Troubleshooting a blocked plate heat exchanger

plate heat exchanger regasketing

Industrial plate heat exchangers are widely used in many industries for various purposes. An underperforming, blocked heat exchanger could be the result of several factors.

The most common reason is the heat exchanger becoming blocked, which could wreak havoc on your production line or other industrial processes.

Troubleshooting a blocked plate heat exchanger can be tricky, but with this guide, you will know exactly what to look for and how to fix the issue quickly.

What is a plate heat exchanger, and how does it work?

Plate heat exchangers (PHE) are essential equipment in many crucial industrial processes, so it is vital to keep them running smoothly.

A plate heat exchanger is used to transfer heat between two fluids.

The fluids pass through separate plates, which are then in close contact.

This allows the heat to be transferred efficiently between the two fluids.

While PHEs are highly effective, they can become blocked if not maintained properly.

When this happens, it can cause a decrease in efficiency or even a complete shutdown of the heat exchanger.

PHE Industrial application
An industrial plate heat exchanger

What are the signs of a blocked plate heat exchanger?

Knowing the signs of a blocked plate heat exchanger is the first step in troubleshooting the issue and possibly avoiding costly repairs.

By understanding the signs that your heat exchanger system is not performing as it should, you can take steps to prevent further damage and keep your production line running smoothly.

A blocked heat exchanger
A blocked shell and tube heat exchanger

The most common symptoms of blocked plate heat exchanger symptoms include;

  • Decreased heat transfer efficiency
  • Increased pressure drop from inlet to outlet, resulting in loss of flow and performance.
  • Fluid leakage
  • Strange noises coming from the system
  • An Increased temperature difference between the hot and cold fluids

If you notice any of these blocked plate heat exchanger symptoms within your system, it is important to take action immediately.

A blocked heat exchanger can quickly lead to more serious problems.

Why do plate heat exchangers become blocked?

So now you know what to look out for, but what causes a plate heat exchanger to become blocked in the first place so that you can avoid the same problem in the future?

Some of the most common reasons a heat exchanger may become blocked include the following;

  • Gasket failure – If the gaskets that seal the plates fail, it can allow for fluids to mix, which can cause a blockage. Replacing them with new gaskets will solve this problem!
  • Plate corrosion – Over time, the plates can become corroded, which can cause them to swell and block the flow of fluids.
  • Fouling – If the fluids are not clean, they can deposit harmful residues on the plates, which can block the flow of fluids.

If left unchecked, a blockage can cause severe damage to the heat exchanger and lead to costly repairs and disruption to your process.

Four tips to help prevent a blocked plate heat exchanger

There are a few things that you can do to help prevent your plate heat exchanger from becoming blocked.

  1. Ensure that you use the correct fluid type in the heat exchanger. For example, use a corrosion-resistant plate heat exchanger if you use a corrosive fluid.
  2. Keep the plates clean by regularly cleaning and inspecting them. If you notice any deposits on the plates, clean them off as soon as possible.
  3. Avoid using too high of pressure in the heat exchanger. This can damage the plates and gaskets and lead to the mixing of fluids in the system.
  4. If you are not using the heat exchanger for an extended period, clean it and store it in a dry, protected area.
Cleaning a PHE can help remove blockages
Cleaning a PHE can help remove blockages

What to do with a blocked plate heat exchanger?

The first step is to clean your heat exchanger (HE)

Stripping down the heat exchanger and giving all the parts a good clean is the best way to remove any build-up causing a blockage and determine if there is any damage to the heat exchanger.

While the HE is stripped down, you can assess the plates and gaskets for any signs of wear and tear.

If there is significant damage, you might need to replace some or all of the plates and gaskets.

If you are uncomfortable doing this yourself, consult with a professional (like ourselves).

Cleaning an underperforming heat exchanger could involve;

  • Acid cleaning
  • Power flush
  • Chemical cleaning
  • Cleaning the inlet and outlet flow pipe

Steps to take to clean your heat exchanger:

  • Shut down the system and release all pressure.
  • Disconnect the heat exchanger from the system.
  • Remove the plates from the heat exchanger.
  • Clean the plates
  • Reassemble the heat exchanger and reconnect it to the system.
  • Start up the system and check for leaks.

Plate heat exchanger cleaning chemicals

A few different chemicals can be used to clean a blocked plate heat exchanger.

The most common are;

  • Acids – Hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, and phosphoric acid effectively remove debris and buildup.
  • Alkalis – Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide can also be used to clean a blocked heat exchanger.
  • Chelating agents – These are used to remove metals from the surface of the heat exchanger.
  • The most common chelating agent is EDTA.

Cleaning your heat exchanger is a simple and effective way to troubleshoot blocked plate heat exchanger symptoms.

dye penetrant being applied
dye penetrant being applied to check for cracks and other damage

Replace faulty Gaskets

Worn or damaged gaskets are one of the most common causes of a blocked plate heat exchanger.

If a gasket fails, it is easy to spot. Fluid drips out of the PHE because the pressure forces it through the leak.

To fix your PHE, you will need to disassemble it.

Take out the plate with the failed gasket and another plate next to it (so the flow pattern is not disrupted).

Next, if you have replacement parts available, swap them out, reassemble your PHE according to the specifications, and put it back into service.

  • Gaskets should be routinely replaced every 1-2 years to ensure they are in good condition.
  • Gasket failure is one of the most common causes of blocked heat exchangers.
  • If your gaskets are damaged, it’s important to replace them as soon as possible.
  • Failing to do so can result in expensive repairs down the line.
  • You’ll need new replacement parts from a heat exchanger supplier (like ourselves) to replace your gaskets.
  • Once you have the new gaskets, remove the old ones and clean the mating surfaces.
  • Install the new gaskets according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
heat exchanger plate with new gasket
heat exchanger plate with new gasket installed

Why replace gaskets in a plate heat exchanger?

  • Gaskets can be replaced relatively easily, which is a job most professional PHE specialists can do.
  • Replacing the gaskets usually makes more sense and will help ensure your PHE runs efficiently.

How can WCR UK help with a blocked plate heat exchanger?

WCR UK is a specialist in plate heat exchangers and can help with all your blocked PHE problems.

We have a wide range of replacement parts for all major brands of heat exchangers.

We also offer a cleaning and repair service for all types of heat exchangers.

  • Material selection and test
  • Parts replacement
  • Reconditioning
  • Visual conditioning
  • Assessment
  • Condition audit

In summary

  • Fouling or gasket failure is the most common reason for a blocked plate heat exchanger.
  • If you’re experiencing blocked plate heat exchanger symptoms, the first job is to clean your heat exchanger.
  • While cleaning, check the plates, gaskets, and pipework for blockages (this could be a one-time problem).

About WCR UK

We supply replacement plates and gaskets and provide a full service and repair program for all major brands of plate heat exchangers

WCR UK is the best heat exchanger services company in the United Kingdom because of our experience and expertise. We have been in the business for many years, and we have a team of dedicated professionals who can help you with all your heat exchanger needs.

We also offer a wide range of services, including replacement parts, servicing, repairs, and cleaning. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so you can reach us anytime.

Our dedication to quality and our customers is what sets us apart from other companies in the industry. Read more

Heat exchanger Professionals

01246 856 396

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