How asking the right questions can help engineers avoid corrosion mistakes

Corrosion can have a big price tag environmentally and economically; the right information and tools can prevent it

By Jim Harper - June 1, 2021
pipeline corrosion image
Corrosion can cause leaks that contaminate the environment. (Photo © istock.com/xijian)

Corrosion has a far-reaching impact, from health and safety issues to plant shutdowns. It causes leaks that contaminate the environment, from oceans to wetlands to the snow-covered tundra.

And it comes at a cost — about $2.5 trillion globally every year — a staggering amount by any standard.

But by asking the right questions with the right information tools, engineers, technicians and operating managers can do more to avoid corrosion.

Asking the right questions

Corrosion is not localized to one function or process, so on any given project, there will be various stakeholders who need to understand, address and actively mitigate it. They can’t all be experts; after all, it’s not reasonable to expect a recent graduate of chemical or process engineering to understand all the implications of corrosion management. That’s why asking the right questions — and having good tools to facilitate knowledge transfer — is so important.

Good questions to start with could be:

  • Is this material right for this specific use and the environment?
  • What will be the impact of other substances that will interact with this material?
  • Can I substitute a plastic for a metal or add a coating?
  • What are the most important variables (duration, cost, etc)?
  • What are the risks, and is it possible to mitigate them?
  • How can I plan for future changes in operating conditions?
  • Is there historical data for similar conditions?

These are not easy questions to answer. Experience may provide some guidance, but access to reliable data and case studies in an easy-to-use format is extremely valuable. Rather than having to hunt down different experts for advice, you can use an information tool like Knovel Corrosion to check material compatibility, read up on corrosion case studies, use interactive isocorrosion graphs and more.

Being able to share that information among team members builds foundational knowledge and improves overall competency of all functions involved. With the right resources and user-friendly tools, process engineers and other personnel are better able to be proactive about corrosion.

Avoiding failures with better communication

The history of incident and containment failures has shown that a key cause of corrosion-related failures is simply a lack of communication. Materials are often selected for use without full consideration for how the equipment will be ultimately used and under which underlying conditions.

For example, an operator commissioned a new compression module for an existing oilfield in the North Sea. Errors in the manufacture of materials resulted in a significant HSE (health, safety and environment) loss-of-containment event. When the compression module and its associated parts and piping were made, the manufacturer used inadequate purge gas. Selecting the correct gas to use as a purge mechanism would have helped eliminate the oxidization of the recently molten metal. Instead, as a result of this error, the condensate line in the compression module failed within two months, releasing gas rich in hydrogen sulfide when under high pressure.

This failure occurred very rapidly due to the internal oxidation of the welded metal when exposed to corrosive condensate fluids. Key causal factors in this incident were a lack of understanding of:

  • The importance of the welding procedure, particularly in light of the eventual use of the compression system.
  • The corrosion-resistance properties of the materials being welded.

A better understanding and sharing of information among the manufacturer and the operator would have raised awareness that this compression system was going to be operated in subsea applications. This would have required a different manufacturing process to ensure performance and limit corrosion, preventing this serious event.

In today’s highly complex supply chain, manufacturers, suppliers and industry operators must all prioritize effective communication. Internal teams must also share appropriate and relevant engineering information. By asking and answering the right questions up front and communicating the answers among all affected parties, teams can ensure that the end products meet the target specifications under the required operating conditions.

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Jim Harper
Written by

Jim Harper

Written by

Jim Harper

Jim Harper has been helping engineers build a better world since 1996. He began as an editorial assistant for engineering books at Chapman & Hall in 1996, moving to acquire books on civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering, GIS, construction, horticulture, and BIM at John Wiley & Sons. Joining Knovel in 2010, he is now a Senior Product Manager responsible for content, new partnerships and new product development.

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