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Rupture Disks for Process Engineers - Part 3

Nov 08 2010 01:30 PM | pleckner in Safety and Pressure Relief -----

Part 1 of this series on rupture disks for Process Engineers covered why you use a rupture disk and when you might want to use this device. Part 2 discussed how to size the rupture disk. In this part, I will cover how to set the burst pressure. Subsequent parts will include temperature and backpressure affects, the Relief Valve/Rupture Disk combination, how to specify the rupture disk and some discussion on the type of rupture disks you can purchase.

Before I begin, let me point out that most of what is included in this series of articles can be found in API RP5201 and API RP5212, and ASME Section VIII, Division 13. Much of what is found in these documents can also be found in vendor literature.


  1. What is the maximum allowable specified burst pressure?
  2. What should the expected stamped (rated) burst pressure of the rupture disk be?
  3. At what pressure(s) can we expect the delivered rupture disk to actually burst at?
  4. What is the maximum allowable operating pressure in the vessel?

All these questions must be considered in order to properly set the burst pressure of a rupture disk.

What is the Maximum Allowable Specified Burst Pressure?

Burst Pressure

What do we mean by burst pressure? This is the pressure at which the rupture disk will open or burst. It is analogous to the set pressure of a relief valve and is specified by the process engineer.

Design Pressure

To find the maximum allowable specified burst pressure, the process engineer first needs to define a vessel design pressure. The design pressure is an arbitrary value above the vessel maximum operating pressure. One guideline used by many process design engineers is to increase the maximum operating pressure by 25 psig or 10% whichever is greater. For example, if the maximum operating pressure is 70 psig, then 25 psig should be added to arrive at the design pressure since 10% is only 7 psig. The design pressure would then be set at a nice round 100 psig. Other criteria to determine design pressure may be used but I recommend that the margins never be less than what I described above (the reason will become apparent later).

Maximum Allowable Working Pressure (MAWP)

The next step is to determine the Maximum Allowable Working Pressure (MAWP) of the vessel. A vessel specification stating design pressure, the coincident design temperature and other parameters is sent to the manufacturer. The manufacturer performs a series of calculations utilizing these parameters, amongst others, to determine material thickness for use in vessel fabrication. A standard material thickness (greater than or equal to what was calculated) is chosen. With the actual material thickness known, the true MAWP is calculated. The vessel design documents are then stamped (certified) at this pressure in accordance with code. However, for one reason or another, the MAWP calculation is not always done and the vendor will just stamp the vessel at the specified design pressure.

The Maximum Allowable Specified Burst Pressure

So, what is the maximum allowable specified burst pressure? Theoretically it is the MAWP. However, rupture disks are typically specified during basic engineering, which is performed way before the vessel is mechanically designed. This, combined with the fact that the true MAWP may never really be known (as mentioned above), the maximum allowable specified burst pressure will more typically be the vessel's design pressure.

Note if the rupture disk is to be used in conjunction with another relief device to fulfill the total required relieving capacity, the maximum allowable specified burst pressure could be 5% or even 10% greater than the design pressure (or MAWP). See ASME Section VIII, Division 1 paragraphs UG-125 and UG-134.

Also note that the specified burst pressure can be lower than the maximum allowable. Indeed, this is often the case if the rupture disk is used to protect reactor vessels against over pressure due to run-away reactions.

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