Steam Pipe Safety & Why It’s Important

December 9, 2022 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Steam is useful for many applications. It can heat, sterilize, or even power engine turbines. Those properties make steam valuable in many different industries, from tire-making to food production or the manufacturing of wood products. If your business relies on steam power for production, you need to ensure the steam system of pipes and boilers is professionally designed and installed. Once in place, the system needs thorough maintenance to ensure the safety of workers and prevent costly unplanned production shutdowns. 

It is easy for workers to become complacent about the hazards that steam systems can present because the steam pipe systems located in their workspace appear benign. (It’s just piping running everywhere.) However, steam is water that has been boiled and turned to vapor. The vapor has up to 1,600 times more volume than the equivalent amount of water. Therefore, when the steam is forced into a small pipe diameter, the pressure within that pipe increases, giving it the potential for explosion. The system must be routinely checked and maintained to prevent breaks, and all safety precautions should be followed.

The Properties of Steam Piping

Given the explosive potential of the steam system, it stands to reason that the piping used to direct the steam to the production processes needs to meet certain standards, and you cannot use just any old piping in your steam system.

Piping designations differ according to the steam system’s industry and purpose. Your system designer needs to be familiar with the calculations to determine safe working pressure according to the pipe’s material, thickness, and diameter. 

Another consideration is the quality of welding. Welding is used in the manufacturing process of pipes and in joining piping together according to the system’s design. If not done expertly, welding can become a weak point in the system, so make sure you use an experienced metal fabricator to manufacture and install your pipes.

You must also choose high-quality flanges, bolts, and other joining materials to ensure they can withstand the pressure inside your system and are corrosion-resistant.

Steam Piping Best Practices

To design a reliable system and one that is not prone to catastrophic breakdowns, you can consider the following tips.

One factor always present in a steam piping system is condensation. If steam inside a pipe cools for any reason, the water vapor will condense back into its liquid form. This condensate has the power to corrode the pipe from the inside, reducing its tensile strength. Therefore, using thicker pipes from the beginning will provide a built-in factor of safety.

That is why your steam line design should have a built-in fall in the direction of flow at least 100 mm per 10 m of pipe. The slope ensures gravity will assist the water condensate moving toward drain points and be safely removed.

Your steam lines should be inspected regularly to detect any cracking in circumferential welds, hanger welds, and pipes. The inspection should be visual and include borescope and ultrasonic methods to detect cracks and metal fatigue small enough to be invisible to the human eye.

For more information on installing a steam pressure system in your business, call NW Metal Fabricators, Inc.

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