The failure analysis of complex heat transfer systems can often benefit from a detailed heat transfer simulation by a qualified expert consultant. A heat transfer simulation relies on numerical heat transfer methods that have been incorporated into a software package. The insight gained from developing a realistic computer model can save time over having to conduct another heat transfer test.
The key concept in applying or even reviewing a detailed heat transfer simulation is to understand the fundamentals of heat and mass transfer for the problem. The types of questions that need to be asked by consultants with expertise include:
  • What is the heat transfer fluid?
    • Are the characteristics of the heat transfer fluid well understood?
    • Did the consultant conduct any tests with the actual heat transfer fluid?
    • Does the heat transfer fluid undergo phase change?
    • Did the heat transfer designs properly consider the heat transfer fluid properties?
    • Did the heat transfer designs within the system properly evaluate all potential heat transfer fluids?
    • Does orientation of any of the components impact the performance of the heat transfer fluid?
    • Was an appropriate high temperature heat transfer fluid selected to be the heat transfer fluid within the different system components by your selected expert?
  • Is there radiant heat transfer in the failure analysis?
    • If there is radiant heat transfer, were the radiation view factors properly calculated by your experts?
    • Did the radiant heat transfer model properly consider the surface properties of the materials?
  • Does the heat exchange and transfer in the system occur at one or more locations?
    • Does the amount of heat transfer and fluid flow matter at all heat exchange and transfer locations?
    • Does the physical orientation of the heat transfer systems matter?
  • Does the numerical heat transfer model properly handle the appropriate physics of the problem?
    • If a computational fluid mechanics and heat transfer simulation was performed for the heat transfer systems, did they validate their model?
    • Was the expert performing the heat transfer simulation experienced in modeling the heat transfer fluid?
  • Were experimental heat transfer tests conducted as part of the design validation?
    • Did the heat transfer test properly test the system?
    • Did the heat transfer fluid pass all of the tests conducted by your chosen experts?
    • Were the experimental heat transfer tests conducted in a manner that their results could be used to validate the numerical heat transfer model?
  • Does the failure analysis need to consider the material properties of system components?
    • Does it appear that corrosion resulted from the use of the heat transfer fluid?
    • Have other failures resulted in the industry from using a similar heat transfer fluid?
  • Do other similar heat transfer designs exist?
  • Did the company or expert have any previous experience with similar heat transfer designs?
Questions like these above are just a small sampling of all the complex issues that need to be addressed in heat transfer systems and the heat transfer designs of new systems. As should be readily apparent, there are many factors that need to be evaluated during the failure analysis of complex heat transfer systems.

This article was written by Randy Clarksean, Ph.D., P.E., President of Kevin Kennedy Associates Inc. Randy has over 25 years of engineering, failure analysis and expert witness testimony experience. Randy can be reached at 317-536-7010 or via email at RandyC@KevinKennedyAssociates.com.

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