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Detecting and fixing thermal fluid leaks

Plant managers can avoid the negative consequences of thermal fluid degradation by performing regular, proactive maintenance and sampling

Clive Jones discusses the importance of detecting and fixing thermal fluid leaks in a heat transfer system

We all know how serious information leaks can be for companies, governments and individuals.

But did you know that thermal fluid leaks can be just as damaging for manufacturers?

It is important for plant managers operating, process, chemical, pharmaceutical or food facilities to stay on top of thermal fluid leaks.



If left unattended, they can result in lack of compliance with regulation and health and safety risks. The plant manager can mitigate this by taking steps to detect leaks and fix them if they arise.

Smoke signals

One of the most recognisable signals of a thermal fluid leak is that it will often be accompanied by smoke. The amount of smoke visible, depends on the size of the leak, the temperature of the fluid and the ventilation in the surrounding area.

Smoke can be produced by leaks of all sizes, but what happens to this smoke depends on the situation at hand. During a small leak, smoke can leave dark stains or a carbon crust on the system. If the leak is larger, fluid will cool quickly as it hits the air. More serious health and safety risks can occur if ventilation is poor.

Plant managers can investigate the cause of smoke in their systems to assess whether there is a leak. If so, they should then take steps to fix it.

Installation

If the system is installed correctly, it is less likely to leak. Plant managers can safeguard their systems by installing it in an area with good air flow and insulation.

Another step plant managers can take is to ensure isolation valves are installed throughout the system. That way, if a leak were to occur, the whole system wouldn’t need to be drained and downtime would be minimised.

Any weaker areas such as joins or flanges, where a leak could potentially occur, should also be fitted with guards to deflect any mist or spray from the leak.

The plant manager should also ensure that all valves are installed with their stems facing sideways so that leaks can drip away from the pipes and the system.

Testing

Once the plant manager or specialist thermal fluid company has checked the system is installed correctly, regular testing is the next step to safeguard a system.

Under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), thermal fluid should be analysed regularly.

The reason thermal fluid sampling is so important is that thermal fluid degrades over time.

The fluid can oxidise and degrade, leaving a solid carbon build up in pipes. If this occurs, carbon deposits can reduce heat transmission, restrict flow and lead to excessive wear of pumps, valves and seals, or worse still build up and create a hotspot, which can increase the risk of a leak.

Plant managers can avoid the negative consequences of thermal fluid degradation by performing regular, proactive maintenance and sampling as part of a lifecycle maintenance programme, such as Global Heat Transfer’s Thermocare.

Act fast

To keep health and safety risks to a minimum, thermal fluid leaks should always be dealt with quickly. Though a plant manager should have a spill kit on site, repairing a leak is a job best handled by the experts.

Facilities managers can contact a thermal fluid specialist to deal with the leak and safeguard the system.

After all, damage control is essential for information leaks just as it is with thermal fluid leaks.

Clive Jones is managing director of thermal fluid specialist, Global Heat Transfer.

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