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Optimising Fired Heaters using Thermal Imaging Solutions

Anyone who has worked on fired heaters knows that they each have their own personality. They are complex and important pieces of major equipment to refineries and petrochemical complexes, and they present unique (often frustrating) challenges from a temperature measurement, reliability, and optimisation perspective.

Our primary goal, when optimising fired heaters, is to run the coil outlet temperatures close to their design limits whilst considering safety, minimising energy costs and emissions. By using industry leading temperature and imaging technology, it is possible to operate with both higher yields and reliability.

Our customers use the AMETEK Land Cyclops C100L and C390L for tube metal temperatures on high temperature fired heaters such as primary syngas reformers used for hydrogen production and steam crackers used to produce ethylene. The Gold Cup is used frequently to provide reference measurements for those devices, which are occasionally but rarely used on lower temperature equipment. 

We’ve seen increasing demand from refineries for non-contact temperature measurement on lower temperature fired heaters. For example, crude oil preheaters heat products to between 330°C and 385°C, significantly lower than the typical temperatures inside a reformer or cracker. They also pose unique temperature measurement challenges depending on heater design. For example, viewing ports generally expose nearby tubes to cold ambient air meaning that those tubes are not good candidates for Gold Cup measurements, whereas better candidates are out of reach of the Gold Cup

Temperature measurements in these ranges are usually performed by fixed thermocouples which measure surface temperatures less reliably than infrared measurements. So, our customers have tasked us with coming up with better methods for these lower temperature ranges. 

One of our solutions is the Portable Thermal Imaging System which can be used with either a mid-wave or short-wave (near) infrared camera, meaning that we can measure temperatures as low as 300°C and as high as 1800°C. Both portable and fixed thermal imagers provide accurate, repeatable temperature coil readings independent of operator expertise. Thermal imaging delivers a high-resolution image which identifies, in real-time, the temperature measurements of the tube skin and refractory surface. The air-cooled system means the operator/inspector can fully and safely insert the camera lens into the hot flue gases without risking the camera or themselves.

When selecting a portable thermal imaging system, considerations include the borescope length and the camera’s Field of View (FoV). The borescope length should be long enough to comfortably extend through the peep-door, and the FoV must be wide enough to see all tubes in the furnace or narrow enough to focus on an area that may be some distance from the viewing point. Multiple options are available.

Captured images allow for easy identification of hot and cold spots in a fired heater with a high degree of accuracy, so that mitigation or process control decisions can be made and monitored. In addition, advanced software enables sophisticated processing of the temperature profile data, allowing emissivity and background temperature adjustments to be made on each tube, or for each zone.

Our customers have already reported using the system to measure areas of the furnace, through previously unused ports, that they didn’t think was possible to get a measurement from. E.g., corners of furnaces (where risks of tube rupture may be high) or headers/collectors. We have seen images showing issues relating to coking, poor temperature balance, damaged burner tiles, poor tube sealing, flame impingement, hot spots/band, and catalyst damage.

Key industry trends relating to decarbonisation will change the way we work. Implementing these technologies with the necessary technical understanding ensures operators continue to improve fuel efficiency and temperature homogeneity whilst reducing carbon intensity. 

Click here to learn more about our thermal imaging solutions
 

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