News & Views, Volume 52 | Online Monitoring of HRSG with SIIQ™

Figure 1. Typical components that are monitored with the pertinent damage mechanisms in mind.


By:  Kane Riggenbauch and Ben Ruchte

SI has successfully implemented a real-time, online, damage monitoring system for the Heat Recovery Steam Generators (HRSGs) at a combined cycle plant with a 3×1 configuration (3 HRSGs providing steam to a single steam turbine).  The system is configured to quantify and monitor the life limiting effects of creep and fatigue at select locations on each of the HRSGs (e.g. attemperators, headers, and drums – see Figure 1).  The brand name for this system is SIIQ™, which exists as a monitoring solution for high energy piping (HEP) systems and/or HRSG pressure-part components.  SIIQ™ utilizes off-the-shelf sensors (e.g. surface-mounted thermocouples) and existing instrumentation (e.g. thermowells, pressure taps, flow transmitters, etc.) via secure access to the data historian.  The incorporation of this data into SI’s damage accumulation algorithms generates results that are then displayed within the online monitoring module of SI’s PlantTrack™ data management system (example of the dashboard display shown in Figure 2).  

Figure 2. Example dashboard of the health status and ‘action’ date for a variety of components.

This article will be part of a series discussing items such as the background for monitoring, implementation/monitoring location selection, and future results for the 3×1 combined cycle plant.  

  • Article 1 (current):  Introduction to SIIQ™ with common locations for monitoring within HRSGs (and sections of HEP systems)
  • Article 2: Process of SIIQ™ implementation for the 3×1 facility with a discussion of the technical foundation for damage tracking
  • Article 3: Presentation of results from at least 6+ months, or another appropriate timeframe, of online monitoring data

The owner of the plant implemented the system with the desire of optimizing operations and maintenance expenses by reducing inspections or at least focusing inspections on the highest risk locations.  The system has been in place for a few months now and is continuously updating risk ranking of the equipment and ‘action’ intervals.  The ‘action’ recommended may be operational review, further analysis, or inspections.  This information is now being used to determine the optimum scope of work for the next maintenance outage based on the damage accumulated.  Like many combined cycle plants, attemperators are typically a problem area.  Through monitoring, however, it can be determined when temperature differential events occur and to what magnitude.  Armed with this information aides in root cause investigation but also, if no damage is recorded, may extend the inspection interval.

Many HRSG systems are susceptible to damage due to high temperatures and pressures as well as fluctuations and imbalances.  Attemperators have been a leading cause of damage accumulation (fatigue) through improper design/operation of the spray water stations (Figure 5).  In addition, periods of steady operation can result in accumulation of creep damage in header components (Figure 6) and unit cycling increases fatigue and creep-fatigue damage in stub/ terminal tubes and header ligaments (Figure 7).  Monitoring the damage allows equipment owners to be proactive in mitigating or avoiding further damage.

Traditionally, periodic nondestructive examinations (NDE) would be used to determine the extent of damage, but in HRSGs this can be challenging due to access restraints and, in the case of the creep strength enhanced ferritic (CSEF) materials such as Grade 91, damage detection sensitivity is somewhat limited until near end of life.  Continuous online monitoring and calculations of damage based on unit-specific finite element (FE) models (sometimes referred to as a ‘digital twin’) with live data addresses this issue.

Figure 4. Examples of damage observed by SI on attemperators.

Reliable life consumption estimates are made by applying SI’s algorithms for real-time creep and fatigue damage tracking, which use operating data, available information on material conditions, and actual component geometry.

Figure 5. Examples of creep damage observed by SI on header link pipe connections (olets).

SIIQ tracks trends in damage accumulation to intelligently guide life management decisions, such as the need for targeted inspections, or more detailed “off-line” analysis of anomalous conditions. This marks a quantum leap forward from decision making based on a schedule rather than on actual asset condition. 

Figure 6. Examples of creep/fatigue damage observed by SI at tube-to-header connections.

Figure 7. Examples of online monitoring alerts generated from SIIQ

SIIQ can be configured to provide email alerts (Figure 7) when certain absolute damage levels are reached, or when a certain damage accumulation over a defined time frame is exceeded. In this way, the system can run hands-off in the background, and notify maintenance personnel when action might be required.

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News & Views, Volume 52 | An SIIQ™ Primer


SI’s technology differs from most systems by focusing on MODELING OF DAMAGE MECHANISMS (e.g. damage initiation and subsequent rate of accumulation) affecting components that, if a failure were to occur, would impact safety and reliability.

Figure 1. Typical architecture for connection to data historian.

SIIQ™ is part of the next-generation approach for managing assets through online monitoring and diagnostic (M&D) systems. The advancements in sensor technology, signal transmission (wired or wireless), data storage, and computing power allow for ever more cost-efficient collection and analysis of ‘Big Data.’ 

The online monitoring module of SI’s PlantTrack™ data management system can retrieve operating data from OSIsoft’s PI data historian (or other historians, for that matter – see below for typical architecture).  Access to data from the historian is critical for moving beyond the stage of detecting adverse temperature events from the local surface-mounted thermocouples.  Examination of pertinent data from select tags (as seen in Figure 3 of the article beginning page 29) is reviewed by SI experts to help derive a more optimal solution to mitigate further events.  The benefit of the real-time monitoring is to detect improper operation and diagnose prior to damage progressing to failure.  Continuously monitoring the condition allows for early remediation and potentially avoiding a failure that would result in loss of unit availability and possible personnel injury.  Further, if monitoring indicates no issues are occurring, it may justify deferring a costly inspection.

