ht. J. Pres.

Vex & Piping 61 (1995) 157-175


ElsevierScience Limited Printedin NorthernIreland 0308-0161/95/$09.50

A Practising Engineelss Expeliences in Ovemoming Inhemnt Design Pmblems in Thermal Power Station Boilels

JAMES A COLLINS Assistant Power Station Manager Electricity Department, City of Cape Town Civic Centre, Hertzog Boulevard, P 0 Box 82, Cape Town, 8000

ABSTRACT I am a practising engineer and not an engineering theorist, my knowledge of fracture mechanics, probabilistic theory and theoretical failure analysis is virtually zero. I do, however, have a wealth of experience in diagnostic engineering built up over many years of thermal power plant failure analysis. This paper seeks to highlight the failure, by thermal power station manufacturers, to truly analyse the potential for premature failure in the design of coal and oil fired boilers with which I have been associated.


Nearly thirty years of involvement reliability of generation availability

with thermal power stations, at the sharp end where the is second only to the safety of personnel, teaches one a

few things about boiler designers, manufacturers and erectors. During the presentation of this paper I will be referring plant. Although to operating temperatures and pressures of various types of boiler

I have come to terms with the metrication of temperatures I find the

standard unit of pressure has varied so much over the years, and from country to country, that I no longer try to keep pace with the changes. The simple table of approximations set

out below will enable the reader to convert from whatever I may use to something which is hopefully more familiar. 1 p.s.i. M 7 kPa 1 bar x 15 p.s.i.


and these are being retro- . Again UK coal has a relatively high sulphur and hard. How tempting it must be to offer a previously successful design to meet the next potential client’s nequilements.158 J. grit like. ash content. whilst the grit erodes particularly the medium carbon steel economiser tubes. at a specified temperature and pressure. therefore. been intensified by the background of a shrinking market. those of Southern Africa contain virtually the provision environmental of electrostatic precipitators a very ineffective protection. The quality. for example. Remaining with coal. in terms of calorific value and ash content. need to be more robust or sheathed with stainless steel to prevent premature failure due to fireside corrosion. Molten sulphates adhere to superheater elements with resultant corrosion. Designers of thermal power station boilers work towards producing a given flow rate of steam. The side and rear furnace wall tubes. deposits molten chlorides on the furnace walls. for the removal of dust from Whilst such properties are ideal for electrostatic precipitation the flue gases they do have their adverse effects. making form of flue gas cleaning and Where there is a deficiency in trace elements for effective ionisation fabric filter bag houses are the only effective solution. contains chlorine which. Collins 1” water gauge = ‘/4 kPa 1 bar w 100 kPa DISCUSSION Adaptation of Pn?vious Designs Designers are under considerable pressure to put together a viable package which will be competitive in an open tender situation. where denationalised electricity producers are now able to purchase on the world market. and constituent trace elements of fossil fuels vary from country to country and region to region. no sulphur. the only parameters which need to be considered. however. these are not. when used in pulverised fuel boilers. Tube material wall thickness calculations for design creep life are not simply a factor of temperature. at the turbine stop valves. The trend towards total package turnkey contracts This pressure has has made tendering for thermal power station plant highly competitive. pressure and hoop stress. United Kingdom coal. A.

This makes for radiant heat pick up when fired with oil.Inherent design problems in boilers 159 fitted at great cost to power stations all over South Africa. by Governments. is still required at 60% of maximum flow rate. as was my experience in Khartoum. The fireball with pulverised fuel is considerably larger than that with oil. Such countries are generally poor. despite being called “The Jewel of Africa”. for full load operation. are desperate to expand their to accept the lowest generation capability. For this reason. force the acceptance of the lowest tender irrespective of overall suitability for the purpose. A pressurised furnace design of boiler reduces the capital cost by eliminating the need for induced draught fans. Pernaps the boiler makers anz looking for lucrative post commissioning contracts. even after removing 40% of the superheater surface area. and subsequent over-firing to attain the Such overfiring produces a higher than design temperature design steam outlet conditions. A boiler designed solely for pulverised fuel firing can not be effectively used for oil firing. There is no consideration of the longterm maintenance costs. Botswana is not self sufficient in power generation. in the convection areas of the boiler with resultant loss of creep life. Here we are looking here at a country where. Emphasis on Radiant Heating Surface Ama in Eady *e Boilers The designers of the first large (SOOMW) boilers during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. normally temperature control only at low loads. It is also unethical to sell a pressurised furnace design to a country or region where there are no welders to repair the inevitable boiler casing leaks. and to minimise rear wall impingement. Desuperheater 33MW operation. particularly in the furnace area. Financial constraints put on Parastatal Organisations. They seemed to be more concerned with . A 60MW boiler cannot be adapted for efficient experience in Botswana. as was my used for final superheater sprays. who had been very successful with smaller boilers. or the effect of generating plant down time on their electricity grid system. but the cost in manpower and down time of maintaining the integrity of the boiler casing is high. failed to make proper calculations of heat absorbtion rates. and are forced by aid donors or Governments tender. inefficient the furnace is larger.

