How Efficient is Your Steam System?

Emerson’s Steffen Terreblanche highlights ways to improve your plant’s energy efficiency by continuously monitoring your steam traps.

Steffen-TerreblancheAs the world becomes a “smaller” place and process manufacturers are forced to compete in a global market place, we see more and more industries shifting offshore looking for lower cost ways to manufacture process or refine their products, one word that gets thrown around more than ever before is—efficiency!

This can be loosely described as the amount of useful work done by a person, machine or process for the least amount of energy consumed. The most common form of energy in modern industry is heat and, the most efficient means of generating and distributing heat around the modern plant is still steam. Even in the age of nuclear energy, the object is still the generation of steam, which in many cases is used to drive turbines for power generation or propulsion of some form.

With the age of carbon taxes, global warming and fossil fuel supply, generation of steam by combusting these fuels in a boiler is getting more and more expensive as the years roll by. It follows then that companies should be focussed on generating only as much steam as is required to optimally operate their process. This means that the steam system on site should be finely monitored and tuned to operate as efficiently as possible thus minimising wastage and cutting down on unnecessary generation and thus minimising the amount of fuel burnt. Sadly, in many instances this is not the case!

How many times have we walked around a site to see steam traps blowing wildly into a drain for long periods at a time? Even worse is a situation where traps are blocked and give no indication, at a glance, that there is anything wrong at all. The aim of the steam trap is to expel condensate from the steam circuit as this condensate moving at high speed causes erosion of pipes, valves and other assets in the circuit. It also cools the circuit faster when not expelled causing the need for more steam to be circulated to keep the temperature up where it needs to be.

Every trap blocked or blowing to atmosphere is impacting the efficiency of the steam system forcing the company to burn more fuel to generate more steam to compensate for the wastage. In the past, site audits were the norm for determining which traps were faulty but were typically performed once or twice a year only. If a trap failed in between, it would go unnoticed until the next audit was performed meaning for that period of time the trap was potentially “wasting” energy. Due to the high cost of cabling and integrating measurement points into a control system or asset monitoring system, online monitoring of these traps was too cost prohibitive.

With the introduction of wireless technology and specifically WirelessHART the means are there to cost effectively monitor these traps and improve the overall efficiency of steam systems in your plant. By using the 708 wireless acoustic monitor you can now have real time monitoring of your critical steam traps without the cost of running cables, installing cable trays and extra I/O. With communication over IEC 62591 WirelessHART, signal reliability of over 99% and battery life of up to 10 years there has never been a more cost effective way of monitoring your steam traps “real time”.

The 708 acoustic provides an acoustic signature as well as a temperature reading for the steam trap indicating when the trap is functioning properly, running hot indicating a trap that is stuck open, or, running cold indicating a blocked trap. Coupled with its steam logic software, you can call up faulty traps and take corrective action. This reduces or eliminates the need for third parties audits, decreases delays between identifying faulty traps and most importantly, reduces unnecessary wasted steam and steam generation.

For more information on steam trap monitoring and other wireless applications, visit the Emerson wireless site.

Update: I’ve updated the post to give proper credit to the author of the post, Steffen Terreblanche.

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