Steam Tracing Overview

heat tracing
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The general practice of heating piping as materials flow through it to keep the materials at a constant temperature and compensate for heat loss is known as heat tracing. In the case of steam tracing, the heat is accomplished with steam. Other options include electrical heat tracing, where electrical heating elements are wrapped around piping to provide a consistent supply of heat.

For steam tracing, a small diameter tubing is run alongside the large pipe used for moving materials. A conductive compound is smeared between the two pipes so heat will transfer easily from the steam pipe to the main pipe. Both pipes are wrapped in insulation and jacketing to minimize heat loss as much as possible and provide protection from the elements. Steam tracing can be used to maintain a desired viscosity, prevent freezing of transported materials, or control temperatures to keep pressure within safe ranges. These systems can be found in a variety of industrial environments, along with the boilers and support equipment needed to keep the heat tracing system running. When a steam tracing system is designed, an engineer must consider the materials being transported in the pipe, the width of the main pipe, and the rate of anticipated heat loss once insulation is taken into account.

Pipe Steam Tracing

Steam Tracing is a process that is designed to prevent heat loss as materials are moved through a plumbing system. This is a common application for steam tracing systems in the oil industry, where the tubing at refineries is commonly fitted with steam tracing equipment. Using this technique allows manufacturers to control temperatures in their pipes, keeping their processes safe as well as efficient.

Steam tracing is described by attaching a tubing (Copper or Stainless) containing saturated steam, also known as the "tracer", parallel to the process fluid pipe. The two pipes are then also insulated together with the specified insulation and jacketed. Steam tracing is more labor intensive to install than electrical heat tracing, but there are very few risks associated with it. The temperature of the tracer also cannot exceed the maximum saturation temperature of the steam, as it operates at specific steam pressures. Steam Tracing may be done in one of two ways. Bare steam tracing is the most popular choice as it is fairly easily installed and maintained and it is ideally suited to lower temperature requirements. It is simply composed of a half inch or three quarters of an inch tubing (Copper or Stainless) attached to the process fluid pipe by straps and both pipes are then insulated together. The other available option is to make use of cemented steam tracing, during which heat conductive cement is placed around the steam tracer running parallel to the process fluid pipe in an attempt to increase the contact area available for heat transfer, between the tracer and the process fluid pipe.

Different Steam Applications

Pipe heat tracing
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