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Design of Pressure Vessels

This module should take the user through pressure vessel design
application (PVDA). The necessary background is built by the modules “
Mechanical Design Fundamentals” and “Reinforcement Calculations”.


Process vessels for use in chemical process industry are conceived,

designed and fabricated in a fairly small number of shapes. These are
generally Shapes of Revolution. The important basic shapes are:
cylinder, sphere (or hemi-sphere), ellipsoid (or hemi-ellipsoid), torus, cone
(or frustum of a cone) and a flat plate. Using these shapes, several composite
pressure vessel shapes can be constituted.

PVDA visualizes a composite vessel shape as a stack of layers, each

layer utilizing one of the basic shapes.

The spatial dimensions of each of these shapes can be defined in terms
of a few size primitives. For example, a sphere is completely defined by
its diameter. A cylinder is completely defined by its diameter and length etc.

The diameter can be given either as “inner diameter” or “outer

diameter”. One of them is entered by the user. The other one is calculated
after the vessel wall thickness (t) is arrived at suitably. The relationship
between the ID and OD is as follows.

OD = ID – 2t.

The values for essential size parameters for each of the shapes comprising
the composite vessel shape need to be provided by the user. Connectivity of
shapes in adjacent layers allows internal fixation of sizes of some shapes.

Wall Thickness
Design codes provide formulae for calculating the minimum wall
thickness for the standard shapes. The application of the formula for any
specific shape requires the user to provide design temperature, design
pressure, material of construction and its allowable stress at the design
temperature, fabrication and inspection procedure and weld quality
factor or weld joint efficiency. The thickness calculated using
applicable code formula is the regulation thickness. This much thickness
must be available uniformly everywhere in the vessel body.

The regulation thickness needs to be corrected for the corrosion

allowance and mill tolerance. The next available commercial plate
thickness is then the recommended wall thickness.

Available wall thickness is the thickness left after deducting the mill
tolerance and corrosion allowance from the recommended wall thickness.
This is obviously more than or at least equal to the regulation thickness. The
maximum pressure that the shape can withstand with this available thickness
while still complying with the regulation thickness formula is calculated.
This is the Maximum Working Pressure (MWP) allowed by the
recommended wall thickness.

After fabrication and assembly, the vessel is tested for its pressure
integrity. The test if often carried out at a pressure higher than the design
pressure as well as the maximum working pressure. It is rated so as to
develop in the weakest vessel portion stresses equivalent to the yield stress
of the material of construction. The hydrotest pressure is obtained by
multiplying the MWP by a factor greater than 1. Logically it is 1-5, the
safety factor used in getting allowable stress from material’s yield stress.

Flange Design Calculations

Adjacent vessel shapes (as in adjacent layers of a composite shape)
need to be connected. These could be welded on flange connected. PVDA
allows the user to specify suitable connection choice. Flanged connection, if
selected need to be properly designed.

Various types of flanges and flange surfaces are possible. Choice

depends on the service and vessel dimensions. Similarly, a wide choice is
available for gasket material. The choice is governed by the service and
flange type.

Suitable design formulae lead to calculation of Gasket Circle

Diameter, Gasket Width, Bolt Circle Diameter, number of Bolts, Diameter of
each Bolt, flange outer diameter and flange thickness. PVDA supports these
calculation steps for a given choice of flange type, flange surface, gasket
material, gasket thickness and bolt material.
Nozzle Calculations
The openings required for operational and maintenance reasons on
various shapes of the vessel are in the form of pipes welded on to the vessel
after cutting an appropriately sized opening.

The schedule of the pipe of given nominal bore (NB) is arrived as

using the pressure thickness calculation formula for cylinder.

The openings require to be tested for the need of reinforcing pad.

Reinforcing pad increases the vessel wall thickness around the opening if
necessary by welding a collar around it. The thickness of the collar is
designed using area compensation method. The formulae are specific to
different shapes on which openings are cut. PVDA supports these

The nozzles could be of different types. PVDA supports the choice

and calculations for specific user-made choice.

Thermal Insulation
A process vessel operating at super-ambient or sub-ambient
temperature needs to be insulated to minimize heat egress or ingress
respectively. Insulation also is needed as a safety measure so that the skin
temperature (exposed surface temperature) of the vessel parts is not very
high. The insulation thickness can be calculated on one or more of the three
criteria, namely, based on maximum allowable skin temperature, maximum
tolerable rate of heat egress/ ingress or economic criteria (considering the
capital investment vis-a-vis cost of heat energy lost). PVDA supports the
three design criteria.

