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Special Report LNG/Gas Processing Developments

J. R. SIMS, Becht Engineering Co. Inc.,

Liberty Corner, New Jersey

Improve evaluation of brittle-fracture

resistance for vessels
Process vessels such as towers, drums and heat exchangers • Level 1 evaluates equipment meeting the toughness re-
can be exposed to low temperatures as part of normal operat- quirements of a recognized code or standard. It usually can be
ing conditions or due to a process upset. Carbon and low-alloy accomplished through a review of equipment records.
steels typically used in process vessels undergo a transition • Level 2 is divided into three methods (A, B and C). Each
from ductile to brittle behavior as temperature is reduced and method considers not only the materials of construction but
are at increased risk of brittle fracture at low temperature. To also material-heat treatment, design stress, post-weld heat
reduce this risk, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers treatment (PWHT), hydrotest pressure and temperature, ser-
(ASME) Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code contains requirements vice environment, and past and future operating conditions.
for vessels and vessel components with respect to low-temper- • Level 3 is used for equipment not meeting acceptance
ature operation.1 While these rules are applicable to new con- criteria for Levels 1 and 2. This level typically involves in-depth
struction, API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 Fitness-For-Service uses the analysis using fracture mechanics.
rules as the basis to evaluate brittle fracture resistance for exist- The objective of the various levels is to determine the ac-
ing vessels.2 This article discusses an approach and spreadsheet ceptability of the equipment for operational conditions at a
tool that can be used to provide operating pressure limits as a given pressure and temperature or within an envelope of pres-
function of vessel-metal temperatures. These limits can be used sures and temperatures.
as part of a process hazard analysis (PHA) to set operating pres-
sure guidelines for process vessels identified with the potential AUTO-REFRIGERATION CASE
for low-temperature excursions from auto-refrigeration of light, Auto-refrigeration can occur during the rapid depressur-
low-temperature boiling point, liquid hydrocarbons. ization of a vessel containing light liquid hydrocarbons. The
temperature will follow the vapor pressure curve, and the tem-
DESIGNING FOR FRIGID CONDITIONS perature may drop below the MDMT for the vessel if auto-
The design temperature of process vessels constructed be- refrigeration is not included in the design specifications. The
fore 1987 used the expected operating temperature plus some presented case history will consider process vessels constructed
margin above that temperature as the design temperature. The before 1987 and the MDMT concept was implemented.
code permitted the use of carbon steel (CS) and low-alloy steels
to –20°F without requiring impact testing, which provides a API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 defines a material’s minimum allow-
measure of a steel’s resistance to brittle fracture. For operating able temperature (MAT) as the permissible lower metal tem-
temperatures below –20°F, there were additional material re- perature limit for a given material and thickness based on its
quirements, including impact testing. After 1987, the code was resistance to brittle fracture. The MAT may be a single temper-
revised with new rules—one of which included eliminating the ature at the maximum allowable working pressure (MAWP) or
impact testing exemption to –20°F and requiring the concept of an envelope of operating temperatures as a function of pres-
minimum design metal temperature (MDMT). sure. To establish the MAT, mechanical design and material
In setting the MDMT, the code now requires that “consid- specifications for the process vessel information are required.
eration shall include the lowest operating temperature, opera-
tional upsets, auto-refrigeration, atmospheric temperature and Defining MAT. Fluid vapor pressure data and vessel informa-
any other source of cooling.” For equipment constructed before tion (drawings, calculations, material specifications and data)
1987, where operational upsets or auto-refrigeration may not are usually readily available. Establishing the MAT is more
have been considered, the API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 procedures complex in that API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 has different levels of
can be used to assess risks for brittle fracture and to set operat- assessment, along with related charts and equations, that guide
ing pressure and temperature limits. the user through the process.
In the case of a process vessel, there will be a “limiting”
Assessment levels. The API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 methodol- component, e.g., shell, head, skirt, nozzle, flange, tray support,
ogy provides three assessment levels. Each level progressively tubesheet, welded attachment, etc. This limiting component
requires a more in-depth evaluation and more information: will set the MAT for the vessel. For example, a vessel shell fab-
Hydrocarbon Processing | JANUARY 201359
LNG/Gas Processing Developments

