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Laser Flatness Inspection

Laser Flatness Inspection

If you’ve used dial indicators for your flatness inspections before, then you know that is a slow, bulky process that only allows you to get a select few done due to time constraints.

When checking flatness before a startup, you’re limited to a few critical flanges and are rolling the dice on the rest, hoping that no leaks show up when your system is running again.

But what if it was possible to inspect all your surfaces in a fraction of the time and with greater accuracy?

That’s what you get with Laser Flatness Inspection(LFI).

You can inspect all flanges before your next startup instead of just a few critical ones so that you’re 100% confident that those flanges won’t produce leaks.

The lasers used in LFI provide you accurate readings on all your flatness checks, above and beyond what is possible with dial gauges.


– Laser Flatness Inspection, by Don Cooper

The real benefit of laser flatness inspection over traditional methods is speed and accuracy. It’s about being able to capture way more inspections, and way more cost effectively.

FARO lazer flatness inspection
FARO Laser Tracker.

When I was a field machinist, as a technician, we would set up a piece of flange facing equipment – let’s say a sixty inch machine on one component of a heat exchanger, and we’d have to zero it in so we could dial it in to be able to give you a flatness report on that particular component.

Now setting up a sixty inch flange facer, getting it ready and performing that run out could take anywhere from six to twelve hours depending on where in the facility that particular component is.

So you’re dedicating a machinist and field machining equipment to do one laser flatness inspection, maybe two in one shift. Now, if you take a laser flatness instrument, with an inspection technician, you can shoot that flange in twenty or thirty minutes.

And because it’s a computer generated report, we can instantly import that into our flange management software and give you a detailed report that you can use in your turnover packages.

So that within an hour, you could have a go/no go report with all the details in terms of the highs and lows on that flange that you need to make decisions about – whether or not components need to be machined.

At the same time, that piece of field machining equipment that you used to use can now be dedicated specifically with a different crew to just do the field machining.


It Takes Time

Now, what happens on a turnaround with traditional dial indicator methods using field machinists, is it takes so long, and it’s relatively expensive, because you’re tying up very expensive flange facing equipment.

So, customers have to be very selective on which flanges they’re going to use to dial in. And if you’re taking apart fifty, or one hundred, heat exchangers, each of those heat exchangers could have two, four, six, or eight different gasketed surfaces.

And you’re going to have to be selective over what you inspect with a dial gauge and set of dial indicators because it takes so long.

So most of the time, what happens on a turnaround is you end up just dialing in the dozen or so critical flanges that you’ve already had a problem with, and you’re trying to verify if you need to machine them.

Now, what happens is that the other hundreds of components, gasketed surfaces that might have an issue – you don’t inspect them at all. And you’re basically rolling the dice on startup.

And you don’t inspect flatness on most of the issues. And that’s generally where customers run into problems is they end up missing warpage and imperfections on flanges that weren’t caught because they were looking for where they knew they had a problem.

And they weren’t doing preventative inspection.

With laser flatness inspection, because it’s so fast and because it’s cost effective relative to each component inspected, and you’re not tying up field machining resources, you can inspect them all.


Greatly Improved Accuracy

So we’ve had clients who have inspected 300 gasketed surfaces. And there’s a couple interesting things we found.

We’ve often found that when we were checking the work of the dial indicator, we found that the laser either found defects that dial indicators didn’t, or it eliminated defects that were thought to be there because there was some imperfection in how an individual machinist set up a dial indicator.

And they could be off by five or ten thousandths of an inch, which could the difference between machining or not machining.

The other thing is that about 10% of the components that we inspect that weren’t part of the traditional dial indicator plan, were actually found to be the ones that had defects that were going to be missed. And those would have been the leakers.

Now, if you’ve got a sixty inch heat exchanger, and you miss ten flange warpness issues, flatness issues, and those lead to a leak – each of those leaks could bring your plant down, or could cause a fire.

But at a very minimal, you’re going to end up having a leak containment device and a sixty inch clamp for a heat exchanger that can run into the tens of thousands even into hundreds of thousands in startup Leak Repair cost. It could be avoided with what is fundamentally a $500 laser flatness inspection for a single component.

So tremendous value, very much about preventative maintenance, giving you a full spectrum picture of all of your large diameter heat exchanger components.

With Laser Flatness Inspection, you’re going to achieve huge amounts of cost effectiveness with productivity and with safety, using technology that helps make your project more efficient and leak free.


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