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Inspectioneering Journal

Safely Operating Steam Reformers between Turnarounds

A Holistic Approach to Reliability and Maintenance

By Thomas Fortinberry at Quest Integrity Group, and James Widrig at Quest Integrity Group. This article appears in the March/April 2013 issue of Inspectioneering Journal

Steam reformers are critical assets to many refining and chemical manufacturing plants and facilities, and it is well known that the reformer is one of the most challenging assets to maintain and operate. Common problems in reformer operations include burner firing, flue gas distribution, and catalyst damage. While these are only a few of the problems that can occur, all directly affect reformer tube life and lead to premature tube failure, pigtail failure, and damage to the header and convection section. In order to improve reliability and operate with a higher degree of confidence, it is important to incorporate a holistic approach to steam reformer reliability and maintenance programs. When using such an approach between turnarounds, operators should consider these essential elements:

  • Preventative maintenance
  • Reformer tube inspections
  • Advanced engineering analysis
  • Reformer tube remaining life assessments
  • Reformer performance monitoring surveys
  • Infrared (IR) temperature correction software

Preventative maintenance activities during operation and planned shutdowns pro- vide information to improve and sustain the reliability of the reformer. Historically, most of the preventive maintenance was in the form of inspection work, but many plants and facilities are seeing the value of performing proactive engineering assess- ment work to better plan for future operations and shutdowns. The knowledge of what needs to be replaced and inspected ahead of the turnaround allows for better turnaround planning, which results in savings in time and material costs. Inspection and assessment of the entire steam reformer system allow operators to be proactive instead of reactive to reformer conditions.

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