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BP at Sunbury

TECHNICAL BULLETIN
Title:

Summary:

INSPECTION OF SMALL-BORE
FITTINGS AND PIPEWORK
This Bulletin considers:

failure causes

best practices for inspection

inspection methods

measures to reduce problems.

The bulletin is applicable to all production and process plant installations in BPX,
BPO and BPC.

Serial No:

TB0002

Date:

7th June 1995

Issued by:

Engineering Shared Service

Tel:

01932 764497

Team:

Materials & Inspection


Engineering

Fax:

01932 762987

For further information contact:

David Ray, Materials & Inspection, GRE Sunbury

1.

Failure Causes

With larger diameter fittings and piping, the most common mode of deterioration is internal corrosion. For
such equipment, routine inpseciton programmes are set up to monitor metal loss, establish corrosion rates
and derive remaining lives. With small-bore pipework and fittings this is not usually the case. Firstly, it has
not been normal practice to include them in inspection programmes, secondly, deterioration can result from a
wide variety of causes eg.
Small-bore pipe and fittings are mechanically less robust and thus more easily damaged eg. by use as
stepping points, or over-tightening of threaded fittings.
Because of their relatively thin wall, corrosion, both internal and external, can remove a greater
proportion of the wall in unit time, leading to a critical condition in the fitting when corrosion is not a
cause for concern elsewhere in the system.
Small fittings carrying inadequately supported piping, valves, etc., can fail due to fatigue, usually caused
by vibration induced by the flowing medium or from machinery.
Small fittings are more easily misplaced during plant construction, and their dimension make them
difficult to mark clearly for identification. They are therefore more likely to be installed in the wrong
material.
Threading on a fitting or pipe results in a thin remaining wall at the root of the threads, and this makes
small threaded components prone to corrosion and fatigue failures. Seal welding to mitigate this
problem is often poorly carried out.
On insulated equipment it is difficult to seal the insulation around a fitting to achieve a moisture proof
barrier. This may result in external corrosion. No-flow connections on high temperature lines often
operate cool enough to promote underlagging corrosion.
The large number of small fittings in process plant means that it is difficult to keep a record of them all
and hence it is easy for one to be overlooked until failure occurs.
Fittings used as drains, sample points, etc., can be process deadlegs, sometimes for periods of more
than one run. This can result in conditions that are much more corrosive than in the equipment to
which they are attached. Sample points may sometimes be used on a frequent basis and the forces
resulting from the operaiton of a poorly maintained valve can impose a repetitive high stress on the
associated pipework.
Injection points can be subject to excessive corrosion and erosion by the injected chemical, especially
poorly designed.
Austenitic stainless steel drains can be subject to internal stress corrosion cracking if chloride-containing
aqueous phases enter at shutdowns and subsequently concentrate within them on start-up.
Low point drains in off-site pipework often become buried in soil/water, and suffer external corrosion.
Small diameter pipework is awkward to weld. Many welds have excessive penetration into the bore.
This can cause turbulence in the flowing stream resulting in preferential attack at the weld and also
erosion downstream of the weld joint.

The change in flow caused by the presence of an off-take or injection point can accentuate
erosion/corrosion in the main pipework and the ancillary pipework/fitting.
If small-bore lines are heat traced it is possible to raise the contents of the line to a temperature where
the corrosion rate is much greater than the main line.
Failures from all the above causes have been reported in the industry. It is important that inspection groups
should be aware of such failure modes and devise inspection programs that will detect them, and that
design and construction methods reduce the chance of them occurring.
2.

Best Practices for Inspection

The various piping codes make little or no particular mention of small-bore pipework. The new Piping
Inspection Code, API 570, covers it in a general manner in the form of a number of points that should be
considered by the inspector. Other codes do not differentiate between small-bore and larger diameter
pipework. Best practices are considered to be:

Identify the location and type of all small diameter fittings. This can be done at shutdowns and
during on-stream thickness monitoring when the lines can be viewed and fittings sized and recorded
on the relevant isometric or PCMS. Each fitting should be given a unique identifying number so that
its inspection history can be recorded. On insulated lines and equipment the inspector should think
where fittings might be expected and confirm their presence or absence. The neglected "hidden"
fitting will probably eventually fail!

