Being Intentional Leads to Better Boiler, Deaerator Performance

Taking adequate time to plan a maintenance program — even before ordering a boiler and deaerator system — will increase uptime and safety.

By Ken MisiewiczRob Moyer

FIGURE 1. In this boiler, low water controls were not properly wired or inspected. The boiler was firing dry and resulted in the complete loss of the boiler. Fortunately, no physical or life-altering damage was caused. Images courtesy of Pleune Service Co.

September 22, 2022

Poor water quality is among the most frequent causes of boiler failure. Boilers and deaerators can perform efficiently and effectively when equipment purchases are considered and informed by past performance and future use. A focused preventive maintenance plan, which is frequently undermined by time and staff constraints, is critical to maximizing boiler and deaerator life. 

Being intentional and taking adequate time to plan a maintenance program — even before ordering a boiler and deaerator system — will increase uptime and safety.

Preventive Boiler Maintenance Starts Before Fabrication

As predictive maintenance is usually cost prohibitive, and run-to-failure is a poor choice, Pleune Service Co. typically focuses on preventive maintenance. Equipment selection, the operating environment, and operator skills need to be understood to create a meaningful preventive maintenance program. In a quality-oriented program, the tasks, responsibilities, timing, and required data are mapped and shared with the entire maintenance team. Regularly scheduled discussions mean they are more likely to be effective.

Preparing for a new boiler system’s installation is key to getting a system off to a successful start. Water quality and contaminants must be addressed prior to installation. Prevent issues wherever possible and plan how to address contaminant and water quality fluctuation once the system is operational

The biggest failure of any plan is being relegated to a binder on a shelf or a file on a computer. A boiler’s preventive maintenance plan must be a living document, regularly reviewed during maintenance meetings. Individuals must be accountable for assigned tasks. Put those tasks on calendars and ensure they are completed.

When it comes to developing an action plan, be specific about tasks, timing, who is responsible, and where to record the gathered data. The plan also needs set decision points for key service and parts replacement.

Activities to be included in the plan include blowdown, skimming, burner maintenance, combustion analysis, checking safeties and operating controls, water quality testing, etc. Maintenance should never be delayed because a system seems to be performing well. Problems can arise without any warning, and it’s better to schedule downtime than to have to recover from an emergency.

Tasks will be mapped out by each piece of equipment and divided among daily, weekly, monthly, and annual timeframes. Each task must be assigned to a responsible person. Of course, the plan needs to be updated for personnel changes and must be a part of any new team member’s onboarding and training. This also helps build a culture of intentionality among maintenance team members.

A good set of safety and performance maintenance instructions provided by the boiler manufacturer and related equipment suppliers will help in crafting an intentional maintenance plan. However, consider factors specific to each boiler’s use, location, operator skills, and working conditions, and adjust as needed.

Poor Water Quality Leads to Failure

Water quality is among the most frequent reasons for boiler failure, so it should be at the forefront of a preventive maintenance plan.

FIGURE 2. The wrong air/fuel mixture in this boiler’s burner generated soot, causing greatly reduced temperature transfer to the water. The result is higher fuel bills and a reduction in efficiency, which can damage the boiler.

Whether using a hydronic or steam boiler, water chemistry is what protects or attacks the wet side of the boiler. Cast boilers can crack from overheating sections due to sediment or mineral buildup. Firetube and watertube boilers are more likely to have tube leaks at the tube sheet and other high-stress areas. Failure to manage particulate, PH, inhibitors, and oxygen scavengers properly can damage boilers quickly.

A well-maintained closed-loop hydronic system with little feedwater may do very well with an annual water sample. Corrective actions based on lab reports can generally be done early enough to prevent damage. However, a steam system is very dynamic and requires frequent testing so adjustments can be made quickly. Each time an adjustment is made, regardless of system, time to equalize is needed before more samples are taken.

Maintenance teams must be committed to regular water quality testing. Treating feed and system water to minimize contamination requires a great deal of human touch and attention. However, boiler and deaerator manufacturers can help ease preventive maintenance with some simple and thoughtful features.

Efficient Boiler Maintenance Made Easier by Boiler Fabricators

A thoughtful design process will make sure the right equipment is selected, which maximizes the life cycle of the equipment. The easier the equipment is to service, the more likely all tasking will be completed as intended.

First and foremost, be sure boiler and deaerator fabricators are American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)-certified and adhere to the organization’s industry-standard boiler and pressure vessel code (BPVC). ASME sets the industry’s guidelines for safe and effective boiler and pressure vessel design, construction, maintenance, and operation. Manufacturers who are certified have demonstrated their proficiency in building the equipment and undertake additional inspections of their work.

ASME-certified manufacturers also have been shown to develop relationships with their customers, listen to their needs, and offer improvements to help their boiler and deaerator function effectively and efficiently to provide the best return on investment.

Since water quality is a big driver of boiler and deaerator failure, share feedwater quality conditions with the fabricator. While corrosion cannot be completely eliminated with materials and welding choices, boiler life span certainly can be extended when paired with a well-executed maintenance plan.

Intentional Fabrication and Service Raise the Bar

Boiler manufacturers that are intentional about providing good access to service and repair pumps are worth additional investment. Fabricators, like Rexarc, understand the need to ease and simplify service and maintenance. The best manufacturers understand the need to maintain and service boiler components and will make it easier to do so.

FIGURE 3. The results of an improperly tuned boiler.

Manufacturers can label components and access areas by stamping the metal rather than applying labels that can dislodge in typical boiler operating conditions. Metal stamping key access points and components also eliminates costly trial-and-error access and unnecessary downtime. In addition to labeling, clear instruction stamps can assist with easy repair and replacement of parts. 

Built-in inspection ports on key components also ease service options. Boiler and deaerator systems are massive closed systems subjected to corrosion. Viewports can help see within the pressure vessels to check for corrosion damage to help operators achieve more uptime.

Above all, the boiler and deaerator fabricators need to understand the design intent and life cycle expectations to make sure the specifications are correct for the application. A quality fabrication partner will do the load calculations and ensure the design and engineering support the use case. They also will learn the client’s short- and long-term plans for the equipment’s use along with maintenance and service capabilities.

Beyond Manufacturing

In addition to building boiler systems meant to be maintained and serviced, manufacturers can provide a high level of support, including training at the factory and localized training with representatives. System startup assistance also ensures operation of a new system gets off to a solid start.

On the end-user side, it’s imperative to use the boiler and deaerator as intended. Though many might think this goes without saying, it’s not unusual for a boiler to fail because it’s being used beyond its capacity or in a different manner than intended. Each boiler system is built to the owner’s specifications and needs, so it needs to be used and maintained as such.

Boiler maintenance does require the correct skill set and mindset. If an internal maintenance team does not readily have those skills or time — many are stretched thin — seek help from a qualified service provider. The efficient operation of a boiler and the safety of a facility are nothing to leave to chance. Being intentional is no accident. 

~ Compliments of Today’s Boiler Magazine, Fall 2022 Edition


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