The importance of safety in industrial ovens, furnaces and other combustion systems cannot be overstated. Hundreds of combustion-related incidents and near misses occur every year, resulting in millions of dollars in business interruption, facility damage, lawsuits, fines, litigation and lost marketshare.
Many tools are required to safely operate, troubleshoot, inspect and maintain fuel-fired equipment. Taking steps ahead of time and equipping a plant and its employees with the training, knowledge and tools they need to do their jobs has been proven to save lives.
Industrial companies face difficult challenges related to people, equipment and policies. As Baby Boomer near retirement, industrial companies must deal with an aging workforce and the need to retain and replace tribal knowledge of production processes. New employees lack familiarity with common combustion equipment. This situation is exacerbated by the on-average higher-turnover rate of millennial-age workers.
Outdated infrastructure also poses a danger to overall safety. As an industrial facility’s processes and associated assets are service aged — and changes in operating regimes increase loads on equipment — integrity and reliability can be adversely affected. In addition, there may be minimal data capture from gas-pressure switches and other legacy equipment. These rudimentary devices provide limited information about their operating state and overall functional health.
Combustion operations in industries such as metals, food and building materials may be data rich and information poor. In other words, they have effective solutions for tasks like burner management, but they lack the ability to connect these systems to data historians for comprehensive analysis of conditions, trends, failure modes, etc. Furthermore, plants are under pressure to meet strict regulatory standards. Adequate safeguards are required in most national combustion safety standards such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 86: Standard for Ovens and Furnaces.
Opportunities for Improvement
Manufacturers of all sizes are seeking expanded visibility of data to optimize process heating operations. They benefit from the ability to diagnose performance issues remotely and, using actionable intelligence, take corrective actions. There also is value in knowing beforehand what parts are needed for equipment repair and maintenance.
Company management wants to receive real-time operating information and rapid updates on plant performance. Their goal is to use intelligent safety devices to optimize safety performance. At the same time, these devices are expected to help drive increased reliability and uptime, improve efficiency and sustainability, lower energy costs and facilitate regulatory compliance.
Plants are striving for a first-time solution, whereby field personnel are able to diagnose and solve asset issues without incurring a process shutdown or otherwise impacting productivity. Plant and maintenance engineers need proactive notification of performance problems and asset degradation.
In all areas of manufacturing, technology empowering ways to capture, record and explore process data. Companies are focused on extracting and manipulating information in new ways for data scientists. Their objective is to connect legions of legacy equipment — to enable real-time data capture and to deploy optimization and safety solutions faster and more accurately.
Advanced Combustion Safety Solutions
Many of the recent control technology developments in combustion safety can be combined to create a holistic approach to combustion controls. Four key elements include:
- Modern measurement and control technologies.
- Cloud-based tools and applications.
- Advanced data historians and analytics.
- Significant optimization experience.
Digital technology suppliers are exploring Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) innovations for the industries with combustion processes. Manufacturers can use IIoT technologies to improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of operations across a single plant or among several plants within an enterprise. Such changes are yielding benefits such as:
- Enhanced maintenance and automated combustion safety audits.
- Enhanced insights via cloud-based remote monitoring.
- Enhanced support with intelligent control hardware.
- Enhanced operations via outcome-based approach.
Integrated combustion-management systems offer combustion control and safety benefits beyond what legacy equipment traditionally can provide. A modular and flexible solution can manage crucial combustion operating assets operations while reducing the potential for safety incidents.
Enhanced Maintenance and Automated Combustion Safety Audits. Digitization driven by IIoT technologies has made it possible to conduct automated, connected combustion-safety audits. Plant personnel gain secure access to electronically delivered field data, including historical information about a site’s combustion systems. Subsequently, they can implement effective methodologies for engineering analysis and quality review as well as perform risk and asset management online.
The introduction of intelligent wearables supports the auditing process and helps identify risks to field personnel. For instance, wearables include a head-mounted visual display that responds to voice commands and brings live data, video, photos, documents and work procedures, and health and safety information into view. Such technology can connect field workers with remote experts in real-time, so they can assimilate skills and knowledge while working.
