Don't lose steam

A steam champion on staff maximizes the performance of steam operations

By A "steam champion" with skills, leadership, and vision maximizes the effectiveness of plant steam systems

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Traditional management of industrial steam systems focuses on operations and maintenance. Competitive pressures, technology evolution and increasingly complex regulations provide additional challenges. Operating a steam system effectively demands the managerial expertise of a "steam champion," a facility professional with the skills, leadership and vision needed to maximize the effectiveness of a plant's steam system.

More importantly, the steam champion acts as liaison between the boardroom and the plant floor by translating the functional aspects of steam optimization into equivalent corporate rewards, such as increased profitability, reliability and workplace safety. The prerequisites for becoming a steam champion include skills in business, management and engineering.

Steam is a significant element of manufacturing. Steam systems account for approximately two thirds of the fuel consumed there. In 1995, this consumption totaled 9.34 billion quads (one quad = one quadrillion BTU = 1015 BTU), and cost $21 billion. Steam continues to be an ideal thermal medium for processes that involve transforming, distilling, shaping or curing.

Plant managers usually view steam as a utility that supports core process activities. They attribute value solely to process applications. No such attribution is given to steam utilities. This implies plant managers don't think of steam systems as sources of additional value waiting to be captured. Instead, they consider the steam manager's job simply as a way to ensure a reliable steam supply. At worst, it suggests some managers are unaware of the opportunities to control steam system operating costs.

ROI available

An optimized steam system can return real value to its owner. But it requires sophisticated management, proper system design, balancing, maintenance and repair procedures. Balancing refers to a continuous process of matching steam supply to steam demand.

Increasingly, however, business priorities enter the steam management agenda. Competition and cost pressures demand manufacturers squeeze plant expenses while generating revenue from marketable products. New technologies that enhance steam system productivity emerge. Other technologies threaten to replace steam. At the same time, the imposition of environmental regulations and operator certifications complicate steam management.

Management functions

A more sophisticated managera steam championis a professional equipped with the skills, leadership and vision necessary to manage industrial steam operations. The capabilities of a steam champion include:

Performance management for evaluating plant functions relative to industry peers or benchmarks.

Operations management for identifying and implementing maintenance and operations processes to ensure reliable steam output.

Personnel management for allocating and developing human resources as needed to perform system operations.

Business management for analyzing and communicating steam system performance as it pertains to business priorities and goals.

Planning and anticipating changes in the business environment, including new technologies, regulations, market conditions and human resource issues.

Performance management

Performance management is the first step in optimizing a steam system. Several key operating metrics allow comparison among systems within the same industry and tracking one system's performance over time. For example, boiler efficiency compares the heat content of the steam produced to the heat content of the fuel consumed. While sharing data with competitive firms is usually problematic, professional engineering societies, local utilities or manufacturing assistance programs may be of help. Operations benchmarking also takes place if a plant is one of many belonging to the same corporate group.

The true effectiveness of steam operations can be evaluated with only a few fundamental metrics. The cost per thousand pounds of steam produced is a comprehensive measure of system operating expense. Steam's contribution to plant output is another potential metric, and can be expressed as pounds of steam required per unit of production. Comparing the metrics to industry standards provides a relative measure of a steam plant's operating condition. Knowledge of relative performance is a prerequisite to implementing an ongoing optimization program. Table 1 suggests the steam champion's checklist of performance management items.

Table 1. Steam champion's performance management checklist.

Operations management

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