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Feature Report

Engineering Practice

Feature Report Engineering Practice

Immersion Heaters:

Selection & Implementation

Immersion heaters are widely used in the chemical industry. These basics outline what is available, and how to select and maintain an immersion heater

Robert Klein, Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co.

r i c M a n u f a c t u r i n g

FIGURE 1. Circulation heaters are among the many varieties of immer- sion heaters available. This selection includes rapid response, booster, flanged and explosion-resistant heaters.

I mmersion heaters are used in a wide variety of applications in the chemical process industries (CPI). Knowing which heater to specify

for a particular application and how to maintain it can make a manufactur-

ing process more cost-efficient. This article describes the types of immer- sion heaters available, explains how to select them and provides guidance on installing and using the heaters. As the name implies, immersion heaters are directly immersed in the fluids they heat. These fluids may in- clude water, oils, viscous materials, solvents, process solutions, molten materials and gases. By transmitting all of their heat within the liquid or gas, immersion heaters are virtually 100% energy efficient. Heater designs include numer- ous choices in size, kilowatt ratings (power), voltages (electrical poten- tial), termination connections, sheath materials and accessories. Suppliers carry many units as stock items. For unusual applications, custom engi- neering an immersion heater is also an option.

Heater types

The basic types of immersion heaters are the screw plug, flange, pipe insert, circulation and over-the-side. They are usually available in either a round tubular or flat tubular design. One design may be chosen over the other due to considerations such as coking (see Selecting a heater, p. 45). Heaters are often grouped into two categories, pressurized (closed) systems and non- pressurized (open tank) systems. Pressurized systems. Common ap- plications for the square-flange im- mersion heater are industrial water boilers and storage tanks that hold degreasing solvents, fuel oils, heat- transfer fluids and caustic solutions. The assembly consists of either a round or flat tubular heater that is brazed or welded to a four- or six- bolt flange. Screw lugs or threaded- stud terminals are used for wiring connections. Square-flange heaters bolt directly to a mating, companion flange that is welded to a tank wall or nozzle. Easy assembly changes are made by unbolting the flange and re- placing it with another heater. This

can minimize equipment downtime. Screw-plug heaters can be found in applications such as de-ionized, de- mineralized and process waters, hy- draulic and crude oils, caustic cleaners, chemical baths, antifreeze (glycol) so- lutions, liquid paraffin and industrial and clean-water rinse tanks. A screw- plug heater is installed by inserting it into a threaded opening of a tank wall, or into a full or half coupling. Screw- plug immersion heaters are available in a variety of National Pipe Thread (NPT) sizes and are typically used for pressures less than 1,000 psi, with maximum wattages around 36 kW. For large tanks requiring a watt- age of up to 3,000 kW or even higher, ANSI-flange heaters are used (see Fig. 2, p. 45). These “through-the-side” im- mersion heaters can handle high-pres- sure applications up to 3,000 psi. They are used in a wide variety of situations such as in tanks of superheated steam and compressed gases, and they are also used in nonpressurized tanks. Pipe insert, or bayonet heaters are used for heating liquids in huge stor- age tanks with volumes in the mil-

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the most economical solution while ANSI-flange heaters and circulation heaters are usually more costly as
the most economical solution while
ANSI-flange heaters and circulation
heaters are usually more costly as
their size and power requirements are
much greater.
Most electrical heaters are chosen
by first determining the heat required
to do the job. The heat requirement is
converted to electrical power, and the
most practical heater for the job can
then be selected. Whether the problem
is heating solids, liquids or gases, the
method for determining the power re-
quirement is the same.
In selecting a heater, the following
factors should be considered:

glycol in an engine is heated to ensure rapid and easy startup. Booster heaters are typically about 3-6 kW, but can be as high as 12 kW. With copper and steel sheaths, these heaters are widely used for heating water and oils. An innovative circulation heater is available for applica- tions that demand precise tem- perature control for gases and other fluids. The rapid-response heat exchanger is a small-diam- eter tube with a heater that runs the entire length of the tube’s cen- ter. The assembly can be formed into a coil shape or any number of configurations to allow for size constraints. These heat ex- changers provide faster thermal response and higher power in a smaller footprint when compared to most other conventional circu- lation heaters. Nonpressurized systems. Over- the-side heaters are formed into “L” and “O” shapes and are in- stalled in the top of a tank, with

