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Reprinted from August 2010


Stephen A. Anderson, Intertek, USA, discusses the importance of
understanding and protecting against corrosion under insulation.
n 2006 an ageing Gulf Coast petrochemical facility experienced a
leak from a 4 in. hydrocarbon line. After several minutes this leak
found an ignition source, causing a massive re that destroyed
half the unit and cost the company US$ 50 million. Despite the
advances in materials, inspection and maintenance practices, the
insidious problem of corrosion under insulation (CUI) still costs the
industry millions of dollars a year. As part of a comprehensive asset
integrity programme a denitive strategy to combat CUI should
Careful design and materials selection.
Development of corrosion circuits.
Risk assessment or risk based inspection evaluation.
Development of mitigation strategies.
Visual inspections and nondestructive examination (NDE).
Ongoing maintenance, monitoring and inspection practices.
This article discusses practical plans and solutions to
combating this ever present problem that threatens the integrity of
In order to prevent unnecessary shutdowns and accidents, the
condition of equipment and piping should be monitored to detect
when equipment should be retired from service (retirement limit).
This monitoring can be done visually, acoustically with a UT probe or
with a radioactive source and lm (radiography). This allows
management and inspectors to identify problems before they create
dangerous conditions or cause expensive shutdowns.
Unfortunately equipment at chemical plants is difcult to reach
and is usually insulated. Under certain conditions CUI can occur,
threatening the integrity of equipment. Inspection points are
selected where experience suggests corrosion is likely to cause
signicant problems. This process of dening and naming corrosion
circuits, identifying risks, monitoring corrosive locations, measuring

Reprinted from August 2010
and analysing data and maintaining equipment condition is crucial in
assisting management in making important economic and safety
decisions, and combating the problem of CUI.
Design, materials and operational
CUI results from the collection of water or vapour between a metal
surface and thermal insulation. On carbon steels CUI generally
occurs in the form of general corrosion or localised corrosion. In
austenitic stainless steels, such as the 18-chromium-8-nickel (18-8)
or AISI 300 series stainless steels, CUI often occurs as stress
corrosion cracking (SCC) and pitting.
On equipment, CUI typically occurs where water can collect by
gravity, such as at penetrations to insulation or where attachments
may channel drainage. On horizontal piping, damage often occurs at
the 6 oclock position, while on vertical pipe runs damage frequently
occurs at the bottom.
In carbon and low alloy steels CUI results in large areas of wet
scale. In austenitic stainless steels chloride SCC often occurs at
welds and in non-stress relieved bends. Although CUI can occur over
a broad temperature range of -10 - 250 F, the greatest potential and
most severe environment is between 120 - 200 F.
Seven controllable factors affecting CUI have been identied.
They are as follows:
Equipment design.
Service temperatures.
Insulation selection.
Protective coatings.
Weather barriers.
Maintenance practices.
CUI can occur under the following conditions:
Corrosion of carbon steel at temperatures between 32 - 300 F, and
is most severe at approximately 200 F.
Corrosion of carbon steel occurs due to temperature cycling around
the ambient temperature or at operation below the dew point.
Corrosion of austenitic stainless steels is most likely to occur when
there is the condition for cracking, specifically chloride SCC. Typically
this occurs over the temperature range of 140 - 300 F, and is most
severe at approximately 200 F.
The 18-8 grades (e.g. 304, 316, etc.) are very susceptible to SCC,
particularly by chloride ions. CUI occurs on 18-8 grade equipment
contaminated with chlorides and can fail catastrophically and in a
rapid manner.
Corrosion of carbon steel and stainless steel occurs when water
penetrates an insulation system that is operating in a susceptible
temperature range. The water may be from condensation, leaks in
the insulation, rain, fire protection systems, etc.
The amount of carbon steel lost because of CUI is determined by the
duration and frequency of exposure, the corrosivity of the
environment, and the failure of paint and jacketing acting as barriers
to corrosion.
Design and operating conditions such as cyclic thermal operation,
intermittent service, poor jacketing, exposure to steam vents, cooling
water towers, dead legs and attachments all accelerate CUI.
