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An Overview of VWG’s Steam System Services

Optimising steam requires a holistic approach that considers the entire steam system.

Steam system operating costs are typically significant, and it makes sense for factories using steam to ensure that steam systems operate as efficiently as possible. Doing so does not have to be difficult if the issue is tackled in a structured way, and the costs of delivering this efficiency are typically dwarfed by the savings achieved. VWG provides a comprehensive suite of steam systems solutions to suit any size steam system.

An inordinate amount of focus is placed on boilers in most manufacturing plants. This partly to do with the need to ensure that boilers are operated safely and are legally compliant, and because they tend to be the most technically complex aspect of a steam system. Boiler efficiency is indeed an important aspect of steam system efficiency, but only part of the story. Efficiency can only be maximised when the system is optimised as a whole, and we therefore take a wider approach with all of our steam-related services.

When we use the term “steam system”, we are referring to:

  • The generation of steam (boilers)
  • The distribution of steam to point of use (piping network and ancillary equipment)
  • The use of steam (this is diverse and site-dependent, but can include various processes requiring steam for applications such as heating, stripping, live injection etc.)
  • Any turbines in the steam system (these are not strictly considered to be users, but require steam for their operation)
  • The condensate recovery system, including pipework, steam traps, condensate tanks, flash tanks, hotwells etc.

By considering this system as an integrated whole, the quantum of the savings we can unlock tends to be far higher than a piece-meal approach that only considers individual elements of the system. In fact, by not taking a systems approach one can end up spending money in the wrong places, and negate the benefits of energy efficiency projects.

Here is an overview of some of the services we can provide:

Steam System Integrity Assessments

Maintenance and safety are closely related.

What is the condition of your steam system, and does it have all of the necessary components to be operated and managed effectively, safely and efficiently? Does it have a carefully developed preventive maintenance programme, and is this being implemented rigorously? Is it legally compliant? Does it work as designed? What are the risks associated with it?

The integrity of your steam system should be a top priority. It is easy for maintenance to be neglected on various systems in a factory, and often the consequences, while costly, are manageable. When maintenance is neglected in a steam system, the results could be catastrophic.

Our team will evaluate your entire steam system, identify areas of concern and report on these. We can also then assist you to rectify these by installing required system components and designing a preventive maintenance programme to ensure the system is reliable, safe and legally compliant.

Steam System Optimisation Assessments

Specialist measurements provide crucial information.

These assessments are designed to identify and quantify energy efficiency opportunities in your steam system. Your site is visited by a steam system optimisation team who take a series of measurements (such as flue gas tests, conductivity measurements and temperature checks across your facility),  assess process data and review historical information to build a mathematical model of your steam system. Various optimisation opportunities are then processed through the model, and potential savings in boiler fuel, water and treatment chemicals are calculated for each opportunity. Modelling is carried out at the system level, and hence the impact of implementing combinations of different opportunities can also be fully investigated.

Typical opportunities we would investigate, quantify and develop solutions for include:

  • Boiler excess air optimisation
  • Boiler blowdown frequency and volume optimisation
  • Boiler refractory and insulation opportunities
  • Feedwater economiser opportunities
  • Air preheating opportunities
  • Steam system pressure optimisation
  • Boiler blowdown heat recovery
  • Blowdown flash recovery
  • Fuel switching projects
  • Condensate flash recovery
  • Introduction of steam turbines
  • Steam header insulation projects
  • Reductions in process steam usage
  • Process plant insulation projects
  • Condensate recovery projects
  • Leak management programmes
  • Steam trap maintenance opportunities

Assessments can be accompanied by a detailed engineering report and/or a feedback presentation. Each opportunity is detailed together with the solution proposed, fuel savings expected, the cost of implementation, financial savings, expected payback and expected emission reductions.

Steam System Operator Training
Steam systems should not be operated by staff who are not fully competent to do so, given the risks inherent in any steam system and the various ways in which energy can be wasted. Boiler plant operators therefore need extensive training, and should be continuously monitored to ensure that they continue to follow specified procedures.

