
The need to secure the support plate to the
vessel attachment will depend on how
susceptible the vessel is to upset conditions.
Some member companies prefer to secure
the support plate to the vessel attachment
with tray-clips, regardless of service.
Access to secure these tray-clips must be
considered in the layout of the internals.
Thus, support plates should be located near
the vessel body flange or a vessel hand
hole.

Support plates can be affixed to a


continuous support ring or clips that are
attached to the shell wall or they can be
held in place between the vessel body
flanges. Continuous rings are not Figure 4 Gas Injection Support Plate Model 818. Courtesy
recommended for small diameter towers as of Koch-Glitsch
they can obstruct a large percentage of the
vessel cross sectional area. These devices are typically assembled from the bottom side, since it is
almost impossible to reach down from the top opening above the bed.

For very small tower diameters of 12 or less (300mm), the support plate may limit tower
capacity due to the reduced free area available (8). This depends on the style of the support plate.
The manufacturer should be consulted to confirm the free area.

3.4 Hold-Down Grids/Bed Limiters

For many small towers, bed limiters can be integrated


with the liquid distributor to prevent random packing
from lifting through the riser or annular space per
Figure 1. The dual purpose is very convenient and
decreases installation time. Other designs will have
the bed limiter sitting on top of the packing. They
may have jackscrews that friction fit against the tower
wall or they may have an anti-lift device, which
impinges against the distributor above. All of these
are acceptable configurations for services in which no
uplift or major upsets are expected. For services in
which transients are known to occur, the bed limiter
Figure 5 Bed limiter fixed to the vessel wall
should be attached to the vessel. Again, continuous via small clips
rings are not recommended for small towers. Bed
limiters can be fixed to the vessel wall with clips as shown in Figure 5.

3.5 Chimney Trays

When leakage is a concern such as a reboiler drawoff, total product draw, etc., chimney trays are
often seal welded to eliminate leaks. These trays are typically installed at the vessel shop during
vessel fabrication. Thus, the tray must be inspected and water tested at the shop prior to the
installation of the next vessel section as field inspection is limited. Vessel break flanges,

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manholes, or handholes are required near the chimney tray for periodic inspection.

Collector trays that are normally not seal welded, but simply gasketed in large towers, such as
above a redistributor, flashing feeds, tray transitions, etc., are simply not necessary in small
towers as liquid gradients and liquid re-mixing is not a concern. Pan re-distributors are very
suitable to collect the liquid directly from a bed above as shown in Figures 2 & 8. If the system
is deemed to be a foamer, it may be prudent to install a collector directly below a feed to provide
additional residence time as shown in Figure 8.

In Case Study #3 How To Design an FRI Small Scale Column, 4.50.03, a seal welded
chimney tray is utilized as a total drawoff to feed a kettle reboiler. The chimney tray is this case
is located just below a body flange, providing ample space for inspection and a water leak test.

3.6 Feed Inlets

Another significant difference between small and large


diameter packed columns is the feed inlet arrangements.
To permit the installation of single piece devices such as
distributors, support plates, etc., through the vessel, feed
nozzles should not protrude inside the vessel. Feeds
mustbe introduced with flush nozzles or via stab-in
piping as shown in the attached Figures 11A, B & D.
Liquid feeds can be designed so that the liquid is directly
discharged into the center of the distributor as shown in
Figure 11C. With a center feed discharge, the
distributor is usually equipped with a center inlet box to
break down liquid momentum. A more elaborate feed
arrangement as shown in Figure 6 can also be used.
Notice the mist eliminator in the background.

Liquid feed inlets must be designed to minimize Figure 6 Feed pipe with side slots
turbulence, while at the same time not limiting access to
the tower. A number of design inlets are possible and some are shown in the attached Figure 10.
For additional information on feed inlet configurations and distributor design, please refer to
section 2.02.2 Internal Pipework to Packed Tower
Distributors, Section 2.02.1 Liquid Distributors, and
section 2.02.4 Liquid Flow Through Gravity. As
with all packed towers, an exterior strainer prior to the
liquid feed inlet near the vessel flange is recommended
to prevent blockage of the distributor orifices.

For flashing feeds, it is recommended that the feed be


introduced above a chimney tray with a V-baffle
deflector above a chimney tray to spread the fluid
radially around the vessel wall. Other devices such as
feed chambers in Figure 7, which separate the two
phases effectively, are available from suppliers.

For kettle reboiler vapor returns, a simple flush nozzle


is all that is needed, if sufficient space between the inlet
nozzle and the packing above is available. For two Figure 7 Norpros Flashing Feed
phase reboiler returns, an inlet baffle should be Chamber. Courtesy of Koch-Glitsch
provided to prevent the liquid from being blown into the

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equipment above. For gas feeds under a structured packing bed, a gas distributor sparger is
recommended to initiate good vapor distribution into the bed. The gas distributor holes should be
oriented downward, but far enough from the bottom liquid level to avoid entrainment. A distance
of 12 to 18 inches (300 to 450 mm) is recommended.

4 Other Mechnical Considerations

The attached Figures 8 through 10 are typical packed tower layouts accommodating a variety of
internals. Access and installation of the internals are the main factors when determining the number of
body flanges required and location.

4.1 Vessel Body Flanges

Vessel body flanges are the most common method of entering a small diameter vessel. Body
flanges are positioned so that they can easily provide access to a number of internals through a
single flange. The use of body flanges allows easy dismantling of various vessel sections to gain
access for maintenance, cleaning and removal of packing. Body flanges are expensive, increase
vessel height and provide another source for process leakage. In addition, heat losses are greater
in smaller diameter columns due to poor insulation around the body flanges.

4.2 Hand Holes

Sometimes hand holes are included as means of providing access to internals during installation.
Hand holes can reduce the number of body flanges required if properly positioned, but they
provide less access. On occasion, extra hand holes are provided at the bottom of a packed bed
section to allow random packing removal without the need to dismantle the bottom body flange.
The use of a vessel hand hole for removal of packing should only be considered in clean services
with random packings of 1 inch (25mm) or less. Large diameter packings tend to have a difficult
time flowing out of a small diameter hole. Hand holes are typically 8 to 10 inches (200 to
250mm) in diameter, not exceeding half of the vessel diameter. A retaining plate can be added to
the hand hole flange, as per Figure 8, to keep the packing in place and to minimize liquid &
vapor channeling.

4.3 Nozzles

For small diameter vessels, most nozzles are flush with the vessel wall to allow easy installation
of internals without interference. This is especially true with single piece internals and structured
packing. For nozzles that require internal piping to feed a liquid distributor, stab-in in piping
with a breakaway piping flange can be used. Such nozzles can also be used for access and
inspection See detail Figure 11A & 11D.

4.4 Vessel Suppliers

Small diameter vessels are more inclined to have a large height to vessel diameter ratio (H/D)
which makes them more susceptible to wind motion. For such vessels, flared vessel skirts and
guy wires are needed to reduce the moment arm at the base of the skirt and to keep the vessel
from swaying. Another technique is to increase the bottom section diameter for liquid hold-up,
making the tower smaller in height and easier to support. See Figure 10. Some operating
organizations have design limits on the overall vessel height to diameter ratio. This maximum
ratio is typically 22 to 1. In low-pressure services, where the tower thickness is not controlled by
pressure, it might be more economical to make the tower diameter larger to decrease the vessel

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height and support structure.

4.5 Tower Attachments

Clips are preferred over continuous support rings, since they obstruct less tower cross sectional
area. For example, in an 18 inch (450mm) column diameter, a 1 inch (25mm) wide continuous
support ring will obstruct 20% of the cross sectional area of the vessel, i.e. whereas three (3) 1 x
3 (25mm x 75mm) support clips will only block 3.5% of the vessel area. If a continuous ring is
to be used, the pan distributor should be equipped with raised legs to provide an open area that is
at least equal to the gap between the distributor and vessel wall.

5 Case Study

The designer is encouraged to review Case Study #3 How to design an FRI Small Scale Column
in section 4.50.03. This case is an actual example of a small diameter deisopentanizer tower using all the
available FRI tools and practices.

6 References

1. Billet, R., Distillation Engineering, Chemical Publishing Co., 1979.


2. Kister, Henry S., Distillation Design, McGraw-Hill, 1992.
3. Olujic, Z., Effect of Column Diameter on Pressure Drop of a Corrugated Sheet Structured
Packing, TransIChemE, Vol.77 Part A, 2000
4. Pilling, Mark, AIChE Spring 02 presentation
5. Stikkelman, R.M., Gas & Liquid Maldistribution in Packed Columns, PhD Thesis, TU Delft,
1989.
6. Stoter, Frank, Modeling Maldistribution In Structured Packings: From Detail to Column Design,
PhD Thesis, TU Delft, 1993.
7. Zuiderweg F.J., Heok P.J., The Effects of Small Scale Liquid Distribution on the Separation
Efficiency of Random Packings, I.Chem.E. Symposium Series No. 104, 1987.
8. Norpros Small-Tower Design Bulletin, 1990.
9. Norpros packed Tower Internals Guide, 2001

Page 10 of 14
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DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS 3.07
Revised:

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DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS 3.07
Revised:

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DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS 3.07
Revised:

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DESIGN OF SMALL-SCALE COLUMNS 3.07
Revised:

Page 14 of 14
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES Issued: 6/15/2003
3.08
Revised:

DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES

DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES ............................................................................................ 1


1 Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 2
2. Trays ................................................................................................................................... 2
2.1 Tray Level Tolerance................................................................................................ 2
2.2 Tray Deflections ....................................................................................................... 3
2.3 Outlet Weirs .............................................................................................................. 3
2.4 Inlet Weirs ................................................................................................................ 4
2.5 Downcomer Clearance ............................................................................................. 4
2.6 Downcomer Widths ................................................................................................... 5
2.7 Inlet Sump and Seal Pan Widths ............................................................................... 5
2.8 Hole Diameter and Area ............................................................................................ 5
2.9 Tray Outside Diameter .............................................................................................. 6
3. Packed Towers .................................................................................................................... 6
3.1 Distributor .................................................................................................................. 6
3.2 Distributor Out of Level ............................................................................................ 7
3.3 Distributor Deflection ................................................................................................. 7
3.4 Distributor O.D. Tolerance ......................................................................................... 7
3.5 Spray Distributors ....................................................................................................... 7
3.6 All Other Packing Internals (Support Plate, Bed Limiter, Etc.) ................................. 8
3.7 Pressure Vessel Attachments ...................................................................................... 8
3.8 Support Ring Spacing ................................................................................................. 8
3.9 Support Ring Levelness .............................................................................................. 8
3.10 Support Ring Deviation From Horizontal .................................................................. 8
4. Appendix A Original Survey ........................................................................................... 9

Page 1 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

1 Introduction

Dimensional tolerances can have a very large impact on the installation and manufacturing costs of tower
internals. They may also have an equal impact on the performance of the column. The designer must be
judicious when applying tight tolerances to various tower internal dimensions. When specifying each
tolerance, the designer should take into account its contribution in relationship to the overall performance
or mechanical integrity of the internals. In summary, the value of each tolerance should be as practical and
as large as possible without compromising the performance of the internal.

The most common method of specifying dimensional tolerances is "plus or minus" ( }) a certain value.
This expression can be interpreted a number of different ways among installers, inspectors, manufacturers
and engineers. It is imperative that this definition is made clear and understood by everyone. For this
section, if a downcomer clearance is specified as 2" }1/8", the downcomer clearance can vary between 1
7/8" and 2 1/8", or a total 1/4" deviation from high to low.

In 1998, a dimensional tolerance survey was issued to the membership. This section documents the
analysis of the survey. The overall response was poor with only 19 out of the 87 members replying.
However, this is still a reasonable sample size of the membership population from which applied
dimensional tolerances can be extracted. Figure 1 gives a breakdown of the responses by industry type.
Out of the eight (8) Engineering survey respondents, only two (2) were from a fabricator.

ResponsetoToleranceSurvey
4

8
Engineering

Petroleum

Chemical
7
21%DependEntirely onfabricator'stolerances.

Figure 1

Four out of the nineteen members depend entirely on manufacturer tolerances and had very little input.
This represents 21% of the returned surveys, which is probably a true representation of the membership.
Two (2) were from the Petroleum Industry and two (2) from Engineering.