6 x 1O6kg/hr of steam to the turbine stop valves at 178bar pressure and 528°C. A. fluid flow rates. combustion rates and combustion efficiency allowed heat absorbtion rates to be calculated which proved: . in addition to the normal “curtain wall” for efficient use of radiant heat energy for the conversion of water into saturated steam. contained two “steam division walls”. was investigated. lower half of the steam division walls became common place after only 18 000 steaming hours the problem.160 J. creep. This boiler. Collins radiant heating surface area to achieve final superheater outlet temperatures in line with specified turbine inlet conditions. Collection of data from thermocouples. The boiler designers believed this additional superheater surface area was necessary When tube failures due to creep in the to attain the specified turbine stop valve conditions. The inevitable result being premature tube failures due to - PULVERISED FUEL BURNER LEVELS FIGURE 1 Figure 1 shows a simplified part furnace view of a 5OOMW pulverised fuel boiler designed to deliver 1.

Inherent design problems in boilers 161 4 retention of the steam division walls in their as designed condition exhausted the tube material creep life in critical areas to 15 000 steaming hours. b) retention of the steam division walls. In addition to this. replacing the tubes with the best quality stainless steel. flow bias nozzles were fitted in the pulverised fuel lines to reduce the intensity of the fireball in the upper furnace areas.3rd STAGE SUPERHEATER 4th STAGE SUPERHEATER FIGURE 2 . compared to the specified design creep life of 100 000 hours. - - . c) complete removal of the steam division walls would lead to the boiler being incapable of achieving it’s design outlet steam conditions. would extend the creep life to only 25 000 hours. The final solution was to reduce the steam division walls to a large pendant type design stopping short of the furnace area.

The ideal solution would have been to replace the bottom bends with either stainless steel or 2S%Cr l%Mo alloy steel. would have required either inconel welds or post weld heat treatment respectively. Over a few years of thermal cycling a failure at the weakest point is The weakest point is the heat effected zone of the tie to tube tack weld. Whereas most modem pulverised fuel fired boilers of this size produce the required output conditions with a double bank primary superheater and twin loop secondary superheater. the tube wall thickness could not be increased to the required value for design creep life. so stainless steel heat shields were fitted to the bends after welding. The third alternative. only a selection of the most glaring examples are highlighted here. this boiler.162 J. however. Considering a top slung 500MW boiler. To be fair to the designers this was the first boiler to be built in Western Europe with a capacity over 350MW. but illustrates again the obsession for gaining maximum benefit from radiant heat energy. Figure 3 shows the typical method of restraining the furnace wall tubes to buckstays on many boilers irrespective of age or size. and the . the load condition is expansion measured at the furnace bottom approximately 350mm. which are mounted on the boiler casing. My experience in this area could warrant a paper in it’s own right. both of which are costly exercises. In this example the third and fourth stage superheater bottom bends. Flexibility of Boiler St~~ctum for Thermal Cycling Designers fail to take proper cognisance of the movements and stresses induced during thermal cycling of a boiler. 15mm. still operating in the UK thirty three years after commissioning. were unnecessary errors in design philosophy. Owing to the constraints attached to retro-fitting.75 x lo6 kg/hr of steam to the turbine stop valves at 157bar bressure and 525°C. these solutions. could have been eliminated and were rectified at great cost in down time and capital investment by the users. suffered an unacceptable level of creep failures after 30 000 steaming hours. was to replace the bends with a l%Cr ‘/z%Mo alloy steel. The differential from the cold to full movement between the furnace wall tubes exposed to the full heat of the furnace and the buckstays. has eight (8) separate stages of superheating surface area. Collins Figure 2 shows a simplified part furnace view of a 55OMW pulverised fuel boiler designed to deliver 1. All. is approximately inevitable. located towards the top of the furnace area. which was accepted. however. A.

is costly in boiler down time as it is difficult to locate and awkward to repair. hidden from sight. This type of failure. ENLARGED PLAN VIEW x FIGURE Q . Figure 4 shows a modified tube attachment successfully retro-fitted Y to several boilers in the UK.Inherent design problems in boilers 163 FIGURE 3 whole weld pulls out leaving a pin hole in the tube.