Examples of susceptible areas
All penetrations or breaches in the insulation jacketing systems,
such as deadlegs (vents, drains and other similar items), hangers
and other supports, valves and fittings, bolted on pipe shoes, ladders
and platforms.
Table 1. Basic data required for LOF analysis (API 581)
Basic data Comments
Maximum temperature (F) Determine the maximum process temperature in this equipment/piping. Note that steam traced lines are in the 120 - 250 F
range unless the operating temperature is higher than 250 F.
Type of environment? Determine the type of environment of the equipment/piping location based on:
Tropical/marine: average rainfall = >40 in./y (i.e. coast, cooling tower drift, etc.)
Temperate: average rainfall = 20 - 40 in./y
Arid/desert: average rainfall = <20 in./y
Good insulation
(Yes or No)
Determine whether the insulation condition is good based on external visual inspection of jacketing condition. Good
insulation will show no signs of damage (i.e. punctured, torn or missing waterproofing and missing caulking) or standing
water (i.e. brown, green or black stains). Take careful note of areas where water can enter into the insulation system such as
inspection ports and areas where the insulation is penetrated (i.e. nozzles, ring supports and clips). Horizontal areas also
accumulate water. If any damage is noted, default to No.
Coating under insulation?
(Yes or No)
Determine if the equipment/piping is coated under the insulation. If uncertain, default is No.
Coating less than
15 years old?
(Yes or No)
Condition of any coating over 15 years old is considered questionable. Default is No if age is uncertain.
Is condition of
coating system good?
(Yes or No)
For guidance refer to NACE Publication 6H189. If condition cannot be determined, default is No. Visual inspection of the
coating is required to determine condition.
Number of inspections? Determine number of inspections for CUI.
Reprinted from August 2010

Steam tracer tubing penetrations.
Termination of insulation at flanges and other components.
Damaged insulation areas
Damaged or missing insulation jacketing.
Termination of insulation in a vertical pipe or piece of equipment.
Caulking that has hardened, separated or is missing.
Bulges, staining of the jacketing system or missing bands (bulges
may indicate corrosion product buildup).
Low points in systems that have a known breach in the insulation
system, including low points in long, unsupported piping runs.
Carbon or low alloy steel flanges, bolting and other components
under insulation in high alloy piping.
The following are some examples of other suspect areas that should be
considered when performing inspection for CUI.
Areas exposed to mist overspray from cooling towers.
Areas exposed to steam vents.
Areas exposed to deluge systems.
Areas subject to process spills, ingress of moisture or acid vapours.
Carbon steel systems including those insulated for personnel
protection, operating between 10 - 250 F (-23 - 120 C). CUI is
particularly aggressive where operating temperatures cause
frequent or continuous condensation and reevaporation of
atmospheric moisture.
Carbon steel systems that normally operate in service above 25 F
(120 C), but are in intermittent service or are subjected to frequent
Deadlegs and attachments that protrude from the insulation and
operate at different temperatures than the operating temperature of
the active line, i.e. insulation support rings, piping/platform
Systems in which vibration has a tendency to inflict damage to
insulation jacketing providing paths for water ingress.
Steam traced systems experiencing tracing leaks, especially at
tubing fittings beneath the insulation.
Systems with deteriorated coating and/or wrappings.
Cold service equipment consistently operating below the
atmospheric dewpoint.
Inspection ports or plugs that are removed to permit thickness
measurements on insulated systems represent a major contributor
to possible leaks in insulated systems. Special attention should be
paid to these locations. Inspection plugs should be replaced and
resealed promptly.
Corrosion circuits
Typically corrosion management manuals identify which degradation
mechanisms (corrosion, cracking and embrittling mechanisms) are active
within each area of a facility and dene their location and severity of
degradation to aid integrity management activities such as inspection,
process and corrosion monitoring.
