Measuring the performance of the equipment you currently use will help identify savings opportunities and opportunities to improve equipment safety.

In thefirst article in this series, "Combustion System Management: A Methodical Approach", I outlined areas of process heating equipment performance that contribute to an organization's bottom line. For the purposes of this series, that can be broken down into three areas:
  • Direct costs, including utility costs (fuel gas, oil and/or electricity), compressed air, steam and cooling water.
  • Personnel costs, or the cost to operate and manage the equipment.
  • Maintenance costs.

I also suggested that the equipment's suitability and safety issues be examined. Is the equipment sized properly to efficiently process the material being manufactured? Have the process requirements changed since the system was designed and installed? Will the equipment function safely? Does the equipment meet current generally accepted standards and codes?

The next step is to analyze your data and create a process heating equipment improvement plan. I recommend the following steps to develop this plan.

First, review your utility consumption, suitability and safety analysis and create a list of all reasonable opportunities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your process heating equipment. The list should be compiled by plant and production engineering, equipment operators, maintenance personnel and any other group that has a direct stake in the operation of the equipment. To ensure the best possible outcome, be sure to consider every important viewpoint. Do not forget to include financial people, and double-check that the calculations of returns on various investments are calculated properly. Work to keep the group focused on improving process heating equipment.

Second, it is extremely valuable to enlist the assistance of outside experts as well. They include:

Original Equipment Manufacturer. The OEM is always a good source for ideas on how to improve the performance of your equipment. The OEM will leverage the experience gained in solving a variety of problems for varied customers to your unique requirements. The OEM also is the company in the best position to know the equipment. Insist that the OEMs quantify the impact of their recommendations.

Combustion Equipment or Heating Element Manufacturers. The heating component manufacturers bring additional cross-cutting experience to your analysis and can present unique opportunities to improve equipment operation. These organizations know what constitutes the state-of-the-art in heating equipment and control technology. They will be aware of opportunities for cost-effective equipment upgrades. Again, insist these organizations quantify the impact their recommendations will have on your equipment.

Local Universities. Universities in your area may offer programs to assist businesses in accessing their energy usage. These programs generally consist of skilled academics guiding the work of their undergraduate or graduate students. This may be a cost-effective means of identifying and quantifying energy savings opportunities.

Independent Consultants.If your firm has limited experience or time, outside consultants are another resource to consider. A consultant's advice comes at a cost, but it is independent. A consultant may be able to more effectively solicit and evaluate input from both OEMs and heating component manufacturers. If your staff's time is extremely limited, a consultant may be the only way you can put a plan in place within an acceptable time frame.

Third, after the initial collection of ideas, choose those that will, in your opinion, provide the best opportunity to reduce costs or improve effectiveness. Limit this group to a number your staff has the time to completely review. If equipment safety concerns are uncovered, you must address these first.

Fourth, develop common criteria that you will use to assess the potential of each initiative. The knowledge gained from your initiatives will fall into categories similar to your cost analysis. Group initiatives according to equipment type, resources saved and magnitude of investment in time and money.

The best programs contain a variety of initiatives, both small and large. Do not overlook simple initiatives such as mandatory periodic combustion adjustments. Implementing this change can contribute a substantial energy savings and a short payback period. Moreover, it can be executed quickly and used as an example to raise energy awareness within your organization.

Engage financial people to assist with the analysis as early in the process as possible. It often is difficult to compare the different types of programs. An accountant familiar with your organization is in the best position to level the playing field. Involving financial people from the beginning will increase the credibility of any request for monies based on a projected financial return.

A majority of process heating equipment is heated with natural gas. In the past, volatile natural gas prices have made payback analyses a challenge. It is difficult to estimate the return received by improving the thermal efficiency of a piece of equipment when the cost of energy is unpredictable. The good news is there seems to be less volatility in the price of natural gas. The bad new is the price is high -- and rising. According to a report by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, natural gas prices are projected to rise 13 percent in 2004 over 2003 prices. Gone are the days of $2.40 per million BTU -- the new prices will range from $5 to $6 per million BTU.

Fifth, submit each initiative to the people responsible for future planning. It makes no sense to upgrade a piece of equipment that will be pulled from service within six months due to a change in the plant's product mix. While this seems obvious, we all know of occasions when future plans are not widely communicated.

Sixth, look for opportunities to broaden the positive impact of an equipment-upgrade initiative beyond cost avoidance to process improvement. For example, suppose you decide to install a more efficient heating system to reduce energy costs. That initiative may be expanded at little additional cost to improve temperature uniformity through a control instrument upgrade. Not only is fuel saved, but process quality is improved as well.

Seventh, always look for opportunities to improve the operator interface of a piece of equipment undergoing an upgrade. Consider the equipment's maintainability. Are there unions in the piping that allow the replacement of valves or regulators? Are there ready means to access and replace thermocouples? An upgrade is an ideal time to address these deficiencies.

Lastly, before upgrading a piece of equipment, consider replacement. In many industries, efforts to reduce process inventory have resulted in smaller lot sizes. The furnace that was well suited to runs of 1,000 widgets may be grossly inefficient when the lot size is 100 widgets. Does it make sense to upgrade a machine that is too large for the process it serves?

Once your analysis is complete, you should be able to easily create a prioritized list of process heating equipment initiatives. Each initiative should have a cost, benefit and return calculation. The next step is execution and evaluation. Look for details on that in the February 2005 issue ofProcess Heating.

Sidebar: The Annual Inspection

The annual inspection is a critical component of any process heating equipment management procedure. An effective program more than pays for itself in reduced energy costs and reduced equipment downtime, but more importantly, it can save lives.

This point is ably demonstrated in “Put your safety controls to the test!” FM Global Document P0029, which was printed in July 2000. It says, “Over the past 10 years [assume 1990 - 1999], more than 155 serious combustion explosions involving industrial heating equipment have been reported to FM Global - representing a loss of US$259 million…If you examine what really contributed to the cause and severity of these losses, you would find that the underlying reasons for such explosions are mainly due to failed or missing safety devices, and lack of proper procedures.”

Go to Part 3, "Executing Your Plan"