2 Trays

2.1 Tray Level Tolerance

Page 2 of 19
Issued: 6/15/2003
DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Careful consideration should be taken with columns in which performance can be greatly affected
by unlevel trays. The results of this survey are very similar to a smaller survey on tray levelness in
early 1980's. In section 1.12 "Tray Levelness", the high and low point allowances of installed trays
are represented with maximum and minimum linear equations based on a survey of eight member
companies. The new survey shows a wider gap between the largest and smallest allowable
tolerances being applied by the members. The criteria given varied a great deal, with many of them
dependent on a step change in the tower diameter. One member expressed the criteria in equation
form, with the tower diameter as the variable. Two (2) members had a single tolerance value
regardless of tower diameter. Figure 2 below is the tolerance data from the respondents. The
tolerance given applied to all tray types, i.e. sieve, valve, dualflow, etc.

Tray Level Tolerance

14

12
Tolerance, +-mm

10

0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000

Tower Diameter, mm

Figure 2

2.2 Tray Deflections

The tolerances given for this item also varied a great deal between members. However, most of the
tolerances specified are dependent on tower diameter. Out of the 16 members that provided
feedback on this item, seven (7) expressed tray deflection as the tower diameter divided by a
constant for part or all of the their specification. These constants ranged from 1000 to 667, with the
median of 900 (Figure 3). These constants apply to units of length. One member expressed the
tolerance for deflection being dependent on straight span edge of a tray section. The tolerances
applied to both the active and inlet panels of a tray.

Most Common Tray Deflection Criteria


Deflection = T/C
Where T = Tower Diameter
C = constant, ranged from 1000-667, with a median at 900
Figure 3

2.3 Outlet Weirs

The survey asked for both a level and a height tolerance. Sixty percent (60%) of the members
specified a tolerance for both items. It is very interesting to note that most Petroleum companies
specified both a level and a height tolerance, while most of the Chemical companies specified only

Page 3 of 19
Issued: 6/15/2003
DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

a level tolerance and most of the engineering companies specified only a height tolerance. With
regard to adjustable outlet weirs, only 35% of the members use adjustable weirs most of the time
(Figure 4). Of those that provided a height tolerance, all of them were within a range of }1.5 to
3mm. The level tolerance was within 1.5 to 3mm from high to low for 76% of those that provided a
level tolerance. One member's specification for outlet weir height tolerance was divided into three
ranges, depending on tower diameter.

DoYouSpecifyanAdjustableOutlet
29%

6%

Always
Most
Seldom
Never
29%
36%

HeightTolerance:100%intherangeof?1.5to3mm
LevelTolerance:75%intherangeof1.5 to3mmfromhightolow

Figure 4

2.4 Inlet Weirs

Four out of the sixteen members did not specify criteria for this item. The tolerance given for the
inlet weirs is similar to that for the outlet weir and can be summarized as follows:

1. Tolerance on Height: All of the respondents specified heights in the range of 1.5mm to
3.0mm.

2. Tolerance on Levelness: Most were in the range of 1.5mm to 3mm measured from the
highest to the lowest point. One specified 4mm and another 6.4mm.

2.5 Downcomer Clearance

S The survey asked for both a level and a clearance tolerance. Only 29% of the members
specified a tolerance for both items, two from each of the Petroleum and Engineering industry and
one from Chemical. With regards to adjustable downcomer clearances, only 19% of the members
use adjustable downcomer clearance most of the time (Figure 5). Of those that provided a
clearance tolerance, 91% were in the range of 3mm. Of those that provided guidelines for
levelness, 71% were 3mm from high to low.

Page 4 of 19
Issued: 6/15/2003
DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

DoYouSpecifyanAdjustableDowncomer
Clearance?
0%
19%

Always
31%
Most
50%
Seldom
Never

Only 29% specify both a leve and a clearance tolerance.


Clearance Tolerance: 91% answered 3 mm.
Level Tolerance: 71% answered 3 mm from high to low.
Figure 5

2.6 Downcomer Widths

Half of the responding members have no criteria or depend on manufacturer tolerances for
downcomer widths. The other half provided a variety of tolerances with one respondent providing a
very detailed set of criteria, which had consideration for number of passes. One member provided
criteria of 4% of the downcomer width, others provided tolerances of 3mm, 6mm, 9mm
between wall and downcomer bar for side downcomer or between downcomer bars for the center
and off center downcomers. One member provided tolerances of +9mm -3mm between vessel
centerline and downcomer support bar. The tightest tolerance was +4 -2mm for all off-center and
center downcomers measured between bars and 0.25% of tower I.D. for side downcomers, with a
minimum of 3mm.

2.7 Inlet Sump and Seal Pan Widths

Sixty seven (67%) rely on manufacturer tolerances. The others had the following results:
1. Both manufacturers tolerance: 3mm.
2. One engineering company: 9mm.
3. Two petroleum: +5,-3mm and 3mm.

2.8 Hole Diameter and Area

Half (50%) of the members rely on manufacturer tolerances. The other half gave varying responses
and the following summarize the results:

1. Hole Area and valve/cap count:


(2 members) 1% of area varied and the following summarize the results:
(4 members) 2% of area
(1 member) 3% of area (manufacturer) and (1 member) +5%, -2% on area.
2. Hole Diameter
(1 member) 0.2 to +0.4, -0.2mm.

Page 5 of 19
Issued: 6/15/2003
DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

(3 members) 0.1mm.
(1 member) 0.076mm.
(1 member) 1% of hole diameter.

2.9 Tray Outside Diameter

Thirty-eight percent (38%) of the members depend on manufacturer tolerances. Others provided
guidelines as follows:
(1 member) +0, -4mm
(1 member) +0,-6mm for tower diameters <2100mm and +0,-12mm for diameters >
2100mm.
(2 members) 3mm, (1 member) 4mm, and (1 member) 6mm.
(1 member) 3mm for tower diameters less than 2000mm and 5mm for diameters larger
than 2000.
(1 member) 3mm for tower diameters less than 3500mm and 5mm for diameters up to
9000mm and 7mm for towers larger than 9000mm.

3 Packed Towers

3.1 Distributor

About half of the returned surveys acknowledged that they normally water test gravity
distributors and another 17% sometimes test distributors. The main factors for NOT testing
liquid distributors were evenly split between the type of service and liquid distributor type
regardless of the industry sector. However, most Petroleum and Chemical respondents do
normally require liquid distributors to be tested, while only one engineering member responded
similarly. Of the members that either sometimes or normally test distributors, (61%) specify their
own performance criteria while the rest depend on vendors. See Figure 6.

DoYouWaterTestLiquidDistributors?
11% SpecifyCriteria
17%
55% 6%
17%
33%
Normally Sometimes seldom never
61%

BreakdownByIndustry Specify
RelyonVendor
respondents
Numberof

6 RelyonContractor
4
2 Normally
0
Sometimes
1 2 3
seldom Figure 6
Industry
never

Page 6 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

3.2 Distributor Out of Level

The tolerance given for out of level was indifferent to distributor type. Petroleum and Chemical
organizations had a tighter tolerance than Engineering companies. Sixty seven percent (67%) of all
Petroleum and Chemical companies had an out of level tolerance of 3mm or less from high to low.
One member had the same tolerance as for trays, which resulted in very large tolerances. See
attached graphical representation in Figure 7.

PackingDistributorOutofLevelTolerance

14%
3mmorLess
6.4mm
36%
>6.4mm

50%

Tolerance is from high to low point and is the same regardless of distributor type

Figure 7

3.3 Distributor Deflection

Out of the 14 members that furnished detail tolerance data, only 8 provided specific tolerance
criteria for deflection. The deflection tolerance given is as follows:
1. Four members (4) at 3mm and two (2) at 1mm from high to low.
2. In addition, three (3) engineering firms and one (1) petroleum organization use tray
tolerances to cover distributors.

3.4 Distributor O.D. Tolerance

Very few members specified tolerances for this item. Three (3) at 3mm and (1) at 5mm.

3.5 Spray Distributors

Only 38% of respondents provided tolerance criteria for this distributor type. Comments
were made that due to the very nature of this distributor, it does not warrant any special
tolerance. Standard manufacturer tolerance is sufficient. Of course, the question naturally
arises as to what are standard manufacturer tolerances? Other interesting facts and data are
given below:

1. Three (3) of four (4) chemical members dont use spray distributors.
2. Tolerances given were:
Out of Level (2 members) 3mm and (3) 6.4mm from high to low.
Elevation Tolerance (2 members) 3mm, (1) 5mm, (1) 6.4mm (1) 10mm, (1)

Page 7 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

12.7mm.
Pitch Tolerance (2 members) 3mm, (1) 1mm and (1) 6mm.

3.6 All Other Packing Internals (Support Plate, Bed Limiter, Etc.)

1. About half (5 of 9) of Petroleum & Chemical producers rely on manufacturer tolerances or


have no specific tolerances.
2. The other four (4) provided tolerances of: 2, 3 (2 members) & 5mm from high to low for
both deflection and out of level.
3. One engineering firm provided a tolerance of 3mm. Two other engineering companies use
the same tolerance as for trays.
4. One manufacturer provided an out of level tolerance of the tower diameter divided by 500.

3.7 Pressure Vessel Attachments

This section of the survey was the least completed by the members. Six members out of the
nineteen that responded to this question, or 32%, completely rely on fabricators standards for vessel
attachments tolerances. Largest feedback was given to the support ring tolerance, which indicated
the highest interest to the membership. Some rely solely on tray levelness criteria while others
were more specific.

The response was similar across all industries with two exceptions. One manufacturer provided a
very tight tolerance for support ring spacing and levelness, while an engineering firm provided a
very large tolerance and it seems outside of the norm. Another interesting aspect of this section
was that all of the members indicated that the support ring tolerance also applied to dualflow trays.

3.8 Support Ring Spacing

Out of the 13 responses received, 11 members specified a tolerance of 3mm. One member
specified a tolerance of 1.5mm and another at 1mm.

3.9 Support Ring Levelness

A more varied response was received for this specification. In some cases, this tolerance was a
function of tower diameter and in others; it was dependent on linear length of ring. Two members
just gave a range of 3 to 10mm and 3 to 6mm, depending on tower diameter. The following is a
summary of the more specific cases:

1. (1 member) - 2500mm and less, 3mm, > 2500 4.5mm.


2. (1 member) - 3mm for every 3000mm of tower diameter.
3. (2 member) - 3mm for all diameters.
4. (1 member) - 0.3% of tower I.D. with a maximum of 6mm.
5. 1 member) - less than 1200mm, 9.5mm, 1200 to 2500mm, 12.5mm, 2500 to 4500mm,
16mm, and > 4500mm, 19mm.
6. (1 member) - 1.5mm per every 300mm in support ring length, non cumulative.

Note: The above tolerance is defined from high to low points.

3.10 Support Ring Deviation From Horizontal

Page 8 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Only five members had a criterion for this specification. The following is a summary:

1. (2 members) - 6mm.
2. (1 member) - 3mm.
3. (1 member) - 1.5mm.
4. (1 member) - 1 degree from normal.

4 Appendix A Original Survey

The FRI Design Practices Committee is seeking your assistance in our attempt to determine industrys best
practice on dimensional tolerances and its effects on performance, installation and costs. The FRI Design
Practices Committee appreciates your time and effort in completing this survey. There is a great deal of
debate of just how important or critical tight tolerances are to the performance of various fractionating
devices and its impact on equipment and installation costs. Your input is most valuable in establishing
general FRI dimensional tolerance guidelines for trays, distributors and other internals. For your
convenience the survey is broken down into three parts:

A - Conventional Trays
B - Packed Towers
C - All Towers

We ask that the entire survey be returned by Feb 1, 1998, however, each individual part can be completed
and submitted piecemeal at any time prior to Feb 1st. Results will be presented at the next May spring
meeting. Please return completed survey to:

Fractionation Research, Inc.


Design Practice Committee
424 S. Squires St., Ste. 200
Stillwater, OK 74074

In replying to the survey, please place a numerical value above the short heavy lines _________. If you
currently do not specify a tolerance for any particular dimension, please insert none. Provisions exist for
both English and SI units for your convenience. Please feel free to write any comments in the space
provided or anywhere in the page or insert additional pages, if needed. Any comments to the value of any
tolerance or concern should this tolerance not be met would be very valuable to the membership. Feel free
to leave questions unanswered if unable or unwilling to reply to a certain question or part of a question. A
partial response is better than none at all. However, please recognize that the more thorough your response
is, the better the guidelines will be.

FRI Design Practices Committee

Page 9 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

FRI Dimensional Tolerance Survey


PART A - CONVENTIONAL TRAYS

A. General Information

1. Your Organizations Primary Business Area. Check only one.


Chemicals Engineering Petroleum

2. Do you rely on fabricators standard tolerances? Check only one.


Yes Sometimes Seldom Never

If Sometimes, please describe circumstances:

B. Conventional Valve, Sieve, Bubble Cap, & Dualflow Trays


(Proprietary Trays are not included)

1. Out of Levelness

Out of levelness is usually related to vessel diameter and may be dependent on the type of tray and
service. This tolerance is usual expressed as a vertical value or from a maximum to a minimum
allowable vertical dimension.

