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May 1, 2013

Specifying Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchangers

Understand what heat exchanger design specialists need to know — and remember, you know your process best

Asif Raza

Shell-and-tube heat exchangers are one of the most important and commonly used process equipment items in the chemical process industries (CPI). If you are working on a project during either the basic or the detailed engineering phase, there is a good chance that you will need to specify one or more shell-and-tube exchangers — and perhaps many of them.

While the actual design will likely be done by a specialist at an equipment vendor or within your own company, you still need to fill out a process datasheet for each heat exchanger and in due course, review the vendor’s detailed proposal. You know your process best, and it is a bad idea to rely on the vendor always to make the right decisions. This article shows you the basics of specifying and selecting shell-and-tube heat exchangers: the process information and preliminary design decisions needed to fill out the datasheet, and how to check any corresponding assumptions made by the vendor. Although it does not go into detail on the design procedure, the article is also a good starting point if you intend to design the heat exchanger yourself.

 Figure 1. Which fluid goes on the shellside and which on the tubeside? There is no straightforward answer, but the guidelines presented here will help you decide


 Figure 1. Which fluid goes on the shellside and
which on the tubeside? There is no straightforward
answer, but the guidelines presented here will
help you decide
Datasheet information

Though every company is likely to have its own heat exchanger datasheet, most of them look much like the sample shown in Figure 2 (p. 49). To complete the datasheet you will need to know:

1. The composition and normal flowrate of the process fluid(s), and the temperature change required. Refer to heat and material balances.

2. Process fluid properties — density, viscosity and thermal conductivity — at the operating temperature and pressure.

 Figure 2. A typical datasheet for a shell-and-tube heat exchanger lists all the information required for a detailed design Source: TEMA (Tubular Exchanger Manufacturers Association, Inc.; Tarrytown, N.Y.;


Which fluid on which side?

Next comes your first design decision: Which fluid goes on the shellside and which on the tubeside (Figure 1)? There is no straightforward answer, but some considerations and rules of thumb outlined in an online reference ( and incorporating the author’s experience are summarized here:

• Corrosive fluids are best kept to the tubeside. Since the tubeside has less metal than the shellside, this will minimize the use of expensive metals that may be needed to withstand the fluids’ corrosive properties.

• Fluids at extreme pressures and temperatures are preferably kept to the tubeside, because they are likely to require a greater metal thickness, or more expensive materials of construction. The tubes, being smaller in diameter than the shell, withstand higher pressures.

• Fluids that need to be kept at a high velocity, such as water or propylene glycol for cooling, should be kept on the tubeside.

• Dirty fluids, or streams that are otherwise likely to cause fouling, should go on the tubeside. This is because the tubes are easier to clean than the shell. For instance, it is often possible to clean the tubes by water jetting, having simply opened the head of the exchanger, without needing to remove the tube bundle. The shell and the outside of the tube bundle, on the other hand, are harder to clean mechanically, and chemical cleaning is often the only option.

• The shellside offers a larger cross-section for vapor flow, and hence lower pressure drops. Process vapors to be condensed are therefore normally placed on the shellside, though the tubeside is generally used for condensing steam.

• The baffles on the shellside help to ensure good mixing, which reduces the effects of laminar flow and therefore tends to increase heat-transfer coefficients. Hence you will get better heat transfer if viscous fluids are kept on the shellside — I confirmed this recently on a project involving a very viscous polymer.

• Twisted tubes, static mixers or tube inserts increase turbulence and thus heat-transfer coefficients on the tubeside by reducing the effects of laminar flow. Because these are usually proprietary technologies, however, your ability to check the vendor’s performance claims may be limited. If you think you would benefit from one of these technologies, work closely with the vendor and be sure to evaluate all the options.

• In heat exchanger designs that feature gaskets or floating heads, the shellside typically is not a suitable location for fluids that are hazardous, corrosive or especially valuable, because the risk of leaks is too high. Such fluids should therefore normally go on the tubeside. Exchangers featuring all-welded construction can safely carry hazardous fluids on the shellside, though you should remember the difficulty of cleaning the shellside.

