Texas Tower (VCFE Platformer) Drilled From Below in Dominican Republic

Texas Tower / VCFE tubes cleaned with only 2m head room and top header in place.

A Texas Tower / Vertical Combined Feed Exchanger (VCFE) at a refinery on a Caribbean island was suffering badly from blockages and constrictions in the tubes. Texas Towers (VCFE’s) are vital as they cool down the platforming product against cold feed. Such heat exchanger has a very high heat duty. Loss of heat duty of only 10%, due to fouling in the tubes means a financial loss of 1.5 million USD every year. Fouling can lead to blocked tubes and this will eventually limit the design throughput. Such flow limitations lead to performance loss and that is big money loss.

Tube Tech mobilised to the Caribbean and successfully cleaned the exchanger, even though details of restricted top access were somewhat lost in translation. However, by modifying its automated technology, Tube Tech continued work from below and successfully pressure jetted the tubes.

  • Large dependency on this refinery for the island's car fuel needs, meant that the Texas Tower (VCFE) had to be cleaned thoroughly - both tube and often shell side - to the highest possible standard.
  • The Texas Tower (VCFE) was running at a significantly reduced performance, due to an unknown number of tubes that were blocked or severely constricted.
  • The client estimated that approximately 12% of the 2,006 tubes were blocked.
  • This estimate was based on the number that local contractors had been unable to clean.
  • Once the exchanger was opened up, it was found that the number of blockages was closer to 50%.
  • Tube Tech's target was to unblock approximately 250 tubes in the time available.
  • Project planning was complicated due to a language barrier problem, as a result there was unexpectedly limited access to the top of the exchanger.
  • With the project located many thousands of miles from base and its additional resources, the Tube Tech team put many hours of work into planning and preparation.
  • This included creating a full-scale mock-up of the bottom end of the exchanger, to ensure that safe man entry and access to the tube face would be possible.
  • Planned equipment was packed with several different but complementary systems to ensure that all eventualities were covered.
  • Equipment included a unique 'pulsed jet' system - specially developed to locate blockages where pulsed air/water is used to calculate the back pressure. This is excellent for locating and calculating the severity of restrictions as well as blocked tubes.
  • Equipment also included a unique, heat-treated, multi-lance to deliver ultra-high pressure water within the small tubes but with sufficient flexibility to clear blockages, backed up by the SafetyBoss, which prevents the lance head exiting the tube while under pressure.
  • Once the VCFE was opened up, a variety of deposits were discovered: hard mud, gum-like deposits, ferrous oxide scale, PCA and ammonium salts.
  • With access to the top of the VCFE limited to an 18"/450mm flanged access port, drilling of the 300x24 metre long tubes had to be carried out from below, which was itself a considerable challenge - and a world first.
  • Tube Tech was up against the clock in getting the project completed in time. In just give days, however, over 300 tubes were unblocked sufficiently to return the tower to production.
  • With a few more modifications, Tube Tech is confident in their ability to clear the remaining 750 tubes in a similar time.

Mike Watson, Technical and Managing Director: “Whilst it was disappointing that the plant could not spare the time for us to unblock the remaining tubes, this particular project represents yet another world first. I am confident of this, because I am sure no other company can claim to have drilled vertically and continuously – without reconnecting and disconnecting extensions – over a 25 metre length through 14mm i.d. blocked tubes. What is more, we achieved all of this within a headroom of just 2 metres – a very confined, restricted space indeed.

This project was a classic case of how important clear and accurate communication is. We have since used interpreters on our conference calls to avoid any such ambiguity happening again. Our experience on this occasion vindicates our policy of taking several alternative cleaning systems to these international jobs. If we hadn't been so well equipped, the discovery that the top header of the V.C.F.E. could not be removed would have been a very severe setback.”

T/O Coordinator: “We planned the clean of the Texas Tower carefully to minimise downtime, but we did not expect the number of tubes that were found to be constricted or blocked when the exchanger was opened. Once support services had finished modifying the scaffolding and supplies to Tube Tech’s requirements, cleaning progress was very good. It was unfortunate that the right information about the top of the exchanger was lost in translation, but Tube Tech showed great resourcefulness in adapting to the situation. Our VCFE was cleaned and inspected to production standard without overrunning the shutdown period.”

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