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J Fail. Anal. and Preven.

(2009) 9:310315
DOI 10.1007/s11668-009-9253-y


Failure Analysis of Fire Tube Sleeve of Heater Treater

S. K. Srivastava M. V. Katarki

Submitted: 13 February 2009 / in revised form: 22 April 2009 / Published online: 12 May 2009
 ASM International 2009

Abstract The fire tube sleeve of a Heater Treater that

was installed in an Oil and Gas processing unit ruptured
after a service life of around 15 years. The detailed failure
analysis was undertaken on this failed Incoloy 800 (UNS
N08800) fire tube sleeve to ascertain the causes and
mechanism of failure. The various studies indicated that
the exposure of the sleeve to excessive temperature resulted in internal oxidation corrosion and caused of the
failure. Additionally, Incoloy 800 is susceptible to sensitization in the temperature range of 5401095 C which
did occur and resulted in intercrystalline cracks causing
grains to fall out of the metal leading to a thickness
reduction. The main causes of failure were overheating and
the resulting microstructural evolution and recommendations to prevent such failures in future are presented.
Keywords High temperature corrosion  Failure
analysis  Heater Treater  Fire tube sleeve  Incoloy 800

Introduction and Background Information

The fire tube sleeve of the Heater Treater ruptured while
the unit was operating under normal conditions where the
fire tube sleeve was under continuous operations and fully
exposed to gas fired flame at atmospheric pressure. Heater
Treater contains two fire tubes having inner sleeves. To
identify the mechanism of failure, detailed laboratory and
analytical investigations were carried out to characterize
S. K. Srivastava (&)  M. V. Katarki
Materials and Corrosion Section,
Institute of Engineering & Ocean Technology,
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, Panvel,
Navi-Mumbai 410 221, India


the material properties as well as evaluate the corrosivity of

operating environment. Operating conditions including the
possibility of a corrosive environment around the fire tube
sleeve of Heater Treater, the material integrity and suitability, etc. were also examined.
The material of construction of failed sleeve of fire tube
is Incoloy 800 and the designed thickness of the tube is
3 mm. The fire tube sleeve was installed in the year 1989
and had achieved * 15 years of continuous service before
the failure. Details of material, operating, and design
conditions are given in Table 1.
Overview of Heater Treater
Heater Treater (Fig. 1) is a vessel used to treat oilwater
emulsions to reduce the water content in oil to acceptable
limits for further refining. Heater Treater uses several
mechanisms including heat, gravity segregation, chemical
additives, and electric current to break down the oilwater
emulsions. The treated crude oil is sent to storage tanks, and
the free water is separated and drained out. A typical schematic diagram of a Heater Treater is shown in Fig. 2 [1].
Burner Management System
The fuel gas header splits into two burner trains. The
modulated flow of fuel gas at constant pressure from the
temperature control valves enter into aspirator. The aspirator works on venturi principle whereby the fuel gas at
given pressure passes through a venturi section and creates
low pressure. The low pressure sucks in the surrounding air
in calibrated quantity and forms a rich airfuel mixture of
more or less constant proportion for the given range of fuel
gas flow rates. This airfuel mixture then burns through the
burner nozzle.

J Fail. Anal. and Preven. (2009) 9:310315


Fire Tube Sleeve

An Incoloy 800 sleeve is provided inside the fire tube in
front of the burner which contains the flame within itself.
This avoids contact of the flame with fire tube thereby
avoiding hotspots that can lead to potential disaster. The
annular space for air is provided with an arrangement of
two plates with overlapping holes so that the overall area
for the air can be calibrated. The air flows over the Incoloy
sleeve and this flow provides cooling the sleeve. The sleeve
is fabricated from plate of 3 mm thickness which is rolled
Table 1 Design, operating conditions, and leakage history of fire
tube sleeve
Sl. no.




Fire tube sleeve construction Incoloy 800




540 mm (21.26 in.)



