Updated: Feb 14, 2020

What are Steam Traps?

Steam is a technology as old as the industrial revolution but is still widely used today. With it's incredible ability to transfer heat, water is heated in a boiler and the resulting steam carries the heat around the plant for various applications. Steam is highly cost-effective and flexible when controlling for it’s temperature and pressure.

Consequently, industries like manufacturing, food, chemical processing and more, continue to favor steam for their heating needs. Moreover, steam is used all around us, from heating in commercial buildings and sterilization in hospitals.

For any steam system to work efficiently, steam has to arrive at the usage point in the correct quantity, quality, temperature, pressure and especially free of air, condensate and other gases. If the water or condensate is not removed, the steam system can get heavily damaged.

Steam trap (shown above) is a device used to pass the resulting condensate and non-condensable gases like air from the steam system into a condensate system. Simply put, steam traps remove water from piping and processes involving steam.

Steam Trap Failure

According to the United States Department of Energy, failure rate for steam traps can be as high as 20%.

Steam traps can fail due to a variety of causes including corrosion and regular wear and tear. They usually fail in two ways: open or close. Open failures, which are more common, mean that the steam trap is letting out steam too frequently leading to higher fuel costs due to wastage. On the other hand, closed failures mean that the steam trap is not opening often enough, leading to an accumulation of water in the pipes which causes even serious problems like water hammers.

Unfortunately, steam traps tend to fail a lot. According to the United States Department of Energy, failure rate for steam traps can be as high as 20%. For a facility with 500 steam traps, that can be a 100 failed steam traps! Putting that into perspective: a small steam trap failure can lead to thousands of dollars in steam loss which translates to over $300,000 lost yearly on 100 failed steam traps.

Steam Trap Inspections

Currently, most of the maintenance on steam traps is done manually and is very reactive. To put the problem in perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends inspecting steam traps with pressures >150 psi weekly but most plants or companies do inspections once every 6 months or annually. The lack of inspections is caused due to the labor intensiveness needed in manual inspections. Field operators are required to walk around the facility to each steam trap and take a frequency measurement using an ultrasound headset. As you can imagine, it is tedious work; additionally, field operators, as in most maintenance practices, are usually more focused on putting out fires (sometimes literally!) leading to steam trap inspections done once or twice a year. Due to situational inspections, steam traps can be failed for weeks or months before being found. At Pulse, we want to replace manual steam trap inspections entirely.

Remote Monitoring with Pulse

Pulse Industrial has created a wireless steam trap monitor which simply clamps on to a pipe next to each steam trap and automatically monitors failure in steam traps 24/7. Monitoring is done using temperature, vibration and ultrasound to get the most accurate reading. The moment a failure is detected, maintenance staff are notified via email or text with information about the location of the trap, type of failure and cost-savings if fixed.

The economics (visualized below) behind the savings from pro-active monitoring are simple: the earlier you catch the failure and fix it, the more steam you save…and you know the rest. Finally, maintenance staff have one less task to check off and are freed up to do more productive work!

Cost of a typical thermodynamic trap at 100 PSIg