Lines and fittings should be categorised as regards the risk they pose. Frequency and method of
inspection should be determined by this categorisation. Fittings in hazardous service, where internal
corrosion and/or vibration can be expected and where failure would lead to unacceptable
consequences, merit close and frequent attention. Fittings in a more benign service can be more
casually inspected at longer intervals.

It should be decided before a shutdown what inspection procedure will be followed for each fitting,
or category of fitting. There should be a procedure in place that ensures each item scheduled for
inspection is actually inspected as called for in the procedure.

3.

Inspection Methods

The method and frequency of inspection should be determined by assessment of risk, accessibility and
cost. Inspection records in conjunction with the categorisation of the fitting will indicate the risk. Use
should also be made of corrosion monitoring information to indicate when a fitting may be experiencing
excessive corrosion.
Visual
With low risk items a visual inspection every few years may be all that is required. Visual inspection
should identify any mechanical damage or external corrosion and should also make the inspector
suspect fatigue damage if valves or instruments are hung from poorly supported nipples or piping.
Hammer Testing
After visual inspection the easiest method is hammer-testing. Carried out correctly this is a very
cheap and effective way to detect deterioration due to general internal or external corrosion or
mechanical damage. Carried out incorrectly it detects nothing and, even worse, can damage
otherwise sound equipment, leading to eventual failure.

Radiography
The most definitive method of inspection of a fitting is probably radiography, though this can be
misleading if wall thinning is not uniform and the exposure is normal to the thinning. A radiograph
will also show if seal welding or threading is below standard. The main reluctance of using the
technique is its cost and the inconvenience it causes, especially during a shutdown.
Ultrasonics
If the surface of the fitting is in good enough condition to give probe contact, there is no reason why
ultrasonic gauging should not give satisfactory results. It is recommended for the monitoring of high
risk fittings.
Positive Material Identification (PMI)
In low alloy piping systems, it is recommended to make a PMI of all fittings, whether new or existing.
Pressure Test
Whenever a piping system or pressure vessel is being tested, special attention should be paid to all
small-bore fittings included in the test.
4.

Measures to Reduce Problems

Obvious actions can be taken to reduce the problems experienced with smallbore pipe and
fittings. Good design and construction practices can eliminate potential problems.
The use of small fittings should be kept to a minimum. The use of weldolets, integral
forged fittings and valves will reduce the number of welds between a pipe header or vessel and
first valve, and also result in a more mechanically robust assembly. Schedule 160 socket weld
fittings can be used as standard in severe environments. The higher initial cost of a heavy wall
or forged fitting needs to be balanced against reduced risk and reduced inspection costs. Total
life cost should be considered.
All small fittings should be identified and recorded. This is essential if any form of
monitoring is to be carried out. This would be time consuming if carried out as a discrete job,
but less so if drawings were checked and updated as opportunities arose. Having identified and
recorded all small fittings, a review should be made to determine those which are essential.
The remainder should be removed.
Checking on potential fatigue problems is very dependent on the observation of individual
inspectors. Pipe or equipment located on the end of small fittings may be inadequately
supported from the outset. Even if a support is properly installed originally it can be
subsequently modified for various reasons, frequently with little consultation. Vibrations in a
piping system can arise at any time in the life of the plant.
Problems caused by external corrosion of lagged fittings are common, often because not
enough care is taken during installation to preserve a good moisture barrier. Attention should
be given to applying a good anti-corrosion coating to the fittings.
At unit shutdowns all fittings should be blown through or proved clean; this will reduce
the likelihood of internal corrosion, especially in low-point drains.