The object of this inspection was to determine the condition of the burner and the refractory brick on the inside of a thermal oxidizer at a petrochemical plant, while avoiding a confined space entry. Wide angle view of oxidizer, looking up from near burner area at bottom (approximately 5.0ft. Close view, looking down at the oxidizer burner, with refractory damage seen below and to the left.
Further spalling damage to refractory material is evident in the area just above the burner. This client was able to complete the inspection of the thermal oxidizer without the expense and time involved in performing a confined space entry. Keeping your industrial aluminum furnace in peak operating condition and preventing refractory breakdown requires regular maintenance. Today, unlike in previous decades, we’re finding that it’s not uncommon for industrial facilities to lack the proper maintenance procedures or furnace operating procedures for their aluminum furnace.

We’re also asked, “What can I do to improve my furnace life and reduce operating cost?” One of the best and least costly tasks you can do is cleaning the furnace daily. Our experience shows that most, if not all, refractory problems are due to not taking the time to clean and inspect the furnace daily. Failure to make this a part of your daily routine causes refractory and mechanical problems such as door, cylinder and structural steel damage, as shown by the pictures below.
Typically, heat is used in the process of separation, whether the product undergoing separation is crude oil or natural gas. Industry estimates place this cost at approximately $5,000 per vessel entry, factoring in labor and production downtime. It’s like your car: if you don’t change the oil, monitor fluids and replace the parts that wear out, you’re headed for a breakdown.
We’re contacted more frequently by plant engineers and maintenance personnel claiming their refractory is not holding up, but subsequent inspection reveals that improper maintenance has allowed oxides and corundum to grow, thereby damaging the refractory and shortening the lifespan.

By just doing this one thing you can stay ahead of potential costly refractory problems; however, many plants won’t take the small amount of time to avoid costly downtime later. Most of your furnace “uptime” and all of your refractory life is proportional to how diligent you are in taking care of your refractory. Just remember that doesn’t mean the problems you’ll have (and you will have them) are due to bad refractory or poor installation. While detection of general areas of failed refractory linings can often be accomplished from the exterior with infrared thermography, specific location and type of failure is normally only revealed through the use of RVI.Thermal oxidizers are devices which provide an effective means of destroying industrial liquid and gaseous wastes. They are essentially sophisticated furnaces with a burner or igniter of some sort, and are typically lined with refractory material to insulate and protect the vessel walls, as described above.

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