the heated portion directly im- mersed along the side or at the bottom. They are portable, easily re- moved for cleaning and provide ample working area inside the tank. A vari- ety of optional sheath materials, kilo- watt ratings, terminal enclosures, and mounting methods are available. Over-the-side heaters evenly dis- tribute heat to liquids and viscous so- lutions. They are often used for freeze protection and are ideal for heating small quantities of water, oils, sol- vents, salts and acids. The thin-profile, vertical-loop heater is available in a round tubular design and hangs over the side of an open tank. Another over-the-side type is the drum heater which easily fits into the bung hole of a 55-gallon drum. It typically melts heat-sensitive materi-

als, such as paraffin wax, lard, grease and coconut oil. A pre-wired thermo- stat protects against overheating the material.

FIGURE 2. Immersion heaters include these

tubular designs: an ANSI-flange heater, screw-

plug heater and circulation heater.

lions of gallons. The heater is mounted inside a pressure-tight bayonet pipe, which is a sealed pipe with an end- cap. The unit goes into the tank and creates the pressure boundary with a mating flange. Alternatively, the pipe is welded directly to the tank. The heater can be removed from the open end of the bayonet without draining the tank. Circulation or inline heaters are all- in-one units with the heater mounted inside its own insulated tank (see Fig. 1, p. 44). The unit has inlet and outlet piping and the liquid or gas is heated as it flows through the tank. Once at the outlet, the material has been heated to the proper temperature. This design has a fast response and an even heat distribution. Heaters can be as small as an NPT screw-plug size of 1.25 in. or have a diameter as large as 14 in. Custom units have been made up to a 44-in. nominal pipe size. Booster heaters are a type of circu- lation heater. They are ideal for low- wattage applications, including inline operations or engine preheating — a specific application where ethylene

Selecting a heater

Many heater choices are limited by specific characteristics or require- ments of the application. Square flanges and screw plugs are generally

Properties of the material to be heated. It is very important to know the type and quality of the fluid to be heated. For example, if the fluid is rinse water for parts, the water may be clean or contaminated with traces of acids or alkalis that are often left behind from the rinsing process. Acids cause corrosion and buildup on the sheath of the heater. This buildup can act as an insulator and cause the heater coil to fail prematurely due to overheating. If the fluid is an oil, consider its properties. For instance, a crude petro- leum is in many cases very thick and viscous and requires a very low-watt density, whereas a very-light oil such as vegetable oil, could use up to 30-40 W/in. 2 The watt density depends on the viscosity, specific heat, and ther- mal conductivity of the oil. Choosing the proper watt density brings protec- tion against coking. Coking potential. Coking is a de- posit or buildup on the heater sheath from the chemical breakdown of the material being heated. The amount of buildup that can occur varies greatly, depending upon the maxi- mum operating temperature of the oil being heated. Often occurring in petroleum or other viscous products, coking increases as sheath tempera- tures increase and it can lead to early heater failure. Heater design can help prevent or minimize coking.

A flat tubular element’s sheath runs

cooler than that of a round tubular element when operated at the same watt density, so the flat element has

a lower potential for coking.

Startup and maximum operating

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45

   

SIZING THE HEATER

 
 

Engineering Practice

 

To size an immersion heater, the following basic information is needed:

 

1. Power required for initial heating of the fluid and the tank. Use the basic heat-transfer equation to calculate the fluid heating requirement:

Q=WC

p

T (heat equals mass multiplied by heat capacity and temperature change )

   

temperatures. This is the tempera- ture change from startup to operating conditions. Maximum flowrate of the mate- rial being heated. This is needed to determine the wattage requirements. The minimum flowrate may also be required to help determine the watt- density requirements. If the flowrate

2. Power required to heat the fluid during the operating cycle.

3. Heat required to melt or vaporize materials during the initial heating.

4. Heat required to melt or vaporize materials during the operating cycle.

5. Thermal system heat losses. The heat losses are calculated by multiplying the exposed surface area, the startup time and a surface loss factor.

6. Total startup power requirements. The results of Steps 1 and 3 are added together and an appropriate safety factor (typically 10 %) is applied.