Choice of insulating material is dependent on the services conditions

as well as economics. PVDA supports choice of insulation from among a list
available in the data base as well as a user-defined insulation.
Reinforcement Calculations

Theoretical Basis
Consider an infinite, flat, uniformly thick plate of a metal subjected to
tensile load along one direction. The load is such that it develops tensile
stresses σ y all along its skin as shown

σy σy σy σy

σy σy σy σy

Consider now an infinitesimally small, circular cross-section hole

punctured in this plate. The radius of the hole is ‘a’.

Things change drastically because of this ‘opening’ made into a plate.

An easy visualization of this is offered by considering the induced stresses
as pathways for transmission of load across the plate. These pathways are
disrupted due to the cutting of a hole into the whole.
One thus expects a uniform stress pattern to be disrupted and stress
“intensification” along the edges of the hole aligned to the stress direction
and also a stress “rarification” in the vicinity of the hole in the transverse

Theory provides a quantitative feel of the phenomenon. A formula to

calculate stress levels at a point defined by polar coordinates ( r ,θ ) as shown
in the figure is as follows.


σ  a 2  σ  3a 4 
σt = 1 +  − 1 + 4  cos 2θ
2  r 2  2  r 

Substitution of various values of r a and θ in the formula gives a

quantitative feel of the stress intensification around the opening.

Important positions are the 12 O’clock and 6 O’clock positions as

well as 3 O’clock and 9 O’clock positions. From symmetry considerations,
one can home in on 12 O’clock ( θ = 0  ) and 3 O’clock ( θ = 90  ) positions for
further study. Let us see what is the situation on the edge of the hole ( r a = 1 )
along these directions and also as one moves away from the edge, one radius
at a time (i.e. at r a = 2,3,4,........etc. ).

1 2 3 4 5
The calculations and the stress profiles offer important insights into
the implications of making an opening.

As we travel along the 3 O’clock position, we see that stresses at the

edge have intensified to 3 times their value before making an opening. Stress
increases to 3 σ y . This intensification attenuates very fast and the stress is
1.21 σ y even as one moves a radius away from the edge of the hole. It
reduces further and there is no intensification of any consequence beyond
r a = 5.

The situation along the 12 O’clock axis is even more interesting. The
tangential position along this axis is transverse to the original stress lines.
There were no stresses along this direction initially. Cutting of a hole,
however, induced a compressive stress σ y at the edge of the opening. The
compressive stress reverses within one radius, becomes tensile and then dies
down fast.

Allowable stress for pressure vessel design is often derived by

reducing the yield stress of the MoC at design temperature by a factor of
safety. Most commonly recommended factor of safety is 1.5

Sa =

This, when coupled with the observed stress intensification around the
opening, indicates the engineering unacceptability of stress intensification.
For example, let the plate be stretched initially such that the tensile stresses
reach the allowable level for the MoC. When the hole is punctured, a stress
intensification factor of 3 would mean that the stresses would reach a level
of 3 Sa or 2 Sy. The plate would thus yield plastically and deform around the
opening. This may not be acceptable. Something therefore needs to be done
around the opening to keep the intensified stresses within the allowable as
much as possible.

One of the possibilities is to opt for a thicker plate (preferably thrice

as thick as the requirement to keep stresses within allowable prior to cutting
an opening). This would be uneconomical. Keeping in mind that the stress
intensification attenuates with a circle of double the radius of the opening
and fall below engineering safely margines, one therefore considers the need
to provide a ‘collar’ or reinforcing pad to strengthen the stress carrying
cross-section of the plate locally.
We thus carry from the theory two points.
1) Something needs to be done because the stress intensification
might take the stresses beyond engineering safety margines.
2) This ‘something’ needs to be done only within a circle of double
the diameter of the opening.

What about the assumptions?

Let us now revisit some of the assumptions behind the theory giving
us the formula that led to above conclusions.

One of the assumptions was regarding the plate being flat. Pressure
vessels and their closures are essentially not so. However the dimensions of
the shape on which an opening for the nozzle is made is much larger as
compared to the nozzle diameter. The nozzle thus sees a reasonably flat
surface around it, if not a perfectly flat one. We therefore persume that the
assumption is not that restrictive as to make the theory inapplicable in
practical situations.

Another assumption was regarding the infinite expanse of the plate.

Our vessels are of finite dimensions. However, as the stress intensification
attenuates within few radiuses from the hole, whether the plate exits beyond
that or not is not of much concern. This assumption is, therefore, not
considered to be very restrictive.

Yet another assumption was regarding the infinitesimal dimension of

the hole. The assumption was necessary to ensure that the hole remained
circular inspite of stress intensification. Practically sized holes would actual
deform and attain an over shape. This deformation actually helps
redistribution and alleviation of stresses. Stress levels in the case of finite
sized openings are thus likely to be more benign than what the theory
predicts. Theory thus offers more alarming estimates. Use of the theory for
practically sized nozzles is therefore acceptable.

