Shell and Tube Heat Exchangers

A staple of the heat exchange market

The shell and tube design is the most common heat exchanger used in industry today. They are utilised in almost every industry sector to serve various purposes.

Sterling Thermal Technology is a leading UK shell and tube heat exchanger supplier. We design, create and service a wide range of customised shell and tube heat exchangers and select the optimal configurations for your required outcomes.

Customised heat exchangers

Over 100 years of design & manufacturing knowledge

Your partner for the entire lifecycle of your business

Designing and manufacturing your shell and tube heat exchangers

Whether you are looking for small shell and tube heat exchangers or massive industrial shell and tube heat exchangers, Sterling Thermal Technology has the expertise to create the custom solution for your process.

We make shell and tube heat exchangers in various materials from traditional carbon steels and stainless steel, to exotic materials like Hastelloy and tantalum.

Our designs facilitate efficient heat exchange across most industries. Need to work with somebody for heat exchangers? Not sure which type will meet your needs? We can help.

icon of a quote mark“We chose Sterling TT to assist us with our ammonia cracking process for producing green hydrogen because of their ability to customise the shell and tube heat exchangers to our specific requirements. The design team at Sterling TT ensured they understood our needs thoroughly and delivered a solution to our expectations. Sterling TT’s expertise and dedication to customer satisfaction make them an invaluable partner in our journey towards sustainable energy production.”

Peter Zürcher, Project Manager, Cargo- and Fuel Systems, Wärtsilä Gas Solutions

Explaining the types of shell and tube heat exchangers

Shell and tube heat exchangers come in several forms, and there are different designs and features that allow us to easily categorise them. The three main types are fixed tube, u-tube, and floating head heat exchangers.

Fixed tube heat exchanger

With fixed tube heat exchangers, the shell and tube sheet are welded together, giving it its name “fixed tube”. With this type of heat exchanger, the tubes are straight, making maintenance of the tubes much simpler.

Generally speaking, this is the most popular type of heat exchanger on the market and is one of the cheapest options.

U-tube heat exchanger

Unlike the fixed-tube heat exchangers, an u-tube heat exchanger needs no additional expansion bellows to allow the tubes to expand. The tubes in this type of heat exchanger are not fixed to any joints, allowing them to freely expand as needed within the shell.

Floating head heat exchanger

Floating head heat exchangers are the standard heat exchanger in many industries that see a high build up of dirt. This is because the floating head heat exchanger is the easiest to clean.

With the floating heads design, the bundle can be removed entirely from the shell, allowing every part of the heat exchanger to be thoroughly examined and cleaned when necessary.

Other types

If you want an explanation of classification by process and phase change, plus more details on the three types described above, you can read our full article: Types of shell and tube heat exchanger.

How does an industrial shell and tube heat exchanger work?

shell and tube heat exchanger diagram produced by Sterling Thermal TechnologyThis type of heat exchanger consists of a shell with a bundle of tubes inside it. One fluid runs through the tubes, and another fluid flows over them. Heat is transferred through the walls of the tubes between the two fluids, cooling one and heating the other.

The applications include coolers for lubrication oils and OFWF for transformers, an enhanced shell and tube with a double-wall arrangement to protect from cross-contamination. There are multiple arrangements possible, including U-tube, fixed tube, or a floating head configuration.

The design of a shell and tube heat exchanger

photo of a shell and tube heat exchanger for an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) application designed & manufactured by Sterling Thermal Technology
shell and tube heat exchanger for an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) application

When we look at the design of shell and tube heat exchangers, we can see they have multiple key components. These include the shell, the tube bundle, tube pitch, channels or heads, tube sheets, expansion joints, baffles, and extended surface fins.

When all the components of a shell and tube heat exchanger work together, the heat exchanger can cool with maximum efficiency. Read our detailed article for more information: Using shell and tube heat exchangers.

Different layouts, materials and other design features affect the efficiency of the cooling. Sterling TT’s designers carefully consider these aspects to ensure the heat exchanger fully play its role in the process.

Shell and tube heat exchanger standards and specifications

Our heat exchangers meet or exceed the rigorous standards and guidelines that are expected by the industry. When we specifically look at shell and tube heat exchangers, these standards can be broken down into TEMA and API.

TEMA standards

TEMA Standards, which stands for Tubular Exchanger Manufacturers Association Standards, serve as a comprehensive set of guidelines governing the manufacturing, maintenance, and operation of heat exchangers and their components. These standards encompass construction techniques and quality control measures to ensure the reliability and effectiveness of heat exchangers.


API standards relate to manufacturing equipment and parts for the oil and gas industry. The two API standards that most relate to the manufacturing of heat exchangers are API 12 and API 560 (Fired Heaters for General Refinery Service) – both of which we use at Sterling TT.

  • API 660 is used on Shell and Tube Heat Exchangers
  • API 661 is used on Air-cooled Heat Exchangers / Air blast / Fin Fan Coolers
  • API 560 is used for air preheaters, for example.

What are the advantages of shell and tube heat exchangers?

The first advantage to mention is the cost. Compared to some other types of heat exchangers, shell and tube heat exchangers generally have lower initial and maintenance costs. This lower cost can be attributed to the simple but effective design.

The high heat transfer rate is the second significant advantage of shell and tube heat exchangers. In general, they have one of the highest heat transfer rates.

Sterling TT can supply the shell and tube heat exchanger you need

Whether you’re an EPC company, an OEM, or an end-user seeking guidance for your specific process, we can be your partner throughout the entire journey—from design and manufacturing to aftermarket and service support.

With proven expertise and experience in industrial shell and tube manufacturing, we have gained the confidence of large and small businesses. We supply across most industry sectors, particularly in the oil and gas, chemical and power generation industries.

Get in touch with one of our experts…

…to learn how we can help you to get the perfect heat exchanger for your organisation.

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