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Case Study

Oil Refinery

Customer: Oil Refinery

Managing Steam System Assets

Large Refinery Chooses On-Site Steam System Partner

Steam is critical to many oil refinery processes. For example, it’s is used in fractionating towers, steam-cracking processes, and steam reforming. In addition, steam is used in heat exchangers to provide thermal energy for nearly every process in the refinery. Although steam systems are typically quite reliable, they must be properly maintained. This can place considerable pressure on an in-house maintenance staff that may have experienced personnel reductions, or lost employees with steam engineering knowledge and experience. Many factors can affect maintaining a steam system to its optimum efficiency levels.

A large refinery in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. realized the need for, and importance of  an on-site partner to take ownership and responsibility for its entire steam system and to ensure that optimum steam system productivity, energy efficiency, safety, and compliance are attained. The refinery chose Spirax Sarco as that on-site partner.

The on-site partnership between the refinery and Spirax Sarco involved implementation of a Spirax Sarco Steam System Asset Management program. Components of the program included steam trap management, steam and condensate leak management, and steam system optimization. To execute the program, Spirax Sarco provided the resources and expertise necessary to achieve the results expected from steam system optimization.

The Spirax Sarco Steam System Asset Management program can be tailored to plant requirements and available budget of the individual facility. Spirax Sarco engineers work with plant personnel to implement steam system improvements and help to maintain the resulting performance gains. Steam System Asset Management program solutions can include design and implementation of system efficiency improvements, supply and installation of replacement products and parts, and total steam system management. Services fall into three main categories: surveys and audits, installation and service, and engineering and design.

An Audit Identifies Challenges - and Opportunities

Prior to developing an Asset Management partnership, a steam system audit must be performed. To find problems, one must look for them. However, if properly executed, an audit does more than just expose problems; it seeks to identify areas in a steam system where improvements can be made in reliability, performance, and cost-effectiveness. An audit establishes the scope of initial work required to correct as-found problems and creates a baseline for optimum steam system performance. In addition, the audit allows Spirax Sarco to generate a tactical road map to identify, evaluate, prioritize, and resolve steam system issues, as well as other opportunities for steam system improvement.

The program at the refinery initially targeted failed open steam traps and steam leaks that were wasting steam energy, failed closed steam traps that posed an operational and safety concern due to the potential for waterhammer, and other utility leaks from compressed air and nitrogen services. Prior to implementing the Steam System Asset Management program, waterhammer had caused severe damage in the refinery. This situation was the primary motivation for addressing steam trap failures - especially those that had failed closed.

Proof in Numbers

As the program advanced, the number of failed-open steam traps decreased, which is typical when regular steam trap maintenance is performed and steam system best practices are followed. Within a 4-year period, the failed-open steam trap failure rate dropped from 7% to 3.6%. The failed-closed steam trap failure rate on steam mains drip applications dropped from 8.3% to only 0.6%.

In addition to saving steam energy operating costs, the work performed under the Steam System Asset Management program significantly reduced the potential for waterhammer in the steam distribution lines and the associated concern of system failure and safety incidents.

The Spirax Sarco Steam System Asset Management program saved the refinery more than $9.3 million annually because of the reduction in steam, compressed air, and nitrogen consumption. So far, the cumulative savings are even higher: more than $23.4 million.

Because of the tremendous success of this partnership, the petroleum company is considering the Steam System Asset Management program at its other refineries.

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