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News & Views, Volume 52 | Forecasting the Life of a Mass Concrete Structure, Part Two


By:  Keith Kubischta and Andy Coughlin, PE, SE

From part one of the article (see News and Views Volume 51), we looked at the performance of a unique tubular mass concrete structure – the decay region of Fermilab’s Long Baseline Neutrino Facility – under complex thermal loading and thermal expansion. In the process of colliding subatomic particles in an accelerator and beaming them across the country underground, the facility contends with a massive amount of heat, an active nitrogen cooling system to remove energy, and shielding necessary for the surrounding environment. As we discussed in Part 1, Structural Integrity assisted with the design of the concrete structure by calculating the pertinent structural and thermal behavior under normal operation.  Now for Part 2, we focus on forecasting the future life of the structure using advanced capabilities in analysis and delve into the actual life of this concrete structure while considering the construction process, a 30 year planned cycle of life, and how these influence planning for structural monitoring systems. In doing so, we attempt to answer a larger question: What can we learn from this structure that could be applied to other past and future structures?

These methods are not only applicable to new structures.  Armed with the knowledge we can gain from record drawings, visual inspection, and non-destructive examination, SI is able to predict the life of concrete structures, new and old, giving key insights into their behavior in the future.

Figure 1. Fermilab Long Baseline Neutrino Facility (source

Figure 2. Adiabatic Temperature Rise for Concrete Placement

In understanding the life of a structure, we must first start at the beginning as the concrete is first poured where another heat transfer takes place. Contrary to popular belief, concrete does not “dry”, rather it “bakes” itself during the curing process. As concrete is poured, it begins heating up internally through an exothermic hydration reaction between water and cement. The effect of the heat of hydration can usually be ignored in typical thin-walled structures. In larger mass concrete structures, however, the heat generation can cause significant degradation and built-in damage that can affect the structural performance throughout the entire life of the facility. 

A secondary subroutine as part of the ANACAP models is used for heat of hydration specific for construction analysis to convert the temperature rise into volumetric heat generation rate for thermal analysis. When heat is trapped deep inside the structure and can’t escape, the concrete exhibits a temperature rise similar to the curve in Figure 2, which is a function of the concrete mix proportions.

Figure 3. Placement Sequence of 164 Concrete Pours

For the operating conditions covered in Part 1, the coupled 3D thermal stress analyses performed on this project were thermal conduction steady-state analyses. Construction of such a large concrete structure is subjected to additional requirements, and a Nonlinear Incremental Structural Analysis (NISA) was performed to evaluate the structure under the construction loadings. Herein, the thermal analysis during the concrete placement sequence requires a transient numerical solution methodology. This thermal analysis was used to monitor additional requirements for temperature during concrete placement, and a mechanical NISA study monitored the movement of the central cooling annulus vessel. The complete NISA coupled thermal-stress analysis simulated the entire construction phase over the period of a year and a half of the planned construction schedule. To accomplish this, the model was segmented into 164 concrete pours, each one activated (turned on) within the model on a specific day outlined in a construction schedule, as shown in Figure 3. As the concrete is poured on its specific day, the heat of hydration begins to heat up the internals of the concrete, the outside ambient temperature pulls the heat away from the concrete, and formwork insulates the heat transfer temporarily before being removed. As each new concrete segment is poured (activated in the simulation) it begins a new heat cycle, shedding heat into surrounding segments, changing surfaces that are exposed to air, or where the formwork is located. Upon completion of the thermal NISA study, Structural Integrity could advise on peak temperatures of each pour (Figure 4), compare internal to external temperatures and make optimal recommendations for insulation to keep the concrete from cooling too fast.

Figure 4. Thermal Views and Monitoring of Concrete Placement Temperatures

With the thermal NISA study completed, we then coupled the thermal with the mechanical stress analysis following a similar procedure. The model was broken up into the same 164 segments, with the reinforcement separated into individual segments. As a segment was poured, its weight was first applied as pressure on surrounding segments before the segment cured enough and took load. Formwork was considered a temporary boundary condition (simulated with stiff springs): activated then removed when appropriate. The concrete internal reinforcement was activated with each concrete segment. The cycles continue with each additional segment added. The concrete material for each segment had its own values for aging, creep, shrinkage, and thermal degradation for when the concrete was placed. The effect of creep and shrinkage could be significantly different for concrete poured on the first day and concrete that is poured a year later.  Mechanical tensile strain, a proxy for cracking, was plotted as shown in Figure 5.

A critical issue of concern was the steel annulus structure at the center of the concrete tunnel. The entire steel structure was placed prior to concrete being poured around it. The steel structure was affected by the thermal and mechanical loads of each concrete pour. Structural Integrity showed this structure “breathing” as thermal/mechanical loads pass from each concrete pour into the steel structure. Armed with a complete picture from the NISA stress analysis, Structural Integrity could show the animation of annulus movement, check the out-of-roundness, and advise on reinforcement placement. 

Figure 5. Concrete Mechanical Strain (i.e., Cracking) and Rebar Stress During NISA Construction

During the design phase, reinforced concrete structures are typically designed for a bounding range of expected loads, to include thermal load cycles, periodic live load variations, and/or vibration from mechanical equipment. Up to this point, the design phase analysis started from a “pristine” uncracked structure and applied the expected load with the beam and cooling at full power. Seldom is the cumulative impact of cyclic loading considered for the expected service life of the structure. Structural Integrity, having performed the NISA study, now had significantly more accurate state of the structure with expected cumulative damage already built-up. This gave us the unique opportunity to extend the analysis from the current state through the lifecycle of the structure, comparing the “pristine” to the “cumulative” case.

