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Here's How the IoT Improves Boiler Room Intel

Facilities ranging from food and beverage processing plants to textile manufacturers often have industrial boilers helping them function. It’s increasingly common to see decision-makers opting to use smart boiler technology to provide insights that were not previously available. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can give real-time readings of various metrics that show how boiler equipment is operating and reveal any potential issues.

Here’s a closer look at what’s possible.

Ensuring Optimal Operations

Many individuals who oversee industrial boilers are busy people. That means that they don’t always have opportunities to go to each piece of equipment often enough to make sure it’s working as expected. However, many IoT products for boiler rooms can send readings to a smartphone or computer, letting people get the details from wherever they are, even when off-site.

Cleaver-Brooks has an IoT product called Prometha. Rakesh Zala is the Vice President of Product Engineering for the company’s packaged boiler systems. He explained, “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.”

Zala then explained the user-friendliness of the data streams. “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.”

Zala discussed how this solution is particularly advantageous for companies that don’t have full-time boiler technicians or operators on their teams. People can get smart boiler data sent to portable devices, so they can monitor it at any time and only intervene if conditions deteriorate. 

Preventing Unexpected Equipment Failures

One of the best ways to help a boiler operate efficiently is to have maintenance carried out at least quarterly in addition to the equipment’s annual inspections. During these visits, a technician can identify any issues that could cause the boiler to get red-tagged during its next inspection.

However, a smart boiler could also potentially find issues between those planned visits, providing even more visibility that prevents service disruptions. One example occurred when people developed an IoT system that enabled predictive maintenance for boiler feedwater pumps. Researchers concluded that their setup could detect potential failures long before they happened and pinpoint the likely source of the problem.

Another study indicated that choosing predictive maintenance over reactive maintenance in industrial settings could result in savings of 30%-40%. It is probably not hard to imagine how that could happen. A boiler that breaks down unexpectedly could slow or halt the workflow. The associated ramifications could cause companies to miss client deadlines, resulting in distrust and potential reputational damage.

Additionally, companies that must make an urgent appointment with a technician to assess the situation will pay a high cost. Plus, it may be necessary to get a part special-ordered and then schedule another appointment to have it installed.

IoT data from a smart boiler helps reduce or eliminate these instances by making people aware of possible problems sooner. They then have more flexibility to plan their mitigation approaches, making it less likely that the company will suffer a prolonged and costly boiler failure. 

Providing a Competitive Advantage

Some boiler equipment manufacturers offer an add-on connectivity service for more peace of mind. Participants get real-time boiler data as appropriate, and so will the manufacturer or parties that are designated as field technicians. That way, there’s more awareness of instances when metrics aren’t as they should be.

Grant Renecle is a combustion engineer and owner of South Africa’s Combustion Technology, a company that provides boiler and burner sales and servicing. Renecle noted that remote monitoring for boiler room equipment was particularly convenient during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies operated with limited on-site staff. However, IoT technology let team members verify that all boilers were operating normally, even while working from home.

Renecle also said that the Combustion Technology clients who signed up for the IoT technology were amazed at the additional insights they got from having a smart boiler. For example, focusing on factors such as emissions or excess air within the combustion process allowed them to achieve efficiency gains that were previously impossible without real-time data from sensors.

The Combustion Technology products can also send sensor data to up to 10 specified contacts by email, including details about alerts or boiler readings. Some systems even enable automatic adjustments if boiler data falls outside of set parameters. Those options further relieve the burdens on the on-site boiler technicians or those who only visit plants as needed.

IoT technology on a boiler also gives a competitive advantage by helping people understand how background activities contribute to high boiler performance. Renecle noted, “You’ve got to focus on the boiler and what’s going on inside the boiler because that ultimately impacts customers and their overall plant efficiencies. There needs to be total integration and collated data.”

Some of Combustion Technologies’ data helps clients know when to schedule maintenance appointments, letting them operate with more resiliently. 

Adapting to Environmental Changes

Another advantage of smart boiler technology is that it can sense specifics about the environment and automatically adjust when necessary. One product on the market detects changes in weather and altitude. After taking those readings into account, an oxygen sensor determines if the boiler reached its combustion target.

Company representatives also worked hard to make the boilers easy to use, regardless of a person’s skill level. There is only one mechanical step, which involves the gas valve. The rest happens on an attached screen. Future models of these boilers may not even require that screen for functionality. Instead, a technician might use Bluetooth technology to connect a smartphone or tablet to the boiler and operate it from there.

The boiler’s design also prioritizes ease of access, making maintenance as quick and straightforward as possible. Making these choices before bringing the product to the market increases the likelihood of higher adoption rates. People that perceive that learning to operate a smart boiler will require too steep of a learning curve may not want to invest in the associated technology. 

Will You Purchase a Smart Boiler?

This overview shows why many decision-makers see IoT boiler technology as worthwhile. However, it doesn’t have equal payoffs for every circumstance. Settling on the desired outcomes will help people choose when and how to use the technology.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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