Canada Piping Engineering Services



Piping Engineering is a discipline that is rarely taught in a university setting, but is extremely important for the safety of plant personnel, safety of the public, and reliability of a facility.

The Goal of Piping Engineering is:







When plant evaluations and repairs of existing pipe, are being performed, often plant operations and maintenance personnel ask, “Is it going to be safe to work around here?” An answer they always appreciate from the piping engineer; “I’ll be out here checking on the pipe when the plant starts up.” The plant personnel just want to be assured that we are doing everything in our power to make the piping system safe to operate. This experience leads to a more personal definition of Piping Engineering:


To the uninitiated, this personal definition may seem a little alarmist, but it is based on reality. Pipes do fail, and sometimes with catastrophic results. Operations and maintenance personnel at plants understand the potential risks. While some major failures of high pressure lines have killed personnel, sometimes even relatively low pressure releases can cause injury and extended plant shutdowns. A release of toxic, flammable fluids or hazardous chemicals is a tremendous risk to personnel and neighbors and a large financial risk to operators.

Engineers sometimes get caught up in the numbers and minute detail of the designs. While details are important, it is also important to personalize the work and think about the full picture of the installation, and the long - term equipment’s use. While you may not be standing next to that pipe or equipment, someone will be – and their safety should always be in your mind when considering if all appropriate considerations have been made, and the calculations are accurate.


On the surface, pipe is pretty simple – a round bar with a hole in it to transport a fluid or gas. However, there is no other equipment within a typical plant that is subjected to so many different loading conditions over its life.

  • Pipe is supported at point locations, and must be able to support itself without undue sagging or bowing.

  • The weight of the pipe may change from empty to full at times, which on large diameter pipes can create dead weight double or triple the empty weight.

  • Temperatures vary from ambient to operating, sometimes greater than 1200F in process or steam systems, or less than -300F in a cryogenic application.

  • As the pipe heats and cools it moves due to thermal expansion. Pipe flexibility and pipe supports must accommodate this movement.

  • Pipe is attached to equipment, which has a limited capacity to support the pipe.

  • As the pipe ages, it tries to find its lowest stress level, and thus it “relaxes” – almost always into a different position than the theoretical analysis calculates.

  • Flexible pipe is sometimes analogous to supporting spaghetti, as it bends and twists from all of its various loading conditions. Changing a support in one location sometimes has a major effect on pipe movement 80 feet away.

  • Depending on the operating conditions, the pipe material may degrade over time due to creep, embrittlement or some other metallurgical phenomena.

  • Pipe stress analysis is not very exact. There is a great deal of judgment that is required in evaluating the results.

  • Standard pipe specifications allow +, - 12.5% variation in wall thickness. While most pipe thickness is within 1% to 2% of nominal; at any welded joints, the actual wall thickness may be 12.5% different than expected.

  • There are a high number of different components in each piping system: elbows, straight pipe, reducers, valves, flow meters, thermowells, pressure taps, branch connections, flanges, gaskets, bolts, etc. In a typical plant, when the sizes and schedules of all these components are counted, there may be much more than 10,000 different components.

This represents a large quantity of data to understand, and to properly identify and track through the design, installation and operation of plants.

  • Even with great engineering and design, the installation is subject to irregularities in the fabrication and erection of the pipe. Pipe fitters will rotate weld joints and pull pipe to “make the pipe fit”. While some of this can be controlled with very strict Quality Assurance, the reality is that it will occur. Engineering must try to control and then assure enough conservatism in the design that fabrication tolerances do not create significant problems.

  • Pipe has its limitations in age and usage. Pipe may corrode, erode, metallurgical characteristics may age; all of which will change its strength and flexibility characteristics.

  • Pipe supports springs can wear out, or fail due to overload, corrosion or other external factors.

  • Modifications have often been made to existing piping systems without sufficient consideration, and the result has been damaged pipe and an unreliable plant.


The specification is designed to introduce you to the basic concepts of piping engineering. By reading the specifications, manuals and codes you should know

  • The location of information on the design, engineering, fabrication and inspection of pipe.

  • Understand how to identify a piping system

  • Understand the basic loading conditions

  • Understand the basic failure modes

  • Identify the different types of pipe supports and their purposes

  • Understand the information required to perform a pipe stress analysis.

There are several basic principles that will be described and stressed throughout this course.

  1. Piping systems can and do fail. Engineering should always consider possible failure modes and work to avoid the possibility that the piping system will fail.

  2. Even in the best-engineered systems, there are assumptions built into the design. The engineer and designer should recognize these assumptions and allow appropriate allowances.

  3. Pipe stress analysis is only one portion of piping engineering. There are other major considerations before performing the stress analysis. If the preparation work has been done well, very few piping system designs will fail the pipe stress evaluation criteria.

