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Engineering Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

Damage assessment and maintenance strategy of hydrogen


reformer furnace tubes
Jian!Ming Gonga\ Shan!Tung Tua\\ Kee!Bong Yoonb
a

Hi`h Temperature Technolo`y Division\ School of Mechanical En`ineerin`\ Nanjin` University of Chemical Technolo`y\
Nanjin` 109998\ People|s Republic of China
b
Department of Mechanical En`ineerin`\ Chun` An` University\ 110 Huksuk!Don`\ Don`jak!Ku\ Seoul 045645\ Korea
Received 03 August 0887^ accepted 08 September 0887

Abstract
The states of damage along a reformer tube in service for 09 years are metallographically analyzed[
Damage levels are ranked relating to remaining life[ The damage distribution is obtained for the whole
reformer tube[ The results show that the accumulated damage of the tube is non!uniform[ The damage level
in the lower part of the reformer tube is signi_cantly higher than that in the upper part\ especially in the
weld region[ The damage localization is also veri_ed by use of a continuum damage mechanics _nite element
technique[ Accordingly it is proposed that local replacement might be a desirable method to extend the
service life when the lower part of the reformer tube reaches the safe rupture life[ 0888 Elsevier Science
Ltd[ All rights reserved[
Keywords] Creep^ Damage assessment^ Maintenance^ Metallurgical examination^ Plant life monitoring

0[ Introduction
Reformer furnace tubes are the key components used to produce hydrogen!rich gas from a
mixture of hydrocarbons and steam at high temperature[ According to the American Petroleum
Institute "API# Recommended Practice 429 0\ the furnace tubes are generally designed for a
nominal life of 099\999 h "00[3 years#[ The actual service life\ however\ varies from 29\999 to
079\999 h\ depending on the quality of materials and the service conditions[
Reformer furnace tubes are generally fabricated from centrifugally cast creep resistant austenitic
steel HK Grade "14Cr\ 19Ni\ 9[3C# or HP Grade "15Cr\ 24Ni\ 9[3C#[ In long term service under
high temperature\ the material microstructure is subjected to degradation[ Carbon precipitation
occurs in the early stages[ The coalescence and coarsening of the carbides results in embrittlement

 Corresponding author[
02495296:88:, ! see front matter 0888 Elsevier Science Ltd[ All rights reserved[
PII] S 0 2 4 9 5 2 9 6 " 8 7 # 9 9 9 3 1 8

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

and reduction of strength[ Further degradation may lead to creep cavities\ cavity coalescence\
microcracking and _nal propagation of macro!cracks[ As the damage occurs inevitably in the
tubes\ much research has been done during the past two decades 13[ However\ the work
concentrates on the cracking positions^ there is still a lack of knowledge about the damage of the
whole tubes[ Replacement is generally done for a whole tube[
In order to study the residual strength and characteristics of the damage in HK 39 furnace tubes\
the present work studies the damage of whole tubes by metallographic examination and continuum
damage simulation[ The damage level along the tube is ranked relative to the remanent life[
Measures for maintenance of the tubes are recommended[

