Coke drums are subjected to batch cycles processing residue from refineries and upgrading the fuel streams back to the plant for further processing. As a result of operating conditions, these vessels are subjected to severe non-uniform thermal gradients that lead to localized hot and cold spots. The predominant failure mode in the coke drum shell is therefore the natural, but unwanted, progression of bulges and corrugations and eventual cracking. According to a coke drum survey coordinated by API in 1996 from 145 coke drums, 57% were found to have shell bulging problems. A common trend to increase profitability in coke drum units is reducing operational cycle length; which aggravates bulging and cracking mechanisms on these vessels.

As part of the bulging monitoring process, laser mapping and bulge severity factor (BSF) analysis were conducted in a total of six coke drums. The vessel that exhibited the most significant bulges was subsequently instrumented with strain gauges and thermocouples in three specific regions. Finite element analyses (FEA) of the instrumented regions were performed using the laser mapping and 2-dimensional temperature gradients as inputs, and compared with the strain gauge measurements. The assessment shows the level of damage produced during operation, as well as the changes in damage from one cycle to the next. The usage factor can be used as a decision criterion by operation personnel for potential changes, as well as aiding in decision making on when to repair, replace or reinforce the sections of interest.

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