Last month, local process control instrumentation manufacturer and distributor Instrotech announced the launch of acoustic steam leak detection system Inspecta III.
The current system Inspecta FFT, first released some 20 years ago, is reaching its end-of-life, and Instrotech’s design engineers felt the time was right to upgrade to newer technology. This has been achieved through combining Instrotech’s 30 years’ experience with the latest industry-standard technology available.
Inspecta FFT was an unconnected, standalone system, giving an alarm to the operator who would attend to the problem. Later it was connected to a distributed control system in a power station, taking the data collected and incorporating it into the facility’s supervisory control and data acquisition system. This required interpretation by the operators to diagnose the presence of a leak or not. Inspecta FFT was thus limited by the level of technology and skills available at the time.
Today’s technology provides low-cost computing power, the Internet and mobile communications, which Instrotech has taken full advantage of, allowing the delivery of a vastly streamlined Inspecta III.
“There hasn’t been a major upgrade in quite some time and there has been so much advancement in technology that we could really throw everything at it – do it differently and build Inspecta III with the latest technology and a suite of impressive new ‘add-ons’,” says Instrotech MD Pieter Deysel.
He further mentions that as technology advances, so has boiler technology. Power generators are pushing materials technology by increasing boiler operating pressures (450 bar) to get greater efficiency, which, in turn, makes the early detection of steam leaks even more critical to the performance of a facility or power station.
There has always been a requirement for the early detection of steam leaks, but with the modern boiler technology, if steam at these levels escapes out of the system, it can understandably cause huge, further secondary damage.
This is why the positive identification of a leak is critically important to a power station/facility. If good data is captured and analysed to provide the relevant information derived from the raw data, it can be determined if the leak is serious or not and what the rate of progression is – slow or catastrophic.
“This information is vital, as if the location and progression of the leak can be ascertained, an effective decision can be made as to whether to continue or shut down boiler operation,” says Instrotech research and development director Hugh du Plessis.
For certain leaks, delaying the shutdown decision for a period of two hours can result in the downtime of a boiler changing from two days to in excess of 14 days. Thus, a couple of hours can be crucial in making a correct remedial decision.
Typically, for a 600 MW boiler at a large power generating facility, an hour of downtime will lose about R600 000 of billable electricity sales, charged out to consumers at R1/kWh. Inspecta III goes an appreciable way to mitigating these punitive income losses and pays for itself in early leak detection within a short period of time.
“With current technology, we now have access to unlimited computing power that means infinite possibilities for Inspecta III. Our clients can do so much more with the features we have added to Inspecta III,” says Du Plessis.
He illustrates that providing reliable early steam leak detection is, in its essence, a time- critical operation. Shutting a large boiler down unnecessarily will cause loss of production and incur startup costs in excess of R1-million. Delaying the shutdown of a boiler with damaging steam leaks will incur even more production losses and expense. Thus, the decision as to whether to continue operation or shut the boiler down had better be an informed one, he says.
“We believe that Inspecta III provides exactly that – quick, precise, informed and reliable information on which the operator can act confidently,” concludes Du Plessis.