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History of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Written by a Pipe Fabrication Expert at Ahern

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was founded in 1880 in response to boiler explosions that became common with the use of steam power. Between 1880 and 1890 there were over 2,000 boiler explosions in the United States. One of the failures that showed the need for boiler laws was a boiler explosion that completely leveled the Grover Shoe Factory in Brockton, Massachusetts in March 1905. Inspections were random, operating guidelines nonexistent, and pressures were regularly turned up. The ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (B&PVC) was conceived in 1911 out of a need to protect the public.

Shortly after an old boiler was put back into temporary service, it exploded and flew through three floors and the roof. The flying boiler knocked over a water tower and its full tank smashed through the roof, causing the building to collapse. This disaster resulted in 58 deaths and 117 injuries. During the investigation, C. E. Roberts, a manager of Hartford Steam Boiler, stated "So far as I have been able to learn there appears to have been no carelessness in the handling of the boiler, and the explosion, in my opinion, was caused by a defect that was impossible to discover."

The Grover disaster generated attention for improved industrial safety and prompted action and a Board of Boiler Rules was formed, which consisted of a three-page document. After the ASME helped overcome manufacturer objections to "needless government interference" Massachusetts passed "An Act Relating to the Operation and Inspection of Steam Boilers" in 1907. The Massachusetts laws eventually led to passage of a national boiler safety code. The first Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code (1914 Edition) was published in 1915 and consisted of one book with 114 pages; which measured 5 inches by 8 inches. Today there are 28 books, including 12 books dedicated to the Construction and Inspection of Nuclear Power Plant Components and two Code Case books. The 28 books are either Standards that provide the rules for fabricating a component, or support documents such as Materials (Section II, Parts A through D), Non-Destructive Examination (Section V), and Welding (Section IX). Code Cases provide rules that permit the use of materials and alternative methods of construction that are not covered by existing B&PVC rules.

The 2013 Edition of the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code has over 16,000 pages, each of which measures 8-1/2 inches by 11 inches. Currently, all provinces of Canada and 49 of the 50 United States have adopted, by law, Sections of the B&PVC. Over 25 percent of the companies accredited by the ASME to manufacture pressure parts in accordance with B&PVC are located outside of the United States and Canada.

References: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers

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