3 Tips to Maintain the Integrity of your High Energy Piping Systems

HEP failures

In this industry, it seems as though it is always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. In the case of power boilers, that squeaky wheel is typically boiler tube failures. These are the headaches that often affect the availability and reliability of the unit, and, therefore, tend to get all of the attention.

Unfortunately, high energy piping is quiet; UNTIL IT ISN’T!  I LOVE surprises, however, when it comes to safety, surprises are NOT welcome.

Obviously, high-energy piping systems are essential to the safe and cost-effective operation of power plants. Unfortunately, the likelihood that piping systems will fail increases with the age of the systems involved. The prolonged operation, particularly at elevated temperatures, will result in metallurgical degradation that in-turn increases the potential for cracking and crack propagation until a final failure stage is reached by the component. As a result, power plant operators have become increasingly aware of the importance of condition assessment evaluations for high-energy piping systems.

However, the process associated with developing a high energy piping program can be viewed as an insurmountable obstacle for many utility operators and owners. In many cases, the cookie cutter approach that is often used results in budgetary wastage and improper safety and risk management. In this article, I will provide a few tips to help you strategically manage and accurately identify specific operating and design conditions that have proven exceedingly successful in preventing tragic failures.

TIP 1: Implement a Unit Specific Approach:
The solution to strategically maintaining the integrity of high-energy piping systems involves taking a comprehensive approach to piping management. Every piping system has its unique operation history and conditions. I always like to compare this to our personal health. Typically when you go into a doctor’s office, the doctor inquiries about your medical history, right? He then takes a measurement of your current condition and then prescribes a treatment program that is specific to your needs and condition. Can you imagine what would happen if doctors just prescribed everyone the same treatment program without considering the individual needs and risks? This is a doctor you would likely NOT return to correct? The same goes for the “treatment program” to maintain the “health” of your critical components in your power plant. Taking into account unit specific considerations such as the system design; the operational, inspection, and repair history; as well as the budgetary outlook for each system is paramount to developing a unit specific management program.

Implementing a comprehensive approach such as this has resulted in avoiding both catastrophic and leak type failures for plant managers that have adopted this strategy. By applying a unit specific, targeted plan utility owners and operators are more likely to succeed in today’s competitive market by increasing the unit’s reliability and availability without sacrificing safety or environmental standards.

TIP 2: Inspect Your Hangers
Did you know that over 95% of through wall failures reported in high-energy piping systems are related to applied bending stresses from external or off design conditions? Often these stresses are the result of improperly designed or malfunctioning hanger supports. To ensure that the piping systems are being supporting as predicted and intended by the designer, hot and cold condition walk down of the hanger supports of high energy piping systems should be audited annually. The condition of the supports provides an accurate barometer of the overall state of the applicable high-energy piping system.

Unfortunately, so many plant managers and engineers get HUNG UP on hangers and just don’t perform the necessary annual walk down. Performing this one simple annual inspection can alleviate the risk of so many preventable failures down the road.

TIP 3: Conduct Operational Training
Many times the operators of units are responding to directives from a senior authority to bring the unit online or offline to meet the load requirements and capacity. Understanding the effects of ramping constraints in both unit commitment and economic dispatch is imperative. Operators can have a tremendous impact on the life expectancy of a unit simply by recognizing the effects of proper ramp rate execution. Operators have direct control of the temperature of the unit; therefore proper unit specific training can add years to the life of the unit.

While these are just a few tips to help you gain more control in the management of your high energy piping systems, the use of an asset management program can offer a solution to the more complex problem. Thielsch’s 4-SYTE System Strategy program combines the process of integrated engineering that includes unit specific education, observation, tracking, proper maintenance and data collection; providing a modern approach to a complex and highly competitive market. For more information on the 4-SYTE System Strategy Asset Management Program contact Pamela Hamblin at phamblin@thielsch.com.