It’s hard to build a perfect fluid system. It's easy to forget about fluid system design when everything seems to be working well. Changing goals for the system over time can upset the careful balance of the initial design of your fluid system. To build and maintain a thriving fluid system, you need to do three important things.
- Plan and Document Your System Over Time
- Make and Execute a Plan for Maintenance
- Get Expert Advice
1. Plan and Document Your System Over Time
Your facility is a combination of fluid system components and people. You may be starting from scratch, or working in a system that’s 10, 20, even 50 years old. For your fluid systems to work the way they should, you need to start with your ideal fluid system. What does your system need to do? How long should it take to do it? What do the people running it need to know? Think about these questions, and the tips below, as you map out your ideal fluid system.
Design Your Fluid System with Component Wear in Mind
What are the pressures and temperatures your components need to handle? How will vibration and contamination affect your components? Try to cut the damage that can come from outside factors to extend the life of your system.
Check the Operating Parameters for All Components against Manufacturer Ratings
Make sure your components fall within the acceptable range, because a small process change can make a big difference. For example, if you plan to steam clean your hoses frequently, that extra heat exposure could decrease hose life from an average of five years to just one year.
Consider the User as You Map and Label Your System
Organize components to make sure that they are clear of walkways and provide easy operator use.
Place tags on equipment so the operator can understand what each piece of equipment is doing.
Make sure the operator can quickly see what fluids or gases are flowing through components. This is important for both hazardous and non-hazardous materials.
Look at the Entire Operation
You can avoid surprise leaks or system failure if you use components that are optimal for your conditions and process fluids.
- Normal and maximum operating temperatures
- Normal and maximum pressures
- Ambient temperatures and conditions
- External exposure
- Process fluid exposure
- Potential for vibration
- Cleaning requirements
Process fluid compatibility is critically important. Make sure that all the materials that come into contact with the process fluid, including O-rings, packing, and tubing, are compatible. It’s also important to think about external exposure. For example, if your system is in saltwater, the surrounding environment will speed up corrosion in some alloys, including 316 stainless steel. You can also defend your system against intense external conditions with options like tubing support, jacketed tubing, or special clamping. System components can fail early if these considerations are not a part of your initial design. You may not have the chance to start from scratch, but you can make these continuous improvements to your fluid systems that can improve its performance.
Look at the Whole System
Some plants may think it’s easy to pull a sample system into a larger system. It can be, if you factor in elements like process taps, transport lines, and other devices that prepare the sample for the analyzer. Something that seems small in a system can become a big challenge if these factors aren’t made a priority.
Make Careful Approved Changes
Some industrial plants welcome changes to system design or ask maintenance technicians to make adjustments. While a quick change can sometimes make the system better, it is also possible for these changes to cause issues down the line or to create new problems in the system, so be sure to consider every detail when planning.
Simple is Better
Reduce system complexity where possible, and never stop looking for opportunities to make improvements. Simpler and streamlined systems will be easier to troubleshoot. Consult an expert who can make recommendations for making fewer connections and Ultimately, this reduces the number of parts that could fail.
2. Make and Execute a Plan for Maintenance
You can improve safety and cost savings by implementing a preventative maintenance plan for your facility.
Review the fluid systems in your facility, making note of:
- Areas with recurring problems
- Areas with frequent component fatigue
- Areas for system improvement
Some components only require occasional check-ups, but others require regular attention and inspection for you to get the most out of your investment. You can perform this maintenance or repair at a low cost, offering huge savings for the extended life of these components.
Components that require regular maintenance include:
- Valves (Replace the packing in utility valves to prevent leaks across the seat. This is an easy repair if your valve swings open in line.)
Keep records of your Maintenance Plan
These details help you see whether components are being replaced too often over time. You may want to consider analysis of the component to better understand the frequency of replacement. Another component may be a better fit for that application, which would make that part of your system last longer and cost less.
Add Training to Your Maintenance Plan
No matter how strong your initial fluid system design and components are, installation can make or break the effectiveness of your fluid system.
Installation mistakes can lead to early product failure. Incorrectly bent tubing can lead to cracks and leaks from side-load stress. Tubing this isn’t supported correctly may crack and leak if exposed to vibration. Internal seals in valves and regulators may wear unevenly if they aren’t installed correctly.
The best fluid systems training also includes education on troubleshooting common system issues. If you make training a part of your annual maintenance, it will significantly increase your chance of catching system issues before they can do real damage to your operations.
3. Get Expert Advice
The steps above may sound like too much for some facilities who don’t have the expertise or manpower to evaluate their field systems. You may be in this situation, but you also understand the savings that could come from this evaluation. If you don’t have a field engineer free to do a comprehensive inspection of your fluid system, consider Swagelok Northwest (US)’s Evaluation and Advisory Services.
What kind of things does field engineer look at? You might ask our engineers to look at a specific problem, like an inspection of your system's pressure reducing stations or temperature control issues. You may have a valve that keeps failing and you’re unsure why.
While the engineer is on-site, you have a chance to ask them questions without having to worry about a sales pitch. Most system requirements go beyond the typical scope of Swagelok products, so you can be confident that our field engineer will recommend what’s best for your specific application without regard to manufacturer.
Some site visits will require a questionnaire for you to provide basic information on your fluid system before our visit. This form may include the type of equipment you use, your system size, and possible issues.
Before we go on-site, we have an outline that covers the areas we plan to test, and how long the evaluation will take. While it’s a loose plan, it helps us to rank what’s most important to evaluate on your site. We can check out a brand-new system during install or start with an energy survey to measure leaks. Whether you have a pressure or vacuum system, we have ultrasonic leak detection equipment and that can find leaks as small as 1 x10-3 cm3/s. We tag or catalog every leak.
We check your system for possible safety hazards, incorrectly installed components, excessive wear, and damage. Our experts can take any failed component to our lab for analysis. We will determine potential reasons for failure and identify alternative components to prevent future issues.
A week after the inspection, our field engineer will write up and send you a report outlining findings and recommendations. After your fluid system evaluation, you will know where your system stands, where you can take it, and how to make it the system you need. We will provide detailed recommendations for systematic energy-efficiency improvements, including the recommended time frame for each.
Each evaluation comes with a comprehensive report specific to the type of evaluation you have requested. Your report will include a summary of the evaluation. It will list the areas we looked at and an estimated cost of leakage per year. It tells you which leaks to deal with first and reviews the details of what your leaks and other system issues are costing you.
You report will include details on how to fix specific problems and suggestions on what else to look for in your system. Concerned about a plan for maintenance? The report will also include a roadmap that will tell you how to execute recommendations and repairs.
Evaluation and Advisory Services is a local service supported by the international resources of Swagelok. Swagelok developed this program to root out the issues that arise when designed systems interact and support or challenge each other. It helps to standardize your processes and systems to make your facility for efficient and cost-effective.
Read more about improving your fluid systems in Part III.