Digitization is coming to your boiler room

Feb. 18, 2020
A conversation with Rakesh Zala of Cleaver-Brooks.

Editor's Note: This post was sponsored by Cleaver-Brooks.

Industry 4.0 continues to sweep through industry, constantly penetrating and changing new areas of plant operations. That change has finally come to the boiler room.

Founded in 1929, Cleaver-Brooks is a complete boiler room solutions provider that helps businesses run better every day. Through a commitment to research and development and a sound acquisition strategy, today the company is the sole provider of integrated boiler, burner, controls, and exhaust solutions and is a leading manufacturer of boiler room equipment across commercial, institutional, and industrial markets.

We recently caught up with Rakesh Zala, vice president of product engineering for Cleaver-Brooks Packaged Boiler Systems, to ask him how advances in IoT technology are changing the face of boiler room operations. Zala has 29 years of industry experience, and is responsible for developing new products and technology at Cleaver-Brooks.

Q: The internet of things has evolved in the past five years, as more and more industrial technologies emerge that deliver on the promise of Industry 4.0 to drive new efficiencies across plant operations. How do Cleaver-Brooks offerings fit into increasingly digitized plant environments?

A: About 15 years ago, we engineered the Hawk advanced control that monitors more than 250 data points on a boiler system, including required pressures, flows, and temperatures, to optimize a boiler plant operation. So, we’ve been collecting boiler system data for quite some time.

The majority of connected boilers today simply collect equipment data and make it available for viewing remotely. Our newly launched Prometha™ IoT-connected boiler solution not only collects the data, but it also provides actionable insights into a boiler operation.

Prometha displays overall system status and detailed dashboards with gauges and trend charts that communicate potential issues and provide insights for troubleshooting. This format enables managers to spend their time acting on the data instead of taking valuable time sorting through it. 

What sets Cleaver-Brooks apart, particularly in the boiler industry, is that we have a data scientist on staff who works closely with me and the R&D team to analyze the data that’s collected, discover relationships, and transform boiler intelligence into equipment and process insights. 

Q: One of the drivers of IoT on the plant floor are the benefits that remote monitoring can generate, and the boiler room represents a new area of application. What new insights are being achieved when boilers are fully connected, and what are some of the common KPIs that are being measured?

A: Prometha can provide remote monitoring and value-added insights into many key performance indicators such as efficiency, stack temperature, flame signal strength, and oxygen level.

By reviewing real-time data, plant personnel can make quicker and more informed decisions that reduce costs, increase efficiencies, improve safety, and ensure sustainability. One of the most important benefits is that this data can help prevent or reduce unscheduled boiler downtime. 

For example, viewing trending information about the oxygen level of a boiler’s exhaust gas provides a user insight into its overall burner health. If the oxygen level is too low, the combustion process can become fuel-rich because there is insufficient oxygen for all of the fuel to burn. This condition can cause high levels of carbon monoxide to be generated along with other dangerous outcomes.

Q: Real-time data trending enabled by IoT technology makes it easier for plant managers and engineers to understand when remedial action must be taken immediately. How do these solutions help plant engineers draw the right insights from data, and not drown in a data lake?

A: Our Prometha IoT solution arranges the data on a dashboard and displays it on gauges that can be viewed on any web-enabled mobile phone, tablet or computer. The gauges have green (good), yellow (sub-optimal) and red (poor) ranges, making it simple for a plant manager or engineer to see at-a-glance how current boiler operation compares to the optimal ranges as defined by the product experts at Cleaver-Brooks.

Prometha sends email and text alerts when the boiler shuts down due to an alarm condition. This enables a maintenance technician or plant manager to immediately begin troubleshooting the problem.

The trending and reporting capabilities through Prometha capture boiler system anomalies, even when no one is in the boiler room to witness them. Similar to an EKG that graphs the activity of a heart, a Prometha trend report records the intricate details about a boiler system’s performance. This capability enables facility personnel to examine what happened in the boiler room during any given time period.

Q: What are your customers saying about their experience with IoT in the boiler room, and in general, how ready is the average facility to implement this type of technology?

A: Prometha is applicable for any industry and addresses different needs for facilities of all sizes. Smaller facilities that do not have a boiler operator or technician on site all the time especially like the flexibility and peace of mind that this solution offers them.

For example, in one Colorado manufacturing facility, the plant shuts down on the weekend, and the boiler runs in hot standby mode. The maintenance manager used to spend 2-3 hours traveling to and from the facility every Sunday to check on the boiler system. With Prometha, he can now view the boiler gauges remotely, which enables him to spend more time with his family.

Being able to view trending information is a benefit to our customers as well. One technician at a hospital in Massachusetts likes to keep a close eye on steam pressure and stack temperature. He looks at the trends to see if there are any major changes in his steam production or if he needs to put an additional boiler online based on load. He said monitoring stack temperature trends helps him know if his boiler is potentially sooting up and losing efficiency.

Prometha is easy to install. If a facility can receive a cell signal, then the installation of Prometha is plug and play through a Hawk control. No onsite programming or configuration is necessary. The boiler dashboard is ready to view as soon as the gateway is installed.

It’s important to add that customer data stays secure, because Prometha does not require access to a customer’s LAN or corporate network. Also, since Prometha allows read-only access to the boiler data, it is impossible to change any boiler setting remotely.

We depend on IoT technology to monitor our health, give us directions, and even call for help if we get into an auto accident. There is peace of mind knowing these services are available, and the same is true for boiler monitoring with added OEM insights. With the high cost of unplanned downtime, a facility needs to understand their specific risk of not having a boiler IoT solution to help with the challenging task of boiler optimization.

To download a white paper about IoT-powered Solutions for the Boiler Room, or to learn more about Prometha, visit www.prometha.com or call (888) 971-6117.

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