In the process systems of offshore installations, welded small-bore side branches can prove vulnerable to high-cycle fatigue failure due to vibrations. This is especially the case for welded connections at tie-in points to the main pipe which are often critical details. International standards and guidelines therefore provide maximum acceptable vibration levels to ensure long term safe operation. In some guidelines, however, these acceptable vibration levels are phrased in terms of screening levels and in practice can be unduly conservative. Process pipework might then unjustly be regarded as unsafe based on measured vibrations in the field. This is especially true for offshore systems, which are characterized by low mechanical damping in the structure. This may result in overdesigned piping or over-conservative operational limits in order to keep vibration levels within the acceptable range. Furthermore, the screening methods and any detailed fatigue assessments typically use established stress-life (S-N) based fatigue design methods where uncertainty exists in the very high-cycle regime.

This paper describes a novel and advanced tailor-made fatigue assessment method whereby acceptable vibration levels are based on maximum acceptable stress ranges for individual side branches. The acceptable stress ranges for each critical welded connection are based on a fracture mechanics analysis of fatigue crack growth. This method also minimizes the cantilevered (overhung) mass of small-bore side branches, whilst remaining safe for long-term operation.

To illustrate the strength of the assessment methodology in practice, this paper describes the application of the procedure to a 2″ side branch connected to a main piping system. A fracture mechanics model and a detailed 3D finite element model are made. By comparing the stress ranges from the fracture mechanics model with the normalized stress ranges obtained from the dynamic FE analysis, maximum acceptable vibration levels for this particular side branch have been derived. The method is validated with experimental modal analysis and strain gauge measurements.

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