Caring for your heat transfer equipment when running flat-out

Running your refinery at maximum throughput – what does it mean for heat transfer plant maintenance and reliability?

A recent article by Heinz Bloch, the reliability editor of Hydrocarbon Processing has drawn attention to the record amounts of crude oil that were processed by US refineries in the Midwest and on the Gulf Coast last summer and the implications of running at maximum throughput, for extended periods, for reliability-focused plant operators.

One of Bloch’s suggestions is that: “refineries and petrochemical plants with elevated throughput should incorporate equipment upgrading as part of the turnaround planning.” At Heat Exchangers Southwest, we agree with this approach as we know of a number of different ways to significantly improve the ease at which heat transfer equipment can be cleaned and inspected through making relatively simple modifications.

Record throughput also suggests a powerful economic incentive to delay turnarounds for as long as possible. This does have consequences – when you finally get round to cleaning your fired heaters and heat exchangers, the extent and severity of the fouling may have reached the point where local contractors may not be able to guarantee the standard of cleanliness you require. Should you take what appears to be the cheap option, there is a risk that not only will the cleaning contractor with the lowest bid may fail to clean the unit altogether or it may take so long that additional downtime is incurred at the painfully high cost associated with lost production.

Furthermore, in such circumstances, every bottleneck hurts your bottom line. If the convection banks of your fired heaters are fouled, then they may be operating with the induced draft fan maxed out, restricting throughput by 1-2%.

Bloch calls for plant operators to adopt innovations such as those from the aerospace industry. Again, this resonates with our experience. For too long, operations and maintenance personnel have been sticking to the tried and tested approach while not gathering the data and/or analysing it to determine how they can improve the next turnaround. We pride ourselves on continuous innovation and always provide our clients with comprehensive archives. Oh and before we did it, on-line flare line cleaning was thought to be impossible – the same goes for cutting the amount of time needed to clean 2 x VCFE platformer combine feed/effluent exchangers from 24 shifts to just five.

So, if you believe that your plant could be operating much more profitably if the ‘impossible’ was performed – Get in touch.