‘Triple threat’ is a term more readily associated with musical theatre, yet it acquires a whole extra meaning in the context of the process industries.
As Chemical Business Association CEO Tim Doggett flags up on page 9, his sector is contending with Covid’s long tail of business casualties as well as Brexit’s regulatory and bureaucratic trail. And, on top of that, demographic changes in the workforce are exacerbating the demand for particular skills needed to overcome supply chain nightmares.
Throughout the production stages, pumps and pumping systems are intrinsic to success or failure. Attending to the nitty-gritty of pumps, valve and flow efficiency can create savings in time and cost in an industry wedded to finely-tuned, just-in-time delivery.
A trawl of recent products and system enhancements reveals a multiplicity of tactics designed to improve both preventative and predictive maintenance accuracy and effectiveness, reduce waste and boost all aspects of the recycling process, ensure greater ease of use and, of course, reduce cost in terms of life cycle.
In the chemicals sector as much as the water industry, leak reduction is a major issue. The fact that the liquids and materials concerned are also frequently hazardous and abrasive adds an extra level of concern with regards to both humans and the wider environment.
Chemical products play a key role in combating one major contributor to leakages: pipe corrosion. Increasingly this involves balancing the potentially conflicting needs of commerce and compliance in order to ensure that effective agents are not harmful to the wider environment.
ChampionX recently secured contracts worth in the region of £3 million combined to provide non-toxic chemicals to two North Sea operators. Its corrosion inhibitor product line has been developed to enable firms to economically extend the life of their assets sustainably.
ChampionX general manager Europe, Middle East and North Africa Susan Hart [pictured] explains: “Operators must comply with strict environmental regulations to ensure that chemical discharge from offshore assets do not exceed the authorised amounts. As a result of this, production rates often need to be decreased to comply.
“The non-toxic, biodegradable corrosion inhibitor is a more sustainable option to traditional chemicals, producing a more environmentally acceptable solution.”
Swagelok, a significant presence in the chemicals sealing technology market, pays particular attention to the importance of not only the seals themselves but the support systems essential for ensuring processes are safe and consistently repeatable.
Market manager, chemical and refining, Sean Hunsicker emphasises their vital role in ensuring simplified operation and maintenance, as well as realising peak performance.
One example is the growing use of tubing in order to reduce the number of connections and thus limit potential leak points.
“By bending tube lines and appropriately using adapter fittings, the only needed connections are those at the seal and the sealing.”
A variety of tubing connections enable serviceable components to be easily removed and replaced without downtime concerns.
“Innovative connection technologies, such as flange adapters and extended male connectors, further reduce the number of connections from threaded ports on the seal and seal pots by eliminating the need for multiple fittings,” says Hunsicker.
Visual inspection is another aspect that is benefiting from greater simplification, thanks to more attention being paid to overall system design, which has not always promoted appropriate layout for easy visualisation or maintenance.
“The aim was to scale up… to larger applications with the proven safety level and high quality components without significantly increasing the low investment cost
Thomas Bökenbrink, lead product manager, pumps, LEWA
Arranging components on a panel, advises Hunsicker, “helps the operator easily determine flow path and places all instruments at eye level for easy monitoring. Panels can also include part numbering information, flow path indication, and operator instructions.”
Given that seal support systems contain commonly serviced instruments, preventative maintenance must again be simple and safe: a block and bleed configuration for instruments including gauges will assist. Without this feature, as gauges fail, operators will be left without critical information.
Safety and environment are not the only concerns when chemical product is lost; there is also the need to avoid wasting even small amounts of high value product. Specialty chemical experts Intellitech’s latest addition to its i-FILL brand is a micro-pump focused on high accuracy production filling for low volumes.
It is capable of dispensing of 100mcl to 15ml with single stroke capacity with repeatable liquid filling accuracy +/- 0.5% – substantially less than the usual 1-2%. And it is designed to pump dry and not drip between dispensing batches in order to reduce product loss at the end of a run.