1[ Microstructure evaluation
The arrangement of the tube is shown in Table 0 and Fig[ 8[ The two end ~anges are made of
Cr4Mo and are joined with the HK 39 tube by dissimilar metal welding "DMW# which requires
no post!weld heat treatment[ The whole furnace tube is fabricated by welding together four to _ve
short tubes[ The furnace tube has thus two dissimilar metal welds and three to four similar metal
welds[
A mixture of hydrocarbon and steam at about 499>C enters the tube from the top inlet[ A violent
chemical reaction of the mixture occurs inside the tube under the catalyst e}ect of nickel[ Hydrogen!
rich gas is produced during the reaction and then leaves the outlet to a gas collector at about
749>C[ The internal pressure is about 1 MPa[ After 79\999 h in operation a tube was removed for
destructive inspection[ As it can be expected that the temperature along the tube is not uniform\
the damage varies with position[ The samples for microstructure analysis are thus removed from
di}erent positions as shown in Fig[ 8] "0# the top end ~ange and dissimilar metal weld\ A0^ "1# four
weldments including parent metal B1\ C2\ D3 and E4 "from top to bottom#^ "2# parent metal G09\
G00 located in the center of the two tube sections in the middle part of the whole tube^ "3# bottom
end ~ange and dissimilar metal weld F5[
Metallographical specimens were evaluated with the aid of a light optical microscope "LOM#
and a scanning electron microscope "SEM#[ Chemical composition analysis was done by using an
energy density spectrum "EDS# device attached to the SEM[ E}ective service temperature was
evaluated according to the following criteria 4]
599>C] Microstructure changes are not detectable with light microscopy\ and this is des!
ignated State I of aging[
599699>C] The primary carbides tend to coalesce and become blocky] as well\ secondary
carbides nucleate in the interior of the austenite matrix\ precipitating _rst along the edges of
the dendrite arms[ This is termed State II[
699799>C] The primary carbides transform completely from a eutectic morphology for form
compact blocks\ and very _ne secondary carbides are dispersed through the matrix\ producing
State III of aging[
799899>C] The morphology of the primary carbides stabilizes and the secondary carbides
coalesce[ Because of carbon di}usion to the primary carbides\ there is a loss of secondary
carbides along the dendrite boundaries[ This is termed State IV[

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042


Table 0
Microstructures and e}ective wall temperature
Locations

Parent metal

Weld metal

E}ective wall temperature

DMW A0

Little change of the carbide


morphology is observed[
The normal carbides are well
framed in the dendritic grain
boundaries or between the
boundaries "Fig[ 0#[

Primary carbides are


precipitated along the
boundaries while the
secondary carbides are
dispersed in the austenitic
matrix[

499>C

Weldment B1

Primary carbides are


precipitated along the
boundaries while secondary
carbides are dispersed near
the grain boundaries "Fig[
1#[

Primary carbides are linked


and coarsening while
secondary carbides are
dispersed near the grain
boundaries[

549699>C
Slight carburization is
found on the inner
surface of the tube[

Weldment C2

Primary carbides are linked


and few of them are blocky
while secondary carbides are
dispersed inside the grain and
tend to coalesce "Fig[ 2#[

Primary carbides are linked


and coarsening while
secondary carbides coalesce
obviously inside the grain[

679799>C

Weldment D3

Primary carbides are linked


and few of them are blocky
while the secondary carbides
are dispersed and coalesce
obviously inside the grain
"Fig[ 3#[

Primary carbides are linked


and blocky while the
secondary carbides are
almost dissolved[ In the HAZ\
intergranular microcracks
are observed in the inner
surface[

749>C

Parent metal G09

Primary carbides are linked


while secondary carbides are
dispersed and tend to
coalesce inside the grain[
The s!phase appears inside
the grain "Fig[ 4#[

749>C
The s!phase implies that
the location had a skin
temperature above 799>C[

Parent metal G00

Primary carbides are linked


and few of them are blocky
while secondary carbides
coalesce obviously inside the
grain[ Material
deterioration is more severe
than G09 "Fig[ 5#[

769>C

"continued on next pa`e#

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

Table 0 "continued#
Locations

Parent metal

Weld metal

E}ective wall temperature

Weldment E4

Primary carbides are linked


and blocky while the
secondary carbides coalesce
obviously and are partly
dissolved[ SEM observation
reveals that there are strings
of cavities and few
microcracks in the inner
surface of the tube "Fig[ 6#[

Primary carbides are


signi_cantly coarsening
and blocky while the
secondary carbides coalesce
obviously and are partly
dissolved[

769>C
From the inner surface to
the middle of the tube
there are strings of cavities
and some microcracks
"Fig[ 7#[

DMW F5

Primary carbides
precipitated along the
boundaries while the
dispersed secondary carbides
tend to coalesce near the
grain boundaries[

Single distributed cavities


are found in the grain
boundaries[

379>C

Fig[ 0[ Carbide morphology of sample A0 "LOM\ 299#[

8990999>C] Larger coalesced secondary carbides are observed\ their numbers being much
less than at lower temperatures[ A zone denuded in secondary precipitates surrounds the
primary carbides[ This is termed State V[
EDS analysis reveals that A0 and F5 dissimilar metal welds are welded by using Inconel 071
nickel based electrodes[ As the nickel content in the weld is as high as 69)\ the carbon migration
is e}ectively eliminated[ No decarburization in the fusion region is observed[