For Sieve Trays:


For Valve Trays:
For Bubble Cap Trays:
For Dualflow Trays:

Comments or concerns:

2. Tray Deflections

a. Maximum deflection for an active panel. These tolerances may vary with tower diameter and may
also vary depending on criticality of service. Note that this is a physical measurement and not a
design parameter.

For Sieve Trays:


For Valve Trays:
For Bubble Cap Trays:
For Dualflow Trays:

b. Maximum deflection for a tray inlet area.


For Sieve Trays:
For Valve Trays:
For Bubble Cap Trays:

Comments or concerns:

Page 10 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

3. Outlet Weirs

a. Height tolerance from tray floor from active panel on the center of the weir,
____________inches or ____________mm.
b. Out of level from high to low point, ____________ inches or ____________ mm.

c. Do you use adjustable weirs?


Always Most of the time Seldom Never

Comments or concerns:

Inlet Weirs

d. Height tolerance from tray floor, _____________ inches or ____________mm.

e. Out of level from high to low point, ____________ inches or _____________mm.

f. Distance between bottom of downcomer panel and weir.


___________ inches or _____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

4. Downcomer Clearance

a. Distance between bottom of downcomer panel and tray floor.


___________ inches or _____________mm.

b. Out of level from high to low point, ____________ inches or ______________mm.

c. Do you use adjustable bottom downcomer panels?


Always Most of the time Seldom Never

Comments or concerns:

5. Downcomer Width

The location of the downcomer support bar will control the actual width and area of the downcomer. The
designer and installer usually locate these bars by one of the two following dimensions:

a. Side Downcomers
Distance between vessel wall and downcomer support bar.
___________inches or _____________mm or
Distance between vessel centerline and downcomer support bar.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Off-center and Center downcomers


Distance between downcomer support bars.
___________inches or _____________mm or

Page 11 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Distance between vessel centerline and downcomer support bar.


___________inches or _____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

6. Downcomer Inlet Sumps and Seal Pan Widths

a. Under Side Downcomers


Distance between vessel wall and support angle.
___________inches or _____________mm or
Distance between vessel centerline and support angle.
___________inches or _____________mm or
Distance between bottom of downcomer support bar and sump/seal pan support angle.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Off-center and Center downcomers


Distance between sump/seal pan support angles.
___________inches or _____________mm or
Distance between vessel centerline and downcomer support bar.
___________inches or _____________mm or
Distance between bottom of downcomer support bar and sump/seal pan support angle.
___________inches or _____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

7. Hole Diameter & Open Area

a. Sieve hole area tolerance: _______________% of total no. of holes or area specified.

b. Sieve hole diameter: ___________inches or _____________mm.

c. Valve or Bubble Cap number: _______________% of total number specified.

Comments or concerns:

8. Tray Outside Diameter

The outside diameter of any internal is a critical installation parameter. This dimension must take into
account possible vessel out of roundness and must sit on a support ring with an appropriate overlap.
Please check one or both of the tolerances below that is applied:

Tray overlap on support ring: ___________inches or _____________mm.

Tray outside diameter: ___________inches or _____________mm.

Page 12 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

FRI Dimensional Tolerance Survey


PART B - PACKED TOWERS

A. General Information

1. Your Organizations Primary Business Area. Check only one.


Chemicals Engineering Petroleum

2. Do you rely on fabricators standard tolerances. Check only one.


Yes Sometimes Seldom Never

If Sometimes, please describe circumstances:

B. Packed Towers

1. Gravity Distributors, Redistributors & Parting Boxes

For most gravity type distributors, it is a common practice to measure overall distributor performance via
a water test. Tolerances on such items as hole diameter, pitch, and orifice elevation from distributor floor,
etc., are imbedded in the performance criteria along with other design parameters. Thus, performance
criteria are not considered a dimensional tolerance. Distributor performance can be measured in terms of
coefficient of variation, maximum/minimum deviations between individual pour points or area samples
and liquid head deviations from the mean between the troughs. Please respond to the following:

a. Do you water test liquid distributors prior to installation? Check only one.
________Normally ________Sometimes ________Seldom __________Never (If you checked
Never, please skip to section C.1.e.)

b. What factor(s) determine if a distributor is not to be water tested, if any? Check only one.
_____Cost _____Service ______Schedule _____Size of distributor ____Type of distributor

Comments or concerns:

c. Do you specify distributor performance criteria or do you rely on outside sources? You may check
more than one.
_________Specific criteria __________ Rely on vendors _________Rely on contractors.

d. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point. This may depend on service and tower diameter.

i. Plate distributors: ___________inches or _____________mm.


Comments or concerns:

ii. Pan distributors ___________inches or _____________mm.


Comments or concerns:

iii. Trough distributors ___________inches or _____________mm

Page 13 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Comments or concerns:

iv. Parting boxes ___________inches or _____________mm


Comments or concerns:

e. Deflection tolerances:

i. Plate distributors: ___________inches or _____________mm.


Comments or concerns:

ii. Pan distributors ___________inches or _____________mm


Comments or concerns:

iii. Trough distributors ___________inches or _____________mm


Comments or concerns

iv. Parting boxes ___________inches or _____________mm


Comments or concerns:

f. Distributor O.D. tolerance: __________inches or ____________mm.

2. Spray Distributors

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point across header. This may depend on service, vertical
distance from bottom of spray nozzle and bottom of bed, and tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance, if any: ___________inches or _____________mm.

c. Elevation tolerance from bottom of spray nozzle to top of bed:


__________inches or ____________mm.

d. Pitch or distance between spray nozzles:


__________inches or ____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

3. Support Plates for Random Packing

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point. This may depend on tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance ___________inches or _____________mm.

Page 14 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Comments or concerns:

4. Support Plates for Structured Packing

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point. This may depend on service and tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance ___________inches or _____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

5. Support Plates for Grid Packing

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point. This may depend on service and tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance ___________inches or _____________mm.

Comments or concerns:

6. Galleries for Two Phase Feeds

For reference, please see Figure 6 in section 2.02.2, Internal Pipework To Packed Towers, of the Design
Practice.

a. Gallery diameter tolerance: ___________inches or _____________mm

b. Gallery height: ___________inches or _____________mm

c. Pitch or distance between orifices: __________inches or ____________mm

d. Orifice hole area tolerance: _______________% of total no. of holes or area specified.

e. Orifice hole diameter: ___________inches or _____________mm.

f. Tolerance on the distance between gallery floor and centerline of inlet nozzle:
__________inches or ____________mm

g. Tolerance of height, width and length of feed inlet baffle:


__________inches or ____________mm

h. Distance between centerline of feed nozzle to top of baffle tolerance:


__________inches or ____________mm

Comments or concerns:

Page 15 of 19
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Revised:

FRI Dimensional Tolerance Survey


PART C - ALL TOWERS

B. General Information

1. Your Organizations Primary Business Area. Check only one.


Chemicals Engineering Petroleum

2. Do you rely on fabricators standard tolerances.. Check only one.


Yes Sometimes Seldom Never

If Sometimes, please describe circumstances:

C. Other Internals

1. Chimney/Collector Tray Tolerances

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point. This may depend on tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance ___________inches or _____________mm.

c. Riser Height: __________inches or ____________mm.

d. Hat Clearance: __________inches or ____________mm.

e. Riser & hat dimensions such as; width, height or diameter:


__________inches or ____________mm

f. Drawoff sump dimensions such as; width, height or diameter:


__________inches or ____________mm

Comments or concerns:

2. Vapor, Liquid & Two Phase Orifice Feed Pipe

a. Out of Level tolerance from high to low point across header. This may depend on tower diameter.
___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Deflection tolerance ___________inches or _____________mm.

c. Elevation tolerance: __________inches or ____________mm

d. Pitch or distance between orifices: __________inches or ____________mm

e. Orifice hole area tolerance: _______________% of total no. of holes or area specified.

f. Orifice hole diameter: ___________inches or _____________mm.

Page 16 of 19
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DIMENSIONAL TOLERANCES 3.08
Revised:

Comments or concerns:

3. Flashing Feed Baffles

For reference, please see Figure 7 in section 2.02.2, Internal Pipework To Packed Towers, of the Design
Practice.

a. Distance between baffles: __________inches or _____________mm

b. Baffle height: __________inches or _____________mm

c. Pitch or distance between orifices (if any): __________inches or ____________mm

d. Orifice hole area tolerance: (if any) _______________% of total no. of holes or area
specified.

e. Orifice hole diameter (if any): __________inches or ____________mm

f. Tolerance on the distance between tray or parting box floor and centerline of inlet nozzle:
_________inches or ____________mm

g. Distance between centerline of feed nozzle to top of baffle:


__________inches or ____________mm

Comments or concerns:

D. Pressure Vessel

The following are dimension pressure vessel tolerances, which have a direct effect on the installation or
performance of various internals:

1. Vessel Out Of Roundness

a. Per ASME Code section UG-80__________Yes_________No

b. Other codes or standards:___________________________________________________

c. Other additional tolerances:

2. Vertical Alignment

This tolerance may be dependent on location of equipment such as offshore or onshore and/or on type of
fractionating devices such as structured packing or trays. If your tolerances are site or equipment specific,
please elaborate on the comment section below.

a. Maximum tolerance for permanent vertical out of alignment (tilt) at static conditions (no wind
loading):
_______inches/ft of vertical height or ________mm/m or _______degrees from vertical.

b. Is there a maximum limitation? ______________________________________________

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c. Maximum tolerance for swaying towers from vertical out of alignment at maximum wind loading
conditions:
_______inches/ft of vertical height or ________mm/m or _______degrees from vertical.
Comments or concerns:

3. Overall Vessel Length

a. Tolerance for overall vessel length from TL to TL


___________inches/ft of vessel length or ____________mm/m.

4. Skirt Base Plate Levelness

a. Tolerance for bottom skirt base plate out of level from horizontal.
___________inches/ft of bottom skirt diameter or ____________mm/m.

b. Is there a maximum limitation:

Comments or concerns

5. Tray Support Rings

This includes all conventional trays (except for dualflow trays), chimney and collector trays, seal pans
and pots.

a. Tray support ring spacing tolerance: ___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Out of levelness of support ring, from high to low point (This may vary with tower diameter):

c. Deviation from perpendicular with respect to the vessel wall (flatness):


___________inches or _____________mm.

Check measuring point; inner edge of ring__________ or outer edge_________

d. Please indicate if the above tolerances also apply to Dualflow trays. Yes/No.
If other specifications apply, please cite:

6. Packing Gravity Distributor Support Rings & Clips

These specifications may be dependent on service, type of distributor and whether or not the distributor is
equipped with a leveling mechanism.

a. Distributor support ring or clip elevation tolerance:


___________inches or _____________mm.

b. Out of levelness of support ring for distributors without leveling devices.


From high to low point:

c. Out of levelness of support ring for distributors with leveling devices.


From high to low point:

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d. Deviation from perpendicular with respect to the vessel wall (flatness):


___________inches or _____________mm.

e. Check measuring point; inner edge of ring__________ or outer edge_________.

Comments or concerns:

7. All Other Packing Internals Support Attachments

This includes such items as; support plates, bed limiters, spray nozzles, collectors, etc.

a. Support ring or clip elevation tolerance:


___________inches or _____________mm.
b. Out of levelness of support ring.
From high to low point:

c. Deviation from perpendicular with respect to the vessel wall (flatness):


___________inches or _____________mm.

d. Check measuring point; inner edge of ring__________ or outer edge_________.

Comments or concerns::

8. Internal Assembly Bolt Torque Tolerances

This tolerance is a function of material strength

Bolt torque ___________ft-lbs for 300 series stainless.


