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BOILER TUBE FAILURE

Tube failure during stabilization period


The tube failures in a boiler during initial phase of operation are different from the types that
occur after prolonged operation. During the initial period of operation of boiler the type of
tube failures seen are short term overheating, weld failures, material defects, chemical
excursion failure, and sometimes fatigue failures. The short term overheating failure is
mainly due to blockage in the fluid path by some foreign material which gets into the tube
surface during fabrication or during erection of the unit. The blockage can also happen when
debris after acid cleaning of the boiler is not removed completely. This failure can be visually
identified by it characteristic appearance of a fish-mouth-like opening and so is also called as
fish mouth failure.
Tube failure during normal operation period
Any of these twenty-two mechanisms can be the cause of a tube failure during normal
operation. However, a few like water side corrosion, caustic corrosion, hydrogen damage in
the water wall, soot blower erosion, damage during maintenance cleaning, and tube internal
pitting can be totally eliminated in a boiler if good operating and maintenance practices as
told by the boiler designers are followed. The failures due to long term overheating, fatigue,
fly ash erosion, fire side corrosion, falling slag damage, etc can still happen in a boiler due to
fuel quality variation, operating temperature, startup and shutdown rate, etc. Hence it is not
fully possible to avoid tube failures in a high pressure boiler, but the number of them can be
minimized by analyzing all failures and taking corrective and preventive action.
Tube failure in high pressure boilers follow a normal bath tub curve, with higher rate during
initial operation period, stabilizing to a lower rate during the normal operating period and
again increasing as the boilers age and cross ten to fifteen years of operation. During this
period the boiler pressure parts are evaluated for their remaining life and corrective action
taken. A few photos of tube failure are shown below.