J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

036

Fig[ 1[ Carbide morphology of sample B1 "inner side\ LOM\ 299#[

Fig[ 2[ Carbide morphology of sample C2 "inner side\ LOM\ 299#[

2[ Evaluation of damage
2[0[ Metallographical evaluation
In the previous assessment of damage in the furnace tubes\ the rank of cavitation has been used
as a major criterion[ However\ it has been shown that cavities and microcracks occur preferentially
in the carbide regions and the carbides induced cavitation in the grain boundaries[ Thus the
irreversibly precipitated carbides should also be regarded as material damage[ By considering the
previous work done by Le May 4\ Lin et al[ 5\ Kashara 6 and Horta 7\ a semi!quantitative
model is proposed for the remaining life prediction which classi_es the tube damage into _ve levels[

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

Fig[ 3[ Carbide morphology of sample D3 "inner side\ LOM\ 299#[

Fig[ 4[ Carbide morphology of sample G09 "inner side\ LOM\ 299#[

Fig[ 5[ Carbide morphology of sample G00 "inner side\ LOM\ 299#[

J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

038

Fig[ 6[ Grain boundary creep voids near inner surface in the E4 base material "SEM\ 699#[

Fig[ 7[ Grain boundary creep voids and microcracks in the E4 weldment "SEM\ 699#[

"A# No cavities[ The primary carbides precipitate along the grain boundary\ while the secondary
carbides are dispersed in the austenitic matrix and tend to coalesce near the grain boundary[
The corresponding life fraction is within 19)[
"B# Few cavities appear in the grain boundary of the inner side of the tube[ Primary carbides are
linked and few of them are blocky while secondary carbides are no longer dispersed and
coalesce obviously inside the grain[ The corresponding life fraction is about 1939)[
"C# String of cavities found along the grain boundary[ Few cavities form microcracks[ Primary
carbides are linked and blocky while the secondary carbides are completely dissolved[ The
corresponding life fraction attains 3959)[

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

Fig[ 8[ Damage characteristic curves for the HK!39 tube[

"D# A few cavities are linked forming microcracks[ Some microcracks are linked with cracks
caused by carburization in the inner surface[ The total cracked part takes 0:20:1 of the tube
thickness[ The consumed life fraction is about 5964)[
"E# The microcracks link with each other\ forming a macrocrack propagating towards outer
surface[ The crack length is about 1:2 of the thickness[ The tube is postulated to fail[
2[1[ Theoretical calibration
The KachanovRabotnov equation for creep damage is used in the present study as follows\
doc 2 n0
S"0D#n\
 Bs
dt 1 e

"0#

dD AasI"0a#sen
[

dt
f0 "0D#f

"1#

oc is the strain tensor for creep\ S the stress deviation tensor\ sI and se are the maximum principal
stress and Von Mises stress\ D is the damage variable and the material creep life is assumed to be
fully utilized when D reaches 0[ a is the material constant relating to the multiaxial rupture criterion
which ranges from zero to unity\ B\ n\ A\ and n are material constants relating to the minimum
creep strain rate and rupture behaviors which can be determined from uniaxial creep curves[
The tube is modeled by four!node axisymmetric elements with reduced "11# Gauss integration[

J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

040

In the _nite element model a mesh of 0399 elements with 0644 nodes is used[ The material constants
which depend on the temperature T are as follows 8]
E  9[94146T188[88T065\722"MPa#\
B  09"24[08629[911426T#\ n  5[63
A  09"10[469[90246T#\ y  3[12
f  3[12\ Dcr  9[888[
On the basis of normal operation conditions\ the creep damage distribution is calculated and is
also shown in Fig[ 8 as Curves 0 and 1[

