Don't Let off Steam

Posted by  Nigel Ord 12-Jan-2018 04:21:00

General Manager, ERIKS Flow Control

Man with steam coming out of earsWhen you’re looking for ways to reduce energy consumption and costs, and to increase efficiency and productivity, you shouldn’t let steam off the hook. An efficient steam system is a perfect energy transporter. But a poorly-designed system, or one with leaks or condensate build-up, can waste thousand of pounds a year in energy costs.

If other systems in your production process were running inefficiently, you’d spot the issue and resolve it quickly. But the problem with a steam system is the slow rate of deterioration in efficiency and performance. In fact some systems which have gone without a survey for as long as 5 years have been shown to have up to 30% of their steam traps leaking or blocked. Yet the reductions in efficiency, increases in energy costs and CO2 emissions, and the changes in the speed or quality of production were so gradual, the problems had gone almost unnoticed and completely unresolved.

Just one year after system start-up as many as 10% of traps may be leaking, and the number is likely to increase by 7% for every year the system remains unchecked.

At 11kg/h steam loss from each steam trap, even on a site with a relatively small steam system of just 50 traps, total steam losses for a year will be 5,203 tons, at a cost per ton of €31. That’s a loss of €14,815, 3,061kW of energy, and an increase in CO2 emissions of 765 tons.

However the good news is that an expert ERIKS Flow Control Steam Audit will deliver results with a payback period of just 2-4 months.

The steam trap

Too many people fall into the trap of thinking that because a steam system is relatively simple, it’s robust and maintenance-free. But that can be far from the truth.

System audit by ERIKS Flow Control experts have found:

  • Leaking steam traps
  • Wrong type or wrong size steam traps
  • Steam traps fitted upside down
  • Incorrect diameter pipes fitted
  • Inadequate insulation of pipes and fittings
  • Poor pipe layouts allowing condensate to gather
  • Water build-up creating water hammer, which damages pipe bends, valves etc.

Some surveys have even discovered steam traps the customer was unaware of. As steam traps are the weak point of any steam system that could prove a costly oversight.Some surveys have even discovered steam traps the customer was unaware of. As steam traps are the weak point of any steam system that could prove a costly oversight.

Tracking the traps

An ERIKS Flow Control steam system audit begins with discussing the system’s operation from steam production to steam use, with everyone involved. Existing system drawings are also reviewed, but the surveyors then undertake their own thorough mapping of the system from beginning to end. This includes an inspection of every centimetre of pipe and insulation, every valve and every steam trap.

More than just a visual inspection, the audit also involves ultrasonic and infrared thermographic measurements to identify blockages and leaks, and to assess the functioning of every system component.

Steam under pressure
With increasing pressure to reduce energy costs, cut wastage and reduce CO2 emissions, an expert steam system audit represents a quick and easy win.

A recent survey by ERIKS Flow Control tested 180 traps in service on an average-size site with a total of 235 traps. Of these 180 traps tested, 32 were leaking, 5 were “cold” (failing to discharge condensate), and 2 were incorrectly installed. These faults represented a steam loss of 11,000 tons p.a. at a cost of €385,000; an energy loss of 6,100 MW p.a., and unnecessary CO2 emissions of 1,600 tons/p.a.

Commission an ERIKS Flow Control steam audit of your steam system and you will be presented with a comprehensive report, including:

  • Inventory and identification of all installed steam traps
  • An overview of the status of each steam trap
  • Loss calculation for the complete measuring circuit
  • Comparisons with previous measurement (if applicable)
  • Overview of rejected steam traps
  • Advice on repair or replacement
  • Suggestions for further improvements to the steam system

If the recommendations are followed, you can expect an ROI in just 2-4 months.

Putting an annual survey schedule in place will continue to reduce energy losses and costs, as the percentage of leaking traps within a system just 12 months after the last survey can be around 5%. Implementing a full ERIKS Econosto asset management service will further improve and optimise your steam system’s performance, through expert maintenance, increased reliability, reduced downtime, enhanced safety and continued lower operating costs.


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