Corrosion-Fatigue Failure of U-Bend Heat-Exchanger Tubes
After being in service for ten years, two admiralty brass heat-exchanger tubes from a cooler in a refinery catalytic reforming unit cracked circumferentially in the area of U-bends. A blunt transgranular cracking with minimal branching propagating from the inside surface of the tube was revealed by metallography which was typical of cracking by corrosion fatigue mechanism. Corrosion deposits on both the inside- and outside-diam surfaces were found in the tubes. The presence of copper, zinc, iron, and small amounts of chloride, sulfur, silicon, tin, and manganese was revealed by energy-dispersive analysis of the deposits. It was interpreted by the hardness values (higher than typical for annealed copper tubing) that the tubes may not have been annealed after the U-bends were formed and thus the role of residual stresses in the crack was revealed. It was concluded that the tubes failed by corrosion fatigue initiated by pitting at the inside-diam surface. The tubes were recommended to be annealed after bending to reduce residual stresses from the bending operation to an acceptable level.