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Fluid Systems Engineering & Management Blog

by Swagelok Northern California

How to Build Safer Fluid Systems Design to Avoid Danger

by Jeff Hopkins, on 4/3/19 8:45 AM

Follow these best practices for designing and building safer fluid systems

"Where seizing opportunity means assuming more risk, how can you minimize safety concerns? Start with careful design considerations. Before you replace parts or put a completely new system in place, brush up on these best practices."

- How to Build Safer Fluid Systems - Design to Avoid Danger


Most industries are inherently complex and only becoming more complicated. There also are increased health, safety, and environmental concerns as well as more demanding standards, regulations, and other forms of liability. Where seizing opportunity means assuming more risk, how can you minimize safety concerns? Start with careful design considerations. Before you replace parts or put a completely new system in place, brush up on these best practices.

Never mix components from different manufacturers 

Leak-tight seals that will withstand high pressure, vibration, vacuum, and temperature changes depend on exacting tolerances, meticulous quality control, and time-tested design principles. Though components from different suppliers may look alike, there is no assurance they are manufactured to the same rigorous standards, meaning they may not perform properly when used with other manufacturers’ components.

Minimize opportunities for mistakes

Better labeling and safety-minded system design can reduce opportunities for mistakes. For instance, be sure to place tags on your equipment to indicate what an operator is viewing. Try to color-code handles, tubing, and pipe to make it clear at a glance what types of fluids or gases are flowing through them, even in processes where hydrocarbons are not present. Also take care to orient components in a way that avoids accidental contact with moving objects or people passing by.

Only use ideal materials for the job

It may be tempting to save money on materials, but where the stakes are highest it is rarely worth the risk. Rely on products with a proven reputation. The market has become saturated with counterfeit and substandard inventory that can harm your operation. Only purchase through trusted partners and authorized channels. Also know the difference between similar-sounding parts and be precise when deciding which to use. For instance, a safety valve (which opens fully at a set pressure) is not the same as a relief valve (which opens gradually as pressure increases).

Remove complexity wherever you can

Reduce system complexity where possible, and never stop looking for opportunities to make improvements. Simpler systems will be easier to troubleshoot. Consult an expert who can make recommendations for making fewer connections. Ultimately, this reduces the number of parts that could potentially fail.

Carefully follow manufacturer instructions

Failure to follow documented assembly and disassembly procedures might seem like a minor mistake but it can lead to major consequences. Common errors include:

  • Under-tightening fittings, creating opportunities for leaks and blowouts
  • Over-tightening fittings, limiting the potential number of remakes
  • Not ensuring tubing rests firmly on the shoulder of the tube fitting body before tightening
  • Not following proper protocols for tube insertion depth or not “bottoming out” the tube
  • Failing to properly check tubes for ovality, defects or scratches that can compromise a seal

Factor for vibration and motion into your designs

It can be easy to forget about the effects of machine vibration. Be sure you have the proper supports in place to ensure tubing and fittings will not be unduly fatigued or dislodged during high-pressure usage. The constant strain of vibration can also gradually wear away at connection points, so specify proper materials from the start and allow for a proper range of motion. In some circumstances, switching to hose can eliminate certain vibration concerns. Keep in mind, however, that hoses can wear quickly and will need to be replaced over time. Some elastomers also have a limited shelf life, so know the age of the hose you will be installing.

Account for material hardness when making tube systems

Component materials should be compatible with each other and have the appropriate hardness to stay connected. Metal tubing materials should be softer than fitting materials to allow the fitting to grip and collet the tube well.

When fluid systems perform flawlessly day after day, it is easy to forget the dangers even one improperly installed component can present. Keeping best practices in mind will keep your operation on guard. These steps sound simple but are often overlooked. There are many ways to design for safety, and with extra care, you can avoid unexpected issues. 

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