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Heat Exchanger:

Materials & Construction

Shell & Tube


Heat exchangers with shell diameters of 10 inches to more than 100 are typically manufactured
to industry standards. Commonly, 0.625 to 1.5" tubing used in exchangers is made from low
carbon steel, Admiralty, copper, copper-nickel, stainless steel, Hastelloy, Inconel, or titanium.

Tubes can be drawn and thus seamless, or welded. High quality electro resistance welded tubes
display good grain structure at the weld joints. Extruded tubes with fins and interior rifling are
sometimes specified for certain heat transfer applications. Often, surface enhancements are
added to increase the available surface or aid in fluid turbulence, thereby increasing the operative
heat transfer rate. Finned tubes are recommended when the shell-side fluid have a considerably
lower heat transfer coefficient than the tube-side fluid. Note, the diameter of the finned tube is
slightly smaller than the un-finned areas thus allowing the tubes to be installed easily through the
baffles and tube supports during assembly while minimizing fluid bypass.

A U-tube design finds itself in applications when the thermal difference between the fluid flows
would otherwise result in excessive thermal expansion of the tubes. Typical U-tube bundles
contain less tube surface area as traditional straight tube bundles due to the bended end radius, on
the curved ends and thus cannot be cleaned easily. Furthermore, the interior tubes on a U-tube
design are difficult to replace and often requiring the removal of additional tubes on the outer
layer; typical solutions to this are to simply plug the failed tubes.

Tube Sheets

Tube sheets usually constructed from a round, flattened sheet of metal. Holes for the tube ends
are teen drilled for the tube ends in a pattern relative to each other. Tube sheets are typically
manufactured from the same material as tubes, and attached with a pneumatic or hydraulic
pressure roller to the tube sheet. At this point, tube holes can both be drilled and reamed, or they
are machined grooves (this significantly increases tube joint strength) (figure A).
Figure A. Machined grooves in the tube will increase joint

The tube sheet comes in contact with both fluids in the exchanger, therefore it must be
constructed of corrosion resistant materials or allowances appropriate for the fluids and
velocities. A layer of alloy metal bonded to the surface of a low carbon steel tube sheet would
provide an effective corrosion resistance without the expense of manufacturing from a solid

The tube-hole pattern, often called ‘pitch’, varies the distance between tubes as well as the angle
relative to each other allowing the pressure drop and fluid velocities to be manipulated in order
to provide max turbulence and tube surface contact for effective heat transfer.

Tube and tube sheet materials are joined with weld-able metals, and often further strengthened
by applying strength or seal weld to the joint. Typically in a strength weld, a tube is recessed
slightly inside the tube hole or slightly beyond the tube sheet whereas the weld adds metal to the
resulting edge. Seal welds are specified when intermixing of tube liquids is needed, this is
accomplished whereas the tube is level with the tube sheet surface. The weld fuses the two
materials together, adding no metal in the process. When it becomes critical to avoid the
intermixing of fluid, a second tube sheet is designed in. In this case, the outer tube sheet becomes
the outside the shell path, and the inner tube sheet is vented to atmosphere, so that a fluid leak
can be detected easily effectively eliminating any chance of cross contamination.

Shell Assembly

The shell is constructed either from pipe or rolled plate metal. For economic reasons, steel is the
most commonly used material, and when applications involving extreme temperatures and
corrosion resistance, others metals or alloys are specified. Using off-the-shelf pope reduces
manufacturing costs and lead time to deliver to the end customer. A consistent inner shell
diameter or ‘roundness’ is need to minimize the baffle spacing on the outside edge, excessive
space reduces performance as the fluid tends to channel and bypasses the core. Roundness is
increased typically by using a mandrel and expanding the shell around it, or by double rolling the
shell after welding the longitudinal seam. In some cases, although extreme, the shell is cast and
then bored out until the correct inner diameter is achieved.
When fluid velocity at the nozzle is high, an ‘impingement’ plate is specified to distribute fluid
evenly in the tubes, thereby preventing fluid-induced erosion, vibration and cavitation.
Impingement plates effectively eliminate the need to configure a full tube bundle, which would
otherwise provide less available surface. An impingement plate can also be installed above the
shell thereby allowing a full tube count and therefore maximizing shell space (figure B).

Figure B. Impingement plate distributing the fluid to the tubes preventing fluid-induced erosion,
vibration and cavitation.

Bonnets and End Channels

Bonnets / end channels regulate the flow of fluid in the tube-side circuit, they are typically
fabricated or cast. They are mounted against the tube sheet with a bolt and gasket assembly;
many designs include a ‘machine grooved’ channel in the tube sheet sealing the joint.

If one or more passes are intended, the head may include pass ribs that direct flow through the
tube bundle (figure C). Pass ribs are aligned on either end to provide effective fluid velocities
through an equal number of tubes at a time ensuring a constant, even fluid velocity and pressure
drop throughout the bundle.
Figure C. Heads contain pass ribs that direct flow on the tube-side fluid for one or more
passes across the tube bundle.

Shell and tube configurations with up to (4) passes are the most common, however specialty
designs do allow 20 or more crossings. The tube sheet configuration in a multi-pass shell and
tube design must have provisions for the pass ribs, requiring either removal of tubes to allow a
low cost straight pass rib or alternately a pass rib with curves around the tubes adding cost to the
manufacture process. When a full bundle count is needed for the thermal requirement, machine
pass ribs usually prevent the need to ‘upsize’ to the next larger shell diameter.

The material used in the cast bonnets / heads used in smaller diameters (ie 15” or less) are
typically, poured from iron, steel, bronze, Hastelloy, nickel plated, or stainless steel. Pipe
connections are normally NPT, others including SAE, tri-clamp, ASME flanged, BSPP, and
others types are available.


Baffles function in two ways, during assembly they function as tube guides, in operation they
prevent vibration from flow induced eddies, last but most importantly they direct shell-side fluids
across the bundle increasing velocity and turbulence effectively increasing the rate of heat
All baffles must have diameter slightly smaller than the shell in order to fit, however tolerances
must be tight enough to avoid a performance loss as a result of fluid bypass around the baffles.
This is where the concept of ‘shell roundness’ is of up most importance in sealing off the
otherwise would be bypass around the baffle.

Baffles are usually stamped / punched, or machined drilled; such configurations vary based on
size and application. Material selection must be compatible with the shell side fluid to avoid
failure as a result of corrosion. It is not uncommon for some punched baffle designs to include a
lip around the tube hole to provide more surfaces against the tube to reduce wear on the
adjoining parts. Tube holes must be precisely manufactured to allow easy assembly and possible
field tube replacement, all the while minimizing fluid flow through the hole and against the tube

In typical liquid applications, baffles occupy between 20-30% of the shell diameter; whereas in a
gas application with a necessary lower pressure drop, baffles with 40-45% of shell diameter are
used (figure D). Baffle placement requires an overlap at one or more tubes in a row to provide
adequate tube support. Additionally baffles are spaced evenly throughout the shell to aid in
reducing pressure drop and even fluid velocity.

Figure C. Heads contain pass ribs that direct flow on the tube-side fluid for one or more passes
across the tube bundle.

In a 'single-segmental’ configuration, baffles move fluid or gas across the full tube count. When
high velocity gases are present, this configuration would result in excessive pressure loss thus
calling fourth a ‘double-segmental’ layout. In a ‘double-segmental’ arrangement, structural
effectiveness is retained, yet allowing gas to flow in a straighter overall direction. While this
configuration takes full advantage of the full available tube surface, a reduction in heat transfer
performance should be expected.

Source: Southwest Thermal technologies