Top Ten Tips for Tower Troubleshooting

By Bernie Slade

Not all towers are the same, but they share some fundamentals. The troubleshooting tips listed below can be used across a wide variety of towers to help bring about an efficient resolution to most problems.

  1. Talk to the process operators. They have a wealth of knowledge even when expressed in non technical language.
  2. Verbal descriptions of a problem can be misleading. Often, selective information is provided unwittingly. You need to dig deep into the problem and obtain input from multiple sources.
  3. Gamma scans are a relatively cheap and highly efficient way to obtain crucial information. “Seeing” into a tower always helps.
  4. Instruments are not always correct. Heat and material balances will highlight discrepancies.
  5. You can never have enough “good” data. Data collected at varying operating conditions is particularly useful.
  6. Critical laboratory results should be verified by an external lab.
  7. A field visit is important to verify the P&ID’s for the tower piping, etc. Many drawings are not up-to-date.
  8. Tower internal drawings often do not reflect changes made at turnarounds and shutdowns. Talk to the tray or packing vendors, but even this may not be enough.
  9. Be present at the tower opening for the initial inspection. Trust your instincts, if something feels wrong, it most likely is wrong.
  10. Verify personally that the tower internal modifications are correct at the final inspection. Try to be onsite for the initial startup phase of the tower.