Corrosion loops or circuits are typically marked up process ow
diagrams (PFDs) that show the location(s) of the various corrosion
mechanisms and the affected equipment items. The assigned damage
mechanisms and circuits are based on industry guidance documents
such as API 571.
Using the concept of circuits, data on one part of a circuit can be
used to infer conditions about the rest of the circuit. Given a history of
measurements for inspection points in a circuit, corrosion rates can be
calculated for both individual inspection points and the entire circuit. This
information, combined with knowledge about the type of equipment,
operating conditions and various safety considerations, can be used to
determine the expected life of equipment and when it would be prudent
to inspect the equipment again. Identication of circuits within a piping
system allows the inspector to take measurements on a representative
percentage of measuring points within a circuit on any given inspection.
Naturally the most corrosive systems or circuits demand the most
attention. However, as equipment and piping ages, the lower corrosion
rate circuits also achieve the potential to fail and become hazardous.
Therefore, it is essential that an organised, scientic monitoring
programme is developed for a facility.
Risk based inspection
Risk based inspection (RBI) programmes provide a structured method for
identifying and assessing the potential impact of deciencies on an
operating plant, as well as ascertaining inspection methods to mitigate
these deciencies. RBI therefore provides a systematic methodology for
factoring risk into infrastructure maintenance and inspection decision
A comprehensive RBI programme analyses the likelihood of failure
(LOF) and identies the damage mechanisms of concern, as well as
identifying the consequence of failure (COF) should a leak or failure occur.
This methodology is therefore helpful in identifying areas or circuits on a
process facility where CUI may be a problem and identies what the
consequences of a potential leak may be.
The basic data that should be considered when evaluating the
likelihood of failure from CUI is listed in Tables 1 and 2 (taken from
API 581).
By analysing the data in Tables 1 and 2, one can determine if
equipment items have a high, medium or low susceptibility to failure, due
to CUI.
On the consequence side, process stream data, inventories and
potential leak sizes are evaluated. Obviously priority should be given to
equipment containing explosive, ammable or toxic process streams with
larger inventories and the potential for large leaks or gross rupture of the
susceptible equipment.
The product of the LOF and COF identies the risk posed by a
particular item (in this case an explosive, ammable or toxic leak due to
CUI). This risk ranking or prioritisation can then be applied to inspection
frequencies, scope of inspections, the use of testing and monitoring
techniques to evaluate equipment condition, and corrosion rates in order
to determine remaining useful life and tness for service.
Figure 1. Pipe failure at 6 o' clock position due to CUI.
Table 2. Estimated corrosion rates for carbon and low alloy steel
(API 581)
Unmodified - CUI corrosion rate (mpy)
Temperature F Tropical/marine Temperate Arid/desert
-10 - 60 5 5 1
61 - 120 15 10 2
121 - 250 35 15 4

Reprinted from August 2010
Mitigation strategies
Protective coatings or paint are an important method of corrosion control
in reducing or preventing CUI. A good quality coating, correctly applied
over a properly prepared surface, generally results in excellent service. In
general, once the weather or vapourproong is breached, the insulated
environment stays wet for much longer than the surfaces of most
uninsulated equipment. Also, under warm insulation the coating is
obviously subject to higher temperatures than most painted, uninsulated
Abrasive blasting is the best surface preparation for all coating
systems and all substrates. It is generally accepted that the user must
prepare the surface prior to coating by removing any chemical
contamination rst and blasting to a 1 - 2 mm (0.001 - 0.002 in.)
Consideration must be given to both chemical degradation and
permeability of the coating. Highly permeable coatings allow corrosion to
start behind the coating, even in the absence of breaks or pinholes.
Finally, many coatings depend on some form of sacricial inhibitor or are
essentially only that (i.e. organic zinc rich coatings).
Finally, routine maintenance of weatherproong reduces problems
associated with deterioration caused by CUI. Maintenance and inspection
need to assure closure of a system immediately after work is completed.
Mechanical and inspection work needs to be closely tied to insulation
repair. Time delay before insulation repair can result in severe corrosion
problems in an insulated system.
