Fouling is a problem whether we are aware of it or not. In an industrial plant, it is important not only to be able to measure the buildup of unwanted deposits, but also to do it in the simplest and most economically possible way. This paper addresses the question of monitoring fouling in an oil refinery plant, where the high number of heat exchanger units and the variability of the feedstock charge pose additional problems in terms of the practicability of following the energetic performance of such equipment. In this case, the flow rates and quality of the fluids flowing through the heat exchangers do not usually correspond to the design conditions, because they change with time. Therefore, to assess the fouling level of the exchangers, the day-to-day measured thermal efficiency should not be compared with the efficiency predicted in the design calculations. The latter should be recalculated by introducing whenever necessary new values of flow rates, physical properties, and so forth, and by evaluating new heat transfer coefficients. However, the procedures are too time consuming to be applied frequently. The present work describes a simplified method for following heat exchanger performances, based on the assessment of the number of transfer units and thermal efficiencies, where the effects of changing the feedstock charge, particularly the flow rates of the fluids, are taken into account. The only data that need to be collected are the four inlet/outlet temperatures of the heat exchanger unit and one of the flow rates. Several heat exchanger units in an oil refinery were successfully monitored by means of this method, and it was found that the variations in the physical properties did not significantly affect the results obtained for the particular plant under study. © Elsevier Science Inc., 1997.
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