A.s FIGURE 5 f / FIGURE 6 .164 J. Col1in.

Figure 7 is a schematic arrangement of the main steam pipework leaving the boiler. in order to provide a gas seal.where there is no relative movement steelwork and pipework. The temperature within the top dead space of a typical 5OOMW boiler is 350°C and. There are three basic types of pipe hangers: a) fixed hangers . and further weld failures were eliminated. and connecting to the header. the reheater tubes are physically attached to the roof. through the boiler roof into the top dead space. between structural OUTLET HEADER FIGURE 7 . Considering the relative length of tie rods restraining the header and the roof. showing the installation of pipe hangers on a twenty metre vertical leg.Inherent design problems in boilers 165 Figure 5 shows a design of a primary reheater exiting from the gas pass. The 30MW oil fired boilers in Khartoum being floor mounted expands upwards. This arrangement eventually lead to an unacceptable rate of tube to header weld failures after 30 000 steaming hours. the differential movement due to expansion between the header and the roof is in the order of 35mm. modification flexibility The shown in Figure 6 was designed and retro-fitted to the boilers to introduce more to the structure.

therefore. Collins W cl spring hangers . The vertical section of pipework was. experienced at the tube to header welds with resultant were undertaken to allow the Major attachment and expansion loop modifications economiser elements and header to expand at the same rate and to the same extent. involvement In thirty years of with power stations I have found only one boiler where real thought had been safe and easy access.166 J. Unlike the earlier example of furnace wall tube attachments. Where access doors were provided to other parts of the boiler there were no fixed gantries leading to the doors necessitating the erection of tower scaffolds. A routine inspection of the furnace required two days of preliminary work to remove a complete burner assembly together with all the dampers and controls for access through the windbox. constant load hangers . at the superheater outlet position expanded 25mm vertically. given to providing The 30MW oil fired boilers in Khartoum are a prime example of where no thought was given. must believe the product of their labours is so good that internal access will never be required. Internal Access to Boilers for Inspection and Repair Designers.where there is relative movement between structural steelwork and pipework but the restraining forces applied remain constant. and consultants employed to specify design requirements. due to the relatively low heat pick in the water walls of the rear enclosure from cold.where there is no relative movement but where the possibility of shock loading exists. A. the casing initially expands faster than the water walls. In the fully flexing heated condition is therefore the water walls expand more than the casing. Considerable failures. The pipework on all boilers was rehung on constant load hangers with no further weld failures. The vertical section of the main steam pipework was supported on fixed steelwork with spring hangers whilst the boiler. Reverting to larger boilers the economiser of the 55OMW boiler detailed earlier was constructed with the economiser elements mounted on stools attached to the rear enclosure water wall tubes. . supported by the superheater outlet header and pipework when the boiler was fully expanded with the inevitable heat effected zone weld cracking after 8 000 steaming hours. while the economiser inlet header is fixed to the boiler casing.

instead of following vertically the profile of the furnace nose. . together with the cutting. perhaps. more relevant to this subject. and only half a metre from a drop of thirty metres into the ash hopper at the bottom of the boiler.Inherent design problems in boilers 167 HERE Figure 8 shows a particularly dangerous example of lack of thought towards safe boiler internal access. This boiler was supplied with side access doors onto the furnace nose below the screen tubes. had to be performed by contortionists in this restricted space. Figure 9 is a schematic view of the primary superheater inlet header of a 5OOIGW boiler which suffered quite regular tube to header weld failures during thermal cycling. Inspection and location of failures. The only access to the header area was by dragging oneself through a tunnel formed by the tubes only 380mm high. grinding and welding repair operations. It is normal practise in the design of large boilers for every third tube of the rear furnace wall. to continue upwards forming a screen for safe boiler access. The next example was considered for inclusion in the previous category on flexibility of structures but is.

168 J. Collins FIGURE 9 FIGURE 10 . A.

and shown in Figure 11. The Importance of Cottect Positioning of Fitments The location of internal and external fitments can be critical to the effective and reliable . but this time in the secondary reheater. There was no access for inspection or repair without the major removal of undamaged tubes and rewelding on completion. carried out for ease of access.Inherent design problems in boilers 169 Figure 10 shows the simple modification modification in this area. Access to this area was so bad that it was only ever undertaken during triennial boiler overhauls. As a bonus the which virtually eliminated further leaks also created a greater level of flexibility PRIMARY S/H RISERS VJRATED IAM TUBES FIGURE 11 \ \ Probably the worst access problem encountered was on the same boiler. A boiler tube leak in this area was dealt with by cutting the tubes in the dead space above the gas passes and capping off at the header.