___________ft-lbs for 400 series stainless.
___________ft-lbs for carbon steel.
___________ft-lbs for monel.

Comments or concerns:

Page 19 of 19
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
DISTILLATION TOWER STARTUP AND
SHUTDOWN Issued: 08/31/2004
3.15
Revised:

DISTILLATION TOWER STARTUP AND SHUTDOWN

DISTILLATION TOWER STARTUP AND SHUTDOWN .................................................... 1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 2

2. Commissioning ................................................................................................................... 2

2.1 Safety ......................................................................................................................... 2

2.2 Vessel Isolation and Entry Issues ..............................................................................2

2.3 Tower Inspection ....................................................................................................... 2

2.4 Instrument Calibration/Loop Checks......................................................................... 3

2.5 Clean Out ................................................................................................................... 3

2.6 Leak Testing .............................................................................................................. 4

3. Procedures .......................................................................................................................... 4

4. Routine Startups ................................................................................................................. 5

5. First Time Startup-Revamped Towers ............................................................................... 6

6. First Time Startup New Towers ...................................................................................... 7

7. Special Startup Lines and Equipment ................................................................................. 8

8. Early Operation................................................................................................................... 8

9. Shutdown ............................................................................................................................ 8

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1 Introduction

Distillation towers are designed to effect a desired separation and to handle a certain throughput. The
design basis, however, is almost always steady-state operation as defined by a heat and material balance.
To take a tower from an empty piece of equipment to a properly operating production unit requires a
successful startup. Procedures must be written and accurate design documents developed to instruct the
operators of the tower on the proper procedures and operations, and checklists should be developed to
ensure that the procedures are executed correctly. In addition, the fractionation system must be supplied
with adequate instruments, piping, and auxiliary equipment to allow it to be started up. The tower must
also be shutdown periodically for maintenance, repairs, or upgrades. Some of the issues related to starting
up and shutting down a tower will be discussed here; the focus will be on planned operations emergency
shutdowns will not be covered.

2 Commissioning

The process of preparing a tower for its initial startup is known as commissioning. Kister 1 offers some
valuable guidance on the commissioning process. Some of the important steps taken during tower
commissioning are discussed below.

2.1 Safety

A process hazard and operational analysis (i.e., HAZOP) review of new or modified equipment
must be done prior to commissioning. The piping and instrumentation diagrams (PIDs) of the
system should be reviewed and walked down and physically verified to ensure that subsequent
commissioning operations can be conducted safely. All commissioning and startup procedures
should be reviewed and approved as well.

2.2 Vessel Isolation and Entry Issues

Many steps in the commissioning process involve isolating the fractionation system (the column,
reboiler, condenser, reflux drum, and any other closely connected auxiliary equipment) from the
remainder of the process. Some of these steps, such as tower inspection, will require personnel to
enter the vessel. Other steps, such as leak testing, simply require that the fractionation system be
valved out from the remainder of the process to prevent material from leaving the system via the
process piping. For the latter case, closing valves in the process piping (or blanking, if necessary)
should be sufficient. The requirements for vessel entry are a bit more stringent, however. In the
United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that a vessel be
isolated from all material (other than fresh air) and energy sources prior to personnel entry. It is the
duty of the "employer" (presumably the owner of the vessel) to isolate the vessel and prepare an
entry permit documenting the measures that were taken. All material and energy sources must be
isolated prior to entry; because isolation valves can leak through, it is good practice to install blanks
in addition to closing, locking, and tagging the isolation valves. Many companies require inert gas
lines to have removable spool pieces, so that there is no possibility of introducing inert gas while
workers are in the column. The confined space entry regulations also require that an individual,
designated as the entry supervisor, inspect the isolation points to be sure that the vessel is truly
isolated prior to entry. The OSHA regulations covering confined space entry apply not only to
employees of owners of the tower, but to contract employees who might be hired to work inside or
inspect the column as well. For complete confined space entry regulations, refer to Title 29, Code
of Federal Regulations, Part 1910, Section 146 (29 CFR 1910.146).

2.3 Tower Inspection

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Do not assume that internals or even the weld-ins were fabricated or installed correctly. If internals
were installed at the vessel fabricator's shop, they may have become dislodged or damaged in
transit to the plant site. It is vital to ensure that all internals are installed securely and within level
tolerances per the internals supplier's drawings. Refer to FRI Handbook Volume 5, Section 5.01 for
more information on column inspection, and to Section 5.05 for a discussion of leveling tower
internals. Care should be taken during initial entry to a transported tower. Tower internals may
appear to be secure but may in fact be unsafe for worker entry and support.

2.4 Instrument Calibration/Loop Checks

To operate any chemical process, the level transmitters must be spanned, the calibration of
temperature and pressure transmitters verified, and the control loops checked. The settings of any
relief devices should also be verified. This should be done prior to any cleaning or leak testing so
that the instruments may be used to monitor conditions during these tests.

2.5 Clean Out

Following construction of a plant and installation of tower internals, the column and adjoining
piping will undoubtedly contain dirt, weld spatter, rags, soft drink cans, food packaging, and other
assorted debris. This extraneous matter must be removed before the tower can operate properly.
The lines should be blown out using nitrogen or air. However, it is not a good idea to blow lines
into a distillation tower, since the items that were blocking a line may now block a downcomer or
distributor. A distillation tower is often used as a reservoir for the gas used for line blowing. If this
is done, great care must be taken to avoid damaging the column internals when the tower is
depressurized.

The column may be washed to remove dirt and other undesirable material. Washing is a potentially
troublesome operation, especially when chemicals are used. Several pitfalls are discussed at length
elsewhere1. Some of the major trouble spots are summarized below.

Clean water should be used so that the washing operation does not deposit more solids in the tower
than it removes. If river water is used to wash the tower, then mud deposits may foul the internals.
If the wash water is excessively hard, then salt deposits may remain after the wash. Water used to
wash stainless steel columns should be free of chlorides. The internals may be covered with
machine oil that was used in the fabrication process; if the oil must be removed before the column
is started, then the tower should be steamed before startup. It is also possible to have the internals
fabricator remove the machine oil prior to shipment. It is a good idea to leak test the tower prior to
steam cleaning in order to minimize the risk of personnel injury or equipment damage during the
steaming operation. During any steaming operation, it is important to vent the tower, or pressure it
with inert gas, to prevent vacuum from being inadvertently drawn.

The transition from normal operation to shutdown conditions can loosen scale in the tower, piping,
and auxiliaries. If the piping is carbon steel, then exposure to air during shutdown can form rust. In
situations such as these where the shutdown may result in the formation or dislodging of solids, the
lines should be cleaned prior to restarting the column. If these lines are blown into the column,
however, the holes in liquid distributors or the downcomers in trayed columns may become
plugged. For this reason, it is not advisable to blow lines into the column; strainers should be
installed if this is the only way to blowout the piping. Stainless steel piping is sometimes used in
services where carbon steel would otherwise be acceptable, for the sole purpose of avoiding rust
formation during shutdown. Carbon steel column internals can also rust if steam-out procedures
call for drying with air following steam-out. While it is unlikely that the material of construction of
the internals would be upgraded to stainless steel based on this consideration alone, this effect

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should be considered when developing the steam-out procedures. This is particularly important
when revamping from trays to random packings.

Towers that are prone to coking will probably not be adequately cleaned by conventional washing
procedures. In these services, the location and severity of any plugging must be assessed by visual
inspection, and the appropriate steps taken to clean the internals.

If any of the pumps that will be used to operate the column are used during the cleaning operation,
it is recommended that startup strainers ("witches hats") be installed in the pump suction piping.
The strainers will serve to protect the pumps from any large objects, such as loose hardware, that
might be washed out of the tower. Once the tower has been successfully started, the strainers
should be removed; if they are not, the pumps may cavitate as scale builds up. (Note: if solids
removal is desired during normal column operation, then strainers or filters should be installed on
the discharge side of the feed or bottoms pumps, and the system should be configured to allow on-
line cleaning of the solids removal device).

2.6 Leak Testing

The distillation system must be tested to be sure that no process material can leak out (for
separations carried out at atmospheric pressure and above) or in (for vacuum operations). The usual
means of leak testing is to isolate the system, fill it with inert gas, and monitor the rate at which
pressure drops. All gasketed connections are checked for leaks by applying a soap solution to the
exterior of the gasketed connection and watching for bubbles to form. More sophisticated
technology such as ultrasonic leak detection may be required. Leak detection is sometimes
accomplished by filling the tower with water and inspecting the exterior of gasketed connections
for water leaks. If this method is used, the column and its foundation must be designed to allow
filling with water in the vertical position, and care must be taken no to damage the internals while
filling or emptying the tower. Steam is also used occasionally, but is more troublesome due to the
high temperatures involved.

Towers that will operate under vacuum are subjected to a pressure test, then vacuum is drawn on
the system, the system isolated again, and the pressure rise as a function of time is once again
monitored; this is commonly called a drop test. Detection of large leaks can be accomplished via
hydrostatic testing, ultrasonic testing, or the soap-bubble method described earlier. Detection of
small leaks may require tracer gas methods. Shaving cream has also been used to test for leaks in
vacuum services; the flanges are taped, a small hole punched in the tape, and a dollop of shaving
cream applied. A leak will form a small crater in the shaving cream.

Before performing a vacuum test on a tower, the vacuum rating of all vessels and instruments
should be verified. The diaphragm that isolates some pressure transmitters or differential pressure
cells from the process may not be rated for full vacuum on the process side.

3 Procedures

The process of starting up a distillation column can be quite complicated. A detailed procedure must be
followed in the correct sequence to ensure that the tower is brought up to operating conditions safely and
quickly. A startup procedure for each fractionation system should written by the plant supervisors or
engineers with substantial input from the plant operators. Start/Stop procedures should also be developed
for emergency situations. The procedures should be subjected to the appropriate safety review process, and
the plant operators should be trained in these procedures. The startup procedure should be sufficiently
detailed to enable the operators to efficiently start the column.

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The procedures should take into account any special situations that exist during startup but not during
normal operation. If any process or safety interlocks must be overridden to start the column, this should be
noted, and reactivation of the interlock included at the appropriate point in the procedure. In some
situations, the columns instruments do not function properly during startup conditions. One common
example is the level instrumentation on towers that start-up at ambient temperatures but operate at elevated
temperatures; the fluid density will change substantially as the temperature increases, so level instruments
based on liquid density will be misleading during the initial period of operation. Some columns are started
on fluid mixtures that are less hazardous than those that will be processed during normal operation; these
alternate fluids may not have physical properties similar to the normal process fluids, so instruments such
as level switches that are based on electrical conductivity or level transmitters that use radar signals may
not function well, or at all, until substantial inventories of the normal fluids are accumulated in the tower.

During the initial startup of a column or a plant, changes to the system configuration and the startup
procedures may occur relatively rapidly. It is vital to keep the procedures and design documents up-to-
date. Any valves, piping, instrumentation, equipment or interlocks that are added should be shown on the
PIDs. Equipment drawings should be updated to reflect changes to the tower or internals, and the
procedures should be modified accordingly. Although it is impractical to subject each change made in this
situation to the same process hazard analysis procedure that was performed initially, all changes made
during startup must be made in accordance with the applicable management-of-change procedure to ensure
safety of the workers and the protection of the physical plant.

Some companies conduct revalidation studies of the startup and shutdown procedures prior to each
turnaround. To the extent possible, the individuals involved in the original development and review of the
procedures should participate in the revalidation effort. The revalidation focuses on changes to the system
that have been implemented since the last formal review of the procedures. Typically, only a couple of
hours per fractionation system are required to conduct this level of safety analysis.

All of the above considerations apply to column shutdown procedures as well. Procedural checklists are
invaluable for executing routine startups and shutdowns.

4 Routine Startups

Towers must periodically be shutdown for maintenance and upgrades. They are also shutdown
occasionally by emergency safety systems during process upset conditions. Following these relatively
routine occurrences, the tower must be restarted to resume plant production. A procedure must be followed
to restart the column; the details of the procedure may depend upon the circumstances of the shutdown.
There are a couple of problems that commonly arise if the procedure involves washing the tower prior to
the introduction of process material. If the wash liquid is boiled during the washout, then the washing step
should be considered during the sizing of the column relief devices (both pressure and vacuum relief).
Also, if the material processed in the tower is a high-boiler that is immiscible with water, then a detailed
water removal procedure specific to that tower should be developed. Generic instructions, such as
including a step in the startup procedure that says, "remove all water from the system" have been proven
ineffective, often with catastrophic consequences. A water removal procedure is essential if even small
amounts of water can be present in the system at startup, either as a result of washout or from any other
source.

In most cases, it is advisable to bring the tower to operating pressure prior to the introduction of feeds. For
pressure distillations, feeding at atmospheric pressure will probably allow the feed to flash; the cooling
that results from this flash could cool the vessel below its embrittlement temperature if it is fabricated from
carbon steel. For vacuum distillations, it may not be possible to boil the feed materials with the available
heating utility until vacuum is established. More details concerning the introduction of material at startup
can be found in Kister1.

