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Posted: 21 Oct '14

It’s Just A Filter…..Isn’t It?

It’s Just A Filter…..Isn’t It?

There is a lot of misinformation and much confusion about filtration and how important it is to the scope of a project and the ramifications of misapplied technology for various process applications. Many times engineers are left with a space to fill in on a P & ID for a filter, and a lot of times the data sheets have so much contradictory or dated information that has been copied over the years that the decision for filters is viewed as a necessary evil to be left up to ABC Filter Company to fill in the blanks. In some cases the filter supplier does make educated proposals that are valid, but in many more, the wrong decisions are made and the customer is left with a filtration system that is poorly sized or in some cases is the wrong technology for the particular process.

Over the past 30 years I have seen first hand, equipment that is undersized, incorrect media and micron choices are made, filtration technologies are misapplied and the whole process suffers. My greatest concerns is that filters are seen in a  non-critical light and something which can be fixed or fine-tuned in the field by operations people, and as long as something is in place, the process will work. This is very dated thinking and in many cases has resulted in filtration being seen as a commodity item and many filter salespeople seen as charlatans who all sell the same thing with false promises to improve things.Unfortunately I have experienced this myself and not to knock all salespeople, as many have the customers’ best interest in mind, but sometimes little can be done to improve a poorly designed filtration system. Many operators have tried a long drawn out trial and error process with different filters which has left much doubt by operation’s staff if there really is any difference in filter technologies except the price of the product and in many cases the cheapest product chosen for all the wrong reasons. This can lead to detrimental results and cost overruns which have done little to improve the customers’ bottom line. In times when it is becoming even more difficult to meet production and profit targets this area should be given serious consideration.

Some of the areas of concerned based on wrong filtration selections at the design and proposal stage have resulted in detrimental loss of production, environmental non- compliance issues, excess maintenance costs and a significant reduction in profitability. I will briefly note a few items across some process areas which are by no means all inclusive to the issue:

1. Amine foaming and loss of plant output which results in loss revenue

2. Excess chemical costs to reduce foaming tendencies because of inefficient or undersized filtration packages

3. Heat exchanger tube fouling and hotspots resulting in increased maintenance and other ancillary costs

4. Carbon bed fouling due to poor pre-filtration and in some cases poorly designed towers that are just ineffective for the removal; of dissolved organics, contributing to extra operational and disposal costs

5. Undersized filtration systems which cannot operate efficiently resulting in many downstream rotating equipment problems and adding to maintenance frustration with packages that just do not work

6. Frustration by maintenance can lead to poor choices in choosing micron sizes that are wrong for the application (i.e. higher microns to avoid too frequent changes) or in severe cases downright bypassing of the system altogether as it is prohibitively just not feasible to operate

7. Plugged disposal wells and irreparable damage done to the producing zone matrix resulting in lost production

8. Off spec product that can result in a plant being shut down for pipeline quality not being met. This can be the result of poorly designed filtration systems that allow carryover of hydrocarbons and various process solvents

9. Non-compliance for meeting quality discharge specifications can result in costly fines and shutting down of various land and offshore processes drastically affecting the operator's cash flow

10. Excess landfill and other disposal costs which can affect a producers’ goal of being more environmentally friendly for future generations

Obviously it would take volumes to go into all the process details that need to be addressed, to cover all the above points, but it should however be noted that filters and filtration systems are a critical component of any operational process and need to be viewed as such. Poor or misinformed choices at the design stage can and will dramatically affect the success of a production facility for years to come. Ensuring there is no disconnect between what the head office requires and ensuring that the operation teams are included should be paramount to ask all the right questions upfront and choosing knowledgeable suppliers who have the experience and integrity to provide the correct answers. Please contact us if there is anything we can do to help you choose the right filtration system for your needs.

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