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A pressure vessel, as a type of unit, is one of the most important components in industrial and petrochemical process plants. In the broad sense, the term pressure vessel encompasses a wide range of unit heat exchangers, reactors, storage vessels, columns, separation vessels, etc. (See also Mechanical Design of Heat Exchangers.) Because of the risks that would be associated with any accidental release of contents, in many countries the production and operation of pressure vessels are controlled by legislation. This legislation may define the national standard to which the pressure vessel is to be designed, the involvement of independant inspection during construction, and subsequently the regular inspection and testing during operation. Some national pressure vessel standards such as ASME VIII (1993) or BS5500 (1994) have effectively the status of defacto international standards.

Operational Requirements

The first step in this design procedure is to set down the operational requirements. These are imposed on the vessel as part of the overall plant and include the following:
  1. Operating pressure: As well as the normal steady operating pressure, the maximum maintained pressure needs to be defined. Regulations and/or standards will define how this maximum pressure is translated into vessel design pressure.
  2. Fluid conditions: Maximum and minimum fluid temperatures will need to be specified and translated into metal design temperatures. Fluid physical and chemical properties will influence material choice and specific gravity will affect support design.
  3. External loads: Loads to be considered include wind, snow, and local loads such as piping reactions and dead weight of equipment supported from the vessel.
  4. Transient conditions: Some vessels may require an assessment of cyclic loads resulting from operating pressure, temperature, structural and acoustic vibration loading.

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