As a diaphragm/piston pump hybrid, it dispenses gently and without compressing tubing, thus avoiding shearing, while self-priming allows multiple fill profiles to be stored. More than 100 vials can be automatically filled at a time.
Leakage and product loss aside, there is also the challenge of coping with other obstacles.
Franz Binder, head of department piping systems at level measurement global leader TÜV SÜD Industrie Service GmbH, notes that metal components in chemical plants frequently experience high-cycle fatigue stress caused by pressure and thermal loads.
“This gives rise to higher risks of defects. It is thus vital for the condition of components to be determined quickly and realistically, enabling timely actions to be taken where necessary,” he states.
Chemical plants need to be operated at high temperatures under rapidly changing load parameters and this will place higher stress on plant components. The consequences, warns Binder, include creep-fatigue degradation (exhaustion) caused by pressure and/or thermal loads. Accurate knowledge of the state of such exhaustion is essential.
Use of TSE (temperature stress exhaustion) software enables calculations based on pressure and temperature curves. The program uses algorithms aligned to the specific regulations and standards in encapsulated functions and is fully in conformity with the applicable codes and standards.
Says Binder: “The reports of the results provide a reliable legal compliance report. Using offline evaluation of the measured and saved data, the solution delivers proof of whether component exhaustion is below the critical thresholds.
“The calculations performed by the TSE software do not use the temperature inside the component wall, but [rather] the physically correct integral mean wall temperature…
“The phenomenon of ‘fake fatigue’ can be avoided by relying on realistic analyses instead of more conservative methods.”
It is vital for the condition of components to be determined quickly and realistically, enabling timely actions to be taken where necessary
Franz Binder, head of department piping systems, TÜV SÜD
For pump-related applications, efficient and consistent flow operation is a paramount concern.
One European manufacturer producing methylene diphenyl-diisocyanate (MDI) for polyurethane production chain experienced problems with calculating its pure gaseous hydrogen chloride supply.
The operation of the vortex meter, employed for quantity measurement and downstream valve control, began delivering erratic readings. It transpired on investigation that vibrations emanating from the valve were interfering with the vortex measurement.
In order to provide a reliable replacement without any downtime for removal of the defective measuring device, a FLEXIM permanent FLUXUS G721 flowmeter provided clamp-on, non-invasive ultrasonic flow measurement of the hydrochloric gas.
It is no secret that regulatory compliance creates a significant headache for the sector and this, in turn, has focused the chemicals industry more upon the importance of sustainability and waste avoidance.
Good intentions however can fall foul of harsh reality. Innovative products that increase specialisation may create more pressure on the volume of spare parts and products.
It’s a problem that LEWA GmbH has been addressing with the newly-launched variants to its ecosmart diaphragm metering pump.
The ecosmart LCA’s safety aspects and relative cheapness have made it a popular choice but with one caveat: it was limited to a flow rate of up to 300 l/h maximum.
The new LCC and LCD versions will offer an increased flow rate. The LCC model can meter up to 1,000 l/h, with the LCD coping with up to 2,000 l/h. The maximum permissible operating pressure for both models is 50 bar and 600lbs respectively, says lead product manager, pumps Thomas Bökenbrink.
“The aim was to scale up the ecosmart to larger applications with the proven safety level and high quality LEWA components without significantly increasing the low investment cost typical for this pump series,” he explains.
“This was to be achieved by a consistent modular principle within the pump series, as well as a strict focus on the essential functions and features. The specifications also demanded the usual LEWA suitability for unrestricted continuous operation over many years.”
Use of similar components within the ecosmart product family keeps production costs and final price low. At the same time, a high level of safety can be guaranteed by focusing on all essential design features such as the pressure relief valve or the proven sandwich diaphragm with continuous monitoring.
“Engineers were able to successfully implement the common parts strategy that had already been practiced many times. Pump users also benefit from this intelligent modular principle, as many wear parts can be used across pump types. This considerably simplifies the spare parts inventory.”