The days of using a rag and stick to light a burner have thankfully faded into the not-so-distant past. Technology has evolved and continues to do so at a rapid rate. Yet, the truth is that a vast majority of the process heaters in operation today are run using older, less user-friendly — and often unsafe — systems. Upgrading these outdated systems with a burner-management system (BMS) has become a common trend in the industry. As a result, there has been a significant improvement in both the safety and efficiency of updated systems and applications.

As with any improvement, issues arise when upgrading older systems. Upgrading can involve disruptions in operations and often require the retraining of staff. It can become difficult to determine when the benefits of upgrading really outweigh the extra costs and inconvenience. So, why bother with a comprehensive burner-management system? Here are the top six benefits to upgrading your process heater.

1. Improve Plant and Personnel Safety

It is no secret that incidents and near misses can tarnish safety records in industries like oil and gas and chemical processing. Excellent safety records have become a large selling point for many companies. It is not uncommon for safety to be one of the top core values or strategic imperatives of any given company. Implementation of specific goals concerning safety helps many businesses to maintain and even increase their safety ratings. Direct-fired heating is intrinsically dangerous, and it can become more so when the processing of flammable fluids and chemicals is not monitored and controlled correctly.

The implementation of a burner-management system ensures that safety standards are not simply met. Instead, in some cases, they are exceeded. Burner-management systems enable the safe startup, operation and shutdown of a process heater. A BMS monitors and controls ignition and main burners as well as valves, pressures, temperatures and flow, and valve positions. This built-in functionality allows the safe operation of crucial equipment in the field and helps to ensure compliance with applicable codes and standards.

2. Increase Reliability

If a process heater unexpectedly shuts down, it is imperative that action is immediately taken to identify the cause and get the equipment up and running as quickly as possible. A system that provides a quick and reliable way to identify shutdowns is essential to minimizing downtime and maximizing application uptime efficiency. Some burner-management controllers provide intuitive and user-friendly displays that provide detailed information to the operators regarding the current status of the system and allow them to safely perform startup and shutdown functions.

Devices that are customizable or modular are preferable because they permit greater flexibility within the system. They often have expansion capabilities that can accommodate a variety of needs. Customizable or modular systems also can be more easily upgraded for future application developmental requirements.

3. Enable Automation

Automated features are essential to the functionality of a burner-management system, and they can provide many helpful benefits. Automation allows remote-access capabilities and helps to reduce both risk and complexity for operators through the remote monitoring of critical system pressures, temperatures and levels. Monitoring ensures that the system automatically responds to the conditions of the process heater and helps reduce — and sometimes eliminate — downtime.

Automation can allow user-friendly interaction and improves the overall convenience of a system. It also enhances safety and system availability and increases compliance to industry standards and codes. It helps maintain critical aspects of the system and ensures a rapid response to changing processes. Increasing the level of automation of various aspects of the system is an expected result as greater changes to workforce demographics and training are constantly evolving and developing. To that effect, automation also allows for significant efficiency gains in manpower planning. With technology advancing at an ever-increasing rate, possibilities increase as well.

4. Enhance Communication and Reporting Capabilities

Burner-management systems also can offer enhanced communication and reporting capabilities. This means that interface between operators and the BMS is uncomplicated and convenient. Some BMS designs incorporate heightened communication between different areas of the system, allowing for detailed diagnostic reports and the provision of comprehensive information regarding temperatures, pressures and various other settings that are essential for the optimal operation of the required equipment and processes.

5. Ensure Standard and Code Compliance

Recommendations, guidelines and even internal standard operating procedures have existed for many years. Codes driven by legislation, and the need to adopt and adhere to these codes, have become an important necessity within the last decade. Legislation and regulations are continually morphing and expanding. The occurrence of incidents resulting in lawsuits — often with detrimental consequences — highlights the need for approved and certified burner-management systems.

The most recognizable codes and standards include CSA-B149.3, NFPA 86 and NFPA 87. These standards and codes all serve the same purpose: they tell the process manufacturer how to avoid situations where dangerous failures could occur, and they describe what to do when any of these situations are detected. The main function of a burner-management system is to keep the equipment and the personnel safe. Adherence to codes and standards amplifies this basic functionality by ensuring that safety requirements and expectations are adequately met.

6. Allow Standardization

Many companies have implemented detailed standard operating procedures and workflow processes that revolve around the operation of their process heating equipment. Procedures and workflow may vary — not only from company to company but from location to location or even from shift to shift. The implementation of a proper burner-management system is essential to the workflow and procedures surrounding plants, operations and facilities. It can add an extra layer of standardization and consistency that can greatly improve the safety and operational sophistication of a company.

In conclusion, upgrading your process heater’s burner-management system is both advantageous and beneficial on many levels. The six benefits listed above are a great place to start; however, these are only a few of the numerous reasons it should be seriously considered.

A burner-management system is composed of an approved and certified burner management controller and a properly designed and fully compliant fuel gas train that is properly installed, commissioned and configured by a company that provides expert training and technical support. Following these guidelines and remaining cognizant of the many benefits that come with a proper system will allow your heater applications to run in a safe, user-friendly way while becoming optimized, efficient and compliant.