condenses allowing water droplets to fall into the main steam leg below causing stress corrosion cracking. On internal inspection of the main steam leg the expected pitting and cracking was found. adjacent to the isolating valve. leaving a dead section of pipework. top section. The isolating valves were repositioned immediately above the main steam leg to prevent further damage.170 J. but diagnosed in time to allow elimination by blending. or vice versa. there is a main steam interconnector allowing Boiler 1 to feed Turbine 2. > FROM BLR 1 1 I- MEASUREMENT \ FIGURE 12 Although a “Unitised” power station. in an emergency. site supervision needs to be vigilant In addition to the design to ensure that erection drawings are strictly adhered to. . A. with one boiler providing steam to one turbine. The steam in the ten metres above the main steam leg. The interconnector isolating valves were positioned as shown in Figure 12. aspects. Collins commercial operation of a boiler and it’s associated auxiliaries. Both examples in this area come from the 30MW oil fired boilers in Khartoum.

was 2%%Cr l%Mo alloy steel. the feed water inlet manifold. after twenty years service. scaffold tubes have been known to last up to 8 000 hours in a primary reheater carrying steam at 35bar pressure and 350°C while being exposed to gas temperatures up to 550°C. which were made extremely costly as the welding expertise had to be imported from the United Kingdom. and generally result in great inconvenience. after reporting to the boiler inspectorate. This discovery. loss of revenue and increased capital expenditure for the user. Quality Contml of Materials Used During Construction and Repair The strict control of materials. Whilst carrying out creep life assessments.Inherent design problems in boilers 171 The boilers in Khartoum. For example. Spectra-analysis of the respective materials revealed that the material specification of the section with zero creep life was medium carbon steel. The correct material specification. wrong datum height had been used for the mounting of the boiler drum water level control equipment constraining the level 28mm below design. approximately 1500mm in length. during 1987 and 1988 led to an extensive The revealing two erection defects which together contributed to the failures. The culmination of these two erection defects allowed water at 185°C to impinge directly onto the top row of tube expansions which were partially exposed to saturated steam at 253OC. was fixed rotationally one bolt pitch (45”) away from design. resulted in considerable . More vigilant site supervision would have saved the need for modification of external boiler drum fitments. indicated a residual creep life of zero while the remainder of the header showed a residual life in excess of 60 000 hours. A succession of tube expansion failures investigation. on a final superheater outlet header on a 500MW boiler carrying steam at 178bar pressure and 535°C disturbing results were found. The inclusion of “rogue materials” in a boiler can take some time to come to light. The resultant continual thermal shocks imposed on the tube expansions brought about the failures which were totally eradicated by the correction of the defects built into the boilers. One section of the header. have tubes expanded into the boiler drum rather than the more traditional welded attachment for modern boilers. like that of the remainder of the header. Secondly. although commissioned only in 1985. during boiler manufacture and construction is essential for successful commercial operation of a boiler. both in the factory and at site. mounted internally through the length of the boiler drum.

over the last twenty years. but at considerable inconvenience to the Thorough non-destructive testing of boiler components is essential. Spectra-analysis of the boiler contractors tube racks showed that medium carbon steel tubing had been placed on racks labelled for 2*/4%Cr l%Mo tubing. identified and controlled material storage is very important both in fabrication workshops and at site. therefore. A. seamless. recovered from the offending user from loss of generation capability. but once the tube is manipulated to form a bend the laminations can be separated forming cracks within the tube wall. contractor. In a straight length of tube this is not a problem. Unless witnessed first hand it is difficult to believe how a boiler operating at 178bar pressure can rid itself of over one hundred (100) tonnes of water and steam through one hole in a matter of minutes. Hot finished. on this occasion. extruded tubing. in non-destructive testing techniques Properly employed during boiler construction and repair have improved the situation. managed use of the methods now available can greatly improve the commercial effectiveness of boilers of all sizes. The crack propagates unnoticed within the tube wall to the surface with catastrophic results.172 J. Collins expense to the user in boiler down time and replacement of the rogue material section. A 5OOMW boiler. A 550MW boiler constructed in 1960 was selectively re-examined by . There was no pattern to the failures. prior to installation. or the distribution alloy steel of rogue materials within the tube elements. and cost was incurred. Improvements. which had 1OOmm bore x 12mm wall thickness tubes feeding the furnace wall tube bottom headers. for the boiler to give good and reliable service. The resultant tube replacements and loss of revenue due to boiler down time was. A 5OOMW boiler reheater suffered tube leaks regularly due the inclusion of l%Cr 1/%Mo alloy steel in areas where 21/4%Cr l%Mo should have been used. of the tube elements. suffered several failures of this type. through regular loss of boiler A 33MW boiler in Botswana suffered continual failures in the secondary superheater tube elements. are prone to contain laminations within the material structure. The cost to the user in boiler down time from boiler tube leaks was calculated to be less than that for total replacement Considerable inconvenience availability. particularly with wall thicknesses over 6mm. Strictly organised.

