cruise ship funnel fire

Thermal FMEA by Forensic Process Engineers


We are chartered mechanical engineers undertaking forensic investigations for civil & criminal inquiries, further qualified as chartered engineering designers for product- and process-related confidential internal investigations, dispute resolution & FMEA procedures. Dove Thermal Director Malcolm Robins is a member of the UK Heat Transfer Society.

A Diversity of Cases ...

Resonant Failure

A third of the 6000 tubes in a large thermal recuperator (erected in Kentucky) failed within 24 hours of start-up. During warm-through, only a very light, temperate flow of combustion products had passed over the matrix. We were commissioned to undertake a design fault investigation, which showed that the Strouhal Number for the tubular array indicated these conditions to correspond with those necessary for vortex-shedding. It was further demonstrated that the frequency at which this occurred coincided with the tubes' natural resonant frequency at the prevailing temperature, causing failure under high cycle fatigue. As forensic engineer to the State Court of Ohio in Cleveland, we presented our thermal failure mode analysis over the course of a five-day hearing and received commendations from attorneys on both sides.

More on Tubes

As remarked elsewhere in these pages, the Environment Agency had been called in response to complaints of excessive vapour plume emission from the exhaust stack of a biomass-fired flat plate shell boiler. While the Design FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) indicated that the system was losing water, visual inspections had showed no defect. Thermal failure mode analysis showed the system to be losing water through faulty boiler tubes. It could not explain why the seam welder had "missed" a significant length of run as the formed section passed through the mill, nor how inspections at tubemill, stockholder, converter and the boiler manufacturer had all passed unnoticed.

A Question of Value

We had been appointed investigating forensic engineer for the defence in a criminal prosecution. Its operatives had admitted to sabotaging a high pressure plant for essential oils extraction. Although they had claimed it to be dangerous, each one of them faced a long prison term - given that the owners had said it was worth a seven-figure sum. However, its price was not its value. Site inspection prompted us to undertake a full FMEA, from which it emerged that the equipment had never worked in commercial production, and could not be made to work save at disproportionate expense; also, that its design and construction presented clear operational risk. The men were fined and released.

Change of Working Conditions

A leading manufacturer of waste heat boilers and economisers engaged us as forensic engineer to investigate the increasing incidences of ship's funnel fires. Searches at Lloyds of London revealed little of direct interest, while inquiry into the clients' design procedures showed them to be entirely conventional. Our analysis of reporting dates reflected a history co-incident with changing practices in ship operation - particularly the burning of increasingly heavy cuts of fuel oil and much-reduced times alongside. The thermal failure mode analysis of current operating profiles showed uncombusted heavy oil fractions to layer a tacky film onto tubes and flue walls at the end of one operating cycle, attracting solid smuts from incomplete combustion upon the next cool start. We demonstrated that temperatures would then rise during warm-through until the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) was exceeded within the economiser tubestack, with ignition caused by sparks entrained in the exhaust gas stream.

Other examples include resolving the failure of a large perforated calender during commissioning of a new lofted absorbent tissue production line, thermal behaviour of rotor blades in military helicopters, and the design fault investigation of a new low pressure hot water boiler plant installed on the campus of a British university.

Keyword References:

Forensic Expert Witness

We provide forensic services related to heating and cooling, process and design, plant and refrigeration, and thermal engineering issues. Dove Thermal has been investigating and reporting upon a wide variety of engineering and systems failures for over thirty years: from furnace plant to dyehouse emissions, ships' funnel fires to environmental noise, from boiler materials failure to furnace plant collapse

Forensic Refrigeration Engineer

Failure of refrigeration machinery at fish processing plant : It was found the compressor lubrication failures had been over-ridden by fitting of over-size fuses, creating fire safety hazard.

Forensic Cooling Engineer

Spurious Fault Analysis : Several container loads of used refrigerators failed electrical tests and their export license was revoked. We found that the appliances had been stored on their sides, and sufficient time had not been allowed for equilibration of the refrigerant.

Forensic Design Engineer

Faulty ‘Fridge-Freezers : Condensate drainage problems found to result from design fault in rear cabinet moulding. The appliance was assessed unfit for purpose, and compensation arranged for purchasers of the model at issue.

Forensic Plant Engineer

Structural integrity of a pair of steam ploughing engines : Following purchase at auction, the new owner complained of asbestos boiler lagging – which was typical for their vintage. Inspection of the fireboxes found that caustic cracking and defective rivetting to be his reason for wishing to revert the deal.

Forensic Heating Engineer

Aquaculture systems failure : Stock was being lost through pond temperature variation and water quality arising from faulty heating equipment. We undertook an FMEA, then designed and project managed rectification works.

Forensic Heat Transfer Engineer

Flawed soft drinks manufacturing line : The plant was capable only of achieving reliable production at a reduced rate through the defective closure of filled plastic trays, so that its worth was proportional only to that rate. The cause was traced to a fundamental design fault, whose correction was specified and costed.

Forensic Thermal Engineer

Defective electric boiler : We were asked to investigate the cause of fires in a Chinese-built mash boiler. Additional to various structural issues, we found that the main fuses could fail to protect its electrical circuits, and operation of it thermal cut-outs was faulty. This was a case where the product could not be redeemed at reasonable cost, and we advised against further imports.

Dove Thermal Engineering Limited, Uttoxeter, ST14 8QX

Telephone: 01889 569933