In light of the pandemic, engineers working in boiler houses are well versed in the challenges of working amongst social distancing and national lockdown regulations. Such challenges include longer lead times for parts; the reduction of team members on projects due to illness, quarantine, or childcare; and many more. 

Ensuring that projects stay on track and client requirements are met has been harder for engineering teams than ever before. However, this change of environment has provided the opportunity for combustion engineers to adapt and utilize remote monitoring technology that was not previously being used to its full potential.


Remote Monitoring

Remote monitoring provides an opportunity for engineers to be omniscient, extending their services even if they are out of hours or not physically on-site in front of a boiler. This technology has transformed over the years from its early beginnings of communicating via pagers/beepers and fax machines to utilizing email today. In addition, with the implementation of data-driven modems, previous cybersecurity concerns associated with boiler management systems (BMS) being connected via the client’s server have been widely overcome. 

The way we connect with clients and their boiler plant equipment has advanced in leaps and bounds, providing both possibility and opportunity for the future. Being aware of all aspects of a boiler plant via an email alert or by running a report means engineers can be alerted of an issue and arrive at a site with the correct resources to resolve an issue quickly and efficiently without return visits.

Grant Renecle, a combustion engineer and owner of Combustion Technology PTY Ltd., a boiler and burner sales and service company in South Africa, highlights how Autoflame’s global solution to remote monitoring has been a strong asset to his team during the pandemic; keeping connected with clients whilst staying competitive; and providing a first-class service. 

Renecle, originally a marine engineer, has 40-plus years of experience in the engineering industry. The majority of his customers are located in the industrial processing sector, where reducing downtime and increasing efficiency of the plant room is a top priority. Therefore, he has been utilizing Autoflame’s remote monitoring software on industrial-scale applications, keeping process and production factories running for years. This experience has provided Combustion Technology with many invaluable insights into the combustion engineering industry. 

Combustion Technology’s team boasts a great deal of experience with remote technology, which has empowered them as well as their clients. Through that experience, they developed three vital steps everyone should be taking to stay connected with clients, now even more necessary, in the face of the worldwide pandemic.


1. Identify the boiler plant’s key operational parameters

Are you measuring every parameter at your clients’ sites? Understanding these operational parameters are vital to the boiler plant as they provide data to create not only a streamlined servicing process but also an increase in overall efficiency. Servicing and maintaining a boiler plant without knowing all of these factors is counterproductive and could cost customers excessive production downtime and money through unnecessary site visits. 

Inefficient combustion not only leads to wasted energy and thus higher fuel bills but also the release of excess harmful greenhouse gases to the environment, which could easily be reduced via the implementation of an accurate combustion management system. 

As a standard, a remote monitoring controller will connect to multiple elements within a plant to track activity. Input/output (I/O) modules can increase monitoring capabilities via analogue communication (0-10 Volt/4-20mA) and digital inputs to trigger alarms and control the boiler room plant. The modules can be set to automatically email information/alarms conditions to up to 10 contacts. 

Being armed with data from the plant room, engineers can pre-empt issues before they cause disruption and potential plant downtime. Smart technology can also be implemented to make adjustments automatically via software, such as the DTI Rules System. If an adjustment needs to be made on site, IO modules can be programmed 24/7 to perform the control functions without visiting the site. The type of adjustments performed remotely are limited due to safety measures, as drastic changes would need to be made when physically in front of the boiler. But for small changes, such as drop of pressure on an oil pump, an engineer could remotely adjust the pressure or run the standby pump before advising a client that the atomization of the boiler has deteriorated and that the pump would need to be replaced or the oil filter cleaned on the next service visit. These potential plant failures would not be apparent to clients without the data and knowledge of an engineer monitoring the site remotely. 

Although they play an essential role in the service, remote technology does not make the role of the engineer redundant; rather, it provides 24/7 data and remote assistance on-site until changes can be made at a convenient time for the client by an engineer. This not only saves an engineer multiple site visits to identify issues but also limits disruption for customers and allows engineers to be booked in during a downtime period or normal working hours, thus avoiding overtime charges. This also allows service teams to respond more effectively and efficiently. 


2. The importance of reporting in the boiler house

Generating reports is a mutually beneficial process for engineers and clients. Regular reports help identify inefficiencies within the boiler plant and what actions need to be taken for these issues to be corrected. Providing a monthly breakdown highlights the areas where preventive maintenance can improve efficiency. These reports present an open, honest, and effective method of communication between engineers and clients, both existing and potential. This logged data aids engineers and clients as they focus on critical areas for seasonal maintenance. Through additional tools, such as an emissions calculator, further efficiency savings can be highlighted.  

Combustion emissions reports are equally important for sustainability management, both ensuring efficient combustion is occurring and meeting environmental regulations, such as the environmental product declaration (EPD) to reduce the carbon footprint of a boiler plant. Exhaust gas analyzers provide reports of a boiler plant’s totalized emissions, which can be used to ascertain the carbon footprint as a totalized value over a nominated period. All of this can be done remotely.


3. Education and building trust with your client 

When discussing concerns over harmful emissions or excess air within the combustion process, the Combustion Technology team found their clients were amazed that they were not aware of the impact this would have on efficiency. Without the expertise of a combustion engineer possessing the technology to generate data on boiler plant parameters, it is difficult to highlight these issues. Systems that automatically generate monthly reports for clients and detail where potential issues may occur are extremely valuable. Combustion Technology uses such invaluable data to work with its clients to schedule preventive maintenance. In some cases, this information could be used to highlight potential safety concerns where hazards could occur if left unattended.

On-site maintenance teams do not tend to look at emissions, stack temperatures, gas pressures, oil pressures, and so on, which all affect the efficient functioning of the boiler system. 

“All of these little things make up the bigger picture for the customer and for our point of view,” said Renecle. “If you don’t look at all of those little things and sandwich them together, the customer is hard done by at the end of the day.”

Grant admits his team was not too focused on the boilers themselves when he first started his business in 1997; however, they learned quickly after partnering with Autoflame that the science within a boiler plant is crucial to fully understand the combustion process. 

“You’ve got to focus on the boiler and what’s going on inside the boiler because that ultimately impacts customers and their overall plant efficiencies,” Renecle said. “There needs to be total integration and collated data.”

Trust is built by generating these reports from the site and reacting to alerts from pre-set rules on PLC systems. Based on that trust, service can be provided 24/7/365 and solutions backed with solid scientific evidence for improvement can be presented. These relationships, in turn, lead to strong service contracts and referrals to others in the market.