2765 mm (2.765 m)


Wall thickness
Seamless or welded

3 mm (0.118 in.)


Date of commissioning

December, 1989


Operating pressure (psi)

Open to atmosphere


Operating temperature (C)

Fully exposed to gas fired






Operation at the time of




Periodic maintenance

Once every year


Major repair



External coating



Date of failure



Location of leak/rupture

Near the circumferential

edge of the open end of the

No provision existed for temperature measurement

and joined longitudinally by welding to make a one tubular

section of a sleeve. Three such sections are joined together
by welding circumferentially to make a complete sleeve of
2.765 m in length. Metal strip of 2 in. width of Incoloy 800
is bound over the sleeve circumferentially and their ends
are joined by welding. Metal plates of 2 9 2 in. are welded
to the sleeve on either side of the metal strip to restrict its
movement over the sleeve.
Incoloy 800 (UNS N08800) is FeNi base super and
heat resistant alloy widely used material for construction of
equipment requiring corrosion resistance, heat resistance,
strength, and stability for service up to 816 C. It is a solid
solution strengthened alloy of Ni, Cr, and Fe with small
additions of Al and Ti. The Cr in alloy imparts resistance to
oxidation and corrosion. The high percentage of Ni maintains an austenitic structure so that alloy is ductile and also
contributes resistance to scaling, general corrosion, and
stress corrosion cracking. The Fe content provides resistance to internal oxidation. The Ti and Al additions confer
hardening properties through precipitation of Ni3Al and
Ni3Ti in the austenitic matrix. The chromium in the alloy
imparts resistance to both aqueous corrosion and heat [2].

Fig. 1 Visual view of Heater Treater

Fig. 2 Schematic diagram of

Heater Treater



J Fail. Anal. and Preven. (2009) 9:310315

The density of Inconel 800 is approximately 7.94 g/cm3;

its melting point is in between 1357 and 1385 C. This alloy
consists of the austenitic FCC matrix phase gamma (c).
Chromium carbides, titanium carbides, and titanium nitrides
normally appear in the alloys microstructure as secondary
phase. Incoloy 800 alloy is generally used for application
temperatures above 540 C and the alloy has excellent
oxidation resistance and creep resistance up to 900 C.

Investigation and Results

Visual Inspection

Fire tube sleeve (Figs. 3 and 4) and one cut piece of fire
tube sleeve (Fig. 5) from the failed section were subjected
to visual inspection revealing as follows:

Damage/burst is at the end of the sleeve which is away

from fuel gas burner and where the maximum temperature of the flame is expected.
No noticeable external or internal wet corrosion is

Longitudinal welds also opened up/detached from the

base metal.
External surface was highly deformed showing small
cubicles spread over large area.
Morphologically, cracking appears to be similar to
mud-flat cracking.
Deformed surface appears to have melted resulting in
inside curling (Fig. 5).
Burst occurred as a result of inside thinning and high
temperature deformation and perhaps melting of the
The minimum wall thickness measured is 1.62 mm or
roughly half of the original thickness.
Damage/burst appears to be caused because of high
temperature deformation and corrosion.

Gas Analysis
The fuel gas contains 1.39% carbon dioxide which will not
be acidic in nature in the absence of moisture and will not
promote wet CO2 corrosion at the high temperatures used
in this system.
Elemental Composition Analysis
The results of compositional analysis of the failed sleeve
sample carried out by spark spectroscopy are given in
Table 2.
The elemental composition of the failed sleeve material
Incoloy 800 conforms to the specified requirements as per
ASTM B409 alloy UNS N08800 [3].
Hardness Testing

Fig. 3 Close view of the fire tube sleeve showing rupture at one end

The average hardness of the undamaged and damaged

sleeve material measured in the laboratory using a Vickers
hardness tester was found to be 174 HV3 and 170 HV3

