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January/February 2009

ASTM Metals Standards

Relevant and Widely Used

A look at how refinery, chemical and other plants build on and use ASTM standards for steel, nickel and their alloys.

applying steel standardsGas for the car, heat in the office and fibers for clothing — three very different products with one thing in common. These essential everyday elements are manufactured in plants that utilize ASTM International metals and alloys standards. Plant components such as pipes or heat exchangers, and those that produce the metals for those components, consist of materials specified and tested according to standards from some of ASTM International’s oldest committees.

Committees A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys, and B02 on Nonferrous Metals and Alloys are two of these groups. In its foundational year, 1898, ASTM’s forebears organized A01 to address rail failures and other railroad standards needs. B02 followed a few years later in 1902.

These two committees, which develop standards related to metals and alloys, continue to be vital, dynamic groups. Both A01 and B02 have responsibility for dozens of standards that they review and revise to reflect changes in alloy property data or the emergence of new alloys.

John Mahaney, chair of the 1,000-member A01 committee, says of the industry represented in his group, “The industry is mature but not static.” The Akron, Ohio-based metallurgical consultant continues, “The committee is vibrant, it’s growing, its standards are continually being updated and improved.”

And both A01 and B02 standards find use in the construction of manufacturing facilities and in the metal shapes produced by those companies.

Standards to Build a Plant

ASTM A312, Specification for Seamless, Welded and Heavily Cold Worked Austenitic Stainless Steel Pipes, is one standard relied on for plant construction purposes. Gary Whittaker, materials engineering senior associate for Eastman Chemical Co., Kingsport, Tenn., says that his firm uses a great deal of pipe covered by A312 — pipe that enables the production of such goods as acetate yarn, resins and solvents.

The A312 specification addresses pipe intended for high temperature and corrosive service and prescribes chemical, annealing, tensile and other requirements for several pipe grades, including those that meet the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code and the American National Standards Institute Chemical Plant and Refinery Piping Code. Subcommittee A01.10 on Stainless and Alloy Steel Tubular Products maintains this particular standard.

The same relevance holds true for the ExxonMobil plant in Baytown, Texas, where ASTM International standards cover a range of components used in its operations, from pressure vessel castings and carbon steel to austenitic and duplex stainless steel, and nickel-base alloys.

That’s according to Brian Fitzgerald, lead specialist, materials engineering, for the corporation’s chemical operations and a member of both A01 and B02. Fitzgerald runs down a list of frequently used ASTM specifications, ones for carbon steel pressure vessel plate; higher strength alloy steel; stainless steel plate for pressure vessels; and welded or seamless steel tubing.

The standards facilitate ExxonMobil’s global business. “We operate on a worldwide basis and standards are the common language,” Fitzgerald says. “They make sure, if we’re building something or assessing something in the U.S., Europe or the Far East, that we’re at least starting with an understanding of where we are in our discussions.”

Depending on the application, the standards may be used as-is or with supplementary requirements. And the same standards that work for new vessels and other equipment relate to their maintenance and replacement as well.

The ASTM-ASME Connection

ASTM International standards utilized in constructing refineries and petrochemical plants are often accessed through the ASME International Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. The code, which establishes safety rules for the design, fabrication and inspection of boilers and pressure vessels, cites — as it has for decades — dozens of ASTM standards.

The ASME code serves as a basic standard for worldwide use in Exxon­Mobil, according to Fitzgerald, and Whittaker notes that Eastman uses ASME and ASTM standards in North America to define all its metallic materials. ASTM, particularly A01, responds to the material specification needs of the ASME code committee in a timely manner to update existing material requirements and add any new ones.

And any changes to an ASTM International standard in the code go on to ASME to include. Fitzgerald sees the connection between ASTM International standards and the code as straightforward. “It’s very convenient and very efficient,” he says.

Standards for Products

ASTM International metals standards apply not only to plant construction but to the bulk materials and products produced in those plants.

