Bureau Veritas certification for the Flex-R thermocouple assembly

A measure of performance and dependability, Safety Integrity Level (SIL) ratings take into account on-demand failures and risk-reduction factors. Gayesco-WIKA’s SIL 3 certified multipoint thermocouple assembly ensures that users get the reliable temperature information they need, when they need it.

Safety Integrity Level (SIL) calculations have become an important part of today’s instrumentation. The SIL rating of a system is a measure of its reliability: that a device will work properly when needed. The rating is calculated based on the Probability of Failure on Demand (PFD) and Risk Reduction Factor (RRF) values, established by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 61508 and IEC61511 standards define those values for each of the SIL categories. The lower the number, the lower its dependability. 

On-Demand Failures

For processes that use a thermocouple assembly, on-demand failure means losing the signal during periods when temperature measurements are essential for safe operations. In the case of a hydrocracking unit (HCU), for example, continuous temperature measuring is a requirement at startup, during operation, and through the shutdown sequence.

There are three types of thermocouple error that concern SIL and on-demand availability:

  • Open circuit: loss of signal due to a break in the system (detectable)
  • Short circuit: diminished reading due to a short in the system (detectable)
  • Decalibration: a change from the true temperature due to calibration error (undetectable during operation)

Two factors contribute to on-demand failures and signal loss in thermocouple assemblies:

  • Breaches in the protective sheath, caused by mechanical damage
  • Conductors weakened by grain grow that high temperatures (above 1,200°C/2,192°F)

Some problems, such as leaks around seals and welds, are serious. But because they do not cause a loss of signal, leaks are not considered on-demand failures.

How Gayesco-WIKA Thermocouple Assembly Achieves an SIL 3 Rating

Gayesco-WIKA designs and manufactures the Flex-R® (Model TC96-R)specifically for the refining and petrochemical industry. The instrument is SIL 3 Capable with an HFT (hardware fault tolerance) = 1. In other words, the thermocouple is rated SIL 3 when two sensors are used in conjunction, which equals one redundancy. Backing this impressive rating are more than 50,000 units with 8.6 billion total hours of service over the past 30-plus years. The Gayesco-WIKA certification was granted by the third-party certification agency Bureau Veritas; certificates and operations manuals are available upon request.

To achieve SIL 3 certification, a thermocouple assembly must be able to withstand the extremely harsh conditions found in cracking applications. The Flex-R attained this high reliability rating with the following three features:

  1. Large conductor wires

Conductor wires with larger-than-normal cross section area are better able to resist the internal damages caused by grain growth and the differential expansion of the metals. Large conductors are harder to break and last longer than smaller ones. Gayesco-WIKA uses engineered cables that maximize conductor size for a given thermocouple’s outside diameter (OD). Flex-R’s 15- and 16-gauge wires for single thermocouples, and 18-gauge wires for dual thermocouples, are much bigger than the standard 20- to 22-gauge wires of typical thermocouples.

  1. Extra heavy outer sheath

Protecting each Flex-R thermocouple is an extra-heavy sheath with a wall thickness that exceeds industry norms. The heavy sheath shields the thermocouple from mechanical and catalyst damages that can occur during startup, operation, and shutdown of catalyst bed furnaces and other hydrotreating processes.

  1. Specialty materials

Gayesco-WIKA does not use standard mineral insulated (MI) cables for its Flex-R assemblies. Rather, the cables are made of an optimized, highly engineered MI material – typically, 321, 347, and other specialty metals.

Off-Demand Failures

Off-demand failures are not included in SIL calculations. However, the attributes that merited an SIL 3 rating also improve reliability outside of startups, operations, and shutdowns.

A thermocouple assembly is exposed to stresses during catalyst loading and uploading. In addition, the welding, grinding, and shearing during maintenance and repair also can hurt thermocouple sensors. The Flex-R’s large conductor wires and thick sheathing prevent mechanical damage during these off-demand times.

The heavy sheath also allows technicians to weld the thermocouple during construction and repair with little chance of damage. Thus, Flex-R thermocouples are repairable/replaceable in situwithin a few hours – thereby minimizing downtimes and reduced labor costs.

Experience and Reliability

Gayesco-WIKA has more experience than any other company in designing thermocouples for the refining and petrochemical industry. The first Flex-R multipoint thermocouple assembly was installed in 1987. Some of them were still providing reliable service 25 years later. (For optimal performance, Gayesco-WIKA recommends a new install every 15–20 years.) Contact Gayesco-WIKA’s experts to learn more about SIL 3 certified Flex-R assemblies and how to minimize on-demand and off-demand failures.

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