The expected life of the structure is 30 years of operations with the beam running for no more than nine months a year and three months off. These cycles are grouped together in either seven- or five-year blocks with a rest period of two years for maintenance or upgrades in between. The experiment starts small, ramping up the power to half the total output for the initial seven years. For the lifecycle assessment, time is still a critical element, not just for properties of concrete affected by time but the physical computational time. The transient thermal analysis would be too time intensive to run over the 30 years of life that we want to observe. To simulate the thermal cycles, the beam steady-state thermal response was calculated at each peak power level. This provided different thermal states of power, which the mechanical analysis could switch on or off as needed and interpolate between them to give a simulated ramp of power. The computational time could then be utilized on the mechanical stress lifecycle assessment.

Figure 6. Out-of-Roundness Check through Lifecycle, Ratcheting Effect of Power Cycles

With the completion of the lifecycles analysis, Structural Integrity could once again provide valuable information to the researchers and designers: deformations of the entire structure, deformations of the annulus, out-of-roundness of the annulus (Figure 6), estimates of crack width, etc.

Most importantly, we can answer and show comparisons between the designed load from a “pristine” model analysis to those from the “cumulative” analysis.

Even prior to the lifecycle assessment, the cumulative damage at the end of the NISA study signaled different behavior in the expected cracking (Figure 7). From the construction process, the concrete showed cracking near the boundaries between each concrete pour. These developed due to the natural thermal cycling of the construction process. The lifecycle thermal loading continued to push and pull the structure adding to the already existing cracks. Previously, the boundary point between the fixed rail and sliding rail section concentrated the thermal loading to induce significant cracking. Now the stress will be more evenly distributed throughout the upstream section. The cracking during construction provided natural thermal breaks along the whole length of the structure.

Figure 7. Concrete Strains at Various Point in Structures Lifecycle

SI then turned toward an additional question, where does all this excess heat go as the beam is cycling power? The shielding concrete is still heating up to over 60 degrees Celsius at the exposed surfaces. The air around the shielding concrete is trapped by the decay tunnel and venting conditions are unknown. We would need to produce a calculation based on the transfer of heat from the shielding concrete to the surrounding air/access tunnel, to the decay tunnel itself, and then the surrounding soil. Assuming the worst-case scenario, a point was selected along the length of the tunnel that produces maximum temperatures in the concrete. The cross section at this point is turned into a 2D model for use in a thermal analysis conducted as steady-state and transient to explore the heat transfer into the surrounding sections. A temperature profile of the decay tunnel wall was used to check its design from the thermal gradients, shown in Figure 9. The temperature of the air space between the structures can be monitored help in planning for when the tunnel can safely be accessed.

Engineers at SI are always eager to add data to our models.  As this structure is constructed and put into service, the actual construction and startup sequence is likely to change, allowing for the model to be rerun and the lifecycle projection recalculated.  Furthermore, data from temperature sensors and crack monitoring gauges could potentially help calibrate the model based on observed conditions to improve the accuracy of our projections moving forward.  This methodology is applicable today to existing aging concrete structures where the lifecycle projection can be calibrated to existing observed conditions and data from online monitoring and non-destructive examinations.

Figure 8. Crack Width Estimation Based on Reinforcement Strain

Structural Integrity successfully developed expanded capabilities to model thermodynamics for the energy deposition and nitrogen cooling system. SI pushed the capabilities of our concrete model to capture over 30 years of construction and operations. Along the way, SI showed that our advanced modeling, combined with our advanced concrete model, positively influenced the design of the structure, and heavily supported the design and research teams with valuable information. The robustness of the calculation showed that SI is the present and future of concrete structure analysis.

SI demonstrated that our advanced modeling, combined with our advanced concrete model, positively influenced the design of this structure and heavily supported both the research and design teams with valuable information.

Figure 9. 2D Thermal Results of Decay Tunnel, Air Access Space, Shield Tunnel Walls, and Surrounding Soil

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News & Views, Volume 52 | Understanding the Effects of Hydrogen Blending on Pipeline Integrity


By:  Scott Riccardella, Owen Malinowski & Dr. Pete Riccardella

Structural Integrity Associates is focused on evaluating the impact of hydrogen blending on pipeline integrity and establishing a roadmap for our clients to maintain the safety and integrity of their aging natural gas steel transmission pipelines.

Hydrogen is widely recognized as a viable, clean alternative energy carrier. Recent advances in technology for clean hydrogen production, as well as renewed governmental and organizational commitments to clean energy, have intensified interest in utilizing the existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure to transport hydrogen from production sites to end users. Energy companies are pursuing strategic pilot programs to evaluate the capacity of their natural gas transmission and distribution pipeline systems to safely transport blends of natural gas and hydrogen. These pilot programs demonstrate the commitment of energy companies to facilitate environmentally responsible energy production and consumption while identifying and investigating potential challenges to pipeline safety and integrity associated with hydrogen blending. 


  • Completing a critical threat review using a phenomena identification and ranking table (PIRT) process with a team of experts.
  • Developing a statistical model for evaluating accelerated fatigue crack growth (FCG) in a hydrogen blend environment.
  • Developing a statistical model for evaluating reduced fracture resistance (hydrogen embrittlement).
  • Analyzing the impact of FCG and hydrogen embrittlement on the probability of rupture (POR) due to key threats such as stress corrosion cracking (SCC), longitudinal seam weld defects, and hard spots.
  • Implementing a joint industry project (JIP) to adapt SI’s APTITUDE software tool for evaluating predicted failure pressure (PFP) and remaining life resulting from SCC and FCG in a hydrogen blend environment.