The important limitation was regarding the unidirectional force

inducing unidirectional stresses in the plate. In practical situation, we have a
2-D scenario. For example, a cylinder pressurized from inside or outside
experiences stresses in circumferential direction (Hoop’s stresses) as well as
axial direction. A sphere and other shapes as well, have stresses in 2
orthogonal directions.
Stress intensification can be quantified using superposition. Effect of
stresses in one direction is superimposed on the same calculated for stresses
in the other direction.

Calculations show that stress intensification is actually less in the

case of cylinders and spheres. The order of severity of stress intensification
flat plate cylinder sphere

(High Low)

Area Compensation Method

The need for the provision of a reinforcing pad around an opening is

ascertained and the pad thickness is arrived at using the area compensation
method stipulated by the codes. It is applicable to a cylindrical nozzle
provided on any shape of a vessel or a closure.

The premise on which the area compensation method is based is very

simple. It identifies the load bearing metal cross-sectional area which is lost
due to the act of making an opening. It attempts to compensate this area loss
by providing extra thickness in the affected vicinity of the hole.

It is important to get a correct picture of the area that is purported to

be lost due to an opening. Consider the flat plate again. Let it be stretched in
one direction such that the stresses are just equal to the allowable stress. Let
the plate thickness be ‘t’ everywhere. We now contemplate to remove a
circular area of diameter ‘d’ in a lane of width ‘d’ as shown below.

The load bearing metal cross-section that would be lost because of
removing a disc of diameter ‘d’ is clearly not the area of the circle. Instead it
is a rectangle of width ‘d’ and thickness ‘t’.

t d

This area can be returned back to the plate by welding a disc of

thickness ‘t’ of outer diameter ‘2d’ and inner diameter ‘d’. This would
provide an extra area of d t / 2 on either side of the lost area ‘d t’ as shown.


d t

This in essence is the concept of area compensation. The actual

calculations are somewhat more elaborate and incorporate the decision steps
leading to the wall thickness calculations wherein the regulation thickness
gets corrected for corrosion/erosion allowance and mill tolerance on plate
thickness before the next available commercial thickness is recommended.

Let us consider a cylindrical vessel/pipe of outer diameter DO

subjected to an internal design pressure of P . Let the corrosion allowance be
∈ and mill tolerance ± M % . Let the recommended plate thickness be T .

Let a nozzle (or branch connection) of OD d o , ID d i and nominal

thickness t ( = ( OD − ID ) 2 ) be required to be provided on this vessel/pipe
(header). Let the mill tolerance be m% . Corrosion allowance and design
pressure would be ∈ and P as for header. This is so because the vessel and
nozzle face identical service conditions.
It helps to consider the steps that go in recommending the header and
branch thickness. Regulation thickness is calculated, corrosion allowance is
added, mill tolerance is provided and the next higher commercial thickness
is recommended. There is often an extra thickness available in the header
design. This amounts to an extra area available in the affected zone to handle
stress intensification. Compensation area can take advantage of this
discount. Often, this extra area available is more than the area lost. No extra
area by way of reinforcing pad is required in this case. The nozzle is then
said to be ‘self compensating’.

The nozzle thickness calculations go through a similar sequence.

There is thus some extra thickness (and hence area) available in the nozzle
itself. It is believed that this extra thickness available in the nozzle up to a
height of H 1 above the header OD can be accounted for in the area available.

If the nozzle is protruding inside the header, its portion up to a depth

of H 2 is also considered as providing extra area to handle stress

A reinforcing pad is provided only if the area ‘lost’ due to cutting an

opening is more than the area ‘available’ (due to over design) in the header
portion, nozzle portion above the header and the nozzle portion inside the
header. This area accounting has several nuances further to try and avoid
provision of a reinforcing pad.

Consider the area that is lost. As seen earlier, it is a rectangle of width

equal to the diameter of the hole and height equal to the ‘thickness’. Each
term requires to be qualified further.

We would like our design to be functional right through the service

life. Corrosion would have caused increase of the nozzle ID (which is the
size of the opening also) to d i + 2 ∈ over this period. This is therefore
considered as the design basis for the diameter of the opening to be used in
reinforcement calculations. As a consequence, the affected area on the
header extends to a circle of diameter 2( d i + 2 ∈) . Reinforcing pad, if at all
provided, will have this as its OD.

The ‘thickness’ to be used in calculating area lost is also important.

