Under pressure for over 80 years

A history of Pressure Vessel Codes at BSI - Part 1

The new edition of BSI's Specification for unfired fusion welded pressure vessels, PD 5500:2012, is due to be released soon, and this is an appropriate time to have a look at the history of the pressure vessel codes at BSI and how they have been shaped over time. The history of the codes goes back to the 1930s.

What are pressure vessels?

Pressure vessels are closed containers, which are designed to hold liquids or gases or liquids at a pressure substantially different from the ambient pressure.

Accidents and the appearance of the first US Code

Many fatal accidents have occurred in the history of pressure vessel development and operation, as differentials on pressure can be very dangerous. As a result, the design, manufacture and operation of pressure vessels are regulated by engineering authorities, backed by legislation. Voluntary codes of practice and standards are also released by many countries. 

Definitions of pressure vessels vary from country to country, but codes of practice usually involve parameters such as maximum safe operating pressure and temperature. Depending on country, pressure vessels can include chemical reactors, compressed gas storage tanks, nitrogen tanks, hot water storage tanks, refrigeration pressure vessels, all designed for high pressure and volume.

The first code appears to have been published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).  It initially only covered boilers, not pressure vessels, and its beginnings went back to a number of fatal boiler explosions that occurred in Massachusetts in the 1900s.  The state of Massachusetts enacted the first legal code based on ASME’s rules for the construction of steam boilers in 1907.  ASME formed its Boiler Code Committee in 1911, which put in the form work for the first edition of the ASME Boiler Code - Rules for the Construction of Stationary Boilers and for the Allowable Working Pressures. The Code was released in 1914 and developed over time to cover pressure vessels and become the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel code.

BSI standards in the 1930s

BSI’s coverage of pressure vessels and similar containers goes back to the late 1920s, when our Gas Cylinders Research Committee for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research released its first report in 1929.  In July 1930, BSI released BS 399 Specification for ‘High Carbon’ Steel Cylinders for the Storage and Transport of ‘Permanent’ Gases, based on the committee’s report. 'Permanent Gases’ included atmospheric air, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen which at the "usual working temperature and pressure" remained in a gaseous state in the cylinder. A few months later, the “Low Carbon” equivalent, BS 400 was published.

In early 1931, our Technical Committee on Gas Cylinders approved BS 401 Specification for Steel Cylinders for the Stage and Transport of “Liquefiable” Gases - “liquefiable” meaning gases which had a relatively high critical temperature which were reduced to the liquid condition by the pressures used in charging them into the cylinders.”

In December 1931, our Mechanical Industry Committee approved three “air receiver” standards. “Air receiver” was defined in the standard as “any vessel intended to contain air or inert gas above atmospheric pressure”.  BS 428 Specification for Forge Welded Steel Air Receivers was released, “forge welds” defined as “all welds where the parts to be joined had been heated and the union had been effected solely by mechanical work.”  BS 429 Specification for Riveted Steel Air receivers and BS 430 Specification for Solid Drawn Steel Air Receivers also appeared.

Pressure Containers in War Time

During the Second World War, further standards appeared in the 1940s at the bequest of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.  BS 1045 Manganese Steel Gas Cylinders for Atmospheric Gases appeared in 1942 and its forward specified “it is intended that this British Standard shall be reviewed at the end of the war in light of experience gained in the use of these manganese steel cylinders”.  BS 1101 Specification for Pressure Paint Containers was published in 1943, covering vessels used for the purpose of spraying by compressed air any paint, varnish, lacquer or similar materials.  “War Emergency Revisions” were made to BS 1101 increasing the thickness of shell plates for the containers, and specifying higher strengths for “bend tests”.

Post War, standards appeared, covering manganese steel and high carbon steel gas cylinders for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and ethylene.

By 1949, various standards were in place covering pressure containers of different types. It was not until that year that BSI released its first unified code covering fusion-welded pressure vessels and its emergence will be covered in Part 2 of this article in our next membership newsletter.  Watch this space...

What’s available in the Knowledge Centre?

BSI’s Knowledge Centre can provide access to many of the withdrawn pressure container standards.  Members can view withdrawn standards without charge in Chiswick, and they are available for purchase in hard copy and PDF. BSI members receive a 50% discount, free postage and can buy on account.

To find out more please contact the Knowledge Centre at: knowledgecentre@bsigroup.com or on +44 (0)20 8996 7004

Read Part 2...

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