Civil | Infrastructure

The Civil/Infrastructure category contains blogs related to civil engineering and infrastructure projects.

Steaming ahead with SFD in Power and Recovery Boilers

Paper Mill Steam

ITM SFD technology helps energy producers generate power more efficiently by detecting energy sapping soot buildup in power and recovery boilers 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the pulp and paper industry is the 3rd largest consumer of energy in U.S. manufacturing. A great deal of that energy is expended to generate massive amounts of steam inside about 200 black liquor recovery boilers spread around North America. That steam then powers generators that produce electricity to operate the mills. 

Imagine the energy savings if enhancements inside those recovery boilers could conserve 5% of all that steam. Not only would this advance in boiler efficiency carry an enormous environmental impact — potentially trillions of BTUs — the value of that steam savings would equal more than a million dollars a year at every plant where it is adopted.  

Figures like these help explain why Tim Carlier has spent years refining the novel idea he calls the Sootblower Fouling Detection System or SFD. SFD is his patented technology for measuring fouling/slagging as well as sootblower performance and reliability in recovery, biomass and utility boilers.  

In a typical boiler, fuel is burned inside the furnace, creating hot gas which heats water in the steam-generating tubes. In the case where the fuel is biomass, the flue gas often contains a significant amount of carry-over, which collects on the boiler tubes causing buildup. This buildup, also known as fouling, decreases the efficiency of the heat being transferred to generate steam while also increasing the risk of plugging the boiler and taking it offline altogether. 

For decades, these industries have relied on sootblowers — long rotating lances that are inserted through the superheater and other steam-generating tubes during combustion — to blow off soot and dislodge the masses of ash deposits that form around steam-generating tubes. Rather than running sootblowing systems “blind,” the SFD System removes guesswork by pinpointing exactly when and where sootblowing is required.

Sootblower

The system relies on a series of sensors on the sootblowers as well as at key locations on the boiler system that allow it to measure the energy transfer to indicate how much buildup is present so that sootblowing is only applied when needed. The feedback mechanisms can inform the plant operator not just where to run sootblowers, but also if sootblowers are leaking steam or malfunctioning in other ways. 

“This technology could have a huge environmental effect,” says Carlier, president and founder of Integrated Test and Measurement, the Milford, Ohio, engineering service and software company. “You are getting that much more efficiency out of your boiler, so not only are you saving money because you are not wasting steam, but you are not having to burn as much fuel to generate as much electricity.” 

He estimates that recovery boilers at most pulp and paper mills generate between $20 million and $40 million a year in steam depending on their Maximum Continuous Rating (MCR), and roughly 10% of the steam goes toward soot blowing operations. Carlier estimates that SFD could enable operators to decrease their sootblowing between 25% and 50% leading to a savings between $500,000 and $2 million dollars a year.

In addition to the significant steam savings, SFD will also greatly enhance the reliability of sootblowing operations by answering crucial questions for operatorsWhat’s the condition of the sootblower motor and gearbox? Is the poppet valve stuck open, stuck closed, and leaking, or is it operating correctly? Is the track damaged? Is the sootblower lance bent? Is the sootblower stuck in the boiler? What condition is the sootblower packing? Are there any steam leaks on or near the sootblower? Keeping informed on these important questions ultimately helps avoid costly downtime and even schedule crucial maintenance. 

On its own, the removal of sootblowing guesswork will generate a quick return on investment, Carlier says. When all is said and done, power generation facilities can expect to see a return on investment from the SFD System in approximately six months to a year. 

For more information about Sootblower Fouling Detection Systems or ITM’s other industrial boiler monitoring solutions, contact Ryan Welker via email: ryan.welker@itestsystem.com or phone: (844) 837-8797 x 702

ITM Gathers Dam Spillway Data During Midair Strain Gauge Project 

Garrison Dam

Suspended in a harness 30 feet above a concrete spillway in central North Dakota, ITM engineer Ryan “RJ” Matthews instruments the gate of one of the world’s largest earthen dams with dozens of strain gauge sensors. 

Integrated Test & Measurement’s field service technicians and engineers have installed strain gauges on civil structures and machinery around the globe for decades, and this project represents one more example of rugged data acquisition. In this instance, the team rappelled from an overhead abutment on the Garrison Dam — a 2-mile-long structure along the Missouri River built by the Army Corp. of Engineers starting in 1947. 

