Failure: The Origin of API 20E3:28 PM | February 25th, 2018
The Origin of API 20E
In the past decade, the industry has suffered a series of failures that were traced back to critical bolting operations. While investigating these bolt failures, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) discovered that fasteners were being manufactured and coated with little to no communication between steps in the process. Steel manufacturers passed blame for failures to coating companies, who then passed it to coating applicators, who blamed installers, who passed the buck up the chain of command to procurement and finally back to steel manufacturers. This circuit of miscommunication resulted in catastrophic bolting failures that put lives at risk and cost the industry billions of dollars, yet were somehow “nobody’s fault.”
At the same time, the industry became aware of a new challenge to fastener safety: hydrogen embrittlement. A form of environmentally assisted cracking (EAC), hydrogen embrittlement occurs when hydrogen penetrates a fastener’s base material, making it fragile and more susceptible to failure. In highly corrosive environments such as offshore subsea operations, hydrogen embrittlement is a constant threat to bolt integrity.
In the published report of its findings, BSEE called for the establishment of a new standard that could right the ship of fastener production and reduce the risk of future failure. Soon after, the American Petroleum Institute (API) formed a Bolting Task Force to evaluate production practices and come up with a solution to address the problems leading to failure. From their recommendations, API published Specification 20E.
With API 20E, the industry has a specification that will define bolting for the 21st century. Old manufacturing processes have been reevaluated, requiring stricter oversight of operations to produce higher quality fasteners. Sacrificial coatings such as Zinc and Zinc alloys are expressly prohibited from splash zone and subsea service due to the risk of hydrogen embrittlement, effectively removing them from the most critical bolting operations. As a third party auditor, API 20E adds a second set of eyes to the production process, and continued reporting efforts through API show that the industry is doing more to protect facilities. Under API 20E, bolt failure is no longer “nobody’s fault,” and a system is in place to continually audit production practices.