  4. Because of the high number of possible loading conditions, and the numerous variations in components that make up a typical piping system, it is doubtful if the pipe stress is accurate by better than plus - minus 20%. Do not design to the limit of the pipe allowable stress unless there is a good understanding of the loading conditions and a strong quality assurance program.

  5. Pipe must always be viewed as a system from equipment to equipment, including branch lines, and pipe supports.

  6. As with all engineering design, understand the purpose and operation of the system before performing the detailed design.

  7. Pipe is an industrial plant must be maintained. It is commonly thought that properly engineered and installed pipe is “good forever” and can be left as is. The vast majority of pipe will operate successfully for decades, but some systems are known to be susceptible to damage and failure. Periodic inspections and repairs should be planned and performed on the appropriate piping systems to assure safe and reliable operation.


Typically a Piping & Instrumentation Diagram (P&ID) drawing sets the fundamental requirements showing the pipe size, schematic of the equipment connections and primary branch connections. This is considered the starting point for Piping Engineering.

Before routing and engineering the pipe, a design basis must be set. In this section the basic requirements are defined. Later sections describe some of the requirement details.


The design basis for any project should state the required design codes for materials and equipment. This is usually set by the client, and the engineer should review the requirements to assure they are complete and not contradictory. Local laws may require special requirements for hurricanes, earthquakes or other public safety issues.

The base rules for piping engineering are the ASME B31 Codes (herein referred to as the Codes). Each Code provides the typical loading conditions to be considered; allowable stresses; minimum wall thickness calculations; and minimum fabrication, inspection and testing requirements. Other major codes are listed that may apply in certain situations. This is not an all-inclusive list

Depending on the plant location and the type of facility, it may be legally mandatory to comply with ASME and other codes. Even if there is no legal requirement, the client, and insurance underwriters may require compliance/with ASME codes. And at a minimum, good engineering practices should be followed that are described in the Codes.

If a facility is outside the United States there may be a set of international Codes that are prescribed.

In most plants, one piping code applies to all piping systems, but sometimes it is not appropriate to take this approach. A petrochemical plant may be designed to B31.3, but there may be a power boiler supplying power, and that piping should be designed to B31.1 and parts may be designed to ASME Boiler & Pressure Vessel Code. Pipelines designed to B31.4 and B31.8 may change to B31.3 when brought out of the ground for a compressor station or processing facility.

In the history of the B31 Codes before the 1960’s, all facility pipes were covered by one code. As plants became larger and more complicated, the attributes of typical plants lead to different loading conditions, and different methods of defining safety factors. If all pipe rules had been left in one Code, it is likely that undue conservatism would have been applied to large numbers of pipe in order to create a Code that “One size fits all.” Some of the driving factors to different approaches include:

  • Power piping is focused on high pressure and high temperature water and steam with very few chemicals. The plants tend to be vertical, which creates high thermal vertical movements that must be accommodated by spring supports. Plants are usually away from residential areas and the potential for damage to nearby landowners is typically insignificant.

  • Petrochemical plants typically operate at much lower pressures and temperatures than power plants, but the various chemicals result in corrosion issues, and the use of many special alloy materials. These plants are also laid out horizontally with most pipe supports being rigid on pipe racks. Plants are often in large industrial areas. If there is a fire or explosion, there is always a concern in minimizing the damage to the local area of a plant or unit within a plant. Explosions may release hazardous chemicals in the air or in water, and thus mechanical integrity must always be a primary design criterion.

  • Pipelines are typically underground with no thermal considerations. The pipes are not put in bending at supports, and thus design rules allow thinner pipe for the same pressure compared to B31.1 and B31.3. Pipelines may be in unpopulated areas, or running through suburban and urban areas. Because of the potential for damage to nearby landowners, rules are different based on the pipe’s proximity to populated areas.

There are a number of similarities in each Code, such as in the calculation of minimum wall thickness, inspection and testing. But the exact rules are different, depending on the type of facility. Allowable stresses are different in each code, reflecting a different factor of safety based on the expected use and operation of the facility.

The Codes contain some rules and minimum standards, but for the most part, they provide guidance and items to consider. For example, B31.1, says the “Design shall consider seismic events” but it provides no methodology to perform the calculations, or even a design basis to create the seismic loads.

Since the Codes provide minimum acceptance levels based on simplified approaches, more rigorous analysis, inspection and testing methods can be applied when appropriate.

The Codes are design codes and are not intended for maintenance and operation of piping systems. In the past few years some non-mandatory appendices have been adopted concerning maintenance, and it is expected that maintenance and inspection guidelines will be added in coming years. See for example, B31.1, Appendix V, Recommended Practice for Operations, Maintenance and Modifications of Power Piping Systems. API has several Recommended Practices for inspection and evaluation of piping, such as API 570, 574, 579 and 580.

