Titanium tube sheet oil cooler from Sterling Thermal Technology

Heat exchanger tube sheets for challenging operations

Heat exchanger tube sheets are a supporting element that can help heat exchangers adapt to challenging operations, conditions and environments. Learn more about how the different types of heat exchanger tube sheets are used.

Sterling TT designs and manufactures bespoke heat exchangers. We can also offer a repair, refurbishment or replacement service for existing heat exchangers.

What is a heat exchanger tube sheet?

A heat exchanger tube sheet is a plate with holes drilled in at optimal positions. Tubes then pass through these holes. The tube sheet holds the tubes in place within the heat exchanger.

In shell and tube heat exchangers, two plates support the tubes, one on each end. Fluid passes through the tubes while a second fluid (coolant) flows within the shell surrounding the tubes.

Tube sheet types

Heat exchanger engineers can design tube sheets in different ways to support specific and challenging operations.

Fixed tube sheet heat exchangers

Fixed tube sheets are perhaps the most ‘standard’ form of tube sheet. They are used when there are no harsh or challenging operating conditions. It describes straight tubes that are fixed to the shell at both ends.

Double tube sheets for heat exchangers

Double tube sheets are used in operations when it’s vital that the substances in the heat exchanger don’t mix. They prevent cross-contamination.

With a single tube sheet design, the tube-to-tube join at the sheet can allow small amounts of contamination between the tube-side and shell-side fluids. There is no known joining method which completely eliminates the risk of contamination, so instead, heat exchangers that must avoid contamination use a double tube sheet.

A double tube sheet, as it sounds, includes two tube sheets. In the event of a leak, the tube-side fluid collects between the two tube sheets, instead of leaking into the shell where the shell-side fluid is contained.

There are a wide range of operations in which this could be vital.

In some countries, it’s the law for heat exchangers in power plant condensers to use double tube sheets. It prevents the coolant, which often contains a lot of impurities, contaminating the condensate. This could otherwise lead to serious chemical reactions, risking the safety of the plant.

Double tube sheets are also commonly used in generators for marine environments. For example, in submarines.

Sterling TT has experience designing and manufacturing heat exchangers for use within power generation industries, including in renewable energy, and heat exchangers for defence.

Floating tube sheets

Floating tube sheets, sometimes referred to as a floating head, have one end fixed to the shell while the other ‘floats’ freely.

This form of heat exchanger tube sheet is important where the product undergoes dynamic temperature changes. This could be a heat exchanger that has a cycle of hot and then cold mediums.

Temperature changes can cause the tubes to expand or shrink. Where both ends are fixed, the pressure on the metal could cause leaks or damage. A floating design prevents stress on the joints by allowing for shrinkage and expansion.

It’s also helping in industries that process substances which leave sediment or other build up. In a floating tube sheet design, the tube bundle can be removed for cleaning or inspection.

Floating tube sheet applications

Floating tube sheets are the most common form of tube sheets used in heat exchangers.

At Sterling TT, we use them in oil to water transformer coolers, but they have a huge number of applications. They are often found in heat exchangers for chemical and petrochemical industries.

Heat exchanger tube sheets are an essential element, particularly in shell and tube designs. Different designs can help the heat exchanger to function in more challenging operating environments. They can reduce the risk of contamination, adapt to dynamic temperatures or allow for easier cleaning and maintenance.

Looking for an efficient, high-quality heat exchanger solution? Get in touch with Sterling TT today.


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