How To Determine When It’s Time For A Boiler Retrofit

How To Determine When It’s Time For A Boiler Retrofit

Boilers keep the industrial plants running by providing energy, steam for industrial processes, and personal and mechanical heating. Boilers are specialized pieces of equipment designed to produce steam at a specified temperature and moisture content depending on the needs of the plant. However, over time a boiler may begin to operate less efficiently. When this happens it may be time for a boiler retrofit.

What Is Retrofitting

Boiler retrofitting involves adding new technology, parts, and equipment to an older boiler system. As with other types of retrofitting, the goal is to increase the overall efficiency of the system and allow it to benefit from newer advancements and design improvements. It is estimated that there are about 160,000 boilers in use in industrial plants all over the United States. Of these boilers around 60%, or about 90,000 to 100,000 units, are over 20 years old. This means that the number of boilers that could potentially benefit from a retrofitting is huge.

What Are the Benefits of Retrofitting

Retrofitting offers a wide range of potential benefits, some of which may be more important and more pertinent to particular industries and plants. By the same token particular existing boiler units may have certain vulnerabilities or shortcomings which allow them to benefit more in a certain area from a retrofitting than others. The major benefits of retrofitting are as follows:

Energy Savings – It is estimated that about 25% of the world’s annual energy usage is used by US boilers alone. That is a huge figure and thus one of the best ways to relieve some of the stain on global energy usage is for our US boilers to function as energy efficiently as possible. Depending on the particular boiler retrofitting offers improves energy efficiency by as much as 10-12%.

Cost Savings – Just as a huge amount of energy can potentially be saved by retrofitting a boiler, so too can can a great deal of costs. An average boiler consumes about four times its face value cost every year in energy. That means that a successful boiler retrofitting can quickly easily end up paying for itself.

Enhanced Function – Often a retrofitting will enable a boiler to not only save fuel, and money on fuel, but even improve the quality of its overall output. For example steam quality might be improved or it may maintain a better, more specific range of temperature or pressure.

Less Pollution – Another important potential advantage of boiler retrofitting is a reduction of pollution and carbon emissions. This might be particularly important if the plant or factory needs to meet certain municipal or state regulations, or if the boiler is owned by a company with a focus on being environmentally responsible. Regardless of regulations or public image, fewer emissions will result in a healthier environment.

Better Technology – Often overall industry advances allow the boiler to benefit from better technology. This might come in the form of new controls and failsafes, more efficient materials, or better design schematics.

Signs It Is Time For A Retrofit

Naturally companies will be reluctant to perform a retrofit that doesn’t ultimately recoup its cost through lowered operating expenses or other benefits. Sometimes a unit might seem like a prime candidate for a retrofit, but subsequently break down and need to be replaced altogether. Thus it can be difficult to determine the sweet spot for when a retrofit will bring the most return on investment and save money compared to doing nothing or replacing the boiler entirely. Some factors which might go into that evaluation are:

Condition – The primary consideration is the overall condition of the boiler, especially its shell, furnace, and tubes. If routine inspection show relatively little evidence of pitting, scaling, or cracking, then the boiler is probably in good shape and could keep going for some time longer with a retrofitting.

Age – While the boiler’s age isn’t quite as important as its overall condition, it is still a very important factor. If the boiler is very old and long past its peak, then retrofitting may do relatively little to restore it to its former glory. On the other hand in the boiler isn’t very old, a retrofitting might provide just the fine tuning it needs.

Capacity – A helpful way to determine if the boiler is declining is to compare its current and recent operating capacity in terms of steam per hour to the capacity it had when it was new.

Operating Pressure and Temperature – If the boiler is having trouble maintaining the correct operating pressure or operating temperature, this could be a sign that it will benefit from a retrofitting.

Fuel-to-Steam Efficiency – A good way to measure a boiler’s efficiency is in terms of fuel in compared to steam out. If the boiler is now using up more fuel, but putting out less steam, that is a sure sign that efficiency has suffered and that a retrofitting might help optimize it.

In addition to these factors it is also important to consider the cost of a new boiler compared to the cost of retrofitting, as well as the cost in terms of downtime, and the potential cost in productivity if the boiler breaks down needing an emergency repair or replacement. STI Group offers a full range of boiler services from retrofitting, repairs, and maintenance, to the fabrication and installation of new boilers or emergency services for outages.


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