Informed Boiler Repair/Replace Decisions

EP Editorial Staff | December 19, 2013


Resolving to upgrade a steam system can lead to welcome dividends.

With 2014 right around the corner, many people are making New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, most resolutions don’t seem to last beyond six weeks. On the other hand, if your resolution list includes ways to help your site save money, optimize equipment and processes, become more sustainable or all of the above, with a properly specified and/or maintained steam boiler, you don’t have to worry about making it past the six-week mark. The right boilers (backed by the right boiler decisions) have the potential to improve your operations for years to come.

Boilers are the workhorses of a facility. Providing the steam required for a plant’s processes, their applications are varied. Although these units are often ignored, plants can find themselves in total shutdown mode when they fail—as if a utility had turned off the electricity. 

Out with the old and in with new, or otherwise

For sites that depend on steam systems, it’s important for boilers to operate reliably, efficiently and safely. Newer designs can do all that and more: Among other things, they’re more compact, reliable, efficient and environmentally friendly than older, conventional models. Determining the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of simply repairing aging or ailing units or totally replacing them is easy if you follow this straightforward checklist:

— Determine Your Need: Not all in-service boilers are repairable. Repairing one that’s too small or inefficient for the application may not be the best use of your capital budget. It makes sense to do your homework and compare your existing boiler(s) with those that are currently on the market. You may find it more practical to purchase a new unit.

Consider what you have, what you think you need and all of the options that are available to you. Many modern boilers incorporate control systems and allow economizers to improve efficiency. Such a purchase can quickly pay for itself. 

Should your operation prefer not to replace its existing boiler(s), if at all possible, you’ll need to thoroughly evaluate the equipment to make sure it can support retrofits or repairs.

— Consider Purchase and Operating Costs: If you decide to purchase a new boiler—either to improve efficiency or save money—you should first look at the operating cost of the new unit. While a cheap boiler may seem attractive at first glance, make sure you factor in fuel cost, which can quickly outweigh the initial capital cost

Look at a 10-year operating cycle and examine your total expenses. If that enticingly cheap unit you’re considering buying were to use more fuel or require more maintenance and repair over the long haul, it would cost more to own it.

— Match Your Purchase To Your Needs (Exactly):  With a full understanding of how steam is used to produce energy, pick either single or multiple units that match the criteria you need. For example, if you need a boiler to run only for a short time and not continuously, consider a quick-starting unit to save on operating labor and fuel. Conversely, if you need a boiler to run continuously or at high power, opt for a more efficient model and add a stack economizer—which will quickly pay for itself through the life of the unit and allow you to reuse and recycle process heat.

— Thinking Newer/Younger May be Better: While retrofitting may help your boiler in the short term, in the long run the sizing of feed-water treatment systems must also be considered. Consider using a newer unit as your primary equipment, and an older one as backup. 

— Get Steamed Up: Steam usage is also a critical consideration. Odds are that your boiler usage has increased since you purchased the equipment. Adding newer, more efficient models and having one undersized unit as a backup will help you get the job done with a strong reliability margin. If your steam usage has decreased, consider replacing an existing unit boiler with several smaller-sized ones to help with fuel savings.

— Cheaper by the Dozen (or by Two): While multiple units will cost more during the initial installation, they will quickly pay for themselves in improved efficiency. If a burner should go out, production downtime can be a very expensive liability. Multiple backup boilers translate into less of a production risk.

— Stay Abreast of Applicable Regulations: Check appropriate agencies for current and possible regulatory changes. Repairs and retrofitting to adhere to changing regulatory requirements can become expensive. If such a scenario is a possibility, a boiler replacement might be the cheaper course of action.

— Customer Service is Key to Long-term Success: Always remember that a boiler’s vendor and repair provider can be just as important an investment as the equipment itself. Make sure that you review a company’s ability to provide continued support and how timely it is in responding to service needs. Verify, as well, that any service agreements are within your budget.

Don’t forget the intangibles

Intangibles are items that are usually difficult to put a price on during an estimate or comparison. Still, they can end up costing copious amounts of cash. Factory-skid-mounting of equipment is an example of an item that can be included in a boiler-purchase contract: This type of mounting will not only save in installation costs, it also can save engineering hours and allow the new unit to be up and running faster. Availability of spare parts and performance guarantees should also be considered. MT

The information in this article has been supplied by Clayton Industries, Inc.




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