As part of a systemwide evaluation for one of our clients, a large North American Pipeline Operator, a critical threat review using a PIRT process was conducted to comprehensively understand the potential impact of hydrogen blending on steel natural gas transmission pipeline integrity. To ensure a thorough and accurate PIRT was completed, a panel consisting of experts in metallurgy, fracture mechanics, hydrogen effects on steel properties, and pipeline operations was assembled. A vital part of the process was a series of meetings conducted with the pipeline operator, systematically identifying and ranking the importance of various phenomena that could adversely affect the safety and reliability of energy transportation through the operator’s existing transmission pipeline system.  

Figure 1. FCG rate curves in hydrogen (solid lines) versus air (dashed lines).

The PIRT panel reviewed all known pipeline integrity threats and identified potential unknown or unexpected threats that could be influenced by the presence of hydrogen in the operator’s transmission pipeline system. The process also assigned priorities for future research that may be needed to support that objective.

Significant research exists on the effect of hydrogen on FCG of pipeline steels and was referenced in this exercise. To gather the most relevant information possible, the project team compiled and analyzed data from numerous client-specific FCG tests of samples taken from the pipeline system in the targeted environment. These sample systems were exposed to equivalent hydrogen blend levels of 5%, 10%, 20%, and 100%. Over 2,200 data points were compiled and analyzed to develop trend curves and associated statistical variability. Data exhibited a significant increase in FCG rates (Figure 1) at relatively low hydrogen blend levels. ASME Code Case 2938 was reviewed and empirically fit with the analyzed data. 


Figure 2. Fracture toughness reduction as a function of hydrogen partial pressure for different pipe grades.

Hydrogen is known to have an embrittling effect on carbon steels, such as those used in gas transmission pipelines. When an internal pipe surface is exposed to high-pressure hydrogen or a high-pressure mixture of hydrogen and natural gas, hydrogen gas can disassociate into hydrogen atoms, which can then be adsorbed into the steel and lead to material property degradation (such as reduced fracture resistance). Dislocations and defects in the steel can also act as hydrogen traps, leading to even higher hydrogen concentrations at the location of already vulnerable manufacturing defects and service-induced cracks. Reduced fracture resistance at such sites could increase the adverse effect on pipeline integrity by leading to more frequent pipe failure events.

Based on available data from the literature and input from the PIRT expert panel, the project team developed trend curves of percent reductions in fracture resistance due to hydrogen exposure (knockdown factors) relative to fracture toughness in air. From this analysis, a reasonably conservative approximation, including statistical variability, was developed for the region of interest (hydrogen/natural gas blend levels up to 20% – Figure 2). Additional research and data analysis are currently underway that may further validate the relationship and better study this effect at low hydrogen partial pressures, as well as confirm the knockdown effect on lower toughness pipeline materials, such as electric resistance welded (ERW) seam welds.

SI has developed Synthesis™, a Probabilistic Fracture Mechanics (PFM) tool that calculates the probability of rupture (POR) for various cracks and crack-like defects that have caused oil and gas pipeline failures. The software incorporates statistical distributions of all important parameters in a pipeline fracture mechanics calculation that uses a Monte Carlo analysis algorithm that randomly samples from each distribution and runs millions of simulations to estimate the probability of rupture versus time. To evaluate the impact of hydrogen blending, Synthesis has been adapted to incorporate the effects of hydrogen on pipeline steel properties (enhanced FCG and hydrogen embrittlement) and thus the ability to compare PORs with and without hydrogen blending. The modified software was then applied to several pipelines in the operator’s system to determine the POR ratio between various hydrogen blend levels and pure natural gas. Additionally, Synthesis can evaluate the effects of various mitigation measures, such as hydrotests and In-Line Inspections, that could be applied before injecting hydrogen (Figure 3). The calculated PORRs will allow the operator to prioritize pipelines and associated mitigating actions that may be more or less favorable for hydrogen blending.

Figure 3. Improvement in POR and PORR for different integrity assessments.

SI has also established a JIP to adapt the APTITUDE PFP software program to handle some additional challenges presented with blending hydrogen with natural gas. Advancements include modifications that address enhanced FCG and hydrogen embrittlement. Further research to close gaps identified during the PIRT process is also being pursued through PRCI and other forums. Availability to join the JIP still exists, but space is limited – Please contact us if you would like to participate.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Optical Microscopy | Applications and Benefits

News & Views, Volume 51 | Optical Microscopy Applications and Benefits

By:  Clark McDonald

In the world of metallurgical failure analysis, areas of interest on broken parts can be colorful or drab, three-dimensional or flat, and most importantly, very big or very small.  A big part of failure analysis work is telling the story, explaining the failure mode, or in some cases, showing that critical piece of evidence that explains why a metal component has failed.  From wide-angled lenses to extremely high magnification scanning electron microscope imagery, documentation of failed components is a big part of the presentation.  

In this edition of Structural Integrity’s Lab Corner, we wanted to provide some interesting content related to that middle-of-the-road region of magnification; closer than macro-photography but farther away than the 100X to 5000X magnifications that cover most of the applications requiring scanning electron microscopy.  In other words, the comfortable world of optical microscopy, where colors, shapes, and even surface textures are part of the story.  To do this, we’ve chosen some images that show the usefulness of quality optical microscopic documentation.  Each of the provided examples include a brief description along with specific comments on the benefits of optical microscopy for that project, where applicable.

