Using Data to Reduce Costs in the Information Age

For manufacturing plants, boiler operation is critical to continuous plant production. Boilers and other utility systems require significant amounts of energy to operate with fuel costs averaging 75% of total operating costs.

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For manufacturing plants, boiler operation is critical to continuous plant production. Boilers and other utility systems require significant amounts of energy to operate with fuel costs averaging 75% of total operating costs. Water treatment expenses only comprise 1.5% of the total operating budget, but the inefficiency in water treatment directly increases energy costs.

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For example, estimates indicate that boiler tube scale consisting of iron and silica as thin as 1/32'' can result in up to 7% efficiency loss in a boiler. Additionally, asset degradation is a significant long-term operational cost that's almost never prioritized because of the difficulty in defining and measuring parameters that accurately reflect asset protection.

To help ensure peak equipment efficiency and extend asset life, water treatment for corrosion protection and reduction in scale buildup is one step a plant can consider. GE Infrastructure, Water & Process Technologies' InSight™ data monitoring and analysis technology better helps industrial plants manage and control their water and process treatment programs.

In one micro-example, a large steel manufacturing plant facing tough global competition began using Insight to be more competitive. Insight is one initiative along with others, including head count reduction, meticulous production efficiency monitoring, and targeted capital investment that circle back to the measured data to improve manufacturing efficiency.

As one of the programs put in place, the system tracks parameters such as LSI (Langelier Saturation Index – a measure of scaling probability), ORP (oxidation reduction potential) and ATP (adenosine triphosphate – a measure of bacteria in the system), all variables that impact a steel plant's operations and specific treatment program. Through use of the 24/7 monitoring system and simple and clear Internet-based dashboards, the company can view how well it's protecting its assets (i.e., reduced corrosion rate) and can ensure peak heat transfer. The monitoring, data analysis and corresponding treatment has already saved tens of thousands of dollars per year in both energy and maintenance costs (through reduced heat exchanger fouling, maintenance of only equipment that requires it and reduced water consumption). Cumulatively, more efficient data use facilitates more efficient operations, even with the reduced staffing in place.

This data monitoring and analysis system empowers plants with the ability and expertise to collect, manage and analyze the tremendous volume of operational data needed to determine a water treatment program's effectiveness at protecting the utility and process systems being treated.

The key takeaway is that better data management allows for better decisions and ultimately better system protection and efficiency. The plant operators and facilities managers are assured utilities and industrial facilities are efficiently using their energy sources and reducing discharge of water and wastes to the environment. In the past two years alone, technology programs like InSight have helped users conserve 22 billion gallons of water, reduce air emissions by four million metric tons and save over five trillion BTUs of energy.

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