Boilers are far from new, but technology has come a long way since their inception. Automated systems provide many advantages over their conventional counterparts, from industrial boiler maintenance to operational efficiency. Manufacturers that hope to capitalize on those benefits must first familiarize themselves with the tech.
The manufacturing sector is no stranger to automation, but this technology often applies to production line processes. More behind-the-scenes, supporting workflows like boiler operations are easier to overlook but can gain just as much from automation. Here are seven ways automated boiler systems improve efficiency.
Boosting Employee Productivity
Despite its reputation for replacing workers, automation increases efficiency by helping employees. Automated systems are strongest in repetitive, predictable tasks, which people often find unengaging. These boilers can do the monotonous work and give technicians more time to focus on engaging, value-adding jobs.
Industrial boiler maintenance sees some of automation’s most significant productivity benefits. Maintenance technicians typically spend just 25%-35% of their time working on equipment. Automated systems can tell these workers what’s wrong with a machine, highlight which parts to order or reset itself to fix small issues, allowing for more wrench time.
Automated boiler systems require fewer or no manual checks. As a result, workers don’t need to waste time traveling through the facility to reach this equipment, leaving more time for value-adding work.
Streamlining Industrial Boiler Maintenance
Maintenance is one of the most advantageous boiler processes to automate. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can autonomously monitor machine health indicators like temperatures, vibrations and mechanical stress. They remotely alert employees to repair the boiler when these factors fall out of acceptable parameters.
This predictive maintenance improves manufacturing efficiency through several means. One of the most significant is that it reduces repair times. Because these sensors alert maintenance technicians before an issue worsens, fixing it is easier and faster. Enabling need-based repairs also eliminates wasted time from unneeded upkeep.
These time savings on both sides result in a 25% increase in productivity on average. Manufacturers relying on run-to-failure methods stand to gain even more.
Reducing Maintenance Costs
Automating industrial boiler maintenance also improves efficiency by lowering repair-related costs. These automated sensors can detect issues before they’re noticeable to humans, enabling earlier repairs. Consequently, manufacturers can fix boilers before they experience larger, costlier problems.
Similarly, predictive maintenance prevents breakdowns resulting in unexpected downtime. Industrial boilers can experience random shutoffs without regular upkeep, leading to hours of lost productivity over the year if these happen frequently enough. Manufacturers that automate inspections to enable timelier repairs will avoid those costs.
Finally, predictive maintenance reduces downtime from unneeded repairs. All these savings leave more room in the budget for workflow improvements elsewhere, such as additional automation or building digital twins for analysis. As a result, manufacturers can improve efficiency throughout the facility by saving money through preventive maintenance.
Extending Boiler Service Lives
Automated boiler systems can also last longer than their more conventional counterparts. That’s because predictive maintenance is so efficient and reliable that it prevents boilers from ever reaching a state of extreme stress or malfunction. It also ensures no upkeep issues go unnoticed, preventing small factors from snowballing into larger problems.
This more effective maintenance approach results in longer service lives for manufacturers’ industrial boilers. It produces considerable time and cost savings, considering the expense of this equipment and how long it takes to replace it.
Boilers are often mission-critical equipment and replacing them can result in facilitywide shutdowns. Extending their service life postpones this lost productivity and allows efficiency improvements elsewhere in the factory.
Adapting to Fluctuating Needs
Automation can unlock higher efficiency outside of industrial boiler maintenance. An automated boiler can adapt automatically to changing circumstances like a smart thermostat adjusts to fluctuating temperatures and humidity levels.
Automated boilers can adjust their steam generation accordingly as production rises and falls. That may include lowering output on the weekend and increasing it during weekdays or automatically slowing it as production decreases during quality inspections or shift changeovers. In either case, employees don’t have to travel to the boiler to adjust it manually.
This leaves workers more time to focus on production or other value-adding activities. Automatic adjustments also take effect faster, minimizing the wasted time between higher and lower steam generation points. As a result, production lines relying on this steam can maintain peak efficiency for longer.
Minimizing Energy Consumption
These automatic adjustments also improve energy efficiency. Factors like humidity, temperatures and steam generation requirements can all impact boiler efficiency, but conventional systems can’t account for these fluctuations. Automated IoT-equipped alternatives can see when they need to decrease or increase functions to maintain ideal levels while using as little energy as possible.
The energy industry has embraced automation to minimize resource consumption and manufacturers can follow suit. Automating boiler operations ensures this equipment only consumes as much power as it needs, reducing resource spending and wasted energy. Each of these adjustments may seem small on their own but build to significant overall savings.
Boosting energy efficiency may also improve manufacturing finances outside of resource spending. Manufacturers that become more sustainable appeal to today’s increasingly eco-conscious market. That can translate into new business opportunities and higher client loyalty, increasing revenues.
Considerations for Implementing Boiler Automation
These improvements are significant, but manufacturers must approach automation carefully if they want to achieve them. High upfront costs remain a leading barrier for 71% of industrial organizations, with a lack of experience with these technologies following close behind.
Automated boilers’ increased efficiency compensates for their initial expense over time, but manufacturers can maximize those returns through careful implementation. They should start by automating a single process, beginning with whichever change will yield the most improvements for the specific facility. From there, companies can monitor issues and successes closely to inform a more efficient automation expansion once the first project shows returns.
Manufacturers should also compare automation solutions from multiple vendors before purchasing anything. These considerations should factor in the systems’ ease of use. Facilities lacking automation experience should foster it from within through upskilling programs rather than bringing in outside talent.
Automation Improves Industrial Boiler Maintenance
Industrial boiler maintenance and operations are crucial but often inefficient. Automating these processes lets manufacturers generate efficiency improvements throughout their entire facilities. What starts in the boiler room will ripple across the production line, resulting in considerable savings and increased output.
Manufacturers can capitalize on these benefits through new automated equipment and retrofitting existing boilers’ systems. These upgrades are critical to maintaining peak efficiency across the manufacturing process.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in science and technology.