Don’t Ignore Your Heat Exchangers

Don’t Ignore Your Heat Exchangers

Rarely do heat exchangers cause catastrophic events in operating plants. For that reason, they tend to get ignored; little or no proactive maintenance is done and improvements are typically not made unless they become a critical problem. But, if you look at which equipment is responsible for the most economic losses over a period of 5-10 years – process interruptions, maintenance, replacement parts – heat exchangers are always near the top of the list, especially in refining! However, problems such as heat duty loss and its impact on operations, increased energy consumption, small leaks, and replacement of tube bundles go somewhat unnoticed because individually these events are not high cost, nor are they high profile safety issues.

Proactively addressing the worst actors (the ones which cause the highest losses) can have a significant impact in reducing maintenance costs and minimizing throughput related losses. Two strategies have proven to be successful.

Address heat exchangers from a reliability perspective. Keep an updated list of heat exchangers with the highest cost impact and have a plan to address the root cause of failures. Data should be available to show all maintenance costs for any heat exchanger and for process stoppages/slowdowns caused by heat exchanger failures. Using this data and adding all costs will produce a list which can be prioritized for action. In a typical operating plant about 5% of heat exchangers will fall into the category of very high impact. That list can be further shortened based on whether it is practical to take action.

Monitor the operating performance of the most process-critical heat exchangers and those which affect energy consumption. Usually, heat exchanger performance deteriorates because of fouling, and a good monitoring method can achieve several objectives:

  • Quantify the loss in heat duty and its impact,
  • Identify which heat exchangers should be cleaned to get the maximum benefit,
  • Evaluate the cost vs benefit of different cleaning methods,
  • Identify if certain process conditions or feed compositions lead to increased fouling.

Together these factors can be used to minimize the losses due to fouling and understand and eliminate the root causes of fouling. If root cause elimination is an objective, an additional very helpful tool is a proper deposit analysis.

Becht can help you evaluate and optimize the performance of your heat exchangers. Contact us for all of your equipment needs.


About The Author

Himanshu is an industry veteran with 34 years' experience as a Heat Exchanger Specialist at ExxonMobil and Shell. In his career, he has dealt with all aspects of heat exchangers from selection and design to operational troubleshooting and improvements. He served as the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for fouling and heat transfer enhancement with both employers and conducted a fouling R&D program which has resulted in unique predictive methods. He has published several scientific journal and conference papers and is a thought leader in the field of industrial and applied Heat Transfer.

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Don’t Ignore Your Heat Exchangers

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