Analysis Non-Destructive Testing Reliability & Maintenance Center Ultrasound

Is Your Steam Leaking?

EP Editorial Staff | March 12, 2020

Steam leaks are expensive. Follow these tips to understand and eliminate them and use ultrasound technology as your condition-monitoring tool.

Steam leaks are among the most wasteful and expensive issues found in a plant.

Leaking steam traps can increase operating expenses by as much as 33%. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Washington (openei.org), even the smallest steam-trap leak can cost as much as $8,000/yr. A dry-steam leak costs $15/1,000 lb.

By implementing an inspection program similar to that of compressed air, your plant can realize a number of efficiency improvements:

• reducing the number of traps blowing steam to 3%, compared with 50% without any program
improving system and plant performance
limiting carbon emissions and energy waste.

These are the primary warning signs of a faulty steam system:

• abnormally warm boiler room
condensate receiver venting excessive steam
vcondensate water pump failing prematurely
water hammer
boiler operating pressure is difficult to maintain.

The three primary causes of steam leaks, according to Kelly Paffel of Swagelok Co., Solon, OH (swagelok.com):

• Threaded-pipe connections: Pipe threads can fail as they expand and contract with steam and condensation. To prevent this, use welded or tube-type connections.

• Packing on standard-type valves: Standard packing on steam-isolation valves is prone to failure without a thorough proactive maintenance program. Ball and butterfly valves can better address these sealing issues.

• Carbonic acid: Carbonic acid can break down some of the most vulnerable parts of a steam system. By using welded or tube connection methods, systems can better resist corrosion. Stainless steel will improve resistance of the condensate system.

Ultrasound technology works best when it’s applied to on-line steam systems, as it can detect issues as they occur in real time. These are clear signs that a steam system has been neglected:

• oversized and misapplied steam traps
wiredrawn control valves
low steam temperatures
low percentage of condensate return. EP

For more information about using ultrasound technology as a condition-monitoring tool, contact UE Systems Inc., Elmsford, NY (uesystems.com). Click here to download the company’s eBook, Using Ultrasound to Enhance Energy Efficiency.

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