Delayed coker drums are unique in hydrocarbon processing facilities in that estimating their true design and service life has been problematic. Generally, pressure containing equipment in these facilities is designed using the notion of design life based on required pressure thickness and corrosion allowance considerations. Hence, pressure containing equipment is routinely monitored by facility inspectors for wall thickness.

Although many analysts have ascribed coke drum failure to “thermal stress cycling”, the difficulty posed by the operation of coke drums results in an inability to measure or calculate the magnitude of the thermo-mechanical “stresses” and the actual number of significant exposures, that is, cycles causing fatigue damage. As well, the use of Code construction practices has been generally misapplied, for this specific equipment, as the practices are intended to define a safe design life rather than a service life.

Indirect measures of service life based on shell bulge severity have fallen from favor by being ineffective. A trend to use a strain index method is somewhat more appealing but is based on static load and monotonic material property considerations rather than those properties indicative of thermal cyclic operation.

Recent work has shown that thermo-mechanical strain cycling can be characterized quantitatively and used to determine a cyclic service life for both undamaged and damaged coke drums. This paper discusses some of the engineering specifics to generate a high probability estimate of coke drum fatigue service life for a new drum, a damaged-stable drum, drums with weld overlay and for drums exhibiting incremental damage.

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