Inspectioneering Journal

Effective Reliability and Safety Management of Steam Reformer Tubes

By Baher Elsheikh, Lead Mechanical Engineer at SABIC. This article appears in the March/April 2020 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.


Steam reformer tubes are a key component in Ammonia, Methanol, and Hydrogen plants and can have high potential consequences in cases of in-service failure on both business interruption and safety. Reformer tubes operate within the creep range and thus, their useful life is finite and highly dependent on operating conditions. This makes the application of effective integrity management practices critical. An effective tube integrity management program should incorporate the following elements: monitoring, inspection, data analysis, remaining life assessment, and control of human factors.

This article presents a comprehensive integrity management program for catalyst tubes, including the following:

  • Description of the main types and components of steam reformers, and their functions and operating principles.
  • Case histories of previous failures and production loss due to mistakes in design, operation, or inspection of steam reformers.
  • Description of the design basis of catalyst tubes.
  • Description of the main damage mechanisms and failure modes that affect catalyst tubes.
  • Proposed integrity management program for catalyst tubes based on inspection and monitoring of the tubes; process parameters monitoring and control; safe operation; early detection of tube leak; focus and ownership; and documentation & recordkeeping.
  • Description of the appropriate inspection techniques for the early detection of the damage mechanisms.
  • Online tube skin temperature measurements depicting the differences between the most common techniques and the main measurement aspects and pitfalls.
  • Requirements of process parameters monitoring and control to maintain the catalyst tube within acceptable operating conditions.
  • Early identification and detection of tube leaks before secondary damages in adjacent tubes.
  • Catalyst tube fitness-for-service and retirement//replacement criteria.
  • Focus and ownership to control human factors, which are a critical aspect of maintaining catalyst tube integrity.

Steam Reformers

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by R PATEL on May 28, 2020
Good read. Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Mohamerd Shaaban on May 31, 2020
Excellent approach , well done , keep it on Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Abdulrahman Alrumaidh on June 9, 2020
Thanks Baher, truly a comprehensive guide. I'm... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Baher Elsheikh on March 21, 2021
Thanks Abdulrahman for your comment. Yes we have... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Baher Elsheikh on March 21, 2021
Thanks Mohamed Shaaban and R Patel for your... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Abdulrahman Huwait on November 7, 2021
Thank you dear Baker for the comprehensive report... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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