Case Study: Process Steam Optimization

Project Background

Our customer is a premiere supplier of milk and dairy products to the Northwest region of the United States. As the demand for their milk products increased due to population growth within their region, so did the need to expand their production capabilities. As with most dairy producers, and food manufacturers in general, our customer needed to increase production within their existing production plant by expanding its infrastructure and adding more fluid milk processing equipment. The problem faced was over the years the plant had undergone multiple expansion projects which added demand to an original boiler system. As the steam usage increased, steam started being spread too thin and different production systems were competing for steam when used simultaneously. Before any other steam demands could be put on the existing boiler systems, our customer needed to determine how much steam capacity was available, how much steam was being currently used with various operations, and what the steam deficit would be with the addition of the new production equipment to upgrade their steam capacity. Placer Process Systems partnered with the client to perform a steam study to answer these questions and provide recommendations to increase steam capacity for future demands.

Project Hurdles

In order to perform a thorough and accurate steam study, all steam usage points must be known and accounted for. Over the life of our customer’s plant, as equipment had been installed as part of multiple plant expansion projects, tie-ins to the main steam headers had been added to bring steam to these new services without keeping records of where the tie-ins were located or where they went. The new equipment additions were also not documented so no records were available showing all the steam usage points. The steam headers, steam line branches, and all usage points were unknown to the plant and would need to be determined as well as research the steam consumption of each usage point.

Sanitary Process Steam Optimization

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Solution

Placer Process Systems performed an onsite investigation of the steam headers and tie-in branches to determine the path of all steam lines and the services they were providing steam to. Nameplate information was gathered from each piece of equipment to document the steam consumption or use available information to research the steam consumption. For usage points, such as culture tanks, which do not have a known consumption rate, heat transfer calculations were performed to estimate the steam consumption. A steam usage table was created to list all usage points and to provide steam consumption totals at various stages in the plant’s production schedule.

Results

The steam study provided a clear picture of the current steam demands and what they would be based on our customer’s projected future expansion projects. The steam usage table replicated the actual steam deficit our customer had been experiencing when trying to operate multiple systems simultaneously by showing the total steam consumption was very near the primary boiler’s capacity. In order to boost the steam capacity and steam header pressure, the back-up boiler was required to make up for the primary boiler’s capacity deficiency. Running the back-up boiler during normal operating conditions was something our customer wanted to avoid as plant operations would be compromised if the primary or back up boiler were to be taken out of service. The steam deficiency would only become more of an issue when future plant expansion projects were added to the steam service demands.

The steam study report was able to provide concise results for determining the current and future steam demands and boiler system deficits. This information allowed Placer Process Systems to provide boiler upgrade recommendations to meet current and future steam demands. Without the steam study, our customer would have had to guess at what boiler upgrades they would need to make with two likely outcomes: under sizing of the boiler capacity requirements resulting in continued steam supply shortages, or oversizing of the boiler capacity requirements resulting in overspending on boiler upgrades.