Figure 1. Two- and three-dimensional color images of an aluminum annode plate showing light-colored deposits that have caused uneven wastage. The 3D image shows the extent of material removal in locations where deposits are not present. Normal wastage in this application should be uniform.

Figure 2. Two- and three-dimensional color images showing fastener thread flank damage and a crack origin near the root of the upper thread. The 3D image shows that the crack origin is located on the thread flank rather than at the deepest part of the thread root.

Figure 3. Two- and three-dimensional images of a copper heat exchanger tube that has been damaged from under-deposit corrosion (UDC). The image at left shows the typical appearance of the ID deposits. The center image shows a region of damage surrounding a pinhole leak. The 3D image provides an idea of the depth of internal corrosion in the tube.

Figure 4. Two- and three-dimensional images of a region of damage on an internal surface of a feedwater pump. The image at left shows the appearance of brownish deposits found within the corroded region of the pump surface. The 3D image provides an indication of the depth and shape of the corrosion damaged region.

Figure 5. Two dimensional stitched image of a weld cross section showing cracking emanating from a shallow weld root. Porosity is also visible in multiple locations in the weld.

Figure 6. Images of a region of damage on the exterior of a heat exchanger tube where wastage has occurred near the tube sheet. The upper right image is a view of the leak location with an overlay of lines showing the position where the surface profile was documented as well as the depth profile (overlaid and in the lower image). The upper left image, which has an appearance similar to an x-ray, is a side view of the 3D image of the tube surface.

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News & Views, Volume 51 | Drone Inspections


By:  Jason Van Velsor and Robert Chambers

Structural Integrity (SI) has recently added drones to our toolbox of inspection equipment. Using drones, inspectors are able to complete visual inspections safely and more efficiently. Applications of drones for visual inspections include plant and piping walkdowns, structural inspections and atmospheric corrosion monitoring (ACM) of exposed pipeline.

Figure 1. Drone image of a dent on an elevated section of pipeline

Pipe hanger walkdowns at fossil and combined cycle plants are part of a routine inspection process. During these inspections, the inspector is required to view and mark down pipe hanger positions and assess their condition. While some hangers provide easy access for the inspector, this is not always the case. Some of these may be located in elevated positions that require the plant to build out scaffolding, which not only increases the cost, but also can put the inspector at risk when working at elevation. With the use of drones, the inspector can fly up to the pipe hangers from a safe location and get a live high-resolution video feed from the camera mounted on the drone. Saving pictures and the video footage can also allow the inspector to go back and review the footage at a later time.

ACM is another example where drones have proven to be a useful tool. ACM inspections of outdoor above ground pipelines are typically done by

walking down the pipeline and recording any signs of atmospheric corrosion. There are many occasions where the pipeline will be elevated or cross over rivers and railroads, requiring scaffolding or fall protection. By using a drone to fly along the pipeline, the inspection can be completed much more efficiently and safely. In situations where a GPS signal is available, such as outdoor pipeline inspections, the GPS coordinates can be saved with each photo. Custom SI-developed software can then automatically compile the acquired images and create a KML file to be viewed in Google Earth, allowing the client to get an overview of the inspection results. 

Figure 2. Google Earth view of image locations

Moving forward, SI plans to utilize these drones for more than just visual inspections. Possible applications could include using drones to perform ultrasonic thickness testing or Structural Integrity Pulsed Eddy Current (SIPEC™) examinations. All of SI’s pilots in command hold valid FAA Part 107 certificates and pilot registered drones.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Pitting Corrosion in Conventional Fossil Boilers and Combined Cycle:HRSGs

News & Views, Volume 51 | Materials Lab Featured Damage Mechanism


By:  Wendy Weiss

Pitting is a localized corrosion phenomenon in which a relatively small loss of metal can result in the catastrophic failure of a tube. Pitting can also be the precursor to other damage mechanisms, including corrosion fatigue and stress corrosion cracking. Pits often are small and may be filled with corrosion products or oxide, so that identification of the severity of pitting attack by visual examination can be difficult. 

Figure 1. Severe pitting in a tube from a package boiler


Pitting is a localized corrosion attack involving dissolution of the tube metal surface in a small and well-defined area. Pitting corrosion can occur in any component in contact with water under stagnant oxygenated conditions. Pitting in economizer tubing is typically the result of poor shutdown practices that allow contact with highly-oxygenated, stagnant water. Pitting also may occur in waterwall tubing as a result of acidic attack stemming from an unsatisfactory chemical cleaning or acidic contamination. 

Pits that are associated with low pH conditions tend to be numerous and spaced fairly close together. The pits tend to be deep-walled compared to the length of the defect. A breakdown of the passive metal surface initiates the pitting process under stagnant oxygenated conditions. A large potential difference develops between the small area of the initiated active pit (anode) and the passive area around the pit (cathode). The pit will grow in the presence of a concentrated salt or acidic species. The metal ion salt (M+A-) combines with water and forms a metal hydroxide and a corresponding free acid (e.g., hydrochloric acid when chloride is present). Oxygen reduction at the cathode suppresses the corrosion around the edges of the pit, but inside the pit the rate of attack increases as the local environment within the pit becomes more acidic. In the event that the surfaces along the walls of the pit are not repassivated, the rate of pit growth will continue to increase since the reaction is no longer governed by the bulk fluid environment. Pitting is frequently encountered in stagnant conditions that allow the site initiation and concentration, allowing the attack to continue. 

