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Heat Exchanger Tube Rupture Analysis


Guidance Through Tube Rupture Complexities

The 5th Edition of API STD 521 provides information on the design of overpressure protection
of heat exchangers for the tube rupture scenario. Equity Engineering’s Process Technologies
Group can provide consulting services in this complex area, including assisting with the
determination of credibility of the tube rupture scenario when sizing pressure relief devices.
Utilizing the breakthrough computer program “TBREAK,” which can be licensed as part of the
Equity Engineering’s Plant Manager platform, users can simulate the transient release of the
fluid from the high pressure side of the heat exchanger to assess the impact and requirements for
pressure relief protection on the low pressure side.

Although paragraph UG 133 of the ASME Code requires the heat exchanger overpressure
protection to be designed for the potential of an internal failure, the Code has always left the
determination of ‘credible’ overpressure scenarios as well as the definition of ‘internal failure’
up to the User. Designing the pressure relief protection to handle a pinhole leakage type internal
failure meets the Code requirement; however, extending the internal failure definition to a full
bore tube rupture scenario has always been considered to be at the discretion of the User, since it
represents such a low probability event.

In API STD 521, Section 5.19, it is recommended that the designer consider the tube rupture
scenario only if the maximum operating pressure of the high pressure side of the exchanger
exceeded the hydrotest pressure of the low pressure side of the exchanger. The basic philosophy
is that, even though a tube rupture could result in an overpressure greater than the ASME Code
permitted accumulation of 110% of the Maximum Allowable Working Pressure (MAWP) of the
heat exchanger, the fact that it does not exceed hydrotest pressure is considered to be low risk.
API STD 521 also suggests that the pressure relief protection, or pressure relief path on the low
pressure side of the exchanger, be designed for a complete tube rupture scenario if there is a
likelihood that the tube could experience an instantaneous tube rupture during operation. To
evaluate whether or not an instantaneous rupture is likely, API STD 521 suggests that the User
perform a detailed analysis of the exchanger design with consideration of the following:

 Tube vibration
 Tube material
 Tube wall thickness
 Tube erosion
 Brittle fracture potential
 Fatigue or creep
 Corrosion or degradation of tubes and tubesheets
 Tube inspection program
 Tube to baffle chafing

Although a specific description of what constitutes a detailed analysis is not provided in API
STD 521, common sense suggests that the analysis would consist of the following, at a

 A tube vibration analysis of the exchanger bundle

 A review of shell and bundle entrance velocities to assess erosion potential
 An assessment of the tube to tubesheet joint strength
 A metallurgical and corrosion analysis to assess the likelihood for environmental stress
corrosion cracking and the severity of the corrosion
 A review of the inspection programs and techniques used to determine whether these are
adequate to access the onset of cracking problems or evidence of tube pullout