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The working fluid of a hypersonic wind tunnel is freon 14 heated in molten-metal-bath heat exchangers. The coils of the heaters have failed several times from various causes. They have been replaced each time with a stainless steel deemed more appropriate, but they continue to fail. In this case study, the history of failures is traced, the causes are analyzed, and recommendations are made for future design and maintenance. Coils fabricated from AISI 316 should provide satisfactory service life if reasonable precautionary measures are observed during maintenance and testing.

Brief overheating of the 89 mm OD 6.4 mm wall thickness titanium heater tubes (ASTM B337, grade 2) was caused by a flow stoppage in a leach heater. Blue-tinted areas and patches of flaky white, yellow, and brown oxide scale was revealed on visual examination. It was disclosed by subjecting the overheated tube to a flattening test that the tube no longer met ASTM B 337 specifications. Large grain size and numerous needlelike hydride particles were disclosed in the microstructure of the overheated tube. Heating to approximately 815 deg C was revealed by the presence of the flaky oxide and increased grain size. Hydrogen and oxygen absorption was revealed by the presence of hydrides and the shallow surface embrittlement and thus susceptibility to cracking at ambient temperatures was observed. It was concluded that the titanium tubes were embrittled due to overheating the tubes and the severe surface embrittlement resulted from oxygen absorption which made the surface layers susceptible to cracking under start up and shutdown. Replacement tubes made of a heat-resistant alloy (e.g., Hastelloy C-276) were recommended.

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