The most common cause of pitting in steam touched tubing results from oxygen rich stagnant condensate formed during shutdown. Forced cooling and / or improper draining and venting of assemblies may result in the presence of excess moisture. The interface between the liquid and air is the area of highest susceptibility. Pitting can also be accelerated if conditions allow deposition of salts such as sodium sulfate that combine with moisture during shutdown. Volatile carryover is a function of drum pressure, while mechanical carryover can increase when operating with a high drum level or holes in the drum separators. Pitting due to the effects of sodium sulfate may occur in the reheater sections of conventional and HRSG units because the sulfate is less soluble and deposits on the internal surfaces. During shutdowns the moisture that forms then is more acidic. 

Figure 2. Pitting on the ID surface of a waterwall tube

Typical Locations

In conventional units, pitting occurs in areas where condensate can form and remain as liquid during shutdown if the assemblies are not properly vented, drained, or flushed out with air or inert gas. These areas include horizontal economizer tubes and at the bottom of pendant bends or at low points in sagging horizontal tubes in steam touched tubes. 

In HRSGs, damage occurs on surfaces of any component that is intentionally maintained wet during idle periods or is subject to either water retention due to incomplete draining or condensation during idle periods. 

Attack from improper chemical cleaning activities is typically intensified at weld heat affected zones or where deposits may have survived the cleaning. 


Pits often are small in size and may be filled with corrosion products or oxide, so that identification of the severity of pitting attack by visual examination can be difficult. 

Damage to affected surfaces tends to be deep relative to pit width, such that the aspect ratio is a distinguishing feature. 

Root Causes

Figure 3. Pitting on the ID surface of an economizer tube

The primary factor that promotes pitting in boiler tubing is related to poor shutdown practices that allow the formation and persistence of stagnant, oxygenated water with no protective environment. Confirming the presence of stagnant water includes: 

  1. analysis of the corrosion products in and around the pit; 
  2. tube sampling in affected areas to determine the presence of localized corrosion; and 
  3. evaluation of shutdown procedures to verify that conditions promoting stagnant water exist. 

Carryover of sodium sulfate and deposition in the reheater may result in the formation of acidic solutions during unprotected shutdown and can result in pitting attack. Similarly flyash may be pulled into reheater tubing under vacuum and form an acidic environment.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing Streamlining Requalification of Heavy Lift Equipment

News & Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing


By:  Mike Battaglia and Jason Van Velsor

Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Acoustic Emission Testing Streamlining Requalification of Heavy Lift Equipment

Figure 1. Heavy lift rig attached to reactor head in preparation for removal.

Proper control of heavy loads is critical in any industrial application as faulty equipment or practices can have severe consequences.  The lifting technique, equipment, and operator qualifications must all meet or exceed applicable standards to ensure industrial safety.  The significance of heavy lifts at commercial nuclear facilities is, perhaps, even greater.  In addition to the consequences of an adverse event that are common to any industry (bodily injury or human fatality, equipment damage, etc.), the nuclear industry adds additional challenges.  Such an adverse event in the nuclear industry can also affect (depending on the specific lift) fuel geometry / criticality, system shutdown capability, damage to safety systems, etc.  One example of a critical lift in nuclear power facilities is the reactor vessel head / reactor internals lift.  

The requirement to inspect the heavy lifting equipment for structural integrity is prescribed in NUREG-0612, Control of Heavy Loads At Nuclear Power Plants, as enforced by NRC Generic Letter 81-07. The aforementioned NUREG document describes specific requirements for special lifting devices.  The requirements prescribed include: 

  • Special lifting devices are subject to 1.5X rates load followed by visual inspection, or
  • Dimensional testing and non-destructive examination (NDE) of the load bearing welds

In the case of the former requirement, it can be difficult or even dangerous to test these lift rigs, which are designed to carry over 150 tons, at a factor of 1.5x.  In the case of the latter requirement, employing the more traditional NDE techniques of MT, PT, and UT to inspect the lift rigs can be costly (both in terms of labor and radiological dose) and time consuming, in terms of impact to outage critical path, depending on when the inspection is performed.  In PWRs or BWRs, inspections are performed in the reactor containment, or radiation-controlled area, and are typically only performed during the outage.   

Ultimately, the NRC requires licensees to determine how they will comply with the NUREG requirements.  One method that has been adopted (primarily by PWR plants) is Acoustic Emission (AE) testing.  AE testing is a non-destructive testing process that uses high-frequency sensors to detect structure-borne sound emissions from the material or structure when under load.  The process detects these acoustic emission events and, based on sensor locations and the known sound velocity and attenuation, can identify the approximate location of the sources or areas of concern.  If such areas are identified, based on analysis of the data captured under load, those areas must be further investigated to characterize the indication.  Such additional techniques may include surface examination (MT or PT), or volumetric UT to precisely locate, characterize, and size any indications.  

Employing an advanced technique such as AE can significantly reduce the time required to perform this evolution, also reducing both the cost and dose associated with meeting the NUREG requirements.  

The original deployment of this method was championed by a utility in the mid-1980’s and has since been adopted by many of PWR plants as the preferred inspection method.  

In 2021, SI began offering AE testing services for reactor head lift rigs, including the qualified personnel, equipment, and tooling necessary to perform this work.  Our first implementation was at a nuclear plant in the Southeast US in the fall of 2021, and additional implementations are contracted in the spring and fall of 2022, and beyond.  