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When the operating pressure is reached, it is necessary to establish vapor and liquid traffic in the column.
Many towers are started on total reflux; this involves introducing a quantity of material into the column,
turning on the hot and cold utilities, boiling some material overhead, condensing the material, collecting it
in a reflux drum, and returning all of it to the column to be boiled again. Once vapor and liquid flows are
established, continuous feed can be introduced and products withdrawn. It is possible to achieve hydraulic
stability without achieving the desired separation; once the tower has lined out (i.e., established
relatively constant temperature and pressure profiles and fairly steady levels in the column base and reflux
drum), operating conditions can be adjusted as necessary to improve the separation. If the tower is part of
a process with significant recycle, it may take a long time to establish the composition profiles for which
the tower was designed.

Some towers cannot be started on total reflux. In these cases, it may be necessary to simply begin feeding
the tower and operating normally. Other towers may require starting on a fluid similar to the process fluid.
Towers in long refining trains with no intermediate storage can be particularly troublesome to start; such
columns may be started more easily if the reflux drum is filled with on-spec material prior to the startup.
Difficulties can also arise when starting towers in which the base temperature is controlled by bottoms
outflow. If the material in the bottom of the column is too cold, as it is likely to be during startup, then the
control system will not allow any material to leave the bottom of the column. This will result in high base
level; if the alarms are ignored, tower flooding and internals damage can result. To start columns that are
controlled in this fashion, it will probably be necessary to put the base temperature loop in manual control
and allow some off-spec material to leave the tower until the base is heated to operating temperature. It is
important to pay attention to the column material balance while non-steady state conditions prevail during
startup. The flow rates of the feeds and products should be compared frequently to be certain that the
accumulation of material in the tower does not exceed the desired inventory.

The startup of each column must be considered carefully. Kister 1 offers some guidelines on the best ways
to start a tower.

5 First Time Startup-Revamped Towers

The first startup of a distillation column following a revamp offers many of the same challenges as a new
tower, as well as several special considerations. Trayed towers revamped with structured packings will
exhibit a pressure drop that is lower by approximately an order of magnitude; if operators attempt to push
the tower until the previous pressure drop is reached, the tower will be flooded and the internals possibly
damaged. Because structured packings have very little liquid holdup compared to trays, the tower will
establish steady state about ten times faster than with trays, and control loop responses will be much faster
in packed towers than in trayed towers. If a chimney tray was seal welded as part of a revamp, liquid level
will be established much more quickly on the tray. Revamps usually involve changes to internal tower
piping; such changes may eliminate old internal piping problems or generate new ones, and thus affect
tower response at startup.

Sloley2 summarized several experiences with revamping towers. Many of these involved instrument
nozzles that were not relocated. For example, if a tower is revamped from trays to packing, the pressure
taps should be relocated so they are between packed beds. If the tray spacing is modified as part of a
revamp, temperature nozzles should be relocated to the desired location (usually the bottom of a
downcomer for liquid temperatures, and just below a tray for vapor measuring thermowells). This is
particularly important for temperature measurements that are used as part of the column control strategy. If
the tower was revamped with more efficient internals, it will probably be necessary to change the
temperature control point; it may be necessary to add nozzles to the tower if there are none available at the
desired location. Because the temperature control loops will respond much faster, it is a good idea to
retrain the operators prior to starting a revamped tower. Sidedraw nozzles should be relocated to the

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appropriate location as part of the revamp.

Replacing column auxiliaries, such as the reboiler, condenser, or pumps, can prove problematic if not
handled properly. Larger pumps may cavitate if suction head requirements are not satisfied. New reboilers
and condensers may respond differently than the old units; these differences must be considered when
developing the startup procedures.

Modifications to other equipment in a process can affect the operation of distillation equipment if the
modifications alter the composition, quality, or rate of feed to the column. The effect of proposed
modifications on the entire process should be considered before they are implemented. It may prove
necessary to modify the tower or internals as well to take full advantage of any expected improvement. It
is also important to be sure that all process PIDs affected by the revamp are up-to-date and accurately
reflect the process as configured.

6 First Time Startup New Towers

The maiden voyage of any distillation system presents some special challenges in addition to the usual
concerns with tower startup. The column itself may only be a small part of the scope of the startup; there
may also be a reaction system, other separation systems, and auxiliary equipment associated with the
column of interest. At a new plant site, all the relevant utility systems must be commissioned and fully
operational prior to tower startup.

The operators will have to travel a learning curve with respect to the operation of the column. Experience
with other distillation systems will be of great benefit, but the new system may have characteristics that
take some time to appreciate. A simple system may take only a few hours to start once commissioning is
completed; a reactive distillation column, on the other hand, may take many months to fully understand.

It is absolutely essential that the tower instruments be fully commissioned prior to startup. Many safety
systems depend upon accurate information from the process instrumentation, so operating with
uncommissioned instruments can endanger life and property. Even if no hazardous situations arise, it is
possible to damage the column internals or produce large amounts of off-spec material 3. The risks
associated with operating the tower with uncommissioned instrumentation far outweigh any perceived
benefits.

When the tower is to process hazardous chemicals, it may be possible to first start it up on similar but less
hazardous chemicals, and then when the system is operational and tested, bring in the intended chemicals.
This procedure permits debugging the tower and giving the operators some initial experience with it
without risking the consequences of mishandling hazardous materials.

During the first startup of a tower, factors that were ignored or inadequately considered in the plant design
will come to the surface. Tower internals, auxiliaries, and relief systems that were designed based on
normal operating conditions only may be inadequate for startup or shut down conditions. The sizing of
control valves or flow orifices, if not done correctly, will restrict flow into or out of the column. If the
pressure loss across control valves and other equipment was not accounted for, feeds to a column may
flash unexpectedly, to the detriment of tower capacity, efficiency, or both. In cold services, such flashing
may cause chilling below the pipe metal safe working temperature. Pumps may cavitate if adequate
suction head is not available, or if vortex breakers were omitted from outflow nozzles. Operators may
target erroneous flows into the column if energy balance effects are not taken into consideration; one
example is a greatly subcooled reflux resulting in a much lower external reflux flowrate than predicted by
the design simulation (which probably used reflux at its bubble point).

Initial attempts to start a column may be thwarted by downcomers that are not sealed at low liquid rates;
failure to establish a seal may not allow the tower to be brought up to operating rates. This is particularly

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problematic with sieve trays. Kister4 developed a method for generating a startup stability diagram to allow
this problem to be identified at the design stage (updated equations for this method are available in
Appendix B of Kister1). Downcomer designs that ensure a positive seal under all conditions eliminate this
concern. If this problem is not discovered until the tower is constructed, the trays can be fitted with inlet
weirs or the decks replaced with valve trays.

Many modern high capacity tray designs feature dynamically sealed downcomers. To successfully start
towers containing these trays, it may take longer to establish sufficient inventory to seal the downcomer
openings. All tower internals, auxiliaries, and relief systems should be sized for the maximum expected
rates.

7 Special Startup Lines and Equipment

Some towers may require special piping and equipment to be brought up to operating rates. Some
reboilers need equalization lines to be started. Special piping will be needed if material other than the
normal column feed will be used to start the tower. In heat integrated systems, startup reboilers or heaters
may be required to establish flows so that the heat-integrated units can begin operation. Compressors
usually require spill-back lines, after their trim coolers, to enable startup. Once the tower has been
successfully started, all special piping and equipment must be properly isolated.

Thermosiphon reboilers are a common means of generating boilup in a tower, but can be difficult to start.
Startup lines or special startup operations are sometimes required. Columns with baffled sumps are usually
equipped with a dump line between the reboiler inlet line and the sump outlet; it may be necessary to open
this line during startup to establish thermosiphon. The same is true for reboilers that are fed from a trap-
out. In vacuum services, where thermosiphon action is particularly sensitive to liquid level, lowering
liquid level or throttling liquid flow to the reboiler may be needed before the unit will start properly. If the
reboiler is mounted far below the return nozzle, it may be necessary to inject gas in the liquid return line;
this lowers the density of the material in the return piping and helps to initiate thermosiphon action. Refer
to the FRI Handbook, Vol. 5, Sections 1.06 and 4.03.1 for more information on thermosiphon reboiler
circuits.

8 Early Operation

During the first few weeks or months of tower operation, operating conditions may change unexpectedly.
Impurities that were not identified during bench scale or pilot studies may accumulate in the system,
disrupting column operation. Corrosive conditions that were previously undetected may also manifest
themselves. Tray vibrations at low operating rates (such as those experienced in startup) may hamper
startup, or prevent it altogether. See the FRI Handbook, Vol. 5, Section 1.21 for more information on the
causes and prevention of tray vibration. Changing tower internals (revamping trays with packing, for
example) can allow conditions such as corrosion, fouling, or mechanical strength deficiencies that were
not previously problematic to manifest themselves. Some designers say that the HETP of plastic packings
improves after a few weeks of operation. Changes in the packing surface due to etching or solids
deposition may bring about this improvement, or it may be the removal of mold release agents and
plasticizers that could promote foaming.

9 Shutdown

As with tower startups, the procedure for shutting down a tower must be executed in a definite sequence.
In most cases, it is advisable to remove liquids from the tower before returning it to atmospheric pressure.
Washout, steaming, and inert gas purging may be needed to cool the vessel and prepare it for entry; it may
be necessary to bring the column to atmospheric pressure to perform these operations. If the wash liquid is
boiled during the washout, then the washing step should be considered during the sizing of the column
relief devices. If the column contains combustible or pyrophoric liquids or deposits, then it should not be

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opened to the atmosphere immediately following steaming, but should first be cooled down with some
inert gas. This is particularly true for towers with internals having large surface area (such as structured
packings or mist eliminators). Failure to cool such columns prior to air introduction has resulted in fires.
See the FRI Handbook, Vol. 5, Section 2.11 for more information on the causes and prevention of packing
fires. These towers are sometimes cooled by filling with water, or a small flow of water may be left on the
packing through the duration of the shutdown.

Adequate time should be allowed for shutdown operations; it may take up to two days to steam out a tower
and prepare it for entry. The underflow line should be sized to drain the tower in a timely fashion (or a
separate drain line provided) on towers that normally operate with a very small bottoms/feed ratio.
Depending upon the hazards associated with the service, additional measures may be required to
decontaminate the vessel. Isolation of the vessel will require still more time. All factors related to the
column shutdown should be considered when planning maintenance or revamps.

References

1. Kister, H.Z., Distillation Operation, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1990


2. Sloley, A.W., Avoid Problems During Distillation Column Startups, Chem.Eng.Prog., 92(7), p. 30,
1996
3. Hower, T.C., and H.Z. Kister, Solve Column Process Problems, Series 2, Hydrocarbon Processing,
June 1991
4. Kister, H.Z., When Tower Startup Has Problems, Hydrocarbon Processing, 58(2), 1979, p. 89
5. Title 29, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1910, Section 146 (29 CFR 1910.146).

Page 9 of 9
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
PERFORMANCE TESTING Issued: 05/24/2006
3.20
Revised:

PERFORMANCE TESTING

PERFORMANCE TESTING .................................................................................................... 1

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 2

2. Types of Performance Testing ............................................................................................ 2

3. Strategic Preparation Setting Expectations...................................................................... 2

4. Strategic Preparation - Measurements ................................................................................ 3

5. Site Preparation................................................................................................................... 3

6. Gathering the Data .............................................................................................................. 4

7. Reconciling the Data .......................................................................................................... 4

8. Interpreting the Data ........................................................................................................... 4

9. Post Processing ................................................................................................................... 5

10. Example .............................................................................................................................. 5

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1 Introduction

General introduction / value of performance testing


o troubleshooting existing columns
o establishing a baseline for new columns
o validating a performance guarantee
o validate and improve computer models (so they are more predictive)
o importance of preparation and evaluating data to get meaningful results
Scope of this section
o provide information to help define actual operating performance of columns
o focus is on single columns, rather than overall refining trains
o hydraulic capacity testing
o efficiency testing
o interactions between hydraulics and efficiency
What is this section not
o not a detailed guide on site preparation, since those topics are covered well elsewhere
o not a detailed guide on computer simulation, though useful to refer to that design practice
o doesn't deal directly with unsteady state operation
o not intended to be a guide on troubleshooting, though information can be used as part of such an effort

2 Types of Performance Testing

Brief discussion of broad scenarios for performance testing


o total reflux
o continuous operation (normal operation - making sense of available data)
o continuous operation (planned performance test)

3 Strategic Preparation Setting Expectations

Two broad categories of strategic preparation:


o insure that expected performance is understood
o insure that the measurements made will be adequate

Goal: Defining Expected performance


o clarify distinction between expected, desired, and guaranteed performance
o be clear up front what youre looking for: hydraulic capacity, efficiency, both? turndown?
o to get a good test, need to have some feel for what results should look like
o computer simulation
o experience (what is achieved elsewhere)
o hydraulic evaluation

Computer simulation
o baseline computer simulation (reference DPC section on Computer Simulations)
o very helpful to have sensitivity studies done in advance too (if performance is too sensitive to a
parameter, might want to avoid using that one as a performance match criterion)
o establishing expected stage efficiency
o selecting VLE (essential to get meaningful efficiency results)
o understand accuracy of underlying data (difficulty matching base temperatures if high boilers present)
o identifying pinches (can make it difficult to get a reasonable match)

Experience
o known performance of similar facilities elsewhere
o need to make sure that the separation they think they are achieving is really what they areachieving.
(sometimes analytical methods can leave out components.)