ricated from 1-in.-thick CS plate (SA-516 Grade 70 Normal- nents of varying thicknesses and, in many cases, different ma-
ized) has a MAT of –30°F. However, if an internal tray support terials. Such variation of components and materials adds more
ring or some other component welded to the shell is fabricated complexity in establishing the MAT for the vessel.
from ¾-in. plate of the same material but not normalized, then Other key factors such as PWHT, hydrotest temperature
MAT is 15°F. In the case of a vessel, there are many compo- and pressure, weld-joint efficiency and impact test data are ad-
ditional considerations influencing the MAT for a vessel. De-
termining the MAT for a single vessel using API 579-1/ASME
FFS-1 procedures is not a large task. However, establishing the
MAT vs. operating pressure for hundreds of vessels as part of a
multi-plant PHA is a major undertaking.

New MAT tools needed. To efficiently determine the MAT

for a large number of process vessels of varying types, an Excel
spreadsheet tool was developed based on API 579-1/ASME
FFS-1. Overall vessel input data include design temperature
and pressure (or MAWP), hydrostatic test temperature and
pressure, design corrosion allowance, previous metal loss
and future corrosion allowance. Data on major vessel compo-
nents (shell, heads and cones) and all components welded to
that component (skirt, nozzles, flanges, lugs, etc.) are input in
logical information blocks to facilitate identifying components
limiting/setting the total vessel MAT.
Dedicated input blocks are provided for heat-exchanger
components (tubesheets and girth flanges) and flat compo-
FIG. 1. Example of process vessel and components used to determine nents (flat heads and blinds). Vessel component data include
the MAT. nominal thickness, materials of construction, heat treatment,
impact test temperature (if available) and joint efficiency, as
shown in FIGS. 1 and 2.
For example, FIG. 2 lists vessel component information that
was used in a typical assessment. Historic operating conditions
can be entered and are used in some circumstances to establish
the MAT based on past operations at low temperatures. The
vapor pressure curves for fluids of interest curves for MAT vs.
material specifications and thickness as well as allowable re-
duction in MAT based on hydrostatic proof testing are prepro-
gramed into the spreadsheet.

FIG. 2. Data organized to establish MAT for low-temperature FIG. 3. Plot of fluid vapor pressure and the vessels MAT as a function
operations. of temperatures.

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LNG/Gas Processing Developments