7. Total operating power requirements. The results of Steps 2, 4 and 5 are added and the safety factor applied.

8. Watt density. The total wattage is divided by the active heater surface area. The latter is calculated based on the length of heater element immersed in the fluid, the surface

is

too low and the watt density too

high, excessive coking can occur in

oils or excessive sheath temperature can occur in air and other gases. For circulation or inline heaters, a too- low flowrate can cause the heater to overheat and fail prematurely. A flow switch can be used to monitor or shut off the heater if a blockage occurs in the system. Alarms are often used in conjunction with flow switches. Required time for startup heating and process-cycle times. The longer the startup time allowed, the lower the power (kilowatt) requirement. Volume or weight of the heated ma- terial. These are needed to determine power requirements for startup. Characteristics of the containing vessel. The weight of the vessel is a factor in determining the startup- power requirement. The container dimensions are required to determine heat losses in the initial startup equa-

tions and to determine the power required to maintain the operating temperature. The vessel’s material of construction, especially if it is a plas- tic, can affect the heater choice and its placement in the tank. Other factors involved in material selection include the threat of galvanic corrosion and structural support. Whether the vessel has an open or closed top will greatly affect heat loss.

area per linear inch, and the total number of heater element lengths.

 

Temperature monitoring and con- trol. Sensing and control methods vary greatly depending upon the pre- cision requirements for the process and heater-sheath temperatures. For example, a simple freeze-protection application may require only the use of an economical mechanical bulb- and-capillary thermostat to monitor the process. For more precise mea- surement and control, a thermocouple or resistance-detector (RTD) sensor may be used in conjunction with a mi- croprocessor-based controller. A high-limit sensor located on the sheath prevents overheating, which could lead to premature failure or ac- celerated buildup of contaminants. The temperature sensor should be located at the point where the process temperature is most critical. For instance, in a circu- lation application, the sensor should be located in or nearest to the outlet nozzle of the vessel. In an open tank, the sen- sor should be positioned high enough to avoid contamination from sludge, and low enough to receive maximum, natu- ral, fluid convection without obstructing the operation of the system. Electrical requirements and limitations. Voltage and phase are governed primarily by independent agencies, such as Underwriters Labo- ratories (UL), National Electrical Code (NEC) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The heater manu- facturer should be consulted regard- ing the agency approvals for heater- voltage and diameter limitations. Voltage is normally limited by the dielectric properties of the heater. Typically the limiting factor is the amount of magnesium oxide between the resistance wire and the outer metal sheath 1 . The maximum voltage for most heaters, depending upon the

diameter, typically does not exceed 600 V. Resistance limitations are encoun- tered when there are voltage and watt- age extremes, either too low or too high. For example, if the voltage is high and the wattage is low, the resistance on the heater coil could be so high that the thin-gauge wire typically used would be too fine. The reverse, high wattage and low voltage, creates a need for a wire of such heavy gauge that it is impractical to manufacture the heater. Suppliers can assist with various manufacturing capabilities. Agency approvals should always be considered. The electrical phase is not limited by anything other than possibly the type of heater and the number of elements making up the heater assembly. Environmental conditions. Ambi- ent temperature and wind conditions can affect heat loss and should be taken into consideration when calcu- lating power requirements. Hazard- ous environments, such as corrosive and explosive situations, are also im- portant considerations. A stainless-steel enclosure, for ex- ample, may be chosen for its resistance to corrosive processes. In explosive at- mospheres, a NEMA 7 explosion-resis- tant, electrical enclosure must be used. NEMA 4 ratings are for moisture re- sistance and may be needed outdoors and for wash- and rinse-down clean- ing. Often, a combination NEMA 4 and 7 rating is required. General-pur- pose NEMA 1 enclosures are typically used when environmental conditions pose no problem. Contingencies. Even with careful

A

closed top will significantly reduce

the kilowatt requirement for heating and maintaining the process. For pres-

surized vessels, the requirements of a pressure-vessel code, such as ASME, may be applied to the manufacture of the heater. Vessel insulation. If any insulation

is

present, its thickness and thermal

properties will affect the heat loss from the vessel. Heat loss on connect-

ing piping is normally compensated for by alternative heating, such as mineral-insulated cable or heat-trac- ing cable.