3[ Damage characteristics curve


The damage evaluated according to metallographical analysis and damage simulation are illus!
trated in Fig[ 8[ Curve 2 is the characteristic curve obtained by metallographical methods where
the damage in the secondary stage caused by the carbide precipitation is also taken into account[
Curve 1 represents the damage distribution at 79\999 h obtained by the CDM _nite element
technique[ Curve 0 is the predicted damage distribution at rupture[ Damage concentration locates
in the E4 weld about 1 m from the bottom end[ The damage is ranked as C class with life
consumption about 59)[ This implies that there is some strength potential for further operation
of the furnace tubes although the design life of the tube has almost been reached[
The theoretical method predicts a similar tendency as the metallographical observations[ It is
thus promising to use continuum damage mechanics as a basis for life management[ However\
some deviations are observed in the upper part[ This may indicate the present damage theory is
not su.cient to take into account the damage caused by carbide precipitation[

4[ Maintenance strategy
As the most critical part of tube has reached C class damage\ i[e[ a life fraction of about 59)
has been consumed\ it is estimated that the residual life of the tube is about 59\999 h\ corresponding
to a life fraction of 39)[ To be conservative\ it is recommended to use the furnace tubes for
another 3 years[ It is also noted from the characteristics curve that the damage at the upper part
of the reformer tubes is small while in the lower part it is signi_cant[ A maintenance plan may thus
be made based upon the scienti_c understanding of the creep behavior of the tube] when the lower
part of a reformer tube reaches its safe rupture life\ only the lower half part needs to be replaced[
This means great economic bene_ts because of the saving of reformer tubes made of expensive
high chrome and nickel steel[
In an emergency case the principle can also be applied[ A successful case was made to recover
production of a hydrogen reformer furnace after a severe rupture occurred to the tubes[ A number
of tubes ruptured in the middle position due to a wrong start!up operation[ The plant owner
decided to recover the production as quickly as possible[ However\ di.culty arose in deciding

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J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

which part was the most damaged and should be replaced[ As the tubes have been in service for 7
years\ our recommendation is that the ruptured parts and the parts with maximum creep damage
should be replaced[ Thus the tubes 0[4 m up from the bottom to the rupture location were removed[
A repair welding was then quali_ed by measuring mechanical properties of cross!weld specimens
at high temperature[ After years in operation\ the furnace tubes are still in good condition[

5[ Conclusions
The states of damage along a reformer tube in service for ten years are metallographically
analyzed[ Damage levels are ranked relating to remaining life[ A numerical simulation of the
damage development in the tube is also carried out[ Damage distributions are obtained for the
whole reformer tube[ Some conclusions have been drawn]
"0# Cavities and microcracks occur preferentially in the carbide regions and the carbides induced
cavitation in the grain boundaries[ Thus the precipitated carbides should also be regarded as
a material damage[ A semi!quantitative model for life assessment is thus proposed[
"1# Damage concentration locates in the E4 weld about 1 m from the bottom end[ The damage is
ranked as C class with life consumption about 59)[ This implies that there is some strength
potential for further operation of the furnace tubes although the design life of the tube has
almost been reached[ It also suggests that the welds might be the weakest link that determines
the life of the tubes[
"2# The damage simulation by FEM predicts a similar tendency as the metallographical obser!
vations[ It is thus promising to use continuum damage mechanics as a basis for life management[
However\ some deviations are observed in the upper part[ This may indicate that the present
damage theory is not su.cient to take into account the damage caused by carbide precipitation[
"3# The damage at the upper part of the reformer tubes is small while in the lower part it is
signi_cant[ A maintenance plan may thus be made based upon the scienti_c understanding of
the creep behavior of the tube] when the lower part of a reformer tube reaches its safe rupture
life\ only the lower half part needs to be replaced[

Acknowledgements
The support provided by the Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province\ China and the
Korean Science and Engineering Foundation "0886 Brain Pool Program# are gratefully acknowl!
edged[ The authors also wish to thank colleagues who have contributed to the preparation of this
paper[

References
0 American Petroleum Institute\ Calculation of heater!tube thickness in petroleum re_neries] API recommended
practice 429\ 2rd ed[ Washington\ DC\ 0877[

J[!M[ Gon` et al[ : En`ineerin` Failure Analysis 5 "0888# 032042

042

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