Fig. 4 Close view of the sleeve showing melting and deformation

Fig. 5 External view of failed specimen as received in laboratory


J Fail. Anal. and Preven. (2009) 9:310315


Table 2 Elemental composition (%) of sleeve materialIncoloy 800


Sleeve material




0.1 (max)









0.015 (max)



1.5 (max)



1.0 (max)









0.75 (max)






Fig. 6 Stereomicrograph of damaged sleeve showing honey comblike surface

Table 3 Tensile strength test results


Sleeve alloy

ASTM B409-Incoloy 800

Thickness, mm


Breadth, mm


Area, mm2


Gauge length, mm


Final length, mm


Yield load, kg


Ultimate load, kg


YS, N/mm2


205 (min)

UTS, N/mm2


520 (min)

% Elongation


30 (min)
Fig. 7 Microstructure of undamaged sleeve showing austenitic grains
and annealing twins, 1009

which is within the range specified in ASTM B 409 UNS

N08800 for plate material. It was also observed that at the
mid-portion of the damaged sleeve plate the hardness is of
146 HV3, whereas the edge portion has measured higher
hardness of 197 HV3. Thus, it is observed that the hardness
is varying across the plate cross section of the failed
sample. Such hardness variations demonstrate that microstructural evolution is occurring during service.
Tensile Strength Studies
The tensile testing was carried out to evaluate the tensile
strength on the failed sample of the sleeve material prepared to ASTM A370 specification at room temperature.
The results listed in Table 3 are within the acceptable
limits of ASTM B409.
The stereomicrograph of failed sleeve material show the
damaged surface of the sleeve in the shape of honey comb

and crystal like pattern (Fig. 6). Such a pattern suggests

that significant grain growth occurred during service.
Metallographic Studies
Samples were cut from damaged and undamaged section
and prepared using standard metallographic practices for
analyzing microstructure. The specimens were observed
under Inverted Metallurgical Microscope for inclusions/
stringers which were present in the microstructure. The
etched sample of undamaged plate sample revealed the
microstructure consisting of solid solution matrix of austenite grains and annealing twins [4] (Fig. 7) while the
damaged plate sample exhibited the microstructure consisting precipitation of secondary particles at the austenite
grain boundary (Fig. 8) and severe oxidation of the metal at
the edges of the plate (Fig. 9) due to its prolonged exposure
to high temperature. Thus, metallographic studies indicate
that the undamaged plate sample has normal acceptable
austenitic matrix whereas the damaged sample indicated



Fig. 8 Microstructure of damaged sleeve plate showing precipitation

of metal carbides at grain boundaries, 4009

Fig. 9 Microstructure of damaged sleeve showing severe oxidation

of metal plate at the edge, 1009

oxidation and high temperature corrosion at the edges of

the plate with grain boundary precipitation.

Various studies were carried out to examine the integrity of
the sleeve plate materialIncoloy 800. The sleeve had
failed after continuous service of 15 years. The failure is in
the form of cracking, crumbling, deforming, and thinning
of the sleeve material at the circumferential edge of the last
section of the sleeve from its fixed end.
During normal operations, the sleeve is subjected to
very high temperatures. As per the observation of the
microstructure at the failed area, it had revealed that the
metal had undergone severe internal oxidation at the edge
of the failed sample (Fig. 9). Grain growth occurs in the
austenitic steels and alloys above 1000 C, but no trouble
arises since they remain tough and ductile even in the
coarse-grained condition. Grain coarsening was observed


