Brittle Failure of Reformer Tube During Pressure Test
During periodic inspection of the tubes of a reformer furnace, a soapy water leak test with the tubes pressurized with nitrogen was being carried out by site personnel in a manner contrary to the policy of the organization when one of the tubes suddenly disintegrated with explosive violence. The tube approximately 30 ft. long by 6 in. diam, was constructed of three spun cast sections butt welded together. The material specified for tubes for this service was basically a 25% chromium, 20% nickel, cast stainless steel containing 0.4% carbon to optimize creep resistance. Failure initiated in the region of the tube where the dark fracture surface and columnar grain structure were evident. These features indicated the presence of a defective zone or progressive cracking which had occurred during service. Microscopic examination of sections through the zone revealed extensive creep cracking. The cracking was intergranular and followed the interdendritic columnar structure adjacent to the outer surface.