Process heating facilities also are using drone technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of internal burner inspections. Drones can perform inspections of hazardous and difficult-to-reach locations, including confined spaces such as furnaces and elevated piping normally requiring scaffolding and lifts.
Enhanced Insights via Cloud-Based Remote Monitoring. Modern remote-monitoring technology is changing how maintenance engineers and plant managers monitor and manage their thermal process equipment. It enables live performance monitoring of “in-the-dark” assets, not to mention increased utilization of data historians and analytics. Such changes help predict potential asset failures and identify trends in process performance.
Remote-monitoring solutions can serve as an “expert on call” of sorts for industrial organizations that have lost experienced resources due to retirement. The digital solution offers an option for facilities that do not have the in-house capabilities to provide comprehensive asset management.
Remote-monitoring tools securely connect combustion equipment to the cloud, making critical thermal process data continuously available on any smart device. At the same time, the tools free plant personnel from local equipment monitoring. With real-time alerts and notifications, workers can proactively troubleshoot the problems that lead to process disruptions, unplanned downtime and lost productivity. They are able to diagnose issues from a convenient location and arrive in the field with the correct tools and knowledge for a faster repair. If needed, technicians can call upon external resources with combustion know-how. These remotely located technicians can assist with diagnosing asset issues.
Enhanced Support with Intelligent Control Hardware. A key innovation for industrial combustion operations involves the use of smart transmitters to help avert process-variable excursions, which pose a significant safety risk. Modern intelligent transmitters provide continuous communication outputs and utilize extensive self-diagnostics intended to tell operators and technicians when devices are about to fail.
At the same time, more plants are employing safety-rated programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to ensure the functional safety of machines and plants. A safety PLC is designed so it does not fail, or — if failure is unavoidable — it will fail only in a predictable, safe way. This is achieved through built-in diagnostics that allow for continuous monitoring of inputs and outputs. Should an internal fault or failure be detected, a safe shutdown will occur.
Control hardware developments also have brought together configurable safety and programmable logic. Integrated equipment-management systems offer combustion control and safety benefits beyond what legacy equipment traditionally could provide. Such a modular, flexible option can help plants needing to manage crucial combustion operating assets operations while reducing the potential for safety incidents.
Enhanced Operations via Outcome-Based Approach. Technology suppliers also are able to offer outcome-based service contacts to industrial companies with thermal processes. In effect, the OEM and processor establish a collaborative partnership over the safety lifecycle. The contracts allow both parties to share the benefits of performance optimization. The supplier essentially takes ownership of everything from the installation of burners, valves, controllers and other equipment to asset maintenance, safety audits, data management and analytics. Generally, the supplier is compensated based on its ability to safely, efficiently and reliably manage combustion processes. This end-to-end approach is focused on minimizing costs, reducing risk and delivering value.
An outcome-based solution for combustion safety addresses critical optimization opportunities by utilizing advanced data analytics to monitor assets continuously. This allows the combustion technology provider to align its actions with the customer’s key performance indicators (KPIs) rather than adherence to fixed schedules.
By employing a comprehensive strategy for combustion safety, industrial organizations can ensure the well-being of personnel within their work environment while increasing the safety, efficiency and dependability of fuel-fired equipment.
Benefits to Industrial Organizations
For years, automation strategies have missed the world of combustion systems. The continued demand for data and actionable intelligence has finally created an opportunity to bring intelligent control to combustion systems. Industrial organizations that rely upon thermal processes to create value can benefit from an IIoT approach that maximizes the connectivity of real-time and cyber-secure operating data and automates predictive analytics to provide outcome-based plant asset management.
A holistic solution helps manufacturers optimize their combustion system performance, protect people and components, reduce financial and physical risks, address reduced thermal expertise and achieve greater productivity.
Organizations that rely upon combustion systems to generate value for their products are starting to see an expanded suite of solutions. With a comprehensive, connected strategy for combustion safety, industrial organizations can help to ensure the well-being of personnel within their work environment while increasing the safety, efficiency and dependability of fuel-fired equipment.
In conclusion, it is clear that the future of combustion safety will encompass advanced data analytics, actionable intelligence and predictive maintenance. Deployed in a vendor-agnostic way, these solutions will be focused on making process heating and related operations not only safer but also more profitable.