Boiler maintenance: ageing doesn’t always mean always old

Anyone with a central heating and plumbing system will understand the problems that an ageing boiler can cause. However, these issues don’t just occur in domestic environments. In fact, research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows that 50 per cent of European major hazard ‘loss of containment’ events arising from technical plant failures were primarily due to ageing plant mechanisms.

Here, Clive Jones, managing director of thermal fluid specialist Global Heat Transfer, explains why boiler maintenance is essential for ageing equipment and ultimately, a manufacturing line.Boiler maintenance ageing doesn't always mean always old

A typical thermal fluid system is comprised of three main components: a thermal fluid heater or boiler, thermal fluid circulating pumps and an expansion tank. Several adjacent elements also come into the mix, including piping, thermal fluid used within the system and last, but by no means least, the user.

Traditionally, boilers were believed to be able to operate for fifteen to twenty years before they needed replacing. However, the latest research has suggested that there are more factors to consider, such as operation hours and boiler size. Today’s robust industrial boilers and their burners are the result of more than 150 years of industrial development. Industrial boilers are more durable than ever, but they still succumb to the effects of ageing. Like us all, when a boiler reaches a certain age, regular checks and maintenance become essential to sustaining its day to day activity.

Peace of mind
It’s important to note that ageing boilers don’t have to be old. Any equipment for which there is evidence of deterioration and damage since the equipment was purchased can be considered ageing. These factors can have an effect on functionality, availability, reliability and safety and should be addressed at the first sign.

Legislation makes employers responsible for ensuring all work equipment exposed to conditions causing deterioration is inspected regularly. As well as boilers, the rule applies to other combustion equipment like incinerators, ovens and air heaters.

Apart from the legal implications of not servicing combustion equipment, there are other reasons why you should take proactive boiler and burner maintenance very seriously. Carbon monoxide and dioxide build-ups can be dangerous because they could result in costly downtime and even health and safety issues.

Similarly, boilers or heaters used within thermal fluid systems require regular maintenance to cope with carbon residue, also known as ‘coke’. Left untreated, high amounts of carbon can lead to system blockages, reduced efficiency, high operational costs and even health and safety issues.

For all these reasons, boiler and burner servicing is essential for any manufacturing plant – especially ones that use thermal fluid – to give management and staff the peace of mind that the system is operating at optimum efficiency and the working environment is safe.

Increasing reliability
One of the biggest issued facing facilities that only operate during certain months of the year is the susceptibility to boiler breakdown after long periods of non-use. Keeping boilers active throughout the year and switching them on for short periods will help them stay functional.

If facilities managers find they’re having problems with boiler efficiency despite doing everything possible to prevent issues, we recommend performing tests to check the condition of the boiler. This includes complete thermal fluid tests, at least twice a year, but ideally once every threemonths and this would usually be built in to a routine thermal fluid maintenance programme such as Global Heat Transfer’s Thermocare.

Often, thermal fluid systems with carbon build-up or boiler issues could continue to function – less and less efficiently – over a long period before they break down. This situation is costly in the end and could result in significant expense, when the system finally breaks down.

Expert advice
Alongside thermal fluid tests, there are other factors to consider, especially for ageing boilers. They could easily stop working because of temperature problems in the system, caused by faulty exchanges, blockages or even transfer fluid pumps that are spilling oil. Alternatively, if the boiler keeps getting intermittent lockouts or faults, there might be a number of potential problems. It could be an electrical fault with the wiring or a chemical fault, but the reason could also be a problem with the burner.

If your boiler is more than 15 years old, you might want to consider commissioning a new one. If you combine a new energy-efficient boiler with the latest burner and control technology, you will definitely see a marked reduction in fuel and maintenance bills.

Not all manufacturers will be in a position to change the boilers and burners used on production lines, but every manufacturer should make an effort to ensure they check equipment regularly, especially if it’s showing signs of ageing. Industrial boiler systems are an essential and critical part of operations, so make sure that keeping it healthy is at the top of your to-do list.