Fatigue Failure of 321 Stainless Steel Superheater Tubes from a Thermal Incinerator
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Several boiler superheater tubes showed circumferential cracking at weld seams after 2 years in noncontinuous service (several shutdowns). On-site inspection revealed that several tubes were cracked and leaked; while many others were cracked, however, the severity was less pronounced. Two types of superheater tubes samples were collected: one with butt-welded tubes and the other with fillet-welded sleeve. The latter was found to be out of the boiler fireplace, and the sleeve was used as tubing support to the boiler shell. Detailed investigation showed that the butt-welded tubes contained circumferential fatigue cracks that initiated from the internal surface. The cracks initiated in the heat-affected zone and propagated as a result of tube vibration. The variations in the tube internal diameter and tube wall thickness are expected to play a role in tube fatigue failure. On the other hand, tubes with fillet-weld sleeve showed circumferential cracking as a result of fatigue crack initiation from weld defects on the tube external surface. The high vibration during several unscheduled shutdowns in addition to several other factors such as variations in tube inside diameter, wall thickness, and weld defects resulted in the initiation and propagation of fatigue cracks and premature failure. White deposits, similar to those observed when boiler tubes failed by caustic exposure, were seen in the vicinity of the tube cracks. Therefore, it was difficult to confirm whether the boiler tubes failed because of the fatigue cracks or because of the caustic salts (pH control chemical).