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Scott Cargill Shares His Experience With Auto-ignition During a UT Inspection

Scott Cargill, Past President of ASNT shared the below auto-ignition story with us.  It is well worth the read.

Auto-Ignition? What’s that? Wait a minute, I’m almost positive it has something to do with the MSDS – Materials Safety Data Sheet (old school) or with the harmonized global system of today just SDS – Safety Data Sheet. If only I had read the data sheet for “Never Seez”. If you’ve never had the displeasure of getting Never Seez on you, and then on absolutely everything you touched and all over your clothes well… You just haven’t lived.

So my story starts one summer afternoon in the central valley of California where the summer days get to 100 degrees F, more so than not, I was tasked with taking ultrasonic readings on several piping circuits in the “Crude Unit,” specifically one of the heaters in the unit and its auxiliary piping coming off of it. Typically I would have used “Methocell” a water based cellulous couplant, but the piping coming off the active heater was far and above the 100-150 degrees that a water based couplant can maintain its structure, in fact at the temperatures of the piping (I was guessing around 500 degrees F) the only thing methocell was going to do was to lose all of its viscosity at best, and at worst loose its viscosity AND dry up into a dry film before I could get the readings. Because of those thoughts, I pulled out a can of “Never Seez” a thin grease used to prevent nuts and bolts from seizing, galling or in some conditions refuse to thread correctly.  In other-words I had repurposed a nuts and bolts lubricant to stand in for a couplant on high temperature environments. It beat using axel grease in that it comes in a quart sized can with an applicator brush, versus the cylinder of grease you had to dig out of the tube.

Here, armed with a suitable substitute high temperature couplant, my harness, boots, hardhat GLOVES! And safety glasses, because Safety is ALWAYS number one and the very important on every jobsite right? (please note at no time before or during had I ever read the data sheet for Never Seez), So up I go, climbing up the ladder, up on top of the 24” 5 chrome half molybdenum insulated piping, Ultrasonics instrument (Krautkramer USK 7) strapped around my neck, my pot of “grease”.  I sat down on the piping, arranged my scope and probe, sat my grease down, and promptly applied a large dollop inside the inspection port. Here’s where it gets fun: I turned to set down the pot of grease, and to pick up my scope and probe so I could take the reading, only to find when I turned back that there was a FIRE right in front of me, the inspection port acting as a chimney. HOLY Marshmallow roast UT man!

Now at this point you may be thinking, Hmm, Heater, Petroleum refinery, (lots of things there do like to blow up easily) Fire, this just doesn’t sound like a good combination to have right? Well, as I quickly went Pewww Pewww Pewww puff puff puff blowing out the fire in front of me, I calmly took my readings  as no one had noticed my little kersnuffle, re-plugged the hole with the inspection port plug hoping that without an abundance of fresh air that it wouldn’t reignite after I left.  Now of course this is when and where I thought it may be important to read the MSDS for Never Seez, and, boy, did I get the palm slap to the head when I read that the flash point for Never Seez was only 475 degrees F.  You can all safely assume and rightly so, that the piping that I had just applied the grease to was well over 500 degrees, so Well Duh, Seems they knew what they (The Manufacturer) were saying cause it sure as heck did ignite all by itself.

I learned a lesson that day. Sometimes it really does pay to follow the rules and to actually use the right tool for the right job. A properly formulated high temperature couplant designed to be used at those temperatures doesn’t leave you with a holy marshmallow moment at height, on a hot pipe in a noisy refinery sitting on and in a highly flammable and volatile section of the plant.

Share your auto-ignition story with us and other NDT professionals.  Email it to:

2020 High Temperature Couplant Chart