During a recent energy assessment in Thailand, I had the opportunity to work with a steam trap expert at a petrochemical plant. What I saw there and the methodology and techniques used in the steam trap audit prompted me to write this column. I hope you can pick up some good ideas and best practices and implement them in your plants.
Different kinds of steam traps exist and their working principles rely on pure fundamentals of physics and thermodynamics. Knowing the trap type and understanding how it operates is imperative in testing its operating performance. The U.S. Department of Energy Steam Best Practices program advocates annual testing of all steam traps. Steam trap manufacturers and service providers estimate that 10% of steam traps fail every year. Should we care about this? Absolutely. Steam trap failures are classified generally as open and blowing; partially leaking; failed closed; and cold and plugged. Significant problems associated with these failures include energy loss, reduced operating capacity of process units, water hammer, and system reliability issues. So, the bottom line is we can’t afford to have failed steam traps in our plants!