• Thermal expansion may be an issue if one of the fluids undergoes a temperature change of more than 150–200°C (300–400°F). In this case you would normally put the high-temperature-change fluid on the shellside, which is better able to handle large temperature changes in certain exchanger designs.

• In summary, the fluids preferred on the tubeside are the following:

– Cooling water

– The more-fouling, erosive or corrosive fluid

– The less-viscous fluid

– The fluid at higher pressure

– The hotter fluid

– The smaller volumetric flowrate.

Remember, however, that none of the suggestions above is definitive. Use them as a starting point, but if they indicate a different fluid arrangement from what has been used in the past in your plant or industry, you may find that there is a good reason. If two suggestions conflict, or the performance of your initial configuration looks unsatisfactory — because the predicted pressure drop or heat-transfer performance does not meet your requirements — do not be afraid to reverse the arrangement of the two fluids and see whether that improves matters.


More key decisions

Allowable pressure drop. You will have to understand the process thoroughly before you can attempt to specify the pressure drop on each side of the heat exchanger. As a rule of thumb, start with 10 psi on both the shellside and the tubeside. If there is a pump upstream of the heat exchanger, there probably will be no concern about pressure drop as long as the pump can handle this. For gases, if there is a compressor upstream, check with your equipment-design engineer that it can provide the necessary pressure drop. For cooling water, check for constraints on the allowable return pressure at the battery limit of the unit.

Sometimes the need to optimize the heat exchanger means that you will have to take a higher pressure drop than originally specified. A higher pressure drop means higher velocity, which in turns gives a higher Reynolds number and a higher heat-transfer coefficient. Give the heat exchanger vendor an allowable pressure drop as high as realistically possible to allow flexibility in optimizing the design. Once the designer has confirmed the calculated pressure drop, pass this value on to your rotary equipment engineer, who will need it for sizing pumps and compressors.

Fouling factors. These are very important in sizing the heat exchanger. Do not expect the vendor to provide you with fouling factors. A higher fouling factor translates to a lower design heat-transfer coefficient ( U d) and a larger required surface area. Fouling factors can often be taken from existing plant data. If these are not available, you will have to assume a value taken from company guidelines or published sources (Table 1). Make sure that your customer — whether internal or external — is in agreement with your assumed fouling factor. Designing with a too-high fouling factor will result in an oversized heat exchanger that will cost you more and probably will not work as intended.

Table 1. typical fouling factors
Fluid Typical fouling factor (ft2·°F·h/Btu)
Fuel oil 0.005
Steam (clean) 0.0005
Exhaust steam (oil bearing) 0.001
Refrigerant vapors (oil bearing) 0.002
Compressed air 0.002
Industrial organic heat-transfer media 0.001
Refrigerant liquids 0.001
Hydraulic fluid 0.001
Molten heat-transfer salts 0.0005
Acid gas 0.001
Solvent vapors 0.001
MEA and DEA solutions 0.002
DEG and TEG solutions 0.002
Caustic solutions 0.002
Vegetable oils 0.003
Lean oil 0.002
Cooling water 0.001
Natural gas 0.001
Atmospheric tower overhead vapors 0.001
Vacuum overhead vapors 0.002
Specifying appropriate fouling factors is important but not always easy. In the absence of operating experience, pick figures from reliable published sources.
Source: TEMA

Excess area. The difference between the design heat-transfer coefficient and the service heat-transfer coefficient provides a safety factor, often known as “excess area” because it is equivalent to specifying a larger heat-transfer area than necessary. The excess area is usually a minimum of 10%, but can be up to 30%. Choose a value from your plant’s or unit’s design basis, or ask your customer.

Heating and cooling curve. If the heat exchanger will be used to condense or vaporize process fluids, the vendor will require a corresponding heating or cooling curve showing how the vapor fraction varies with temperature, and the corresponding thermal properties of the liquid and vapor fractions. A heating or cooling curve with 8–10 points can easily be generated using simulation software.

Design temperature and pressure. Calculate the design temperature and pressure on both the shellside and the tubeside by adding an appropriate safety margin to the maximum values expected in service. Consider the following guidelines:

1. To arrive at the design temperature, add a margin of 30°C (50°F) to the maximum allowable operating temperature of the exchanger.

2. Similarly, the design pressure can be calculated by adding an appropriate margin to the maximum allowable operating pressure.