Contracted by Cotech IRM Services, ITM was charged with collecting data to measure the strain on one of the 28 spillway gates which are designed to raise and close to allow water to pass from the reservoir during rare flood events. Just behind those gates is Lake Sakakawea, one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States. 

Garrison Dam Spillway

Despite the complex location, Matthews and co-worker Zach Strong were able to successfully instrument the spillway gate with 44 single-axis strain gauges and solder signal cables which lead back to a NICompactDAQ system connected to their laptop, allowing them to successfully gather streams of crucial data using iTestSystem while the gate was put through its paces.

The project is yet another example of ITM’s ability to combine the use of strain gauge sensors, a cDAQ system and the firm’s iTestSystem software to create a structural health monitoring system. In this instance, the project required only one-time testing, but ITM can also establish a permanent structural health monitoring system as well. iTestSystem is an engineering measurement software platform that enables test engineers to organize, acquire, view, and analyze data from machinery, processes, vehicles and other complex systems.  iTestSystem was specifically designed for use with National Instruments (NI) cDAQ hardware for data collection and data logging. 

For Matthews, it was his first experience installing strain gauges while strapped into a bosun’s chair and dangling in midair, but he points out that ITM’s strain gauge process is essentially the same whether their engineers are standing on a bridge or inside a railcar.  All that changes is the method of access and environment. 

His field notes reveal that each strain gauge on this job was wired in a quarter bridge configuration, which provides one individual measurement of strain (positive tension or negative compression) per location. All gauges were adhered to the gate using M-bond 200 epoxy.  A final report submitted to the customer contained detailed instrumentation and test notes and results reported in a series of stress/strain tables and stress graphs.

Contact ITM for your Strain Gauge Needs 

Installing strain gauges in the field for structural and fatigue measurements requires expertise and experience.  Whether you use our iTestSystem software to stream and analyze strain signals for static measurements and real-world fatigue data acquisition or contract our software engineers to build a real time strain monitoring system, we will make sure you acquire quality strain data. Contact our strain lab and technicians to install strain gauges on test specimens or to design, build, calibrate, and test strain-based load cells.

Strain Lab Contact Info: Ryan.Welker@iTestSystem.com, (844) 837-8797

 

Prevent Costly Mistakes on Industrial Monitoring Hardware Updates

Are you contemplating updates to your industrial monitoring hardware? Perhaps a COVID slowdown has given your team time to finally upgrade to that latest and greatest National Instruments controller.  

Before you make that leap, there’s one extremely important factor to consider, and that is the software running your equipment. If your code isn’t ready, there is far more to consider than a simple hardware swap, and your crew could be headed toward a serious loss in productivity and efficiency.  

The reality is that production engineers are routinely staring at industrial monitoring equipment that is nearing or reaching end-of-life, and they need to act to prevent unforeseen failures. The team at Integrated Test & Measurement can help with hardware upgrades, but we can also dive into your software to be sure your code is up to date and any customizations that have been made over the years are updated to assure your complex equipment is communicating the way it was designed to and all signals continue to report properly.  

Why is this holistic hardware/software approach recommended when it comes to upgrades? Consider the situation where a client upgrades a control module on a test cell only to find out that the new equipment is no longer compatible with the old software. It is akin to adding a new printer to your desktop computer without upgrading the drivers. Only in this instance, the fix is far more complex than a quick download. The result is that piece of equipment may now need to come offline for an extended time, and if you don’t have an in-house spare, your industrial monitoring is about to take a hit.  

ITM has seen an uptick in requests for assistance from clients who are running either outdated hardware, software or both. In some instances, partners may no longer have access to the person who customized their software. But that is no problem for ITM. Our LabVIEW experts are adept at not only understanding these complex software changes but they can clean up your code to simplify future upgrades, too. In other words, if your programming resources are no longer available, look to ITM for support with code enhancements, development and updates. 

One common migration for ITM’s industrial monitoring clients, for example, is moving from an older NI CompactRIO to a newer more suped up CompactRIO. A common mistake in this and other instances is underestimating the time it may take to update custom software, so rather than trying to do the work in house, let ITM speed up your process.  

Our experts can travel to your site, evaluate both your equipment and your software running it to develop and implement an upgrade plan that works for your team. Whether that means a slower measured approach or a quick turnaround on a tight deadline, ITM will develop a custom solution that meets your needs.