The spreadsheet output, shown in FIG. 3, is a plot of fluid va- • PWHT can lower a vessel’s MAT by 30°F for certain ma-
por pressure and the vessel’s MAT plotted as a function of pres- terials of construction, provided the material thickness is less
sure. The code rules permit lower metal temperatures as the than or equal to 1.5 in. However, the adjusted MAT cannot be
pressure drops due to reduced stress. below –55°F. For vessels with no PWHT, it may not be practi-
The cold metal temperatures experienced during auto-refrig- cal to do field PWHT because of vessel size or other limita-
eration are considered with the coincident pressure; they do not tions. However, local PWHT of a limiting component(s) may
be practical and could be accomplished, using the
code procedures for local PWHT, in conjunction
Process vessels such as towers, drums and with supplementary rules in WRC Bulletin 452.3
• If the material of construction of a vessel com-
heat exchangers can be exposed to low ponent limits and sets the MAT, it may be possible to
temperatures as a part of normal operation. upgrade the materials. The code aggregates CS and
low-alloy steels into four groups, A through D, based
Typical materials of construction such as on their resistance to brittle fracture (toughness).
CS and low-alloy steels typically used in Group D materials have better resistance to brittle
fracture than Group A materials. The MAT for a ma-
construct process vessels can undergo terial within a group is a function of material thick-
a transition from ductile to brittle behavior ness, with thicker material having higher MATs. For
example, a 4-in.-thick tubesheet of a Group B mate-
as temperatures drop thus increasing rial has a MAT of 31°F if welded to a 1-in. or thinner
the risk for brittle fracture. shell. Upgrading the tubesheet to a Group D material
would reduce the MAT to –30°F. This solution has
been applied for heat exchangers as part of retubing.
need to be considered in conjunction with the design pressure. • Reduction in MAT is permitted for vessels and compo-
There is a greater risk of brittle fracture for any point of tem- nents where there is excess wall thickness above that required
perature and pressure on the MAT curve above the fluid’s vapor- at design pressure and temperature. API 579-1/ASME FFS-1
pressure curve. These points do not meet the code criteria. provides a curve for determining the reduction in MAT. The
If the points on the MAT curve are below the fluid’s vapor- curve is a function of weld joint efficiency, governing thick-
pressure curve, then the pressure is within the envelope of ac- ness, and past and future corrosion rates. The simple examples
ceptable operation. This information can be used as input to presented here did not take credit for excess wall thickness, but
a PHA to set the operating pressure guidelines in the event of the spreadsheet will perform this calculation for cases where
an auto-refrigeration incident or re-pressurization limits after the joint efficiency is less than 1, the future corrosion allow-
an incident. ance plus previous metal loss is less than the original design
corrosion allowance or if a minimum required thickness as cal-
AUTO-REFRIGERATION INCIDENTS culated by a pressure vessel design program is entered.
If the potential exists for the vessel-metal temperature to The spreadsheet considers the hydrotest, PWHT, material
drop below the MAT during an auto-refrigeration incident, group, weld joint efficiency and corrosion allowances in arriv-
there are several options that can be considered, either alone ing at the MAT, and it can be used to study the effect on MAT
or in combination: of changes in these parameters.
• Limiting the operating pressure until the vessel is warmed Recent experience in the evaluation of more than 2,000 ves-
to the MAT. These limits can be used in conjunction with tem- sels has shown such a spreadsheet tool to be an efficient way
perature and pressure alarms. to establish the MAT. Although the spreadsheet facilitates the
• Re-hydrotesting the vessel at a lower temperature or higher process, the largest time consumer is extracting data from older
pressure. API 579/ASME FFS-1 provides for a reduction in MAT drawings, vessel specification sheets, mill reports, etc. In addi-
based on hydrostatic testing. The allowable reduction is a func- tion, the spreadsheet can be used to establish minimum tem-
tion of the ratio of design pressure to hydrotest pressure. For ex- peratures for both shop and field hydrotesting in accordance
ample, at a ratio of 2⁄3 (test pressure = 150% of design pressure), with code rules.
the reduction in MAT is 35°F. The hydrotest MAT reduction has
a number of qualifiers outlined in API 579-1/ASME FFS-1: 1
ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section VIII, Division 1, Rules for
0 It is limited to materials with an allowable design stress Construction of Pressure Vessels, Part UCS, Paragraph UCS-66, 2010 Ed.
of less than, or equal to, 25 ksi. 2
API 579-1/ASME FFS-1, 2007 Ed.
0 A maximum primary membrane stress during hy- WRC Bulletin 452, “Recommended Code Practices for Local Heating of Welds in
Pressure Vessels,” June, 2000.
drotest no greater than 90% of the material’s specified mini-
mum yield strength. J. ROBERT SIMS is a senior engineering fellow with Becht Engineering Co., Inc.
0 Actual metal temperature as opposed to water temper- He is a recognized authority in risk-based technologies, high-pressure equipment,
ature is used as the relevant temperature parameter. mechanical integrity evaluation of existing equipment and fitness-for-service
analysis including brittle-fracture analysis. Mr. Sims is past chairman of the ASME
0 The MAT cannot be less than –155°F after the hy- Codes and Standards Board of Directors and is currently a member of the ASME
drotest adjustment. Note: There is an increased risk of brittle Board of Governors. Mr. Sims has more than 40 years of experience in design,
fracture during hydrotesting. analysis, troubleshooting, design audit and mechanical integrity evaluation.

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