Coke drums are thin walled pressure vessels that are subjected to severe thermal cyclic operation, which causes low cycle thermal fatigue. Because of that, they are considered as the vessels with the highest failure rate in a refinery according to API survey conducted in1996.
In the last decade, a new technology in bottom blocking valve systems for coke drums has been introduced which induces a change in the traditional center feeding system to lateral feeding system; basically with the main goal to increase operators safety. Taking into account the mechanical integrity and remaining life of coke drums, the central feeding system has traditionally been considered as the best option, however; this hypothesis has not been fully demonstrated.
Two central fed coke drums were heavily instrumented with strain gauges and thermocouples in bulged zones identified after performing a bulge severity analysis (BSA). Thermocouple arrays and several strain gauges were installed in eight specific locations of the drums. This instrumentation was installed three months before installing bottom blocking valves in the drums, and consequently, changing their feeding system to lateral. A statistical analysis was performed using 40 thermal cycles of the two coke drums with central feeding system and 120 thermal cycles of the same coke drums after changing to lateral feeding system. The usage factor was estimated for each cycle considering the axial stress amplitude and a fatigue strength reduction factor of 2 for the ASME S-N design curve Fig. KD-320.2. Finally, the remaining life was estimated for each instrumented zone taking into consideration that the coke drums would have the same cumulative damage in the future.
The results show that average remaining life at instrumented zones (considering all locations) of one coke drum increased when the lateral feeding system was introduced; while the average remaining life at instrumented zones for the second coke drum remained practically unchanged after the lateral feeding system was put in to service.