Inspectioneering Journal

Fired Heater Health Monitoring and Reliability Management in Challenging Times

By Tim Hill, Principal Consulting Engineer at Quest Integrity Group. This article appears in the March/April 2016 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


The reliable operation of fired heaters is critical to the successful performance of any petroleum refinery. Because they operate under such extreme conditions, the life of furnace tubes is often limited by creep, corrosion, and oxidation. This article covers many essential elements for optimizing the performance and reliability of fired heaters. Refining facilities benefit from having a strategic optimization plan, both short-term and long-term, through improved reliability and performance of fired heater assets, resulting in cost reduction and a decreased risk of unplanned asset failures.

The standards for successfully managing assets have changed with the expectations of refinery leadership in the current industry climate. Historically, refineries were satisfied with programs that repaired equipment as quickly as possible, using a reactive approach. However, today's leaders demand more from their managers. With refineries being pinched by low crude oil prices, demands for cost effective unit reliability and performance continue to rise. Operations managers now have to meet and exceed the challenges from these high expectations, in order to ensure and maintain longstanding fired heater health and reliability.

Due to the high demand for continuous reliability and productivity of fired heater assets, it is important to develop a systematic strategy based on best practices. It should identify and address all essential elements for achieving optimum performance and reliability for each fired heater asset.

The Importance of Performance

Achieving fired heater reliability in conjunction with meeting performance standards can be a challenging feat. Performance is a measure of the degree to which the fired heater is in an operable condition at any given time. The difficult factor of meeting performance standards is that the required fired heater operation (mission) is ever changing, at random frequencies.

Measures of asset performance are shown in Figure 1. These measures define what operators want a fired heater to accomplish at any given time. For example, if the heater was designed for a 30,000 bpd (barrels per day) feed rate, the charge heater must be able to process this charge capacity; otherwise the mission has failed. 

Figure 1. Fired Heater Performance Standards.
Figure 1. Fired Heater Performance Standards.

The fired heater asset manager’s main goal is to achieve a balance between reliability and demand/performance. The manager can achieve this goal provided the reliability (what the fired heater can do) exceeds or is equal to the performance demand.

However, if the reverse situation occurs (performance demand exceeds inherent reliability of individual components), asset failure is certain to happen at some point in the future. Regardless of what is done to maintain the asset, eventually demanding more from the fired heater than it is capable of delivering will result in asset failure. In addition to the failure occurring randomly, the results are often catastrophic.

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