Automotive Components Maker Saves on Boiler Fuel Costs After Retrofit
Replacing an ’80s-era boiler with a modern, four-pass wetback boiler with custom combustion controls allowed one automotive components maker to save significantly on their natural gas fuel costs.
A manufacturer of products for the automotive industry, Vibracoustic specializes in anti-vibration components, mounts, link-arm assemblies and related products. At its two facilities in Morganfield, Ky., Vibracoustic molds rubber components at one while the other is used to apply adhesives to metal parts to bond the molded rubber. The adhesive plant coats about 800 different items, supplying all of the company’s North American factories.
Prior to the adhesives plant’s retrofit, the heat processing equipment used in the plant had been installed in the mid-1980s, before Vibracoustic took occupancy. The 400-hp boiler, manufactured by Cleaver-Brooks, Thomasville, Ga., was used to create steam, primarily for heating the phosphate treatment line and for heat exchangers in the drying process.
In 2013, due to the increasing cost of natural gas, the management team at Vibracoustic decided to replace the ’80-era boiler. The company sought a unit that was properly sized for the plant’s needs but allowed some room for growth.
Doug Harre, Vibracoustic’s resident plant engineer responsible for the project, researched new boilers and decided on a boiler manufactured by Hurst Boiler Inc., Coolidge, Ga. Harre selected a four-pass wetback boiler design, which he felt would be easier to maintain because it did not have refractory in the rear of the boiler that would eventually require repair or replacement. Hurst also had a reputation for successful industrial applications.
Once the boiler was selected, Harre researched burners and boiler accessories to determine the most energy-efficient package possible. Said Harre, “Our primary motivation was to update the older boiler to something more reasonably sized and also to improve our energy efficiency.” Following his research, Harre choose a burner from Webster Combustion Technology, Winfield, Kan., for the new boiler. Harre worked with a local combustion representative, Cici Boiler Rooms, Evansville, Ind., about an hour’s drive from the plant.
“They [Cici] recommended Webster, and the package I asked them to quote. We require three competitive bids on any project, so I was looking at various boilers and various suppliers,” Harre said. “As I researched them further, I really liked the Webster [burner]. There are a lot of things involved and — understanding combustion theory and process as well as I do — I liked that they added extra things they pointed out to me, such as the advantage of being able to control air intake and gas metering separately via the Siemens controller on the drive instead of through mechanical linkages. I asked for a lot of information, and they provided it. Then, we discussed it. It was very enlightening.”
Cici Boiler Rooms took Harre around to see other Hurst/Webster equipment packages in operation in his area. They visited a large corn chip manufacturing company that used the same type of Hurst boiler and Webster burner as well as several hospitals using similar equipment for facility plant steam and heat. “It was nice to be able to see the installations directly and discuss them with the people who had experience with them,” Harre added.
Harre customized the Webster burner by adding the company’s Temp-A-Trim system, which compensates for variations of air density. It adjusts the combustion air input based on air density changes to optimize the combustion process. “That was a feature that I really like on the burner. But if you don’t understand thermal dynamics, it’s one of those things that most people will overlook,” he said. “They don’t see it as being an important item where it actually can contribute quite a bit to your performance savings. It added some initial cost, sure, but the long-term savings more than make up for it.”
The trim system works helps save fuel and electricity, according to Webster, by reducing performance issues caused by air-temperature fluctuations. Said Harre, “I was really impressed with the Webster burner and its systems. Its servo drives and other bells and whistles make it considerably more energy efficient than others I researched. In the end, I chose the best burner for its capabilities.”
Harre also added an economizer, manufactured by Canon Boiler Works, New Kensington, Pa., to cut the flue gas temperature and reutilize the heat that otherwise would be exhausted to preheat incoming water that supplied the boiler.
Short- and Long-Term Costs Influence Decision
Natural gas prices have been falling around the country for a number of years, and Vibracoustic already had negotiated fairly decent energy rates from its municipal supplier. So, while the plant has achieved some savings on their utility costs since installing the new system, the difference has not been significant.
Rather than just considering expected natural gas cost savings, when evaluating bids, Harre looked at purchase price and installation costs. “I ran efficiency evaluations for each unit and each brand I looked at. With the Hurst boiler and the Webster burner control, everything was a perfect fit.” He noted that the installation went well because Cici was able to make provisions to avoid shutting down production during installation.
Harre also considers long-term costs and serviceability to be key elements of a bid evaluation. “If I have somebody who is familiar with the unit, and we have any issue, it’s important that they can be here fast. Spare parts availability is another aspect that I figured into the cost because I have to minimize my inventory, yet we have to be available to run 24/7. So, that’s another reason local support is important to me,” he explained.
In the end, the old 400-hp four-pass dryback boiler was replaced with a boiler package from Hurst and Webster that — at 200 HP — is half the size. “It is more efficient and still larger than my needs by about 100 hp,” Harre said. “I wanted to give myself plenty of room for growth on that boiler.”
Once the equipment was installed, Harre put an individual gas meter on the boiler. He was surprised at how much Vibracoustic’s new boiler cut the energy consumption compared to the old boiler. The energy-saving features he added are paying off, and Vibracoustic is reaping the benefits of their new equipment. The total overall consumption reduction was more than $150,000 per year, according to Harre.
For Vibracoustic and its adhesives plant, the upgrade to the boiler package has added up to smooth operations and big savings.
To learn more about anti-vibration components from Vibracoustic, visit www.vibracoustic.com. To learn more about boilers from Hurst Boiler Inc., call 877-994-8778 or visit www.hurstboiler.com. To learn more about burners and combustion controls from Webster Combustion, A Selas Heat Treatment Co., call 620-221-7464 or visit www.webster-engineering.com. To learn more about economizers from Cannon Boiler Works, call 724-335-8541 or visit www.cannonboilerworks.com.