There are several advantages to AE testing that make it uniquely suited for the vessel head (or internals) lift application.  First, AE is a very sensitive technique, capable of picking up emissions from anomalies that cannot be detected by traditional techniques.  This allows for identifying areas of potential / future concern before they are an imminent safety danger.  Second, AE sensors are capable of sensing relevant emissions from a reasonable distance (up to 10 ft or more) between source emission and sensor placement.  As such, AE testing can monitor the entire lifting structure with a reasonable number of sensors (typically less than 20) placed on the structure.  Thus, sensors are strategically placed on the structure where failure is most likely – i.e., the mechanical or welded connections (joints) between structural members.  

This strategic sensor placement has another inherent advantage unique to the AE process.  If an indication is noted, the system has the capability to isolate the approximate source location (generally within a few inches) of the emission.  This is accomplished using a calculation that considers the arrival time and intensity of the acoustic emission at multiple sensor locations.  This is very beneficial when an indication requiring subsequent traditional NDE is noted as specific areas can be targeted, minimizing the scope of subsequent examinations.  

The ability of AE testing to rapidly screen the entire lift structure for active damage growth saves time and money over the traditional load testing and comprehensive NDE approaches.   

Figure 2. Lift rig turnbuckle outfitted with AE sensor.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the test duration is minimal and is, effectively, part of the standard process for reactor vessel head removal.  Sensor placement is performed during the normal window of plant cooldown and vessel head de-tensioning, so outage critical path is not compromised.  The actual test itself is performed as part of the head (or internals) lift; that is, when the head breaks from the vessel flange (and maximum load is achieved), the load is held in place for 10 minutes while monitoring for and recording acoustic emission activity.  Each sensor (channel) is analyzed during the hold period and a determination is immediately made at the end of the 10-minute period as to whether the lifting rig structure is suitable for use.  Unless evidence of an imminent failure is observed, the lift immediately proceeds to the head (or internals) stand.  The gathered data are also analyzed on a graded basis.  Depending on the energy intensity of the events detected at each sensor, subsequent recommendations may range from:  ‘Good-as-is’, to ‘recommend follow-up NDE post-outage’. 

The basic process of implementation is:

  • Calibrate and test equipment offsite (factory acceptance testing)
  • Mount sensors and parametric instrumentation (strain gauges, impactors) during plant cooldown and de-tensioning
  • System check (Pencil Lead Breaks (PLBs), and impactor test)
  • Lift head to the point of maximum load
  • Hold for 10 minutes
  • Continue lift to stand (unless evidence of imminent failure is observed)
  • Final analysis / recommendations (off line, for post-outage consideration)

During our fall 2021 implementation, SI introduced several specific process improvements over  what has been historically performed.  These advances have enhanced the process from both a quality and schedule perspective.  A few of these enhancements are:

SI developed and deployed a commercial grade dedication process for the system and sensors.  Often, licensees procure this work as safety-related, meaning the requirements of 10CFR50 Appendix B apply.  The sensors and processing unit are commercially manufactured by a select few manufacturers that typically do not have QA programs that satisfy the requirements of 10CFR50, Appendix B. For this reason, SI developed a set of critical characteristics (sensor response, channel response to a simulated transient, etc.) and corresponding tests to validate that the system components are responding as-expected and can be adequately deployed in a safety-related application. 

Figure 3. Close-up of AE sensor.

The arrival time of an acoustic emission at one of the installed sensors is measured in milliseconds. For this reason, it is critical to initiate the 10-minute hold period precisely when peak load is reached. The historical method for synchronizing peak-load with the start of the hold period relied on the use of a stop-watch and video feed of the readout from the containment polar crane load cell.  When the load cell appears to max out, the time is noted and marked as the commencement of the test.  This approach can be non-conservative from a post-test analysis perspective as the data before the noted start time is typically not considered in the analysis. As the strain gauge correlation provides a much more precise point of maximum load that is directly synchronized with the data acquisition instrument, it is more likely that early acoustic emissions, which are often the most intense and most relevant, are correctly considered in the analysis.

One of the methods used in AE testing to ensure that the sensors are properly coupled and connected is a spring-loaded center punch test.  This test employs a center punch to strike the component surface, resulting in an intense sound wave that is picked up by all the sensors.  However, this test has historically been performed manually and required someone to physically approach and touch the lifting equipment.  In certain applications, this can be a safety or radiological dose issue and, additionally, can add time to an already time-critical plant operation.  For this reason, SI has introduced the use of remotely actuated impactors to perform this function. The result is equivalent but entirely eliminates the need to have personnel on the lift equipment for the test as this task is performed remotely and safely from a parametric control center.

Figure 4. Strain gauge output showing precise timing of peak load on lift rig.

Employing cutting-edge AE testing for your vessel head / internals heavy lift can save outage critical path time, reduce radiological dose, and identify structural concerns early in the process.  All of this leads to inherently safer, more efficient verification of heavy lift equipment.   

SI has the tools, expertise, and technology to apply cutting-edge AE testing to your heavy lifts.  SI is committed to continually improving the process at every implementation.  Improvements in software processing time, and setup / preparation time are currently in-process.  Finally, other potential applications for the method are also possible, and we stand ready to apply to the benefit of our clients.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Turbine Unit Trip and Event

News & Views, Volume 51 | Turbine Unit Trip and Event

Recovery Best Practices

By:  Dan Tragresser

When a unit trips or experiences an event, the site will incur costs associated with the loss in production, regulatory penalties, and, if applicable, outage scope, hardware replacement, and the purchase of make-up power.  These costs can drive the priority of returning to service to quickly become the only priority.

Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Turbine Unit Trip and EventWith the reduction in staffing at power plants over the past 2 decades, many traditionally routine engineering and maintenance tasks have fallen by the wayside.  With limited resources, operations and engineering personnel must focus their time and efforts based on priority.  Quite often, keeping a unit online or quickly returning a unit to service will take priority over continuous improvement actions such as investigations and root cause analysis.

When a unit trips or experiences an event, the site will incur costs associated with the loss in production, regulatory penalties, and, if applicable, outage scope, hardware replacement, and the purchase of make-up power.  These costs can drive the priority of returning to service to quickly become the only priority.  Unfortunately, the review of event operational data, event precursors, and the collecting evidence through the unit disassembly very often fall below the priority of returning to service.  Collecting or re-creating evidence after the fact is nearly impossible.  This lack of priority often results in a lack of understanding of the root cause of the trip or event.  

Within large, complex plants and turbomachinery, trips or minor events are common, but are rarely isolated, one-off events.  Many trips and events are repetitive in nature, and worse, are early indications of a more serious event to come.  While the cost of delays in returning to service may be high, the cost of not solving the root cause may be orders of magnitude higher, particularly if a failure event happens a second time.

Focusing on unit trips, best practices include:

  • Hold regular, cross functional trip reviews.
  • If available, consider holding reviews across similar sites within a parent company.
    • Utilize knowledge and solutions that may already have been developed.
  • Trend trip events and frequency over a 1-to-3-year period.
    • Measure the success of prior projects based on the reduction of occurrences or elimination over a multi-year period.
    • Trips may be seasonal in nature and re-occurrence may span timeframes greater than one year.
  • Review each trip as a near miss and assess potential consequences that may not have occurred this time.
  • Consider including trip investigation in site or corporate level procedures and celebrate successes.

Turbine Blade Failure

Focusing on unit events, the cost of an event requiring an outage and hardware replacement, not including make-up power purchase, can very quickly escalate to millions of dollars.  Compare that cost to the cost of a dedicated, independent resource for the duration of time required to perform a comprehensive investigation.  Also, consider the cost of the investigation versus the cost of reoccurrence, or a similar event with more serious consequence.  The cost of the resource and investigation will almost always be in the noise of the overall cost.  Best practices include:

  • In nearly all cases, site and outage resources will be dedicated to the speedy rehabilitation of the unit.
    • Critical evidence is often lost or destroyed, unintentionally, based on the need to return to service quickly.
    • A dedicated, independent resource provides the best option to ensure that useful evidence is collected.
  • Assign a dedicated, independent resource to collect and review data and findings.
    • If a site resource is not available, borrow from a sister site or corporate team, ideally someone with an outside perspective and not necessarily an expert in the field.
    • Consider an external independent resource such as an industry consultant.
    • It will likely require a team to complete the overall root cause analysis, however, the likelihood of success will be much greater with facts and details being collected by a dedicated resource.
  • Initial steps as a dedicated, independent resource:
    • Ensure a controller and DCS data and alarm logs backup is completed before they time out.
    • Interview individuals that were on site at the time of the event and or in the days prior.
    • There is no such thing as too many pictures. It is common to find a critical link or detail in the background of a picture taken for another reason.
    • Clearly articulate hold points at which the independent resource will require inspections or data collection through the disassembly process.
    • Collect and preserve samples and evidence.
  • Where available, utilize other fleet assets to enable a detailed causal analysis with corrective and preventative actions.
    • Demonstrating a commitment to fleet risk reduction can minimize impacts with regulators and insurers.
  • Once an event occurs, those limited resources will be fully occupied. Creating a plan at this point is too late.
    • Discuss including the cost of an investigation into an event insurance claim with site insurers and what their expectations would be to cover the cost.
    • Maintain a list of resources, internal and external, to call upon as dedicated, independent resources.

Identifying the root cause of an event might be cumbersome, but far less cumbersome than dealing with the same type of event on a recurring basis.

Structural Integrity has team members and laboratory facilities available to support event investigations and to act as independent consultants on an emergent basis.

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Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Managing Forecasting the Life of a Mass Concrete Structure

News & Views, Volume 51 | Forecasting the Life of a Mass Concrete Structure, Part One


By:  Keith Kubischta and Andy Coughlin, PE, SE

Structural Integrity Associates | News and Views, Volume 51 | Managing Forecasting the Life of a Mass Concrete Structure

All around us is aging concrete infrastructure. From the dams holding back water, to the nuclear power plants creating carbon free electricity, to the foundations of our homes and offices. Though many advances have been made in the design of concrete structures, how do we know these structures will stand the test of time. Can we see the future of a concrete structure? Can we know the damage built into a structure during construction, normal life, and extreme events?
Answer:  Yes we can.


In Batavia, Illinois a facility being built that is the first of its kind in the world. Fermilab’s Long Baseline Neutrino Facility will accelerate protons using electromagnets up to incredible speeds in a particle accelerator. After traveling through the campus, the particles are redirected to a graphite target where the collision breaks them into their component particles: pions and muons. These components decay and are segregated off. What is left is believed to be the building blocks of the universe: neutrinos, which can pass undisturbed through matter. A beam of neutrinos passes through near detectors and travels over 800 miles underground to a detection facility in an old mineshaft at Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota, a facility that can also detect neutrinos hitting the earth from exploding stars.