Don’t Let Thermal Expansion Cause Excessive Piping Stress: Part 3, How to Inspect Your Piping to Prevent Problems

Don’t Let Thermal Expansion Cause Excessive Piping Stress: Part 3, How to Inspect Your Piping to Prevent Problems

This is the final installment in a three-part series on thermal expansion and piping stress.  The first article provides a primer on the basics of the thermal expansion and contraction found in industrial facilities. The second article focuses on the importance of proper stress analysis and good engineering to mitigate the risks of thermal expansion to piping and equipment. This third article describes how to spot problem areas in your plant before pipe damage and ruptures occur.

What to Look for During an Inspection

Start your inspection by ensuring that your existing process systems incorporate the practices of good piping engineering design.

  • Verify that your “hot” equipment has room to grow. The thermal expansion of tanks and pumps should have been accounted for in the stress analysis calculations before installation. But the safety factor may have been reduced if ancillary equipment is replaced without considering thermal expansion.
  • Pay special attention to equipment that is now operating at temperatures higher than originally designed as a result of a process change. Tanks and pressure vessels are often repurposed in the oil and gas industry, chemical plants, and food processing operations.
  • Check for thermal contraction if any equipment is now being used at temperatures colder than the process engineer designed for.
  • Verify that piping connected to hot equipment has multiple bends to absorb the equipment growth.
  • Confirm that expansion loops are located in every pipeline that has two anchors on the same straight run of pipe.
  • Know the direction of thermal expansion. This helps when performing these tasks:
    • Making sure that piping connected to hot equipment will not strike a fixed obstacle as the equipment grows.
    • Inspecting the drain valves, instrument connections, and sample points mounted close to obstacles. During thermal expansion, these may strike an obstacle and break.

Older systems may need some maintenance to minimize pipe stress.

  • Look for shoes that have fallen off the pipe rack steel. When the line cools, the resulting contraction forces can damage the steel and the piping.
  • Make sure that guides have the proper bracing to prevent lateral movement.
  • Remove the stops in spring supports to allow the spring to move as the pipe moves.

Check the Drawings

Piping isometric drawings show predicted movements, which is valuable information when performing your inspection. The drawing may have a note like shown in the following image:

Careful review of the drawings and stress analysis results is also critical for new installations. Your process engineer should work closely with the piping engineering firm to consider all aspects of your site’s thermal expansion and contraction in order to reduce piping stresses and equipment damage.  During construction, do a thorough walk-around regularly to catch problems early.

Everyone is responsible for safety and for asset protection. This series of articles will help you know what to look for regarding thermal expansion and contraction.  And if you have questions or doubts about your equipment and piping, don’t hesitate to ask for support.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about thermal expansion and pipe stress analysis, contact Chris Mach, PE, Senior Consultant (Team Leader) in the Process & Electrical Design Department.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Automotive Engineering: Replacing Obsolete Static-Style Andon Display Boards

Automotive Engineering: Replacing Obsolete Static-Style Andon Display Boards

In the automotive industry, the styling, functionality, and options on vehicles can change fast – and the build lines in the factory have to change just as rapidly.

To accommodate a new vehicle build option, installation stations are changed or renumbered up and down the line. In some plants, the old static-style Andon boards have not changed in five years or more, which means they may still list old install station numbers that no longer apply to the current line configuration.

Here’s how Matrix Technologies, one of the most experienced providers of automotive manufacturing services, helped an automotive manufacturer in Indiana replace their outdated static-style Andon display boards with a modern, new, highly adaptive Andon display system.

The Manufacturer’s Challenge: Upgrading Obsolete Displays

To keep production moving, automotive plants must be able to identify where a problem is on the production line and solve the issue quickly. Andon systems are one way to notify management, maintenance, and other workers about equipment, process, or quality problems affecting line(s).

A major automotive manufacturer turned to Matrix to upgrade the obsolete static-style Andon displays in one of its largest plants.

The project presented several challenges. The manufacturer wanted:

  • A display that could be clearly seen from a distance of at least 200 feet
  • Displays needed to be mounted back to back, 16 feet above the ground, and supported by an overhead structure
  • The display system needed to be adaptive to line configuration changes and easy to modify.
  • Information for the Andon Displays would come from monitoring/mining the data from the Line Control PLCs. Monitoring of the Line Control PLCs could not interfere with the normal functions of the PLC
  • The system needed to provide an audio response to the display of an event on the Andon Displays

Custom Design

The automotive manufacturers’ requirements required the engineers of Matrix to think outside the box in terms of hardware, software and application to create a solution customized to the manufacturer’s requirements.

For the display mount, Matrix designed a custom, heavy-duty, back-to-back mounts that could be suspended from an overhead structure and accept two 65” or larger LED televisions. The mount had an interior shelf to allow for placement of an ACP thin-client and other hardware. Top and side access panels allowed for access to the interior hardware, with the two TVs still-mounted, from a lift or ladder.

Chassis Andon Display Board, with no active alarms, showing current line status.

Solid System Architecture

To make an adaptive display, Matrix used a ThinManager thin-client/server architecture that connected to a GE Proficy iFIX terminal server. Proficy iFIX was used to monitor the Line Control PLCs and present an adaptive visual display, as well as provide audio alerts dedicated to designated areas of the line(s) to the factory floor through the 65” displays and mounted speakers.

