Chromalloy’s Houston plant produces ground barite (barium sulfate), an abrasive compound used in drilling operations. It was wearing through the 4- and 5-inch pipe elbows in the pneumatic system used to transport it from Chromalloy’s grinding mills to storage tanks, causing elbow ruptures every 90 days on average. The high-density compound was also causing plugging problems that required frequent — and expensive — line shutdowns.
While the plugging problems could be fixed using a rather low-tech application of sledgehammers and compressed air, the ruptures were more difficult to resolve. Engineers tried “sandwiching” new pipe elbows over existing, worn elbows, encasing the space between them with concrete and other materials. But nothing made an appreciable improvement in elbow lifespan.
Barite plugs conventional elbows because of the way conventional elbows work. In a conventional elbow, materials hit the outer wall and slide along or impact it as they are routed in their new direction. Over time, this process destroys a conventional elbow. It also causes material to slow down as it passes through the elbow, causing plugging problems.
But then the engineers heard about HammerTek’s Smart Elbow deflection elbow, whose patented, spherical chamber creates a soft, rotating ball of product that deflects it without touching the elbow’s walls, greatly reducing or eliminating both problems.
Chromalloy replaced its conventional elbows with 4- and 5-inch cast-iron Smart Elbow models. Since the replacement, there has not been one case of pipe plugging. In fact, no maintenance of any kind has been needed. On top of that, the plant has found that less system pressure — and therefore less energy — is required for the barite to turn the bends in its line.