Find the Right Tool for the Job: Considerations for Plant Equipment
Roger Bott, Technical Service Engineer and Certified Welding Inspector, Swagelok
Fluid systems range from simple to complex in plants worldwide, and many considerations go into their safe, profitable operation. For each of these systems, proper assembly and ongoing maintenance require some common, critical tools and equipment with which operators and technicians should be familiar.
However, with so many moving parts to account for in a plant, tools and equipment might not always be at the top of the priority list. It is not uncommon for some operators or maintenance technicians to use the wrong tools in an application if they find themselves in a pinch. Additionally, a new generation of engineers, operators, and technicians are entering the industry, and it is important they have the working knowledge of essential equipment in common applications.
Safe, reliable tubing connections for fluid systems in plants depend on the availability of essential tools and the ability to use them correctly. Here are some important tool and equipment considerations plant-based fluid system operators and technicians should be thinking about:
Essential plant equipment
No matter the application, fluid systems rely upon leak-tight, long-lasting connections. While there are many variables to consider, the following essential tools should always be available for working across different applications:
Tube cutting equipment
A variety of tube cutting equipment should be readily available, including tube cutting tools for stainless steel, soft copper, and aluminum tubing. While hand saws can be used for these applications, it is preferable to use specialized cutting tools designed for easy, accurate, square, and burr-free cuts. Some tools also offer deformation-free clamping systems, allowing for quick adjustment to accommodate different tube diameters.
Tube facing and deburring tools
After properly cutting a tube, it is essential to have clean, square tube ends to form leak-tight connections at every point in an application. Simple deburring tools should be kept alongside handheld cutting tools to deburr stainless steel, steel, and hard alloy tube ends. Other more sophisticated tube facing equipment can machine flat, smooth, square, burr-, and chamfer-free tube ends on a variety of alloys.
Preswaging tools can be convenient for tube fitting installations across many applications. A few different kinds of this equipment are available, including gaugeable, manual preswaging tools. These tools allow the operator to preswage a nut and ferrule set onto the tubing and then use a gap inspection gauge when completing the final installation. For refineries or plants that need to perform a high volume of preswages daily, semiautomatic equipment is also available and recommended to increase efficiency.
Tube bending equipment
Both manual and electric tube bending equipment should be on hand in refineries to create high-quality bends on fractional and metric tubing. Easy-to-use bending equipment can reduce installation time and effort, as well as the potential for wrinkling or other damage to tubes during the bending process. Different tube bending options are available, including manual hand tube benders and both manual and electric bench top benders.
For permanent connections or for critical and potentially dangerous fluids or cases, welding is a necessity for assembly. While manual welding is a highly skilled and careful process, recent advancements such as orbital welding equipment can make the process more precise and consistent.
Available systems can provide repeatable orbital gas tungsten arc welds for both tubing and piping, along with recording capabilities for streamlined quality documentation and easy adherence to industry standards. Automated orbital welding, however, does not diminish the need for an educated and well-trained welding workforce, and those interested in welding should seek out available training opportunities to maximize the value in an investment in an orbital welding system. For instance, Swagelok offers comprehensive training courses for its M200 Orbital Welding System to help plant managers ensure their staff members are educated and informed.
Choosing complementary tools and parts
Tube and fittings are designed to strict tolerances and specifications. Particularly in critical applications, they must be handled precisely to ensure safe and reliable operation.
The operator’s or technician’s choice of tools and equipment is a major part of that equation. It is also recommended to use tools supplied by tube and fitting manufacturers; for example, Swagelok offers a variety of solutions such as tube cutting, bending, preswaging equipment, and more that are designed specifically to work with Swagelok tubing and fittings. Choosing the tools that are most compatible with critical componentry can help minimize potential problems. In addition, it is recommended to avoid intermixing fluid system components manufactured by different vendors to ensure the best possible compatibility.
Because manufacturing and processing environments are often physically large spaces, operators and technicians must be sure they have the right tools on hand to efficiently make the correct fix when working in or around the plant.
This is not always the case when a repair takes place in the field. For example, operators and technicians may find themselves changing out a tube fitting without the proper tube deburring tool in their tool bag. They may resort to another option they do have on hand, like a rasp or a file.
This might work in a pinch, but it is more advisable to return to the tool area and obtain the correct facing tool or deburring tool to ensure a reliable connection. Make sure plenty of these tools are available to those who may need them to help better create an environment where the right equipment is being used every time.
For more complex equipment, breakdowns and occasional calibration needs can cause interruptions. An orbital welding system requiring a repair, for instance, means critical connections cannot be made and can lead to significant downtime for the entire plant. Choosing a supplier that offers quality assurance and calibration services can be beneficial. Some suppliers will also offer temporary replacement systems while a repair is being performed.
Choosing the right supplier for operational efficiency
The right equipment supplier is more than just a vendor. Working with a single supplier, like Swagelok, for tube fitting componentry and the right tools and training for the job can help refineries ensure that quality connections are being made at every critical point in the plant.
Want to learn more about sourcing tools and equipment from Swagelok? Contact your Swagelok representative today and learn more about all tubing and tubing accessories that Swagelok offers.