By Wes Edmiston | Director of Product & Industry Strategy, Cumulus Digital Systems
Despite serving a critical function in ensuring piping integrity, pressure testing is an activity that rarely gets the credit it deserves. When everything is going well, nobody seems to notice that testing is even happening. The facility starts up with zero leaks with no special credit going to the extensive (and stressful) pressure testing that took place.
However, when the testing program starts to go poorly, all hell breaks loose. The big dogs are called in and testing undergoes so much extra scrutiny that it feels like it’s under a microscope. This slows progress, drives up costs, and creates stress for all involved.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There are some common pressure testing mistakes that even the most skilled teams have experienced.
Strengthen your pressure testing program and avoid accidents during your next project or turnaround by avoiding these 5 common pressure testing mistakes.
5 Common Pressure Testing Mistakes You Could Be Making
1. Missing high points and low points
When a line doesn’t have vents at high points or drains at low points, air or water can get trapped. This can lead to failed tests or significant remediation efforts in order to clean the piping. Even worse, in some unlucky situations you might find yourself unable to get the pipe clean and dry. This requires that the pipe be cut and you start from scratch with testing.
All of these problems can drive up project costs and sink a lot of valuable time and productivity. Avoid missing high points and low points by walking the line and carefully looking for high point vents and low point drains. Since you’re likely already walking the line to check for completeness, improve your productivity by adding this to your list. Just remember to give your QC’s frequent reminders so that it stays on their radar.
2. Leaving sensitive components in the system
This one might seem a bit obvious, but it’s included on this list for a reason. It still happens at some point on nearly every project. Expansion joints, instruments, and a slew of other items are often forgotten. Since they are likely not rated for the test pressure, this can cause a very hazardous situation for the team that is executing the pressure testing.
Even if there isn’t a total failure of the component, there’s still a chance that some of these items become inoperable due to the exposure to the test medium. This can cause unnecessary delays.
To avoid this problem, create a comprehensive list of components that can not tolerate the test medium or pressure. Include that list in the test package details and highlight the items to ensure that team members catch them in the pre-test walk down.
3. Paper-based tracking
It’s not just the pipes that are under pressure during a testing program. During projects, turnarounds, or even routine maintenance, everyone is under pressure to make progress, check things off lists, and meet schedule. This often leads to people multitasking and working on multiple fronts to try to finish the laundry list of tasks on their plate.
For pressure testing, this means that tests will often be filled up days in advance of the actual test being executed. Then, another team will come to execute the test, and yet another team will come to drain and dry it.
This leaves a lot of room for things getting lost in the fast-paced shuffle. If water sits in a system for too long, it can cause corrosion. In certain climates, the test medium could even sit in a line long enough to freeze. This damages the system and leads to even more quality issues and rework.
Prevent these problems by implementing a digital system that accurately tracks each stage and step of the work being completed. This allows teams to work more efficiently by clearly seeing what is in their queue. It also brings visibility to the different work completion activities and statuses, making sure that nothing is forgotten.
4. Not knowing your code
After being in the same facility or area for a while, it can be easy to go on autopilot. After a while, you learn and memorize all of the rules and procedures that are necessary in order to do your job correctly.
Whenever you are going to a new location or working on a new system, be sure to always look up the governing code. This can help avoid easy mistakes. For example, there is a big difference between a hydrotest at 1.5x design for ten minutes and a 1.3x design test for 60 minutes.
Everyone knows how expensive it is for a facility to be down. When this is the last obstacle preventing it from coming online, you want to ensure that you are doing it right the first time. Remember, these integrity tests are important to prove the viability of the system. If any type of failure occurs later on, pressure testing is the first area where fingers will be pointed.
5. Leaving in test blinds
This item occurs after the test. Anyone who has experienced it will likely know how it can be a weird combination of funny, infuriating, and possibly dangerous.
You might be getting towards the end of a turnaround and ready to reintroduce process materials. The operations team opens the valve, but nothing comes out on the other side. It’s at this precise moment when everyone learns that there is still a blind installed somewhere in the piping.
This can be avoided by using a digital system to track your flange connections. The system must be able to make connections as “temporary” so that an effective review of the piping system can occur prior to startup, ensuring that all such temporary connections have been removed before startup.
When it comes to common pressure testing mistakes, there’s a lot that a digital system can do to prevent mistakes. By connecting with real-time field data, hydrostatic testing activities can be executed with accuracy and precision. Overall, introducing digitalization to manual work can help teams make smarter decisions, together.