It is.Inherent design problems in boilers 173 radiography condemned. being welded to the tubes at both ends. After drying the area. making the weld invisible to the naked eye. During a routine ten yearly over pressure test on the reheater of a 55OMW boiler a very small damp patch was noticed on a header. by the standards operating in 1975. Once these have been eradicated batch sampling up to 30% is sufficient. Failure to notice this easily overlooked defect would have produced a disastrous inservice failure well before the next hydraulic test ten years later. the dampness reappeared some thirty minutes lafer. Polishing and testing with dye penetrant showed the possibility of several small imperfections. the users of boilers are not necessarily blameless. and to be aware of potential disasters and incorrect diagnosis. which extended three quarters of the way round the header. emanating from the weld root. Ineffective quality control over the work resulted in the erosion shields. the cap of which had been ground off for ultrasonic examination. to ensure water had not dripped from elsewhere. polishing. operated at a pressure of 35bar containing superheated steam at 450°C. 80% of the welds tested were During construction and major boiler tube replacement programmes 100% is not always possible. The header in question. Boiler maintenance engineers need always to be vigilant during boiler inspections. important in the early stages to identify bad welders or where poor techniques are being employed. radiography in 1975 and. and extend the life of thin walled reheater tubes in the same 55OhW boiler with a good residual creep life. Vigilance Requiled of Boiler Maintenance Engineels This section serves to accept that it is not only designers and manufacturers of boilers who can be at fault. Examination of drawing indicated that the header was forged in two pieces and joined by a submerged arc weld. 700mm outside diameter with a wall thickness of 55mm. Excavation by grinding. stainless steel erosion shields were fitted during a boiler overhaul. Differential thermal expansion between the tube and shield materials caused the welds to tear out with resultant tube failures. each 1500mm long. however. A perfectly acceptable boiler design can cause no end of problems if not maintained correctly. In order to overcome excessive grit erosion. This lack of vigilance required a further loss of three weeks . irrespective of their level of experience. testing and regrinding eventually uncovered a crack.

and their industrial derivatives. destructive tests using methods suitable for a ferritic to stainless boundary showed that only the eight welds previously passed as sound required repair. although very critical of designers. surely the manufacturers facilities could do the same. and include extended maintenance periods for certain types of boiler failure. should not suffer continual down time due to poor design or manufacture. CONCLUSIONS 1. of other major engineering 2. A routine non-destructive test survey on a boiler produced a report which indicated that a majority of the welds onto a superheater header were cracked. modifications encountered by other users. Manufacturers of aero-engines. have a system of “Service Bulletins”. An item purchased from a shop carrying a twelve month guarantee will be returned to the supplier if it fails within that time. at considerable contractual cost to the user and loss of boiler availability. but would that not be recovered many times over in the first twenty years of a reliable boiler’s life? It would also ensure that comers were not cut at the . who set the parameters within which the designers operate. Similarly. after all. This paper. This involved the repair of five hundred and forty six welds. subject to use in compliance with the manufacturers operating and maintenance instructions. Boiler designers.174 J. Only in this way will the problems encountered be rectified in future boiler designs. and required repair before returning the boiler to commercial service. The resulting investigation revealed that the welds tested were at a ferritic to stainless steel Non- boundary and the testing had been carried out using a magnetic particle technique. manufacturers and erectors need to keep a closer contact with the users of their product and maintain a post commissioning interest. Collins boiler availability and additional contractual costs for rectification. A. and problems These serve to keep users informed of updates in design. is aimed equally at the consultants. Admittedly this would increase the level of original capital investment. It is they. a boiler designed for a life of 100 000 hours. Technical specifications from consultants must be more detailed in the exact needs of the end user.

Rather than merely quoting the current statutory requirements for environmental pollution. 4. manufacture and erection deficiencies were multiplied by the number of practising engineers. Environmental protection issues need to be more stringently specified. If the design philosophy. the man hour and capital costs wasted world wide due to these issues become enormous. users. manufacture and erection stages. .Inherent design problems in boilers 175 design. consultants and manufacturers should demand the best that is available. and relate to only five designs of boiler. The examples given in this paper are merely a small selection of the problems encountered by one person. 3. and then by the number of boiler designs available.

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