Once a Code has been selected to apply to a particular piping system, only that code should be applied. For example, it is not allowed to use a minimum wall thickness calculation from B31.3, an allowable stress value from B31.8, and an inspection method from B31.1. While it appears obvious that we cannot “cherry pick” the aspects we like from each Code, there are many times that the Codes are incomplete or give no guidance for certain conditions. In these situations it is appropriate to research other codes, technical papers and other published documents for guidelines to properly engineer the piping system. With this information, a rational engineering judgment can be made that is at least as conservative as the governing Code.

Other standards that are often referenced in piping engineering are:

The rules and guidance in the Codes and standards are based on experience, laboratory tests, theoretical stress analysis, and good engineering judgment. Those who practice piping engineering must understand the applications of the rules, and be cognizant of types of fabrication, loading conditions and other factors that need to be considered in each piping system.

As with most Codes, rules and guidelines, there is almost no method to adequately provide rules for all possible loading conditions, piping configurations and applications. Even the most experienced piping engineers must consider the loading conditions that could apply to each piping system to assure that everything reasonable has been done to assure “It is safe for you to stand next to that pipe.”


Defining the appropriate loading conditions to be applied to each piping system is often the most difficult portion of the work. As will be clear in the later discussions, the routing of the pipe and the types of pipe supports and other considerations are based on the loading conditions. It is imperative that the loading conditions to be considered and the magnitude be defined before starting the detailed design. Otherwise, detail design may be a waste of time, and may lock in design constraints that cannot be resolved.

The loading conditions can be split into two groups, static and dynamic. The static loads also have a transition loading as pipe moves from one condition to another, but in most cases, the transition loading is not separately considered, unless it is so rapid as to be a dynamic load. Dynamic loads may be design requirements, such as safety valve thrust, but they may also be conditions that need to be avoided by proper engineering of valve operating speeds, proper draining, fluid velocities or other considerations.

Static Loading:
  1. Temperature – may be multiple operating temperatures and temperature cycles.

  2. Pressure – may be standard operating pressure, upset condition pressures and design pressure

  3. Equipment Movements – typically related to the thermal movement of the pipe as the equipment heats up and cools down. Equipment movement must also be considered in wind and seismic loading conditions.

  4. Dead weight, to include pipe, fluid, in-line components, insulation, branch lines, pipe support attachments, and any other attachments.

  5. Wind – while this is technically a dynamic condition, it is usually analyzed as an “equivalent static” condition.

  6. Cyclic conditions created by “batch” operations in which a pipe may be alternately filled and emptied many times a day. Depending on the process, this may need to be considered a “static fatigue” such as thermal, or a Dynamic Loading Condition.

Dynamic Loading:
  1. Steam hammer created by sudden closure of valves creating pressure waves in the pipe. These are typically very fast acting valves at 0.5 to 0.05 seconds, installed to protect turbine generators from over speed conditions.

  2. Surge or pressure waves caused by opening or closing in-line valves. This condition is differentiated from steam hammer, as this situation is often in pipelines, or other long pipes in which it may take minutes to establish or stop flow. If the valves operate too quickly, large unbalanced pressure forces can create a “surge”.

  3. Thrust created by safety valve, rupture disk or other devices openings for pressure relief of a system.

  4. Water hammer or other condition created by two phase flow. There are multiple definitions of water hammer, but some of the worst conditions are created by high temperature steam suddenly impacting water in a pipe. The sudden flashing of water to steam can be so great that there is no practical way to design for the loads. The engineering solution is to avoid the possibility of such a situation.

  5. Thermal shock from rapid cooling or heating of a pipe surface. Again this situation should be avoided by proper design, as most materials will crack and fail from thermal shock.

  6. Seismic event

  7. Pipe whip created by sudden fracturing of a pipe. This is a nuclear power plant consideration and not discussed in this course.

  8. Various upset conditions that can be created by an out of control chemical reaction. The usual consideration is temporary high temperature and/or high pressure operation. Depending on the transition speed during the upset condition, this might be analyzed as a static loading condition.

  9. Various upset conditions that can be caused by loss of controls to valves and other devices that may cause a sudden fail close or fail open condition that can create the pressure waves and thermal shock conditions.

  10. Flow induced vibrations can be created by various sources. A reciprocating compressor discharge pipe must be specifically designed with “bottles” to dampen the

vibration. Other sources of vibrations can be pumps, cycling valves, batch operation or multiple sources of fluids that may be mixed together. Except for the reciprocating compressor issue, rarely are flow induced vibrations analyzed, but reliance is made of using appropriate “Rules of thumb for velocities in pipes. If problems are observed in the field, then remedial methods are used.