Visual inspection and NDE
Following the identication of circuits susceptible to CUI and the risk
ranking of the equipment items, inspection personnel should visually
inspect circuits or equipment items that have been identied as high risk.
The inspector should consider the following susceptible areas and
conditions during the survey:
Weathered, split or missing mastic moisture barriers on piping and
on vessel heads and sidewalls, above supports and around nozzles.
Dead (inelastic), loose or missing caulking at seams and
Punctured, split or corroded metal jacketing.
Improper installation interfering with water runoff.
Mold, mildew or moisture at insulation support rings or vacuum
rings on vessels.
Red stains or white deposits on jacketing.
Unprotected insulation where parts have been removed.
Unsealed metal wall thickness test points.
Flashing that does not shed water.
Gaps around pipe hangers and other protrusions.
Gaps in jackets at top of vertical pipe runs.
Open joints in jackets from physical damage.
Attachments, nozzles, ladders, supports, gangways, etc.
Damaged insulation and weather barriers should be reported to
maintenance for timely repair work. Where visual inspection identies
areas that are showing signs of CUI, further inspection or evaluation
needs to be conducted. This could include:
A pulsed eddy current (PEC) technique to determine wall loss
without the removal of the insulation. This is typically used as
screening tool to identify corrosive areas.
If critical areas are identified (either visually or with PEC), stripping
insulation and conducting further visual and UT inspections will be
Follow up work should include a tness for service evaluation on
equipment showing signicant degradation.
Ongoing maintenance, monitoring and
inspection practices
Based on circuitisation and risk analysis, specific inspection
plans should be developed for each equipment item. These plans
should detail the identified damage mechanisms (CUI), the
likelihood of failure, and what, how, when and where inspections
should be conducted. A plant wide programme to identify
equipment and piping susceptible to CUI may be established as
Divide the plant into inspection areas and set inspection
priorities. Look for factors that signify potential corrosion
Location: exposure to rain, fire protection deluge systems,
safety showers and ground water.
Temperature: operation between 0 - 149 C (32 - 300 F),
temperature cycling or below dewpoint temperature service.
Materials of construction: Type 300 series stainless steels
subject to chloride SCC. Carbon and low alloy steels subject
to general and localised (pitting) corrosion.
Age of facilities: old equipment can be expected to have
more corrosion than newer facilities.
Risk potential: potential for personal hazard, environmental
damage and product loss increase risk potential.
Insulation type: ability to wick water increases corrosion
potential. Asbestos containing insulations have some of the
worst wicking problems and have given rise to several cases of
Coverings: reinforced mastics deteriorate faster than metal
or polyvinylchloride plastic jackets.
Visually inspect selected units for indications of wet
insulation and corrosion. Several types of instruments are
available that can detect moisture.
Use NDE tools such as PEC to identify CUI.
Remove sections of suspected wet insulation or areas showing
signs of corrosion to inspect the metal surfaces beneath.
Nozzles, particularly at the insulation weather seal, are
susceptible to accelerated CUI. Vessel drawings should be
checked for all nozzle attachments, and nozzles that may be
susceptible to CUI should be marked. These nozzles must then
be visually inspected. If nozzles show signs of having corrosion
or CUI problems, they should be identified for further testing.
For areas showing significant corrosion, a fitness for service
evaluation should be conducted.
Decide what action to take, whether to simply replace and
reseal insulation at the inspection point, or to completely
replace the system or some other combination of stripping,
blasting, repairing, coating, reinsulating and resealing.
All areas of damaged insulation or weather barriers should
be repaired in a timely manner by maintenance.
All new inspection data should be used to update original
risk assessments, keeping the risk analysis, susceptible
areas and state of knowledge current.
Despite advances in materials and inspection practices, CUI still
remains a serious industry problem, costing facilities many
millions of dollars each year. One of the reasons for this is that it
is an unseen problem, still overlooked by inspection and
maintenance and often not considered by management. By
applying asset integrity techniques, risk based analysis and the
latest inspection and maintenance practices one can minimise
the likelihood of a catastrophic failure due to CUI.