How Digital Instrumentation and Technology Are Transforming Heat Exchanger Effectiveness

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The standard perception of heat exchangers acknowledges the necessity of these assets but often places a low priority on instrumentation and monitoring. However, in process industries, heat transfer efficiency improvements of just a few percent have the potential to substantially reduce energy inputs along with the associated carbon footprint.

As stated in a study of industrial energy use, “Nearly 77% of companies reported obtaining energy consumption data, at least partially, from monthly utility bills or energy monitoring tools with limited data points.” Without the appropriate measurements, determining the efficiency—or rather, inefficiency—of industrial processes is almost impossible.

Now, imagine the alternative—the ability to continuously track efficiency at the equipment level using wireless, remote sensing technology. Operators could respond to changes immediately and assess improvement initiatives in real-time, rather than reacting after the fact.

Equipment Is Becoming Smart

The global industrial wireless sensor network market is growing rapidly and is expected to reach $8.6 billion by 2025. The price of technology is coming down, and, for many organizations, the benefits of smart equipment are well within reach.

Fitting heat exchangers with plug & play instrumentation and remote sensing can improve process effectiveness and oversight. Caterpillar’s Marine Division, for instance, saved $400K per ship per year by analyzing maintenance data to maximize the efficiency of their hull-cleaning schedule.

However, knowing where to begin with any new technology is daunting. Thanks to the rapid advancements in sensor devices, wireless communication and AI software, what’s considered “state-of-the-art” is continuously evolving. At Exchanger Industries Ltd, we’re paying close attention to Industry 4.0 technologies, tracking developments via conferences and webinars and actively working with companies to uncover the most effective remote monitoring solutions.

Without Monitoring, We’re Guessing

Industry producers can cut energy consumption (and save time and money) by moving away from generalized preventive upkeep towards a data-based approach. Maintenance informed by equipment monitoring avoids premature—or unnecessary—shutdowns to inspect, clean or overhaul heat exchanger equipment. One way to “see” the condition of an exchanger is to collect temperature, pressure and flow measurements in real-time.

With Internet of Things (IoT) sensors in place, gathering and relaying data to a central location for heat exchanger analysis would help operators discover, assess and respond to issues with greater efficiency. This would also allow operators to set up a “digital twin” of a critical asset which can be used to more effectively monitor the asset and also optimize its performance via process modeling and optimization driven by real-world data specific to that asset.

WirelessHART is an attractive data-capture solution for worksites that are difficult-to-reach, hazardous or mobile. As an industrial communications protocol, WirelessHART makes it possible to gather sensor readings and transform them into digital data. The HART protocol is vendor agnostic, and its wireless deployment eliminates the need for cables and connectors, making it ideal for congested processing environments.

However, analyzing a large quantity of data is a burden. With inadequate analytical resources, drawing meaningful insights from even the most thorough measurements can be painstaking work at best. All the information in the world won’t help if you can’t interpret it.

Fortunately, modern technology has compelling solutions for this problem as well. The development of artificial intelligence/machine learning services, such as Microsoft Azure’s cloud computing, provides an engine for powerful analytics without investing in expensive, on-site infrastructure.

As a McKinsey study puts it, “AI offers a less costly alternative by enabling companies to use their existing software to analyze the vast amount of data they routinely collect and, at the same time, customize their results.”

AI-driven analytics can reveal trends that are highly relevant to operators, but which they may not have had the insight—or bandwidth—to dig into. And by leveraging predictive modeling capabilities, AI could point the way to smarter maintenance scheduling, cutting costs and maximizing uptime.

It’s easy to appreciate the advantages of digital technology when one considers how readily this enables one technician to effectively monitor 10 processes, each of which would traditionally require its own dedicated resource. But for corporations dedicated to operational excellence, the ultimate digital advancement focuses less on collecting equipment data and more on what it’s telling them.

Closing the Gap

At EIL, we envision offering our clients the option to source heat exchangers complete with the instrumentation and sensors needed for advanced analysis. Applying the right digital technologies, including AI, machine learning and wireless communication, to heat transfer has the potential to transform the effectiveness of the industry.

Interested in the step change that Industry 4.0 technologies might bring to your operations?

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