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o benchscale / laboratory data


o pilot data

Hydraulic rating
o approach to maximum capacity (can influence performance)
o what were original internals designed to do?

Other factors that could influence performance


o performance diagrams
o other information sources - gamma scans, etc.

4 Strategic Preparation - Measurements

Goal: insuring that measurements made will be adequate


o definining what to measure
o recording operating data
o recording sample data

Defining what will be measured


o importance of material / energy balance
o understanding which measurements are available
o possibility of portable instrumentation

Making do with less data... pitfalls and possibilities


o checking material / energy balances in advance, using available measurements (mini performance test)
o being clear on the consequences of inadequate data
o sometimes you can draw meaningful conclusions even when data are flawed (Kister 1998 Nye-tray
example - no energy balance, poor mass balance - still meaningful)
o when is a test simply not worth running?

Recording operating data


o understanding data historians
o understanding source of all data (elevation of instrument taps, etc. mention trays labeled backwards,
instruments hooked up incorrectly to DCS etc.)
o understanding nature of all data (average, compressed, or real data)
o understanding calibrations (liquid density impact on flows, in particular)
o use real data if at all possible - averages may be meaningless - distillation is not a linear process

Understanding sample data


o time taken vs. time measured
o where will samples be taken (representative of instantaneous performance, or considerable lag?)
o what are methods really reporting (do analytical results add up to 100%? If not, what is missing?)
o challenges with multiple liquid phases
o challenges with reactive systems
o challenges with vapor samples when condensing and/or entrainment can occur

5 Site Preparation

Acknowledge wealth of other resources available on this particular topic (Include only a high level nod to the
subject in this section one or two paragraphs mentioning the types of site prep subject matter covered in the
references.)

Advance preparation
o lining up resources

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o sampling load

Immediate preparation
o calibrating instrumentation
o safety checks
o etc.

6 Gathering the Data

Running the test

Recording the data


o getting best operator on shift to take the data

Validating data
o make sure it makes sense before test ends
o checking material balances

Defining steady state


o what to look for
o importance of good process control
o look at response of output variables - cycles?
o need to let things line out (may need to turn off multivariable control and go with regulatory controllers)
o residence time / turnovers
o some processes may never come to steady state (large reflux drums with tiny draws, tar purge columns,
etc.)

7 Reconciling the Data

Deciding what to believe when there are conflicting data


o heirarcy of reliability and importance
o process specific

Instrumentation accuracy (refer to DPC section 3.05 - Location of Instruments)


o inherent accuracy of various instruments
o common sources of incorrect readings
o installation problems
o wrong instrument for the application

Selecting which data to use


o forcing the balances to close
o using component balances to reconcile flows
o correcting sample results (example of condensing liquid in vapor sample)

8 Interpreting the Data

Absolute performance, and also comparison to baseline expectation


o Total reflux
o Fenske equation
o very useful because it reduces the number of variables that can influence results
o some simulation packages can handle this, many dont
o look for changes in efficiency as absolute boilup rate changes. any changes so highlighted are
indications of changes in underlying efficiency.

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Continuous operation
o additional complications

Computer simulation match


o reference DPC section on computer simulation
o setting initial efficiency expectation (constant throughout column? variable?)
o strategies for defining what actual efficiency is

Validating assumptions
o comparing temperature profile versus expectations
o comparing pressure profile versus expectations
o luxury of in-column samples, if available (mention FRI data, as example)

Comment on conservatism
o dealing with a performance match that is not exact

Interpretation pitfalls
o pinches
o proximity to minimum reflux (changes in stages can be profound)
o differences in VLE
o unsteady state operation
o position on operating diagram

9 Post Processing

Communicating results

Possible ties to troubleshooting support

Definining when the job is done

10 Example

Total reflux performance test example

Continuous operation (normal operation) performance test example

Continuous operation (planned test) performance test example

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References

1. Guide to Trouble-Free Distillation, D. B. McLaren & J. C. Upchurch, Chemical Engineering, June 1, 1970

2. Using Performance Data to Improve Plant Operations, L. Yarborough, et. Al, Proc. 59th Annual

3. Convention of the Gas Processors Association

4. Distillation Column Performance Testing: Continuous and Batch Approaches, V. G. Kalthod, J. R. Fair, et.
al., AIChE Nov. 1997.

5. DPC Section on Computer Simulations

6. AIChE Equipment Testing Procedure Tray Distillation Columns, 2nd ed. August 23, 1986.

7. Distillation Operation, H. Z. Kister

8. Efficient Test Runs, G. J. Gibson, Chemical Engineering, May 11, 1987

9. High Performance Trays Increase Column Efficiency and Capacity, D. R. Summers et. al., AIChE Apr. 2003

10. Ethylene fractionator revamp results in 25% capacity increase, D.R. Summers, et. al, Oil & Gas Journal, Aug
10, 1992

11. Kister 1998 paper on performance matching of Nye trays with limited / poor data / TBD

12. Push Valve Experience on Distillation Trays, D. R. Summers, AIChE Apr. 2005

13. Enhanced V-Grid Trays Increase Column Performance, D. R. Summers & D. Ehmann, AIChE Nov. 2002

14. Trayed Revamp Yields a Significant C3 Splitter Capacity Increase, D. R. Summers & S. T. Coleman, AIChE
Nov. 1990

15. High Capacity Trays improve RVP, S. E. Grill et. al, AIChE Apr. 1993.

Page 6 of 6
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
PROCESS SIMULATIONS Issued: 08/04/2003
3.50
Revised: 10/10/2008

PROCESS SIMULATIONS

PROCESS SIMULATIONS.....................................................................................................................................1

1. Introduction .................................................................................................................................................... 2

2. Review of Existing Equipment and Process Flows ......................................................................................... 2

3. Data Gathering ................................................................................................................................................ 2

3.1 Sample Collection & Lab Data ............................................................................................................... 3

3.2 Heat and Material Balance ...................................................................................................................... 3

4. Selection of Property Packages ....................................................................................................................... 4

4.1 Non-Ideality ............................................................................................................................................ 4

4.2 Dual Property Packages .......................................................................................................................... 4

4.3 Azeotropes............................................................................................................................................... 4

4.4 Checking of VLE Performance ............................................................................................................... 4

5. Model Construction Considerations ................................................................................................................ 5

5.1 Stage Efficiencies .................................................................................................................................... 5

5.2 Equilibrium Stage versus Rate Based Calculations ................................................................................. 5

5.3 Graphical Solutions Graphical Troubleshooting, Composition Profiles .............................................. 6

5.4 Dynamic Simulation ................................................................................................................................ 6

5.5 Feeds and Draws ..................................................................................................................................... 6

5.6 Reboilers, Condensers, Pumparounds, Heat Pumps ................................................................................ 7

6. Model Validation ............................................................................................................................................ 7

7. Interpreting Results ......................................................................................................................................... 7

8. Selecting Data for Rating Internals ................................................................................................................. 8

9. Internal Simulation Package Rating Programs ................................................................................................ 8

10. Economic Evaluations & Sensitivity Analyses .............................................................................................. 8

11. Bibliography................................................................................................................................................... 9

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1 Introduction

Process simulation packages are an invaluable tool for simulating process operations. When used properly, a
simulation will accurately model a process so that output information can be used to calculate operating
conditions that are otherwise unmeasurable, such as internal column loadings and physical properties. The
bases used to converge all process simulations are Vapor-Liquid Equilibrium (VLE) data and the heat and
material balances. The calculated compositions of the vapor and liquid are based on the specified VLE data.
The heat balance is calculated using a specified thermodynamic equation package. Therefore, the final
simulation results are only as good as the packages that were selected and the data that were input. Although
process simulations are used to simulate entire operating units, the scope of this section will be limited to
column operations.

The basic steps required to perform a process simulation are:

Review of Existing or Future Equipment to be Simulated


Data Gathering
Selection of the Thermodynamic and Vapor Liquid Equilibrium (VLE) Packages
Construction of the Model
Validation of the Model
Interpretation of Results

All of these elements are critical to the success of a simulation. The ideal simulation will match all aspects of
how the column actually operates or will operate. If the basis for the simulation construction is not
representative of the actual column operation and design, the simulation cannot be accurate.

2 Review of Existing Equipment and Process Flows

The first step of the simulation process is to make sure that the process flows are understood and accurately
represented. All feed, product, and recycle streams as well as energy sources need to be identified and
accounted for. It is most important to note at what tray or between what beds a feed or product is located.
Depending upon what the simulation is to be used for, minor streams may or may not need to be included in
the simulation. However, when excluding minor streams, you must be very careful to ensure that this omission
is truly inconsequential.

3. Data Gathering

Data gathering is extremely important when constructing a simulation. Errors in data gathering can lead to
simulations that will not converge or even worse, simulations that do converge and produce incorrect outputs
that go undetected.

One of the most important steps for gathering data is planning. During a hectic test run, it is often difficult, if
not impossible, to get additional samples or data points taken. The fewer unexpected requests during the test
run, the more smoothly and accurately the data will be collected. Safety considerations must always be
carefully evaluated when sampling streams that are at high pressures and temperatures or are flammable or
toxic.

Proper sampling technique must be observed when collecting samples. For further information on proper
sampling procedures refer to section 2.08 of this manual or the AIChE equipment testing procedures.1

A list of the typical data required for a column simulation is shown below.

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Temperatures & Pressures


Overhead Receiver
Column Overhead
Any Column Midpoints Available
Feeds
Bottoms
Heaters/Exchangers inlets and outlets

Compositions
Feeds
Products/Product Specifications
Column Tray or Bed Samples
Heating or Cooling Streams
Heater Fuel Streams

Flows
Feeds
Products
Flows to Heaters/Exchangers
Reflux and Pumparound

For new columns, these values will be defined as part of the design scope. Feeds and product specifications
should be defined there. If the simulation is being used for a feasibility study, perhaps a range of feed and
product rates and specifications will be used to determine an economic optimum. Temperatures are typically
set by available heating and cooling sources. Pressures are normally set by the temperature and composition
requirements. Unless the process being simulated is uncommon, it is a good idea to look at the operation of
similar columns to review typical operating conditions.

For column revamps, operating data can be gathered from the existing column operation. This can often be
accomplished effectively with the use of a distributed control system (DCS). Collecting data from a DCS will
normally require a tag list that will be used to download pertinent data on a periodic or time averaged basis. It
is important to have up to date Process and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs) and master tag lists from
which to construct the test run tag list. In some data logging systems, data which are not included beforehand
on a test run tag list cannot be retrieved afterwards and are therefore lost. Be sure that your tag list is
complete and will provide you with enough data to construct a full heat and material balance around the
column. When in doubt as to whether or not a tag is relevant, include it on your list.

3.1 Sample Collection & Lab Data

When collecting data, it is imperative that the column be running at steady state conditions when a
data set is collected. It is always important to know what the response time of the column is when
process changes are being made. Smaller columns may equilibrate to a process change in a matter of
minutes while larger columns may take several hours. Accurate data cannot be collected until the
column has had time to equilibrate. The response time will be a function of the column size, liquid
holdup, instrumentation, and complexity. The best way to determine the column response time of an
existing column is to talk to the operators and then verify this by making a moderate change to the
column and observing the trends. When available, a dynamic simulation can sometimes be used to
model the response time.

3.2 Heat and Material Balance

When taking data, it is important to also include heat balance data to cross check the rest of the
column information. Without a heat balance, there is no way to verify the reflux or pumparound flow

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rates. This information is extremely important with multi-draw columns where internal loadings
change significantly in different sections of the tower.