J Fail. Anal. and Preven. (2009) 9:310315

Fig. 10 Microstructure of damaged sample showing grain coarsening, 1009

in the microstructure at the mid-thickness of the failed

sleeve sample (Fig. 10) when compared to the undamaged
sample at the same region.
High thermal stresses generated by thermal cycling at
elevated temperature are likely to exist in the fire sleeve
because of two reasons. First, the flame in the sleeve is not
continuous as it may be turned off when the emulsion
temperature in the Heater Treater reaches 80 C, during
this period the sleeve is likely to be in lesser temperature.
Second, the complete length of the sleeve is not exposed to
the flame, only the last section from the burner, i.e., open
end of the sleeve is exposed to the flame, so these variations in exposure to different temperatures may lead to
thermal fatigue [5].
Once a thermodynamically stable oxide layer is formed
on the surface, a principal means of damage occurs through
thermally induced stresses that cause cracking and spalling
of oxide scales [6, 7]. Further new oxide layers are formed
by diffusion of oxidation resistant elements from the metal
to the surface, metal becomes severely depleted of oxidation resistant elements. During this continuous process of
spalling and cracking of oxide scale and formation of the
new oxide layers, metal degradation and thinning had taken
place, which can be substantiated by the measured thickness of the deformed metal which is 1.62 mm against the
required thickness of 3 mm.
The hardness of the undamaged sleeve metal is 174 HV3
which is not only uniform through out the cross section,
but also is within the range. Whereas the damaged sample hardness at the edge is 197 HV3 and at the mid-Sect.
147 HV3, this variation in the hardness is due to internal
oxidation of the metal.
Incoloy 800 is susceptible to intergranular corrosion by
because of sensitization and exposure to an aggressive
atmosphere. The sensitization occurred during exposure to
temperatures from 540 to 760 C [2]. It is also observed

J Fail. Anal. and Preven. (2009) 9:310315


the sleeve can be enhanced by ensuring the certain preventive measures.


Fig. 11 Microstructure of damaged sleeve showing intergranular
cracks, 2009

from the microstructure that the material was sensitized

with metal carbide precipitation (Fig. 8) at grain boundaries along with intergranular attack and cracks (Fig. 11).
This attack was sufficient to cause entire grains to be been
dislodged because of complete deterioration of their
boundaries. This led to grains dropping [7].
As the damaged portion of the sleeve is in embrittled,
cracked, and deformed condition, it is likelihood that the
sleeve was exposed to incipient melting and that the temperature approached 1100 C during its service. This high
temperature led to loss of properties and degradation of the
material. Incipient melting reduces grain boundary strength
and ductility and is consistent with the macro- and
microscopic observations.

Combined effects of high temperature internal oxidation/
corrosion, intergranular attack, exposure of metal to
incipient melting temperature coupled together with
microstructural evolution led to severe reduction in wall
thickness along with melting and curling of the metal
resulting in rupture/deformation of sleeve. The present
sleeve material for Heater Treater appears to be suitable for
such kind of high temperature applications. Microstructural
evolution and property deterioration during continuous
high temperature service is inevitable. However, the life of


The external surface of the fire tube must be cleaned

off periodically for better heat transfer and to avoid
excessive heating of the internal surface of the fire tube
During the inspection of the sleeve, critical visual
observations need to be carried out.
The temperature at different points of sleeve has to be
measured by a suitable instrument during its operation
to ensure that the temperature of the sleeve material.
Incoloy 800 alloy remains within its service temperature of maximum 816 C.
Adequate gas input and proper functioning of temperature controller must be ensured to avoid excessive rise
of temperature in the heating chamber.

Acknowledgments The authors are thankful to the ONGC management for providing the necessary infrastructure for carrying out
the analysis and its gracious approval for publication of this article.

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Corporation Ltd.: Technical Manual for Production Operations
(Internal Company Document), pp. 279285. Institute of Oil &
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SMC-046. Special Metal Corporation, USA (2003)
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Chromium Alloy Plate, Sheet, and Strip. ASTM Standard Specification B 409-01. ASTM International, USA (2002)
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In: Metals Handbook, vol. 9, 9th edn, pp. 309316. American
Society of Metals, Metals Park, OH, USA (1988)
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of Metals, Metals Park, OH, USA (1988)
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Park, OH, USA (1989)
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Control, pp. 12, 143. ASM International, Materials Park, OH, USA