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Radiant tubes that failed prematurely in an ethylene cracking furnace were analyzed to determine the cause of their early demise. The tubes were made from austenitic heat-resistant steel and cracked along their longitudinal axis. New and used tubes were compared using scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry, and mechanical property testing. This provided critical information and revealed that improper coking and decoking had removed the protective oxide layer (Cr2O3) that normally prevents coke deposits from forming on exposed surfaces. Without this layer, coke readily accumulates on the surface of the tubes, fueling carbon diffusion into the metal and a corresponding degradation in microstructure and loss of ductility at high temperatures.

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