1. Heaters are typically a metal tube (usually a stainless or nickel alloy, copper, steel or titanium) with a nichrome wire embedded in magnesium oxide inside the tube. Solid pins or terminals exit out of the ends.

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TABLE 1. WATTAGE RATINGS

   

Engineering Practice

   

FOR HEATING WATER

   
   

Amount

 

Temperature rise (T), °F

 
 

of

20°

40°

60°

80°

100°

120°

140°

water,

   

gal

ing into the heater has the

               

planning, the design of the heating system may not take into account all of the possible or unforeseen heat-

ing requirements. Therefore, a safety

5

0.3

0.5

0.8

1.1

1.3

1.6

1.9

proper temperature rating.

10

0.5

1.1

 

1.6

2.1

2.7

3.2

3.7

A

minimum of 200°C wire

13

0.8

1.6

2.4

3.2

4.0

4.8

5.6

for process heaters is recom-

               

or contingency factor that increases

20

1.1

2.2

3.2

4.3

5.3

6.4

7.5

mended, although higher-

               
 

25

1.3

2.7

4.0

5.3

6.7

8.0

9.3

rated wire may be required

               

heater capacity beyond calculated requirements is applied. A factor of 10% is typically used. However, when there are many variables and some unknowns, safety factors of up to 20% may be considered. Physical factors and wattage re- quirements. A 10-kW heater can be a screw plug, square flange, ANSI flange or even an over-the-side heater. Some- times the choice is based simply on the tank configuration. A larger flange size may be needed with a short heater, or if there is a lot of length, a plug or square flange may be sufficient. Make sure the sheath material and watt-density ratings are compatible

30

1.6

3.2

4.8

6.4

8.0

9.6

12.0

for some applications. All

40

2.1

4.0

6.4

8.5

11.0

13.0

15.0

wiring, such as power feed-

50

2.7

5.4

8.0

10.7

13.0

16.0

19.0

lines, should be installed in

60

3.3

6.4

9.6

12.8

16.0

19.0

22.0

accordance with the NEC

70

3.7

7.5

11.2

15.0

19.0

22.0

26.0

and other state and local

80

4.3

8.5

13.0

17.0

21.0

26.0

30.0

codes and must be compat-

90

5.0

10.0

14.5

19.0

24.0

29.0

34.0

ible with the heater.

100

5.5

11.0

16.0

21.0

27.0

32.0

37.0

Immersion heaters used

125

7.0

13.0

20.0

27.0

33.0

40.0

47.0

in

tanks should be mounted

150

8.0

16.0

24.0

32.0

40.0

48.0

56.0

horizontally near the tank

175

9.0

18.0

28.0

37.0

47.0

56.0

65.0

bottom to allow convec-

200

11.0

21.0

32.0

43.0

53.0

64.0

75.0

tive circulation. They must

250

13.0

27.0

40.0

53.0

67.0

80.0

93.0

be located high enough to

300

16.0

32.0

47.0

64.0

80.0

96.0

112.0

be above scale or sludge

400

21.0

43.0

64.0

85.0

107.0

128.0

149.0

buildup.

500

27.0

53.0

80.0

107.0

133.0

160.0

187.0

The entire heated length

with the liquid being heated. Applica- tion and specification guides supplied by manufacturers provide a complete listing of materials along with maxi- mum temperatures and watt-density recommendations. Commonly used sheath materials include Incoloys, copper and steels.

 

of

the heater should be im-

Q G = flowrate in gal/min, T f = temperature rise in ºF, Q L = flowrate in L/min, T c = temperature rise in °C, and T h = the heating time in hours.

 

mersed at all times. Heaters should not be located in a restricted space where free boiling or a steam buildup could occur. Low-level shutoff switches can be installed to avoid heater failure should the liquid level drop.

