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How to Deal with Tube Failures in Boilers

written by: Dr V T Sathyanathan • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 6/19/2010

Tube failures in boilers need to be addressed properly by data collection and analysis for knowing the root cause and preventing re-occurrence of the same. A systematic analysis helps to improve the availability and reliability of boiler operation.

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    As soon as tube failure is suspected in a boiler, first identify the location – roughly, take out the log data of boiler for at least eight hours before failure. If the boiler tripped due to tube failure take full first-up logs, take out the trend graphs for reference, or mark clearly the time of failure and speed of chart- it’s better to mark on all charts and take printout of trend charts from DCS.

    • Decide to run or stop boiler if unit did not trip
      • Evaluate the extent of secondary damage possibility if run
        • Water wall area lesser chances
        • Platen area- the damage can be severe and downtime and spares requirement will be high
        • LTSH and Eco- very high secondary damages possible
      • Bring down the unit at the earliest to reduce secondary damage
    • After boiler is shut down
      • Open the man hole in the suspected area of tube failure when safe, never try to enter unless temperature has come down to safe level - Near ambient
      • Try with a powerful light to find the leaky tube and mark the location on the drawing - rough elevation and tube number indicate from which side count is done
      • Any visual appearance / observation can be logged
      • Send these details with log data and trend sheets collected to designers and ask for first opinion
      • Take photos of the area of failure from outside and other areas like furnace if required
    • Ask designers
      • Tell designer that the tube samples from the failed tube is arranged
      • Any specific information other than supplied is required based on the first impression
      • Immediate checks required during shut down
      • Additional samples required from the area of failure or otherwise
    • Collecting tube sample
      • Organize to drain the boiler if required
      • Once it is safe to enter the boiler provide scaffolding and reach the area of failure
      • Make sure the location noted before is correct or need to be altered - Mark this on drawing
      • Mark about 150 to 200 mm above and below the failure area - total length of sample more than 300 mm
      • Cut the tube sample by cutting tool or hacksaw - Never cut by gas as this destroys the evidence
      • It is a good practice to cap the sample as soon as the sample is cut
    • Before repairing the failed area
      • Make sure all inspection is done- check the adjacent tubes and area for any evidence of deterioration
      • If required do open the header hand hole plates for inspection and make sure no cleaning is needed
      • If material mix-up is suspected, then it is good to replace the length from the transition point of the material
      • It is required to check the adjacent coils for any material mix-up by spark test
      • Check with the designer about the need for an expert’s visit to site before repair
    • First impression report from designer
      • Inform site about the first impression of failure- broad classification of the type of failure
      • Ask for additional details and samples if required
      • Tell about expert visit- plan immediately as owner cannot wait
      • After seeing the failed sample and noting all observations, sent it for lab analysis
        • Ask for any special test required- deposit analysis
        • Flattening test- if hydrogen damage is suspected
    • Analysis by designers
      • Review the log data and details sent from site with respect to all deviations
      • Look at the trend charts and first-up details for any inference possible
      • Look for any abrupt changes in the operating regime- log data, water chemistry, loading pattern, etc.
      • Make sure metal temperature details are reviewed
      • Correlate the findings of lab analysis- use EPRI guide lines and classification on tube failures
      • Make sure the failure is not generic in nature
    • Final evaluation and corrective action
      • The final finding can be classified for one-in-case, generic due to operational practice, design, material inadequacy, etc.
      • Make an action plan to correct the boiler in question, similar operating boilers, and similar boilers being commissioned, erected, manufactured, or designed
      • If required make out a design guide line or operational guide line
      • Inform all owners about the problem and corrective action needed- owners need to plan
      • Monitor the boiler for performance after corrective action