Efficiency of Shell and Tube Heat Exchangers Driving Use, Particularly in Chemical, Oil/Gas and HVAC Industries


Shell and tube heat exchangers have emerged as mainstays in a variety of industrial settings. As the market for such solutions continues to grow, organizations must consider how they will prepare their maintenance and operations teams to properly handle the solutions.

Heat Exchangers: Operation of Shell and Tube Types

Shell and Tube Heat Exchangers Basics

Shell and tube and heat exchangers can use existing resources and thermal energy to manage temperatures of materials within a facility, creating efficiency that makes them extremely attractive. Most of the work is done naturally without requiring the large amounts of energy used for rapid heating or cooling in alternative ways.

In short, they work by:

  • Encapsulating a group of tubes within an outer shell.
  • Moving fluids – either liquid or gas – in one direction through the tubes.
  • Moving fluids – again either liquid or gas – in the opposite direction within the shell.

This closed-loop environment allows for temperature regulation and management. For example, if a process requires an extremely hot chemical and a nearby supply line is creating steam as exhaust, the steam can be piped into the shell while the chemical is sent through the tubes. The steam would heat the chemical to the necessary levels while the steam would be cooled, allowing for a safer release or energy capture.

Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger Use on the Rise
A study from MarketsandMarkets found that the global market for shell and tube heat exchangers will achieve a value of approximately $7.05 billion by 2020. This amounts to expansion at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 5 percent for the period of 2015 to 2020, with efficiency among the top reasons for the solution’s rise.

Other factors contributing to market growth, according to MarketsandMarkets, include:

  • Abrasive wear protection capabilities that reduce erosion within shell and tube heat exchangers.
  • Growth in the chemicals industry, a sector that tends to be a leader in implementing shell and tube heat exchangers.
  • Relatively easy repair that simplifies maintenance and management.
  • A price advantage relative to comparable technologies on the market.

Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger Maintenance
A few key issues to consider when handling shell and tube heat exchangers include:

  • Be cautious with hardware: Gaskets and similar hardware items within the configuration can be especially prone to damage, wear and similar problems during maintenance. These systems are designed to stay closed off as much as possible. As such, opening them up for maintenance can put excess strain on hardware items used within the system.
  • Do what you can when systems are on: Some maintenance procedures can be performed when the shell and tube heat exchange setup is running. For example, a report from Processing Magazine highlighted that organizations should regularly take fluid samples from the exchanger. It’s best to do this while the system is running to get an idea of how the materials function in action. Detailed analysis of fluids can reveal signs of problems within the configuration, making it easier to define what maintenance tasks may be necessary and when they should be completed.

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