For example, at its Clifton, N.J., production plant, Swepco Tube utilizes ASTM specifications when it manufactures piping and tubing — most typically heavy wall piping that may be up to 3 inches (76 mm) thick and 96 inches (244 mm) in diameter. Such pipe carries liquid natural gas or chemicals, among other fluids, in high pressure and refinery applications.

Swepco’s director of quality and technical services, Anthony Long, an A01 and B02 member, says that ASTM standards pertain to both his company’s manufacturing equipment and its products.

One of the company’s most frequently cited ASTM standards is ASTM A240, Specification for Chromium and Chromium-Nickel Stainless Steel Plate, Sheet, and Strip for Pressure Vessels and for General Applications, another from A01, which Swepco uses to specify the plate or coil it purchases to manufacture piping and tubing.

Long adds that B688, Specification for Chromium-Nickel-Molybdenum-Iron (UNS N08366 and UNS N08367) Plate, Sheet, and Strip, and B443, Specification for Nickel-Chromium-Molybdenum-Columbium Alloy (UNS N06625) and Nickel-Chromium-Molybdenum-Silicon Alloy (UNS N06219) Plate, Sheet, and Strip, among several other nickel and nonferrous specifications, are also commonly used. (For more about UNS, see sidebar, “The Unified Numbering System.”) Both of these B02 standards are the responsibility of Subcommittee B02.07 on Refined Nickel and Cobalt and Their Alloys.

“Just about any steel we buy, ” Long says, “even if we buy it from a distributor who in turn got it from a foreign supplier, their certification will reference an applicable ASTM standard as well as whatever standards might be germane to their country.”

Testing Metals with Standards

Just as standards play a part in specifying metals for plant construction and for products, they incorporate tests essential to checking material properties.

Long comments that his firm performs mechanical, chemical, corrosion and nondestructive tests according to ASTM standards.

One such standard for both internal quality control and fulfilling customer requirements is A370, Test Methods and Definitions for Mechanical Testing of Steel Products, which includes such tests as bend and Brinell, hardness and impact, tension and Rockwell. The several tests in A370 determine whether a material’s properties meet those delineated in product specifications. And a number of annexes in A370 cover details particular to such products as bars, tubes and fasteners.

In addition, A262, Practices for Detecting Susceptibility to Intergranular Attack in Austenitic Stainless Steels, might be used for corrosion testing and evaluating various metals. To check strength and ductility under stress, E8, Test Methods for Tension Testing of Metallic Materials, under the jurisdiction of Committee E28 on Mechanical Testing, plays an important role in comparing materials and for quality control.

It’s All about Standards

From start to finish in a refinery or a petrochemical facility, ASTM International standards provide a common ground and an essential level of quality.

Many of those standards have stood the test of time. Daniel Janikowski, energy sales manager for Plymouth Tube in East Troy, Wis., and chair of A01.10 on Stainless and Alloy Steel Tubular Products, notes that ASTM International specifications have adapted to change when they’ve been in existence for decades. “As people needed changes in them because the market has changed, they have adopted those changes and they have flexed where they needed to flex,” he says.

Long notes that the ASTM process ensures that the changes, like the standards themselves, meet everyone’s needs through the balance of users and producers required on ASTM standards development committees and in balloting. He adds, “The committee meetings twice a year and the electronic development tools for new standards and changes to existing standards make it very easy and convenient to provide input and actively participate to reach consensus.”

Standards are important overall for Eastman, Whittaker summarizes, “In essence, everything we do depends on having good consensus standards. Without them the chemical industry could not operate.”

His company relies on standards, Whittaker comments, to ensure consistency and quality in its purchased materials. “Without standards we would have to write our own detailed specifications for everything we purchase,” he says, “and we have neither the people nor the expertise to do this for every material we use. If we didn’t have standards we couldn’t build a plant.”

And ASTM International documents are an important part of the equation for Swepco as well. “The ASTM specs, they’re just so widely used,” says Long. “We request material made to an ASTM standard. Even if we didn’t, it probably is made to an ASTM standard anyway.”