Avoiding the Impact of Steam Trap Failures

by | Jul 21, 2015 | Industrial Energy & Onsite Utilities, Industrial IoT, Industry

Jim Cahill

Chief Blogger, Editor

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, industrial manufacturers are larger energy consumers than the transportation, residential and commercial sectors. The industrial sector accounts for around 30 trillion BTUs of energy consumed annually. Energy-intensive processes are found in many industries including chemicals, refining, mining & metals, pulp & paper to name several.

Emerson's Andreea Manea


Optimizing steam usage is one way to improve overall efficiency. I caught up with Emerson’s Andreea Manea who shared some information with me on steam systems. These systems are designed with steam traps to remove condensation from the piping to protect plant equipment and allow the efficient operation of plant equipment and processes.

When they fail, there is a significant impact. The traditional method of checking the status of those traps is to contract with a third-party firm to come in and do manual audits. Those audits consist of using ultrasonic and temperature sensors to make a determination on the condition of each steam trap.

This method has drawbacks because it only looks at a short snapshot of the operation, and therefore often cannot detect failed traps. In addition, annual audits leave the plant operator susceptible to long periods of failed steam traps between audits.

Rosemount 708 Wireless Acoustic Transmitter & Steam Trap Monitor

Rosemount 708 Wireless Acoustic Transmitter & Steam Trap Monitor

Wireless transmitter technology opens up the opportunity for cost-effective continuous monitoring of steam traps. The days of comparing flow noise and making quick judgments on the status of the trap are coming to an end.

As plants age, the reliability of steam traps decrease. Most process plants find upwards of 35% failure rates during steam trap audits. This is usually an indication that the number of failed traps is mounting over the years, and not that the underlying annual failure rate is that high.

The financial impact of failed steam traps remains difficult to estimate. Anecdotally it is easy to find examples of everything from steam line ruptures causing millions of dollars or Euros in damage, to unplanned outages to repair equipment.

One large European pharmaceutical company experienced severe water hammer because of four plugged steam traps. The damage resulted in a 6-hour site shutdown and €220,000 in repairs. Other potential adverse conditions include:

  • Safety hazards for plant personnel and equipment
  • Negative impact on plant throughput and quality
  • Increased maintenance costs
  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Reduced ability to meet environmental standards and goals

Steam-Trap-Monitoring-WebinarYou can find out more by viewing this recorded 35-minute webinar, Automated Steam Trap Monitoring.

In it, Emerson’s Irfan Khan describes ways to use wireless transmitter technology to continuously monitor the health of highest value steam traps in your plant.

You can also connect and interact with other industrial energy and wireless experts in the Industrial Energy and Wireless groups in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.