4 Selection of Property Packages

Existing VLE correlation packages may be modified with research data. These data can be found in literature
or may be available from the simulation vendor. Many large operating companies have in-house VLE data. Of
the various process simulation software packages available, some are better suited for different operating
systems than others. Most packages handle ideal hydrocarbon systems readily. Non-ideal, aqueous, and
electrolytic systems can be more difficult to simulate. Proprietary chemicals can also be difficult to simulate
due to a lack of published physical property data. When dealing with these systems, more accurate results can
usually be obtained by using externally gathered data. Some chemical systems have simulation packages
designed specifically for them. For example, there are several specialized simulation and property packages
available to deal with amine systems.

Many process simulation software packages provide an oil package to evaluate hydrocarbons based on
laboratory distillations, densities, UOP K factor, viscosities, and other available properties. These oil
packages then divide the hydrocarbon streams into pseudo components and then perform the simulation with
these components.

4.1 Non-Ideality

Equation of state models such as Peng-Robinson, SRK, etc., are reliable in predicting properties of
ideal systems but are limited in their ability to handle non-ideal or polar systems. These systems
normally require the use of a dual model system where an equation of state is used to predict the
vapor fugacity components and an activity model is used for the liquid phase. However, activity
models are much more empirical in nature. Therefore, more caution should be used when selecting
these models for your simulation.

4.2 Dual Property Packages

In some columns, the equilibrium conditions in the top section of the tower can be different enough
from the bottom section to warrant using different VLE packages in each section. In this case, the
column sections are initially modeled separately and linked together in the simulation using recycle
streams. This technique can be used to obtain more representative simulations.2

4.3 Azeotropes

Care must be used when simulating systems with azeotropic components. Because of their nature,
these systems present a severe test for simulation programs. Residue curves, which have been around
since the early 1900s, can be used effectively to deal with azeotropes. A residue curve is a plot of the
liquid phase composition as it varies with time during a simple distillation. Residue curve maps can be
pictured graphically for up to four components. Residue curves can be constructed from experimental
data or can be calculated analytically if equations of state or activity coefficient expressions are
available. Some examples of residue curves and general information on how to use them can be found
in Perrys Handbook.3 The use of a residue curve map of the azeotropic components can provide a
good indication of what separations are possible.

4.4 Checking of VLE Performance

Once a VLE package has been selected, it is good practice to print out a vapor-liquid plot at
conditions similar to available reference data to ensure that it corresponds well, particularly if one is
using default interaction parameters from the simulation package.

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5 Model Construction Considerations

There are various factors to be considered for the actual construction of the model. Once again, the primary
concern with the model construction is accuracy of the model with respect to the actual column operation.
Care must be taken to ensure that the scope and complexity of the model is such that it will provide the full
range of desired information. Various factors pertinent to the model construction are discussed below.

5.1 Stage Efficiencies

Many simulation programs allow stage efficiencies to be used to simulate the actual tray efficiencies.
This technique is convenient, but can produce incorrect results if not used properly. When stage
efficiencies are used, the resulting simulation will often indicate that the heavier components will
carry higher up in the column than in actual operation. This will also lead to an increase in predicted
stage temperatures4. Because of this, the use of tray efficiencies is generally not recommended. If
stage efficiencies are used, care should be taken not to apply them on stages that contain product
draws.

It should also be noted that rate based simulations rely on calculations of interphase mass transfer for
actual internals. Since they do not use the concept of theoretical stages, the concept of tray efficiency
does not apply

5.2 Equilibrium Stage versus Rate Based Calculations

The vast majority of process simulations are conducted using an equilibrium stage model. This
method models the column as a stack of equilibrium stages or theoretical plates. The key assumptions
required for this model are perfect mixing and thermodynamic equilibrium. In reality, these
assumptions are never truly accurate. As a result, the concepts of tray efficiency and HETP are used to
account for less than ideal mixing and departure from equilibrium.

Because of the above-mentioned limitations, a rate based method may be better suited for the
simulation of some processes. This method models the column as a group of segments where
equilibrium is assumed only at the vapor-liquid interface. These segments can be used to represent a
tray or a portion of a packed bed of a specified height. With the rate based approach, the degree of
separation achieved depends on the rates of mass and heat transfer between phases contacted on a tray
or section of packing. The advantages of the rate based method are that it eliminates the uncertainty of
using stage efficiencies and HETP, predicts the departure from temperature equilibrium, and can
account for interactions between diffusing components.

Rate based simulations are recommended for nonideal multicomponent systems, reactive distillation
systems, or any system where there is an interest in the distribution of non key components. Specific
cases where rate base simulation can be beneficial are applications where mists or bubbling may form
from the presence of vapors at temperatures below their dew point or liquids at temperatures above
their bubble point.5 With respect to tower internals, rate based simulations have their greatest
advantage with packed towers because in packed towers, there is no limitation on the number of
stages into which the tower can be divided. Rate based simulations have a major advantage where
conditions are changing rapidly, especially in short beds where fractions of a theoretical stage are
important. In depth questions regarding the applicability of certain processes for rate based modeling
should be addressed to the simulation software vendors.

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5.3 Graphical Solutions Graphical Troubleshooting, Composition Profiles

Most simulation packages will allow you to print out McCabe-Thiele diagrams of columns as well as
reflux ratio versus theoretical stages. These diagrams provide a graphical view of the column
operation and can many times help identify possible problems or limitations of the column operation.
These graphs are particularly useful for identifying column pinch points and approaches to infinite
reflux ratio or theoretical stages. A plot of stages versus reflux ratio is an invaluable tool that can be
used to ensure that the column design is optimized with respect to energy cost and capital investment
as well as indicate how sensitive the design is to a loss of theoretical stages.

5.4 Dynamic Simulation

Dynamic simulation can be a useful tool for simulating tower operations that are not considered
steady state. Dynamic simulation has been successfully used for reviewing relief scenarios for
distillation columns and also for control analysis. Instrument perturbation simulations can be useful
for evaluating the instrumentation performance. Dynamic Simulations may help identify control
problems that have substantial impact on performance of tower internals.

5.5 Feeds and Draws

The simulated introduction of a mixed feed to a column can be a source of uncertainty. This is an
important issue because it determines what the vapor and liquid loadings will be above and below that
point. The standard handling of mixed phase feeds is for the vapor portion to be mixed with the vapor
stream from the stage below the feed stage and the liquid portion to be mixed with the liquid from the
stage above. These combined streams are then mixed on the feed stage. An example of this is shown
below.

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Superheated and subcooled feeds produce unique loading conditions within a column. A superheated
feed, which is commonly found in an FCC Main Fractionator, will produce a vapor bulge in the
stages above the feed. This is the result the superheated vapor heat causing a greater than mole for
mole vaporization of the liquid that it contacts. The number of stages in this section of the tower must
be correctly specified so that the bulge appears in the simulated tower loadings. One method of
accounting for the bulge is to first simulate the tower with the correct number of stages required to
match the actual or desired tower operation and then add enough stages to a second simulation to
produce the bulge loadings. The first simulation will give correct loadings for all sections of the tower
except for the bulge section. The second simulation will be used only to get the hydraulic loads in the
bulge section. In the example case of the FCC Main Fractionator, two stages are normally required for
the actual simulation and three stages are required to properly yield the bulge loadings. Internals in the
bulge section of the tower must be sized to adequately handle these loads. Correspondingly, a
subcooled liquid feed or reflux will produce a liquid bulge in the stages below. This too, must be
accounted for when designing the tower internals.

5.6 Reboilers, Condensers, Pumparounds, Heat Pumps

When constructing or reviewing simulations, the reboiler and condenser operations need to be
evaluated to determine as to whether or not they constitute a full equilibrium stage and should be
modeled accordingly. Condensers must be specified as total, partial, or subcooled. More detailed
information on this subject can be found in section 4.03 of this manual entitled, Exchangers in
Fractionation Services. In some cases, the reboilers and condensers are simulated as an integral part
of the tower operation. In others, the reboiler and or condenser can be more accurately modeled as a
separate piece of equipment that is operating in conjunction with the tower operation.

Pumparounds are sometimes treated simply as a side exchanger attached to a particular theoretical
stage. This may be convenient to the simulator but it provides nothing for the process engineer
working up the design of the pumparound circuit. A more thorough way of simulating a pumparound
is to withdraw the fluid out of the tower, provide the necessary heat exchange and place it back in the
tower as another feed. This obviously is more complex and may result in considerable convergence
difficulties, but the results will be meaningful.

The addition of a heat pump to a column adds another degree of complexity to the simulation. With
these configurations, special emphasis must be placed on the integrated system. The compressor
operation including the compression ratio, hydraulics, and heat sink must be thoroughly evaluated to
ensure that it functions efficiently with the column operation.

6 Model Validation

Once the simulation has been run and converged, it should be validated against other data. In most cases, there
will be an existing column or other similar operations, which can be used as the basis for the validation. The
model should predict, as closely as possible, the correct composition, temperature and pressure profiles, and
energy requirements. Variances between the model and the actual operation or predicted operation need to be
reconciled. If possible, a simulation validation for more than one operating point will provide more confidence
in the applicability of the simulation over a range of operations. This is especially important when
extrapolating data for revamp cases.

7 Interpreting Results

Column internal loadings can be generated from the validated simulation and used for rating of the internals.
Most simulations print out the physical and transport properties of the vapor and liquid stream leaving each
stage. When using these data for internal ratings, it is important to remember to select the liquid stream leaving

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one stage and the vapor stream leaving the stage below. However, the designer should be aware that loadings
are occasionally increased across a given theoretical stage. The designer must then prorate the loadings to and
from the theoretical stage in question. Flashing feeds, for example, may artificially increase a stages loads
when in reality the extra load is above it. When working with reboilers and condensers, you must identify the
flows shown that are outside the actual column and not incorporate them in the rating process. Be careful to
verify the tray numbering system versus the simulation numbering system. Most simulations number stages
from top to bottom with the condenser being stage number 1 and the reboiler being the last stage. By
convention, actual column trays are numbered without consideration of condensers and many columns are
numbered from bottom to top.

Pumparound sections can have their own nuances. These sections are typically situated in a tower to simply
achieve heat transfer. Two or three theoretical stages are needed to just to establish (be far enough away from
the feed and withdraw trays to see) what the liquid and vapor loads are in this section of the tower. In addition,
the mass transfer rate and the heat transfer rate are typically different in a real tower. Care should be taken to
ensure that the material balance is closed and the temperatures should be checked in a pumparound section.

8 Selecting Data for Rating Internals

When selecting data for rating of internals, review the entire column loadings to get a feel for variances in the
internals loads. Check vapor and liquid volumetric flow rates and physical properties throughout the column.
Stages with significant variances in transport properties will require additional ratings account for these
changes. Normal practice is to select high and low loading cases for each similar section of the column to rate
or size the internals. Some simulation packages will do this automatically. The next step is to adjust the
simulation or flows to account for desired spare capacity or turndown. In some cases the turndown can just be
simulated as 50% of design flow or whatever criteria is required. In some cases, other factors may require that
a separate turndown case be simulated.

For Reflux distributors it is important to size them for the proper temperature. If a reflux is subcooled, then the
design of the distributor should be made using the subcooled reflux temperature.

9 Internal Simulation Package Rating Programs

Rating programs for column internals are a feature provided by most simulation packages. These rating
programs can be useful for initial sizing but often have limited range of applicability. Simulation hydraulic
ratings will frequently not flag results that are outside the range of applicability of the applied correlations.
Check with the simulation package vendor to identify these limitations. When proceeding beyond the initial
estimate stage, it is recommended that the internals vendor verify the internal ratings.

10 Economic Evaluations & Sensitivity Analyses

One of the major benefits of using a simulation package is the ability to experiment and perform sensitivity
analyses with various column operations and configurations in an effort to optimize the process. Simulations
can be used to evaluate the effect of varying the order of columns in a multi column process. Evaluations of
reflux ratio versus required stages are also very useful. This can be used to determine the optimum column size
and internals required. Another good analysis is to review the effect of reflux and internal efficiencies with
product specifications. Studies can also be conducted to determine optimum feed location and temperature as
well as pressure minimization.

These reviews will help the engineer design an optimized column with maximum operating flexibility.

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Revised: 10/10/2008

11 Bibliography

1. AIChE Equipment Testing Procedure. Tray Distillation Columns. A Guide to Performance


Evaluation. 2nd Edition 1987

2. Pilling, M.W. and P. Mannion, Simulation Aid to Main Fractionator Expansion, Petroleum
Technology Quarterly, 2(2) pp. 37-43, Summer 1997

3. Perry, R.H., Green, D.W., and Maloney, J.O., Perrys Chemical Engineers Handbook, 7th Edition,
McGraw-Hill, 1997.

4. Theoretical Trays and Efficiencies in Hysim, Hyprotech Technical Updat

5. Ryan, J. M., Chang-Li Hsieh, and M.S. Sivasubramanian, Predict Misting and Bubbling in Towers,
Chemical Engineering Progress, pp. 83-90, August 1994.