3. If the process hazard analysis has identified tube rupture as a hazard, to avoid the need to design a pressure relief valve for the tube rupture case, the shellside design pressure must be at least 77% of the tubeside design pressure (the “10/13” rule). For instance, if the tubeside design pressure is 500 psig, the minimum shellside design pressure should be 500 × 10/13 = 385 psig. The logic of this is that ASME codes require the shell to be hydraulically tested at 1.3 times its design pressure, so tube rupture — which is generally considered an unlikely event — would not pressurize the shell beyond its test pressure.

4. When deciding the design temperature, consider routine operations such as steaming of the heat exchanger during maintenance.

Design codes. Under ASME rules, if the operating pressure is higher than 15 psig, then the heat exchanger is considered a pressure vessel, and the pressure-vessel design code ASME section VIII, Div. 1 or 2 applies. Similar logic applies to different pressure vessel codes used outside the U.S. and Canada; make sure you use the code appropriate to the country in which the equipment will be used.

The Tubular Exchanger Manufacturers Assn., Inc. (TEMA; Tarrytown, N.Y.; issues its own design and manufacturing codes. There are three categories: TEMA C, B and R. In simple terms, TEMA C applies mostly to water, oil and air at low or moderate pressures and temperatures, and is the most cost-effective standard in cases where it is applicable. TEMA B is for chemicals and petrochemicals at higher temperatures and pressures. TEMA R, for severe service involving high pressures and temperatures, is widely used in petroleum refineries, and is the most expensive option. Inappropriate TEMA ratings will significantly increase the cost of a heat exchanger, so choose carefully based on existing plant data or suitable guidelines.

Keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to design your heat exchanger to TEMA standards. In particular, TEMA B and R standards enforce a minimum tube diameter which could lead to too-low velocities if the tubeside flowrate is small. The resulting low heat-transfer coefficient may require a large and expensive heat exchanger. In such situations, it may be best not to design your heat exchanger to TEMA standards.

Heat exchanger type . It is very important to specify the correct type of heat exchanger for the application (Figure 3, p.50), and in this case there are no right or wrong answers. Here is a list of criteria that will help you in making a decision:

 Figure 3. TEMA exchanger-type codes provide a shorthand for different basic designs and construction methods

1. If the fluids are relatively clean and the difference in temperature between the shellside and the tubeside is not very high (around 100°C / 200°F), then consider a BEM (fixed tubesheet) design. Typical applications are condensers; liquid-liquid, gas-gas, and gas-liquid heating and cooling; and vertical thermosyphons.

2. If the heat exchanger must accommodate a significant amount of thermal expansion between shell and tubes (more than 100°C / 200°F), consider type BEU, in which the tubes are free to expand. Keep in mind that BEU exchanger tubes can only be cleaned chemically, not mechanically, so these exchangers are best suited to clean service on both the shellside and the tubeside.

3. For a chiller with refrigerant evaporating on the shellside and cooling a process fluid on the tubeside, consider a heat exchanger of type BKU.

4. Similarly to Point 2 above, if the difference in operating temperature between shellside and tubeside is more than 100°C (200°F), consider a design with hairpin tubes, a floating head or a floating tubesheet (types P–W). These types are best suited to dirty fluids, and may be either horizontal or vertical.

5. If you encounter a temperature cross — that is, if the outlet temperature of the hot fluid is below the outlet temperature of the cold fluid — then you cannot use a single BEM or BEU type heat exchanger. Consider a BFS type with a two-pass shell and a longitudinal baffle, or two shells in series. Other types of heat exchanger, such as spiral and plate types, are fully countercurrent and so better suited to handling temperature crosses.

Material of construction. Do not trust the vendor to pick the right material of construction for your service. That is your job. That said, do not take responsibility for the material of construction unless you have agreed it with the user or verified it with an appropriate expert.

Tube-to-tubesheet joints. These determine the integrity of your shell-and-tube heat exchanger. The basic guidelines are the following:

1. For a design pressure of less than 300 psig and a design temperature below 180°C (350°F), use rolled and expanded tube-to-tubesheet joints. These are used primarily for water, air and oil service.

