Many years ago I was employed by a fairly large company with many and diverse operations to keep the gears turning towards increasing value for shareholders. It was during those years that I realized the value of setting clear objectives that will create focus on desired performance and outcomes in a complex organization. And if every division did its bit of setting, managing and achieving objectives, we should arrive at an accomplished mission for the greater organization. Not that we always succeeded in every respect, but the company’s performance was definitely above average and today is a JSE listed company of note. 

Applying this principle to the micro business environment takes us to the boiler house with a burning question: is there a proper mission for steam plant operations (SPO)? And can it be broken down into key performance areas (KPA’s) and key performance indicators (KPI’s)? I am convinced it can be done, provided we ask the right questions and adopt a proper approach.

The first question is to identify who the “Client” of steam plant operations is, as the client will definitely have a significant say in the objectives of SPO. Normally it is Production, or Operations, or the entity using the steam to create value elsewhere.

The second question follows naturally from the first, namely what exactly does the client/user require from SPO in terms of steam supply?

And lastly SPO has to consider the requirements of the larger organization and how it expects SPO to contribute to its mission. This includes departments such as finance, occupational health and safety and the environment, quality assurance, engineering, etc.

It cannot be too difficult to find the answers. My personal attempt is listed below:

  1. Consistent steam pressure (steam supply) usually tops the chart. No steam means no production. Even low steam pressure may affect production throughput and product quality, or can ruin product in process.
  2. The cost of steam production draws an equal amount of attention, especially from the accountants’ side. This requirement boils down to maximizing boiler efficiency and minimizing the cost per ton of steam produced.
  3. Asset preservation. Boilers operate at high pressure and temperature which can severely damage steam production assets if proper care is not exercised.
  4. Boiler safety. Nobody wants to have a boiler explode on site, or personnel being injured by unsafe plant or unsafe acts of operators.
  5. Pollution of the environment has gained greatly in importance over the past number of years. New legislation on emissions standards and control are promulgated every so often.

My proposed Mission for SPO then: To continuously supply steam to Operations at the required steam pressure at the lowest total cost per unit, whilst preserving steam plant assets and not compromising the health and safety of persons, or the environment. (Or any derivative of the aforementioned.)

How is SPO to respond to this proposed mission? In a nutshell:

  1. Properly maintain assets. Focus on preventive measures and inspections. Utilize your boiler control system to assist with aspects of predictive maintenance, and in identifying operator malpractices and damaging operating conditions.
  2. Diligently manage water treatment! It affects all aspects of boiler operation, including boiler capacity, efficiency, safety and preservation.
  3. Train and manage boiler operators.
  4. Manage coal procurement. Coal is part of the combustion system and coal management and procurement should fall under SPO if they are to be held accountable for specific boiler performance.
  5. Use a proper control technology to improve boiler efficiency and to eliminate human intervention as far as possible. Technology drives productivity improvement!
  6. Ensure boilers are adequately protected against safety incidents and that appropriate alarms are activated in case of deviations. Test safety devices on a regular basis.
  7. Install smoke suppression equipment to reduce smoke emissions if necessary. Otherwise monitor and treat emissions to comply with legislative standards.
  8. Identify and manage KPI’s. A well designed boiler control system can go a long way towards calculating and processing boiler performance indicators and other management information.

Unfortunately there is no shortcut to excellence. It always requires hard work, sound knowledge and lots of dedication to accomplish.

This post was compiled by René le Roux for Le Roux Combustion, all rights reserved. Do you want to know more about steam plant management? Please contact us for your professional boiler automation, steam system efficiency and coal characterization needs.

Kindly note that our posts do not constitute professional advice and the comments, opinions and conclusions drawn from this post must be evaluated and implemented with discretion by our readers at their own risk.

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