Page 9 of 9
FRI VOLUME 5: FRACTIONATION DESIGN HANDBOOK
ACCUMULATION IN DISTILLATION
COLUMNS MIDDLE BOILERS Issued: 10/06/2011
3.61
Revised:

ACCUMULATION IN DISTILLATION COLUMNS MIDDLE BOILERS

ACCUMULATION IN DISTILLATION COLUMNS MIDDLE BOILERS .......................1

1. Introduction .........................................................................................................................2

2. Middle Boiler Accumulation Mechanisms and Symptoms .................................................2

3. Enablers of Middle Boiler Accumulation ............................................................................3

3.1 Tower Controls .......................................................................................................................... 3

3.2 Increased Staging ....................................................................................................................... 3

3.3 Liquid Accumulation From Sources Other Than Middle Boilers.............................................. 4

4. Diagnosing and Detecting Middle Boiler Accumulation ....................................................4

4.1 Detection .................................................................................................................................... 4

4.2 Diagnosing ................................................................................................................................. 5

5. Middle Boiler Accumulation Mitigation .............................................................................5

6. References ...........................................................................................................................6

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1 Introduction

Middle boilers are common throughout the chemical and refining industries. They have been known to
exist for decades in such common separations as argon in air separation, methyl-acetylene in C3 Splitters,
Green Oil in C2 Splitters, Fusels in Alcohol rectification and water in FCC Deethanizer/Strippers. In
established processes like these, the middle boilers are expected. Process designs take them into account,
and they therefore cause little difficulty. Unexpected middle boilers, however, can be very troublesome.
This design practice is intended to help the engineer deal with previously unknown middle boilers that
disrupt tower performance and capacity.

Accumulation of middle boilers in distillation columns is a result of the inability to remove the
component(s) from the top or bottom of the tower. The buildup can result in a number of transient
problems, including regular periodic temperature swings, or pressure drop and/or composition spikes.
These can be accompanied by the column briefly flooding and then discharging (hiccupping) the liquid to
the overhead or to the base. After the hiccup, the process begins again.

The first step in correcting liquid accumulation in a distillation column is to identify which mechanism is
responsible. Appropriate measures can then be implemented to mitigate the problem.

2 Middle Boiler Accumulation Mechanisms and Symptoms

There are several sources for middle boilers. The most common is when a mid-boiling impurity is present
in the feed in trace amounts. This trace impurity boils at a temperature lower than the major component in
the bottoms product, and higher than the major component in the overhead product. If the overhead and
bottoms products are pure, the impurity gets trapped, and its concentration builds up over time until it can
break out of that trap.

Possible sources of middle boilers include:


1. True middle boiling impurities.
2. Middle boiling impurities due to non ideal behavior
3. Unbalanced azeotropes (excess entrainer) in azeotropic distillation
4. Impurities forming middle boiling azeotropes with one of the product components
5. A reaction of an impurity with one of the main components forming a middle boiler

The main symptom of middle boiler accumulation is that, over time, at regular intervals, the impurity
accumulates until it causes liquid to stack up in the column. It may then overflow the top or overcome
the vapor traffic and suddenly go out the bottom of the column. The main point here is that if the total
feed rate and composition of the middle boiling impurity to the column are constant then the rate of
accumulation will be constant resulting in periodic column upsets.

Factors that interact with middle boiler accumulation and aggravate the situation:
1. Freezing (i.e. formation of hydrates) of middle boilers
2. Foaming
3. Control schemes

With each of these interacting factors the system may lose its ability to recover from the upset by itself.

In C2 Splitters, water (if present) will azeotrope with the hydrocarbons until it finds the tray with a cold
enough temperature to freeze or form hydrates(1). This can prematurely flood the tower by plugging the

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open area or downcomers. Another example would be an FCC (or coker) absorber/deethanizer where
water can build up in the tower and it cannot go overhead because of the cold temperature and cannot exit
the bottom because of the hot temperature. This can result in corrosion(2), internals damage(3), potentially
two phases and Ross(4,5,6) type foaming.

3 Enablers of Middle Boiler Accumulation

3.1 Tower Controls

Tower control systems can promote accumulation of mid-boilers, especially in systems where
relatively pure components are being produced in the overhead and bottoms. Usually, this will
have one product on composition control using temperature to control the steam or reflux with
the other stream on flow control cascaded to temperature. In the case of azeotropic distillation
there may also be a material balance control for reflux to satisfy the azeotrope.

Control systems can also be misled by middle boiler accumulation. Systems which control a
temperature in a column are really trying to hold a composition profile. Middle boilers can
change what the composition actually is, at that given temperature. As a hypothetical example,
consider a binary mixture at 15 bar pressure of propylene (Tb =36C) and Iso-butane (Tb=85C).
The dew point of a 50/50 molar mixture is 65C. If a middle boiler such as propane (Tb=44C) is
introduced, that 65C temperature no longer represents a unique composition. A mixture of 18%
propylene, 37% propane and 45% Iso-butane would have the same dew point, as would many
other combinations.

Control systems can also be adversely affected when the middle boiler has different physical
properties than the main constituents. For example, differences in latent heat of vaporization can
change vapor traffic in columns, and have an impact on pressure drop or approach to flood.
Impurities have also been known to cause foaminess in otherwise well-behaved systems, which
can lead to control instability and premature flood.

3.2 Increased Staging

Increasing staging by adding more trays or packing or improving the performance of existing
equipment to improve separation efficiency (higher product purities) can also bring about
trapping of middle boilers that were previously able to escape.

In one large absorber column in a chemical plant, the top trays in a column were replaced with
structured packing. This met the project goal of improved absorption efficiency, but also reduced
overhead entrainment. In many situations this would be a good thing, but in practice the
entrainment had been the purge point for trace amounts of an acid in the feed. After the retrofit,
the concentration of acid built up enough to significantly increase the corrosion rate in the
column.

In another instance, trays were added to a column to reduce the water content of an overhead
product. This had the side effect of increasing the concentration of some nitrile impurities in the
column. Even though they were not fully trapped, the increase in concentration and extra
residence time allowed them to hydrolyze, forming carboxylic acid impurities. These acids
significantly increased the corrosion rate in the column.

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3.3 Liquid Accumulation From Sources Other Than Middle Boilers

In some cases, it is possible to get regular periodic loading and dumping behavior in columns,
even when no middle boilers are present. It is important to recognize the circumstances when this
is likely to occur, as it requires entirely different corrective action strategies than when middle
boilers are the cause.

One situation in which liquid accumulation and dumping is likely to occur when there are abrupt
changes in the hydraulic capacity of column internals when going from the rectification to the
stripping section. If the components have widely different latent heats, and the control system
allows the lower latent heat component to move into the more restrictive hydraulic section, then
liquid will accumulate resulting in flooding. Adjusting the temperature (or analyzer) set point to
move the lower latent heat component will solve this situation.

For example, this can occur in systems separating high latent heat water from low latent heat
organic compounds to achieve high purity water in the bottoms and high purity organic in the
overhead. In this situation there will be major differences in needed hydraulic capacity in the
stripping section versus the rectification section. If the control system allows the organic profile
to slip down the column then flooding could occur. This can happen with overly aggressive
advanced control systems.

A poor control philosophy can lead to a mass, component, or heat imbalance resulting in liquid or
component accumulation in the tower.

A poor temperature control point or lack of adequate temperature control can also lead to
instability in the system which appears somewhat similar to liquid or component accumulation.

Another possible source of periodic loading and dumping behavior is when fouling or some other
mechanism severely reduces the open area of trays or column internals. This mechanism is
typically characterized by extremely high pressure drops. In one example of this, a site allowed
very hard water to leak into the reflux drum of a column designed to remove small amounts of
water from an organics stream. Over time, the hardness totally plugged the openings of the
bubble-cap trays in the top of the column. Vapor could only pass up through the downcomers on
the trays. The high pressure drop associated with this caused liquid to build up on the trays until
it reached a high level, at which point it rapidly dropped, then began building again.

4 Diagnosing and Detecting Middle Boiler Accumulation

4.1 Detection

Detection of liquid accumulation can be done as follows:

1. Examine process data such as pressure drop. The pressure drop will build in regular
cycles until the column can no longer hydraulically support the liquid and it will briefly
flood sending large quantities of the liquid overhead or out the bottoms. The pressure
drop builds although the steam or heat input rate, reflux, and feed are constant. In this
case, the column seems to flood at regular but lengthy intervals. The length depends on
the concentration of the middle boiler in the feed and how fast it accumulates in the
tower. This length can range between a few hours to several days. In between the
flooding incidents, the tower will behave normally. A hydraulic analysis may reveal that

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the column is not close to flood at the operating conditions.


2. Study the temperature profile over a period of time for evidence of a significant change
for no apparent reason. This temperature change is consistent and cyclic.
3. Sample the column feed and product streams to perform a material balance which may
show accumulation of a particular component. Even if the component is below the
detection limit it can still cause a problem if its flow is high enough.
4. Sample intermediate points on the column.
5. Simulate the column using a process simulator with verified physical property package
for all components found during sampling, and then plot the composition profile to find
compositional bulges. In the case of a middle boiling component the simulation may be
very difficult to converge. Trick the simulation by artificially increasing (or decreasing)
the middle boiling component concentration in the feed, or by artificially taking a side
draw, to facilitate a converged solution. Initial estimates of temperatures and
compositions many times are keys to attaining a converged solution.
6. Gamma scan the column to find the middle boiler accumulation area which may show up
as an intermediate flood location different than expected. Repeat gamma scans to help
detect the middle boiler buildup especially during cyclic operation.

4.2 Diagnosing

Samples taken from the column will confirm the existence of components which may be middle
boilers. If possible, change the control point for a period of time to a lower purity specification at
one end of the column. This will allow the middle boiler to escape, reversing the accumulation
and reducing the buildup.

In the case of masquerading middle boiler accumulation such as in the separation of water as a
high boiler from a low latent heat organic, the internals are usually designed with very different
hydraulics in the stripping section versus the rectification section. If the composition control for
the column bottoms is temperature resetting the steam rate, then increasing the temperature set
point moves the organic profile up the column. Initially, this will cause the steam rate and
pressure drop to increase. As soon as the organic profile moves out of the hydraulically restrictive
area in the stripping section then the pressure drop will decrease significantly.

5 Middle Boiler Accumulation Mitigation

Middle boiler accumulation can be overcome. There are several methods listed below:

1. Change the control to allow the middle boiling component to leave with either the overhead or
bottoms product. This could also be accomplished by changes in operation, such as reducing the
reflux ratio. This method requires a compromise that may be unacceptable to operations or the
ultimate customer because the purity of either the bottoms or overhead product is reduced.
2. Remove the middle boiling component from the feed.
3. Add a side draw and remove the middle boiling component. The side draw rate does not have to
be large, but it must be high enough to maintain material balance of the middle boiling
component. The location, phase, rate and number of side draws can be determined from
simulation results. Where practical, a number of extra side draw points should be installed to
account for simulation inaccuracies.
4. In the case of azeotropic distillation ensure the entrainer material balance is satisfied. This needs
to be accounted for in the control system.

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5. Improve the control scheme and/or increase column capacity to increase the cycle time to an
acceptable frequency
6. React away the middle boiler in the tower, either at the point of build up or at another convenient
location.

6 References

1. Mayo, D., The Hidden Hydrates: An Ethylene Fractionator Case Study, AIChE Distillation 2007
Topical Conference Proceedings, pp 491-506 (2007)
2. Kister, H. Z., Component Trapping in Distillation Towers: Causes, Symptoms and Cures,
Chemical Engineering Progress, pp 22-33 (August 2004)
3. Holden, B. S., Au-Yeung, P., Effects of Trapped Trace Component on Operation of Wastewater
Stripper/Organic Recovery Tower, AIChE Distillation 2007 Topical Conference Proceedings, pp
575-581 (2007)
4. Ross, S., Nishioka, G., Foaminess of Binary and Ternary Solutions, The Journal of Physical
Chemistry, Vol. 79, No. 15 , pp 1561-1564 (1975)
5. Ross, S., A Review of Foaming in Fractionation Towers, FRI Topical Report 68, June 15, 1974
6. Davies, B., Zafar, A., Porter, K. E., Distillation of Systems Containing Two Liquid Phases,
AIChE Journal, Vo. 33, No. 1, pp 161-163 (January 1987)

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