What is indeed lost is the regulation thickness. The rest which comprised of
the allowances, tolerances and extra is not consequence here. Regulation
thickness would have helped keep the stresses at allowable level. This
thickness is what is ‘missed’ as an opening is made.
Couple of other points are also very important. The opening for the
nozzle is unlikely to be located on an existing weld joint of the header or its
vicinity. A weld or an opening is a weakness in the structure and fabrication
wisdom would dictate that these should not occur simultaneously. If this is
so, then the regulation thickness for the header should be calculated using
Weld Joint Efficiency value as 1 in the appropriate regulation thickness
formula for the header shape. The regulation thickness thus may not be
imported directly from previous calculations done at the time of header
design. Note that this consideration reduces the value of regulation
thickness, thereby lowering the estimate of area lost.

Another point is regarding the choice of the formula to be used for the
regulation thickness itself. It should be the code formula for a shape ‘seen’
by the nozzle. It may not make difference if the nozzle is placed on a sphere,
hemisphere, cylinder, flat plate or an ellipsoidal closure. For a dished
(torispherical) closure or a cone housing a nozzle, it does make a difference.

If the nozzle is on the ‘crown’ of a dished closure, the shape around it

is actually a sphere with diameter double that of the vessel. While designing
the closure, formula pertaining to the dished closure would have been used.
While calculating regulation thickness to be used in calculating area lost,
one should use formula for a sphere instead. Note that this consideration also
reduces the value of regulation thickness, thereby lowering the estimate of
area lost.

Similar is the case for nozzle on a cone. The thickness of the cone is
arrived at using the base diameter of the cone. As one moves towards the tip
of the cone, the regulation thickness requirement decreases and extra
thickness increases. To avail of this extra thickness in reinforcement
calculation, one should calculate the regulation thickness afresh using cone
diameter at a level corresponding to the center of the opening. Note that this
consideration also reduces the value of regulation thickness, thereby
lowering the estimate of area lost. In fact, a properly located nozzle on a
cone can often be made ‘self compensating’.

Let us now put together the balance sheet of the load bearing metal
area affected due to an opening.
Area Lost
AL = ( d i + 2 ∈)TR

Where TR is the regulation thickness recalculated with above discussed


Area Available

From Header:

A1A = ( d i + 2 ∈)( T − TR − ∈ − M T )

M T is the thickness that may not be available as per mill tolerance. If

M% is the mill tolerance for header, then

MT = T

From Nozzle portion outside the header:

AA2 = 2 H 1 ( t − t R − ∈ − mT )

( mT = t )

From nozzle portion protruding inside the header:

AA3 = 2 H 2 ( t − 2 ∈ −mT )

The last expression needs some clarification. The protruding portion

of the nozzle is subject to same pressure on either side of its wall. The
differential pressure on this wall is thus zero. There is thus no regulation
thickness requirement. At the same time, corrosion is eating into this wall
from inside as well as outside. Corrosion over the expected service life is
thus twice the corrosion allowance.

The participating heights of the nozzle, H 1 and H 2 , (participating in

sharing the extra stresses) are given as follows.
H 1 = (d i + 2ε )(t − ε )

H 2 = (d i + 2ε )(t − 2ε )

Note that for a non-protruding nozzle, H 2 = 0 . The regulation

thickness of the nozzle, t R , is imported directly from its previous
calculations done for deciding nozzle thickness. No correction for weld joint
efficiency is required in this calculation as the entire nozzle with its seam
welding (if any) is in the affected area.

The balance sheet attempts to hammer down the estimate of area lost.
The area available is estimated by looking for as much area available in the
vicinity as possible. In fact, even ‘weldment’ area in the affected rectangle is
accounted for in area available if such estimates are available.

AA4 = weldment area

A reinforcement pad is provided if area deficit AD is greater than zero.

AD = AL − A1A + AA2 + AA3 + AA4 )
The deficit area is provided in the affected zone welding a reinforcing pad of
thickness t P given as

tP =
(d i + 2 ∈)

The formula is self explanatory in view of the discussions above and the

Although not explicitly stated, it is pressumed that the reinforcing pad

is of the same material as that of the header/nozzle. This would normally be
the case, as welding together dissimilar metal could lead to galvanic
corrosion. However, considering the fact that the pad is not exposed to the
corrosive process fluid, if a dissimilar material is chosen for the pad for
economic considerations, an appropriate correction to the pad thickness is
called for.

Codes recommend on upward revision of the thickness if pad material

allowable stress ( S apad ) is lower than that of the header/nozzle (Sa). Logically,
the revision is as follows.
tP =
d i + 2 ∈ S apad

Codes however do not allow a downward revision for a stronger pad

material. The calculation formula should thus be

 AD AD Sa 
t P = max  , pad 
di + 2 ∈ di + 2 ∈ Sa 

For Fabrication consideration, a pad thickness of less than 5mm is not