Installation tips

 
 

The following guidelines are generally applicable; but in all cases, the heater manufacturer should be consulted for details about the specific heater. Moisture absorbed by the heater’s in- sulation during shipping and storage can affect its performance. To prevent this, each heater’s current should be checked before installation. The same problem may occur if the heater has been idle for a week or more. Each heater circuit should be checked using a 500-V d.c. megohm meter, and the electrical resistance should read at least 10 M. Lower values may be acceptable as recom- mended by the supplier. A low-resistance reading does not mean that the heater is bad and must be returned. There are several ways to increase the megohm level. One is to put the heater in an oven at 200– 300°F and leave it overnight or until the readings are acceptable. The sec- ond way is to energize the heater at no greater than 50% of the rated voltage until the resistance reaches its proper specification. It is important that the wire com-

Maintenance guidelines

A shortcut for heater sizing

 

Proper maintenance can maximize the lifespan and performance of an immersion heater. Before doing any maintenance procedures, be sure to make sure the power is turned off. Here are a few tips. Corrosion of the heater can lead to problems ranging from equipment downtime to serious safety hazards. Because sheath temperature plays such an important role in the corro- sion process, it is important to ac- curately monitor the heater during operation. Place temperature sensors on the areas of the sheath where the highest temperatures are expected — on the top of the heater bundle in an open tank with a horizontally mounted heater, or nearest the vessel outlet in a circulation heater. Make sure the interior of the termi- nal enclosure is clean and dry, and free of dirt, dust, oil and rust. The inside of the housing should be inspected for corrosion. This can occur due to ambient conditions or loose line con- nections. If oxidation is present on the line connections, clean and retighten

The basic information needed to size a heater is outlined in the box on p. 46. For many specific applications, some relatively simple formulas are avail- able for quick power-requirement esti- mates. As an example, Table 1 can be used for applications where water is heated. To use the chart, find the amount of water to be heated in gallons on the left and the desired temperature rise at the top. The wattage needed to heat the water in one hour can be read from the table. Alternatively, one of the following equations can be used for heating flowing water:

kW = Q G (0.16 T f ) or

 

kW = Q L (0.076 T c )

 

An

equation

for

heating

water

in

tanks is:

 

kW = Q G T f / 375 T h or kW = Q L T c / 790 T h

 

In these four equations,

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Engineering Practice

them. If moisture or fumes are pres- ent, a different terminal housing may be required. Once the maintenance is complete, thoroughly blow the hous- ing clean with dry, oil-free air. Extreme caution should be taken to not get silicone lubricant on the heated section of the unit. Silicone will prevent wetting of the sheath by the liquid and act as an insulator, possibly causing the heater to fail. Scale buildup on the sheath and sludge on the bottom of the tank must be minimized. If not controlled, they will inhibit heat transfer to the liquid and possibly cause overheating and failure. Use of the flat, tubular-heater design prevents the buildup of scale in water applications. Because of its unique ge- ometry, the flat surface “breathes” by expanding and contracting, thereby breaking scale and deposits away from its sheath. If scale buildup is discovered on other tubular elements, it is impor-

tant to clean the units as required. A wire brush can be used to remove the scale or the heater element can be cleaned in a mildly caustic, chemical solution. Select a brush and chemical that will not harm the heater sheath. A gentle sandblasting of virtually any type of heater sheath is often very ef- fective as long as great care is taken to prevent damage to the sheath. There are also various brands of clean- ing chemicals that can remove scale buildup. Water treatment companies are a good source for this information. In addition to coking and scaling, poor wiring connections account for a large percentage of problems in the field. Process temperature and the amperage going through the termi- nal area create heat in the terminal enclosure. When the process heats up and cools down, the connections can loosen and eventually cause heater failure. Electrical connections need to be checked for tightness on a regular

basis. A torque of 20 lb f -in. on each heater stud is recommended. In addi- tion, the connections should be free of oxide, dust and dirt buildup. Thermal cycling may also cause sealed joints, such as flange mount- ing bolts, to relax and develop leaks. Tighten threads and flange bolts. Periodically check the sensing probes (thermostat or thermocouple) to make sure that they are operating properly and that the connections are all good. Check proper grounding for safety. Edited by Dorothy Lozowski

Author

Robert C. Klein is a key account manager, support- ing major global customers for Watlow Electric Manu- facturing Co. in Hannibal, Mo.(Phone: 573-406-6888; fax: 573-221-3723; email:

BKlein@watlow.com) He has worked for Watlow in design, application and technical support for nearly 30 years.

Bob graduated from Truman State University in 1975 with a B.S. in Indus- trial Occupations.

University in 1975 with a B.S. in Indus- trial Occupations. Tired of promoting your company with
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