Maximizing Efficiency With Complete Steam Trap Management


Engineer with data

Tye Buckley, Service Director, Spirax Sarco USA, 08/01/2023

After years of doing the same thing repeatedly, even though it was the right thing to do at the time, one starts to look farther out to see if there is a better way to do what we’re doing, in the way of managing a vital part of a steam system—the steam trap population.

Annual steam trap surveys used to be the norm. It still is. Spirax Sarco is performing steam trap surveys everyday around the world because it is an inexpensive way to uncover unnecessary energy and water losses that go unnoticed, unless a steam system manager closely meters fuel, makeup water, and chemical usage. Unfortunately, by the time failures are detected too much has expired, and costs are stacked.

Annual steam trap surveys can find bad actors and replacing them with the correct product can plug holes in the losses, but the frequency leaves much more room for savings.

The question I usually ask a customer—if surveys are performed typically every year, what would be an average failure rate? Not only what is your current failure rate, but what has it been the last 3 or 5 years?

"If surveys are performed typically every year, what would be an average failure rate? Not only what is your current failure rate, but what has it been the last 3 or 5 years?"
Tye Buckley, Service Director, Spirax Sarco USA

Unfortunately, it depends. Based on the industry, plant conditions, and operational characteristics, 5 to 15% failure rates are regularly witnessed from customers using a mixture of steam traps from various steam trap manufacturers.  One major problem is people forget to act on the failure or move on to other priorities, and annual steam trap surveys and replacements get pushed to the bottom of the list. Some customers schedule annual steam trap surveys every year, every other year, or every three years. Yet some go 5 to 10 years in between surveys.  So, let’s take a conservative 10% failure rate and let it go for five years…it is safe to say the failure could push to 50%, which is not only very expensive, but it could wreak havoc on process controls, product throughput, and cause real safety concerns.

If a plant has a 10-15% failure rate what is the worst thing they can do? The answer… Nothing.

We regularly uncover savings in upwards of $50,000 to $250,000 a year in energy losses, millions of gallons of water that has been heated and treated going down the drain, and unnecessary and excessive CO2 emissions pollute the air, and unfortunately, sometimes no actions are taken to minimize it.

By reviewing site conditions and customer capabilities, we can put together a Complete Steam Trap Management Program together to reduce the failure rate down to a best-in-class standard of 5% and keep it there as well. To achieve sustainable results and ensure success, the steam trap management has to be approached with a more long-term program view.

The key is making sure that three key aspects are covered: collecting data, analyzing the results, and taking action. All three points must be covered and completed each year to achieve best in class standards.

Multi-year programs with varying levels of support are available to match our Complete Steam Trap Management program with the customer and sites needs.

Once we have the basics covered, what is next or how do we take it to the next level?

The absolute best thing a site can do is implement a wireless monitoring system. Checking steam traps daily instead of yearly, allows failed steam traps to be caught faster and minimize the impact on the facility and the losses. Replacing steam traps as they fail, or even possibly before they fully fail, would make a tremendous impact on savings of energy, water, chemical and CO2 emissions.

Wireless Steam Trap Monitoring is a digital device that sends data from steam traps to a dashboard.  It’s ultrasonic and cellular technologies work together to show the leakage rate and temperature variations of steam traps.  A historical record is captured of the steam traps behavioral profile, where it is located, what it is doing, and when it is time to be replaced. In fact, alarm notifications can be set up to provide predictive maintenance solutions so steam traps can be replaced before they fail completely.  Our goal is to provide the product and service to drive annual failures to less than 5%, with the ultimate goal of 0% loss rate to maximize energy, water and chemical savings; drive down CO2 emissions, and promote long life equipment reliability and repeatability with good temperature control.

The good news is to implement a best-in-class program, we aren’t asking customers to spend more. When you consider the energy savings are added to the excess maintenance effort, and product quality costs (especially over a 3 to 5-year period), a program can reduce the overall spend for a facility.

Through Complete Steam Trap Management, we are helping people and companies find a way to use money they are currently wasting to reinvest in their facilities in a way that allows them to not only ensure their plants operate more efficiently and safely, but in a way that is best for the environment.

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