Boiler Key Components

Critical Components

In general, the critical components are those whose failure will directly affect the reliability of the boiler. The critical components can be prioritized by the impact they have on safety, reliability, and performance.
These critical pressure parts include:
Drums – The steam drum is the single most expensive component in the boiler. Consequently, any maintenance program must address the steam drum, as well as any other drums, in the convection passes of the boiler. In general, problems in the drums are associated with corrosion. In some instances, where drums have rolled tubes, rolling may produce excessive stresses that can lead to damage in the ligament areas. Problems in the drums normally lead to indications that are seen on the surfaces – either inside diameter (ID) or outside diameter (OD).
Assessment:  Inspection and testing focuses on detecting surface indications. The preferred nondestructive examination (NDE) method is wet fluorescent magnetic particle testing (WFMT). Because WFMT uses fluorescent particles that are examined under ultraviolet light, it is more sensitive than dry powder type-magnetic particle testing (MT) and it is faster than liquid dye penetrant testing (PT) methods. WFMT should include the major welds, selected attachment welds, and at least some of the ligaments. If locations of corrosion are found, then ultrasonic thickness testing (UTT) may be performed to assess thinning due to metal loss. In rare instances, metallographic replication may be performed.

Headers – Boilers designed for temperatures above 900°F (482°C) can have superheater outlet headers that are subject to creep – the plastic deformation (strain) of the header from long-term exposure to temperature and stress. For high temperature headers, tests can include metallographic replication and ultrasonic angle beam shear wave inspections of higher stress weld locations. However, industrial boilers are more typically designed for temperatures less than 900°F (482°C) such that failure is not normally related to creep. Lower temperature headers are subject to corrosion or possible erosion. Additionally, cycles of thermal expansion and mechanical loading may lead to fatigue damage.

Assessment: NDE should include testing of the welds by MT or WFMT. In addition, it is advisable to perform internal inspection with a video probe to assess water side cleanliness, to note any buildup of deposits or maintenance debris that could obstruct flow, and to determine if corrosion is a problem. Inspected headers should include some of the water circuit headers as well as super-heater headers. If a location of corrosion is seen, then UTT to quantify remaining wall thickness is advisable.

Tubing – By far, the greatest number of forced outages in all types of boilers are caused by tube failures. Failure mechanisms vary greatly from the long term to the short term. Super-heater tubes operating at sufficient temperature can fail long term (over many years) due to normal life expenditure. For these tubes with predicted finite life, Bab-cock & Wilcox (B&W) offers the NOTIS test and remaining life analysis. However, most tubes in the industrial boiler do not have a finite life due to their temperature of operation under normal conditions. Tubes are more likely to fail because of abnormal deterioration such as water/steam-side deposits retarding heat transfer, flow obstructions, tube corrosion (ID and/or OD), fatigue, and tube erosion.

Assessment: Tubing is one of the components where visual examination is of great importance because many tube damage mechanisms lead to visual signs such as distortion, discoloration, swelling, or surface damage. The primary NDE method for obtaining data used in tube assessment is contact UTT for tube thickness measurements. Contact UTT is done on accessible tube surfaces by placing the UT transducer onto the tube using a couplant, a gel or fluid that transmits the UT sound into the tube. Variations on standard contact UTT have been developed due to access limitations. Examples are internal rotating inspection system (IRIS)-based techniques in which the UT signal is reflected from a high rpm rotating mirror to scan tubes from the ID – especially in the area adjacent to drums; and B&W’s immersion UT where a multiple transducer probe is inserted into boiler bank tubes from the steam drum to provide measurements at four orthogonal points. These systems can be advantageous in the assessment of pitting.

Main Steam – For lower temperature systems, the piping is subject to the same damage as noted for the boiler headers. In addition, the piping supports may experience deterioration and become damaged from excessive or cyclical system loads.

Assessment: The NDE method of choice for testing of external weld surfaces is WFMT. MT and PT are sometimes used if lighting or pipe geometry make WFMT impractical. Non­drainable sections, such as sagging horizontal runs, are subject to internal corrosion and pitting. These areas should be examined by internal video probe and/or UTT measurements. Volumetric inspection (i.e., ultrasonic shear wave) of selected piping welds may be included in the NDE; however, concerns for weld integrity associated with the growth of subsurface cracks is a problem associated with creep of high-temperature piping and is not a concern on most industrial installations.

Feed-water – A piping system often overlooked is feed-water piping. Depending upon the operating parameters of the feed-water system, the flow rates, and the piping geometry, the pipe may be prone to corrosion or flow assisted corrosion (FAC). This is also referred to as erosion-corrosion. If susceptible, the pipe may experience material loss from internal surfaces near bends, pumps, injection points, and flow transitions. Ingress of air into the system can lead to corrosion and pitting. Out-of-service corrosion can occur if the boiler is idle for long periods.