Solutions to Pipe Support Issues

Westar Energy finds solutions to pipe support issues

As power plants, petrochemical and a variety of other facilities perform their daily operations, their piping systems continuously expand and contract from cyclical temperature fluctuation. As every facility manager knows, the movement from this constant change in pipe length wreaks havoc on a piping system and its surroundings unless the pipe supports allow the pipe to travel safely between its hot and cold positions.

The specialists at MHT Access Services know that QA/QC for pipe support maintenance has always been a problem for power generation plants and a variety of other facilities. That’s why MHT’s pipe support program covers all areas including inspection, adjustments, repair and replacement of pipe supports. Because pipe support scales and name plates are frequently out of reach, painted over or obstructed from view, the conventional method of inspection forced facility managers to choose between installing expensive and time-consuming scaffolding or settle for an inconclusive visual inspection. Often times, the status of the piping supports remains a mystery.

“Without rope access, many pipe support inspections would require elaborate scaffolding up to 100 feet in the air to be effective,” said Chuck Thornton, MHT’s pipe support supervisor. “This expense of time and money sometimes results in potentially dangerous steam piping with supports that have not been sufficiently inspected. Many companies don’t know that these supports can be inspected and maintained cost-effectively with rope access.” MHT’s solution to the problem comes in the combination of its rope access and abseiling techniques paired with its proven expertise in the field of pipe support inspection programs, with various pipe support audits including “visual only” or “hands-on”. Thornton has 35 years’ experience working with pipe supports and understands exactly why rope access is the most practical method to access these supports. MHT’s method utilizes a four-person team, which includes a pipe support specialist and three rope access technicians. The team, suspended from the facility’s own structure, can get as close as they need to inspect, adjust or repair a piping support system, virtually eliminating the need for impractical scaffolding. Ken Smith, plant support engineer for Westar Energy, said that while visual inspections of piping support can be done regularly in a power plant facility, upclose inspections are far more difficult to perform and are often put off for longer periods of time. “Access to some of these locations, even with scaffold, is difficult at best and extremely costly,” Smith said. “Having the rope access has helped speed up the whole process planning-wise, and MHT has actually provided us with an economical solution that we can use when the unit is running or not running.” MHT recognized that the conventional method of inspection was impractical and often led to insufficient and inaccurate data collection on pipe support systems, which, in turn, leads to sagging lines, transfer of pipe weight to surrounding equipment and nozzles, or even a potentially disastrous collapse of piping. Smith was on site at Westar Energy’s Jeffrey Energy Center last fall when a turbine unit had to be brought down early due to excessive vibrations. “One of the suspect causes of the vibrations was stress from the high-energy piping that wasn’t being allowed to move freely in the hot position,” Smith said. “After MHT was on site for approximately three weeks performing inspections and making adjustments, we got that unit back up and running, and we were running with the lowest vibrations on record for many years.” In order to keep customers coming back, MHT not only offers innovative solutions but keeps the whole process agreeable from a customer service standpoint as well. “They’ve been extremely helpful and very informative from a technical expertise point of view, and I can’t really say enough,” Smith said. “They’ve been a great company to work with, with respect to high-energy piping stresses, hangers adjustments and so on. We continue to enjoy what I think is a good working relationship.”