2. For higher design pressures or temperatures, use grooved, rolled and expanded tube joints.

3. When dealing with light hydrocarbons or other flammable fluids, even at low pressure and temperature, consider seal welding.

4. For hydrocarbons or flammable vapors at high pressures and temperatures, consider additional welding for strength.

Special instructions. This category covers specifications including the tube pitch, baffle type, minimum tube diameter, tube length and orientation of the heat exchanger. Use customer specifications or guidance where available, and ask vendors whether these will have any implications. If no specifications are available, use your judgment. For instance, if your shellside fluid is very fouling, use a square tube pitch to aid cleanability. Decrease baffle spacing to increase turbulence, and thus heat-transfer coefficient, on the shellside. If you have a height limitation, ask the vendor to limit the tube length.


Reviewing vendor quotes

After you have received your quotes it is time to review them and select a vendor. Here are the most important points to look for:

• Basic process requirements: For both fluids (shellside and tubeside), the vendor’s specification should match your specified flowrate, operating temperature and pressure, and properties such as density, viscosity, and thermal conductivity.

• Materials of construction, design pressure and design temperature as per your instructions.

• Fluid velocity: Should generally be in the range of 3–8 ft/s on both the tubeside and the shellside. Lower velocities will mean lower heat-transfer coefficients and larger required surface areas.

• Compare the calculated clean heat-transfer coefficient ( U c) and the design heat-transfer coefficient ( U d) with typical values from your company sources or published literature (Table 2, p. 51). Do not expect close matches — each application is different, and heat-transfer coefficients depend on many factors. If the U values proposed by the vendor are very different from what you would expect, however, then the design may be at fault. In such a situation, review the design with the vendor.

Table 2. typical Design heat-transfer coefficients
Hot fluid Cold fluid Ud (Btu/h·°F·ft2)
Water Water 250–500
Aqueous solution Aqueous solution 250–500
Light organics Light organics 40–75
Medium organics Water 50–125
Heavy organics Heavy organics 10–40
Heavy organics Light organics 30–60
Light organics Heavy organics 10–40
If a vendor’s calculated heat-transfer coefficients are reasonably close to reliable published values, the thermal design is probably correct. Do not expect an exact match. Light organics are fluids with viscosities less than 0.5 cP. Medium organics are 0.5–1 cP, and heavy organics are above 1 cP.
Source: “Process Heat Transfer”, Donald Q. Kern, McGraw-Hill Companies, 1950.

• Check the heat-transfer area. Different vendors will propose different values based on varying exchanger geometry and calculated heat-transfer coefficients. Pick a geometry that meets your requirements best.

• Check the heat duty and make sure it matches your specified value.

• Check the code requirements.

• Check that the vendor has complied with any special instructions including tube diameter, tube pitch, tube length, baffle type, baffle pitch, and excess area.

• Check the price and delivery schedule for the heat exchanger.

• Weigh all the options and select a vendor.

Close coordination with the heat exchanger vendor and a solid understanding of the process requirements are essential to heat exchanger design and selection. By understanding different kinds of heat exchangers and developing a solid understanding of heat-transfer coefficients, fouling factors and so on, you will be on the right track to design and select the most appropriate heat exchanger for your process.

Edited by Charles Butcher


Asif Raza (Mississauga, Ont., Canada; Phone: 905–607–1335; Email: is an equipment design engineer at Praxair Canada. His work involves the design and specification of major equipment, such as cryogenic centrifugal pumps, shell-and-tube heat exchangers, vessels and vaporizers. He has more than 15 years of experience in process design. His interests include sizing and specifying major equipment, P&ID development, process simulation and selection of control logic. Before joining Praxair he was lead process engineer at Zeton Inc., where his work involved design and fabrication of pilot plants for research and development. Previously he worked with companies including Bantrel and SNC Lavalin. He holds a B.Tech degree in chemical engineering from Amravati University, India. Raza is a registered professional engineer in the province of Ontario and is also a member of Ontario Society of Professional Engineers.



Comments (1) for Specifying Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchangers
Mr. Raza, this is an excellent guidance document for the novice. Concise and seasoned with practical tips.
Posted by Andrew Jackura on Thursday, April 17, 2014 @ 06:08 PM

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