There are two major areas in which VWG provides steam system operator training:
• Generic training on the basic science of steam, the components of a typical steam system and the key factors impacting on safety, reliability and efficiency. See a course overview here.
• Training on how to operate the specific steam system the operators are based at. This begins with the development of standard operating procedures / work instructions specific to that plant and the optimisation of existing procedures. Operators are involved in this process and then exposed to plant-based training and coaching. This is followed up with job observations and assessments to ensure sustainability.

Steam System Optimisation Training

Delegates attending Steam System Optimisation training facilitated by Craig van Wyk, second from left.

VWG Consulting offers UNIDO-accredited steam system optimisation training suitable for engineers and technical staff involved with steam system optimisation. The training is offered periodically at venues around Johannesburg, and can also be delivered on site anywhere in South Africa for groups of 5 delegates and more. See a course overview here.

The Steam System Performance Programme
In line with all of VWG’s continuous improvement programmes, this service is designed to pay for itself, and is customised to the size of the steam system being supported. Steam system optimisation support is provided on an ongoing basis from month to month, with the dedicated support of an engineer.

As with an optimisation assessment, a comprehensive mathematical model of the steam system is constructed and a portfolio of optimisation projects is developed. The fundamental difference here is that support is provided with the implementation of identified opportunities, and in evaluating the value actually delivered by each implemented opportunity. The steam system model is updated regularly to reflect the current performance of the steam system, and overall system performance is statistically monitored and reported on each month.

The cumulative savings delivered by this programme are reported on each month in conjunction with the costs of the programme in order to demonstrate that it not only pays for itself, but delivers significant value to the client. As with our Manufacturing Cost Reduction Programme, this programme can be secured on a fixed-fee basis, or on a “shared savings” basis. In the case of the latter, payment for the service is based wholly on the savings delivered and there are no upfront costs involved. Where projects require capital investment, funding can also be made available.

Steam System Maintenance Programmes
The health of a steam system is important for its reliability, safety and legal compliance. Our team can develop a comprehensive preventive maintenance programme for your steam system, from first principles. We use tools such as Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis and Reliability-Centred Maintenance to develop preventive maintenance tasks suitable for execution by artisans and plant operators. These tasks are developed into holistic maintenance schedules that can be loaded into a computerised maintenance management system to facilitate planning and execution. The identification of critical spares is included in this process.

Thermographic imaging as used to assess steam trap performance.

We can take this a step further and actually take over the maintenance of your steam system for you. This will include boiler maintenance, the preparation for and management of statutory inspections and tests, repairs to steam and condensate lines, trap maintenance, insulation repairs, and the maintenance of all ancillary equipment related to your steam system.

If your plant requires extensive maintenance, there will most likely be a significant investment required early in the life of the programme. The benefits of preventive maintenance will then begin to take effect, and you will make significant savings as consequential equipment damage is avoided and the life of your equipment is extended.

Outsourcing of Steam System Operation, Maintenance and Optimisation
Imagine having an expert team looking after your steam system, ensuring that it delivers steam as reliably and efficiently as possible? We will place a fully-functional operational team on your site, supported by an off-site workshop team, and then operate and maintain your steam system for you. Our engineers can also ensure that your system is optimised to the maximum of its capability, and also investigate investment options to raise its performance. The net result is a system that not only operates more reliably, but can often do so at a reduced overall cost.

Our approach is unique in that we do not only assume responsibility for the operation but we also develop comprehensive systems to drive sustainability, including:

  • Work instructions / standard operating procedures  for boiler plant operation, with training of operators so that these are strictly followed
  • Development of a comprehensive preventive maintenance programme for the boiler plant and wider steam system, using tools like TPM and RCM
  • Formulation and implementation of a long-term continuous improvement strategy for the steam system that considers issues such as metering, technology and required investment
  • Modelling of the steam system and the development and implementation of appropriate energy efficiency options
  • Monthly performance reporting using principles of the ISO50001 energy management standard

Outsourcing of your steam system is available through a range of flexible packages. Payment for the service can be a fixed monthly fee, or a combination of a fixed fee and variable component based on the amount of steam supplied. Packages can incorporate a number of services based on client needs, including:

  • Boiler plant operation
  • Boiler plant and wider steam system maintenance, including the management of statutory compliance
  • Boiler plant and wider steam system optimisation

Interested in accessing some of our steam system services? Contact us to arrange a free assessment.