Prevent heat exchanger performance issues with predictive maintenance

Discover how predictive maintenance can dramatically reduce downtime and boost the efficiency of your heat exchanger.

Prevent heat exchanger performance issues with predictive maintenance

In the fast-paced world of industrial engineering, unplanned downtime in heat exchangers isn’t just an inconvenience – it’s a costly disruption that can wreak havoc on your bottom line. But what if there was a way to anticipate and prevent equipment failure before it even occurs? 

Welcome to the world of predictive maintenance (PdM). This approach marries traditional maintenance schedules with cutting-edge technology to maximize productivity and minimize downtime. Read on to uncover the strategies that will keep your heat exchanger running smoothly and efficiently, no matter what comes its way.

Comparing different types of maintenance

As a Plant Manager who manages heat exchangers, there are essentially three approaches that you can adopt – each with varying degrees of efficiency and predictability.

  1. Run to failure: This is the least efficient approach. In this strategy, equipment is used continuously until it breaks down. The unpredictability inherent in this method creates a climate of uncertainty, as you’ll have no way of knowing when failure will occur. 
  2. Preventive maintenance: This approach leans heavily on the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) prescribed maintenance cycles. It involves routine check-ups and services conducted at regular intervals, whether the equipment shows signs of potential failure or not. While this strategy reduces unexpected downtime, it’s not always the most efficient.
  3. Predictive maintenance: Rather than sticking to a rigid schedule or waiting for failure, predictive maintenance uses real-time data and advanced analytics to anticipate when a piece of equipment might fail. This allows for maintenance to be planned and executed right before a potential breakdown.

How does predictive maintenance work?

Let’s consider an analogy. The standard for changing the oil in a car hasn’t significantly evolved in over half a century. It’s typically recommended every certain number of miles or after a set period. However, much like industrial equipment, not all cars (or drivers) are created equal.

This is where the concept of predictive maintenance comes in. Rather than adhering strictly to a one-size-fits-all schedule, PdM combines the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule with real-time data about the specific usage and conditions of your heat exchanger to determine the most optimal time for maintenance. The goal here is to catch potential issues before they become problematic and schedule maintenance activities when they create minimal disruption to your daily operations.

PRO TIP:In industries like ethanol production, major maintenance overhauls – known as “turnarounds” – often occur in the spring and fall. If you can use predictive maintenance to align the most intensive servicing with these planned downtime periods, you can significantly reduce any lost production time. This way, predictive maintenance becomes an integral part of your strategic planning, leading to optimal heat exchanger performance.

The key to predictive maintenance: data

There are a variety of tools at your disposal to support predictive maintenance. Specifically, sensors that monitor key parameters of your heat exchanger – like pressure drop, flow rate, and temperature – are invaluable. These readings (i.e. real-time data) provide direct insight into the health and efficiency of your unit.

For instance, these parameters indicate if your heat exchanger is experiencing fouling – a common issue where deposits accumulate on the heat transfer surfaces. As fouling progresses, heat exchange diminishes, leading to a drop in your unit’s overall performance.

By employing predictive maintenance sensors, you’re not just reacting to these problems; you’re proactively monitoring the health of your system. As a result, you can schedule maintenance tasks to address minor fouling before it worsens, keeping your heat exchanger operating at peak performance and maximizing its lifecycle.

PRO INSIGHT:While predictive maintenance often harnesses advanced software and complex algorithms, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Sometimes, the best approach is a nuanced understanding of your heat exchanger’s regular maintenance schedule and aligning it with your plant’s operational rhythm. It’s about fine-tuning your preventative measures into a more predictive strategy.

Setting a predictive maintenance schedule

But implementing PdM isn’t as simple as adding a few sensors to your heat exchanger and calling it a day. It requires a thorough assessment of your current systems. This assessment should be conducted by experts (ideally an OEM) who can identify exactly what data can and should be collected to best monitor the health of your exchanger. These experts can also help determine if your unit is able to provide this data or if additional sensors or tools are required.

Once the relevant data is being captured, you can use it to lay the foundation for your PdM schedule. It’s important to note that, unlike traditional maintenance schedules, a predictive schedule is dynamic – it’s constantly evolving based on the most recent data. This means that as operating conditions, usage rates, and other variables change, so too will your maintenance schedule, ensuring it remains optimally tailored to your specific needs and situation.

Predicting what parts you need

In industries like Oil & Gas (OG) and petrochemicals, the need for specialized materials – such as specific types of titanium or unique gaskets for heat exchangers – is commonplace. These components often aren’t standard stock items due to their unique properties and sourcing complexities. Interestingly, about 70% of these specialized materials are sourced from regions like Russia, which can pose its own set of procurement challenges.

This is where predictive maintenance steps up, integrating advanced technology and strategic planning to ensure smooth operations. PdM utilizes real-time data and analytics, coupled with your heat exchanger’s OEM’s maintenance guidelines, to create a predictive model for when these specific components will be required. This foresight reduces the risk of sudden equipment failures due to unavailable parts, ensuring continuity in your operations.

Are you on a mission to optimize the performance of your heat exchanger? Equip yourself with our free, comprehensive guide “8 steps to improve (and maintain) heat exchanger efficiency” and learn the best practices for heat exchanger design and maintenance – clearing a path to ensure the efficiency and longevity of your equipment.