Adaptive Andon

The adaptive display was designed to provide line station status (numbers at the top of the display) and production pace information (six display areas) when production was running smoothly. When an equipment, process or quality issue occurred, the production pace information would be replaced by large red or yellow description of the issue accompanied by the audio alert dedicated for the issue. Once the issue was resolved, the visual and audio alert would disappear and the production pace information would return to the display.


The initial project was to replace three obsolete Andon boards. The manufacturer was so satisfied with the results that an additional nine displays were replaced by Matrix and three new, larger, shop status display boards were added to the Andon system. The manufacturer also requested pricing for the adaptive displays to be installed on 4 additional lines at their plant for 2018.

Matrix Technologies, Inc. is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our automotive manufacturing services, contact Aaron Hilbers Senior Project Engineer (Team Leader) in the Industrial Systems Division, Indianapolis.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Food Packaging – Part 1: Hidden Project Risks in Carton & Case Count Reductions

Food Packaging – Part 1: Hidden Project Risks in Carton & Case Count Reductions

As marketing teams in the food industry battle for the consumer’s attention on the shelf, they must also meet the needs of retailers with packaging that takes less shelf space and increases product turns. These retailer requirements often lead to packaging redesigns to reduce carton counts, case counts, and even pallet sizes, as retailers seek shelf-ready packaging (SRP) formats and more flexibility for distribution.

However, even a “minor format change” can have hidden risks with large impacts on both the capital project cost and the final cost of goods that go far beyond the additional corrugate.

Adopting a preliminary engineering methodology provides food manufacturers the critical opportunity to investigate alternative packaging specifications and project scopes before large amounts of time and money are wasted on a plan that will never achieve an acceptable internal rate of return (IRR).

This article, part one of a three-part series, explains how small packaging changes can lead to major capital expenditures and how a Preliminary Engineering Assessment by Matrix Technologies helped a large food manufacturer reduce its capital project budget by 50%.

Two Approaches to Execution

Many capital projects follow a linear flow that begins with a new package specification, establishing a budget and then a race to get long-lead time equipment on order. This linear approach prioritizes responding to customer demand by delivering a product to market as quickly as possible, which may be useful for projects with low complexity or high risk tolerance.

Typical linear flow of packaging specifications driving capital project costs

A second approach to project execution recognizes that responding to customer demand is not just about speed, but also about promptly executing the right project for the business as a whole. The wrong scope with unexpected technical and financial challenges can stress already limited margins and engineering staff.

A preliminary engineering assessment of a capital project enables food manufacturers to identify the right project with the right scope that can be executed efficiently.

Project scope vetted through Preliminary Engineering Assessment

When considering what approach is best for an application, it’s important to carefully consider the hidden costs that can reduce IRR and challenge an otherwise straightforward project.

Case and carton count reductions are a perfect example. Decreasing the amount of product per unit while maintaining the same overall volume can bottleneck previously efficient equipment; critical pieces of legacy equipment may no longer be adaptable due to the loss of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) support; additional materials may require unavailable storage and floor space; and additional manpower may be required to replenish machines. The list quickly grows long.

Matrix Technologies, a leading food and beverage engineering company, has extensive experience in preliminary engineering assessments. Matrix recently used a preliminary engineering assessment to help a large food manufacturer navigate the packaging changes the client required to remain competitive, achieve the client’s marketing goals, and reduce the initial capital budget estimates by almost 50%.

The Client’s Challenge

A large manufacturer in the snack food market needed to update its successful but outdated Point of Sale (POS) packaging. Marketing required the current double face cartons reduced to a single face with pack counts and pallet heights reduced by half.

Point of Sale shelf space with single and double face cartons.

Implementing the Method

The food and beverage engineering team at Matrix developed utilization models to understand the impact of this packaging change across the manufacturing network. The models included two sites with over 100 SKUs and were validated against historical production, seasonal peak demand, and projected future growth data. Using these models, strategies were developed to shift production volumes between sites, update existing equipment, purchase new equipment, and expand plant facilities.

Chart showing projected equipment utilization by period for the original packaging specifications. Three new legs are required and utilization targets are still exceeded.

After careful analysis of the original packaging specifications, it was determined that no strategy met Marketing’s initial requirements while providing a positive IRR. Had this manufacturer opted for a linear approach without a Preliminary Engineering Assessment, long lead equipment would have been ordered without an understanding of the true magnitude of investment required throughout the entire downstream process and the project would have never achieved a favorable IRR.

Instead, Packaging Design and Marketing used the initial preliminary engineering results to collaborate on a revised carton design, incorporating recommendations for slightly larger carton and case counts that could better utilize the existing equipment infrastructure.

Engineering Results

Matrix engineers reevaluated the new packaging specifications and determined that, in conjunction with slight adjustments to the timing of inventory builds to meet peak demands, this new carton allowed existing equipment to be retrofitted with only modest investment in new equipment, and avoiding major investment in downstream systems. Both groups won: Consumers and retailers received the product they demanded and the business received a favorable IRR.

Chart showing projected equipment utilization across the network for the revised packaging specs. Only one new leg is required and utilization targets are not exceeded.

Realizing Value

Packaging changes are often viewed as low risk, particularly when the package size is reduced but stays within the size capability of the equipment, and when production volumes remain constant.

However, the details of production rates and the complete process design associated with making “just a minor format change…” can create serious challenges for the project team. A Preliminary Engineering Assessment removes these obstacles and provides the project a path to success.

Next post: Part 2, How to Leverage a Preliminary Engineering Assessment to Save Your Packaging Project.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To discuss a project, or learn more about our Packaging Services, contact Brandon Grodi, PE.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.