Managing plant emissions and energy losses with the latest software applications

Advances in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies and software analytics are empowering plant managers with valuable insights into the health and performance of critical assets. Analytics software and wireless communications are helping reduce costs, emissions and wasted production time.

By Logan Woolery June 3, 2021


Learning Objectives

  • Poorly managed plant emissions and energy applications cand result in inefficiencies and increased energy costs.
  • Non-intrusive wireless technology for improved asset monitoring capability.
  • Easy-to-use industrial data visualization helps asset management in the Industrial Internet of Things era.

Traditional asset monitoring is about to undergo a major overhaul. Advances in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies and software analytics are empowering plant managers with valuable insights into the health and performance of their most critical assets. However, there are even more opportunities to leverage these monitoring technologies. Software applications can assist with reducing emissions and energy losses in a facility by tracking the energy consumption of applicable assets and alerting personnel to issues as they arise.

In fired systems, like steam lines and heat exchangers, better energy management would mean decreasing steam loss events and inefficiencies caused by fouling. Release events of pressure relief valves (PRVs) can be tracked and recorded, so operators know when an event occurred and for how long. In the past, traditional wired monitoring methods made tracking the health and performance of these assets expensive. Now, wireless instrumentation combined with easy-to-deploy software analytics, user-friendly applications and specialty dashboards enable plant managers to track these energy-intensive assets while reducing costs, emissions and wasted production time.

Lost industrial energy costs and inefficiencies

Many industries depend on steam systems to power their processes, from energy to chemical processing to food and beverage, and, therefore, saving energy in every possible way is an integral part of maximizing process and profits. Certain assets that require a lot of fuel to operate are culprits of such inefficiencies and waste. When steam is wasted due to a failed steam trap, not only is energy lost, but heating fuel is wasted, and product quality may be impacted. Real-time asset monitoring offers the insight to reduce the energy costs associated with operating such systems and in turn is a significant piece of the optimization puzzle.

Other assets, like heat exchangers, become less efficient over time due to the build-up of deposits on the heat exchange surface — a condition called fouling. When this happens, the unit needs to be cleaned and serviced to bring them back to full performance, but in the meantime, the downtime requires both time and more energy to properly transfer heat. Traditional asset monitoring practices are unable to identify how much energy is wasted before the next planned maintenance occurs. Nor are they able to determine how these inefficiencies affect production capacity before an operator is alerted to the problem.

Non-intrusive wireless technology for improved asset monitoring capability

Legacy monitoring systems required expensive wiring and infrastructure to enable each connected device, and installation often required a full shutdown because the instrument had to be inserted into the process line. These demands resulted in the upfront installation costs of wired monitoring systems often outweighing the potential savings. This was especially true for assets in harder-to-reach or outlying locations.

Modern wireless solutions do not require these expensive upfront investments in infrastructure or shutdowns for installation. Wireless measurement devices offer non-intrusive, external mounting without compromising the data delivered. Wireless acoustic transmitters, for example, use a thermocouple and an ultrasonic sensor to take acoustic and temperature measurements, which can be analyzed to determine the state steam traps and pressure relief valves.

Easy-to-use data visualization in the era of IIoT

Raw data, from an analytical perspective, is only as useful as our ability to understand and interpret it. Industrial analytics software, like the one referenced in Figure 1, can be installed and connected to WirelessHART gateways to interpret process data. [WirelessHART is a FieldComm protocol.] This allows users instant and continuous access to information on assets that might normally be inspected by a manual operator. User-friendly applications within these software platforms collect and compile real-time data and visualize it into straightforward graphs with an expandable view that makes it possible to drill down to each asset. As the adoption of this type of wireless monitoring grows, so too will the applications provided by software developers. Each new use case can encourage the development of a new modular software application that can be added to the dashboard, showing the status of critical and secondary processes.

Several different applications exemplify the easy-to-use data visualization of potential energy losses and emissions in a connected plant environment.

Pressure relief valves (PRVs) monitoring

Some of the most critical assets within a pressurized system are pressure relief valves. They protect process and equipment by releasing pressurized flow from a system when the pressure reaches a certain set point. Useful for preventing process upsets and equipment failure, these valves are another asset that is often monitored manually or inefficiently due to the high costs of wiring sensors to their remote locations.

Leaking and releasing valves waste product and can limit production by not allowing the process to run at its optimum pressure. Many plants have several pressure relief devices that vent to one common flare system, which goes directly into the atmosphere. If multiple relief valves vent to one common flare, it’s difficult to know how many of them are in a release state. How is it possible to measure that energy and emissions loss?

Wireless acoustic solutions enable continuous, real-time monitoring of these critical PRVs across the entire plant. The data is sent to the software application, which will then alert operators to leaks and malfunctions. Built-in sustainability algorithms track energy consumption and emissions and allow plant managers to compare the data against performance benchmarks and goals.

Steam traps, wireless sensing

Steam traps come in various forms and their primary purpose is capturing condensate in steam lines. Steam lines have many uses in various processes, but are primarily used to heat a process or power equipment. When a trap fails, it releases steam to the atmosphere, wasting energy and degrading product quality.

Adding non-intrusive wireless sensing devices to each steam trap gives operators a view into their entire steam system and can alert them if any traps are in a blow-through or cold state. Software applications can also show operators the total lost energy costs from leaking steam traps and calculate emissions for recording and reporting.

Manual steam trap checks rely on frequent operator rounds and consume valuable amounts of time. Failures and leaks could go undetected for weeks or months at a time, depending on the frequency of the operator rounds. The loss of energy adds up and can cost millions of dollars a year depending on the number of steam traps in a facility. Unknowingly exceeding emissions standards also can mean paying fines. Manual checks also are imprecise and third-party services can be expensive.

With pervasive sensing applications, steam traps are no longer a blind spot for plant managers. An application can compile data, variables and settings into a dashboard. This increased awareness means operators can find and repair or replace failed traps before they cut into their bottom line.

Heat exchangers, continuous monitoring

Heat exchangers transfer heat from heating fluid to process fluid. The biggest challenge with heat exchangers is the build-up of deposits that reduces the exchanger’s efficiency. Fouling means it requires more fuel to transfer heat into a process. In the current system, most heat exchangers are manually checked for fouling. As is the case with other non-critical assets, relying on manual inspections uses up valuable time and only provides a snapshot of the asset’s health status. Also, manually estimating fouling rates can be challenging to do accurately and continuously.

Without continuous monitoring capabilities, plants are forced to depend on scheduled maintenance to clean heat exchangers. These maintenance windows can involve process shutdowns as every heat exchanger is cleaned in a small window of time. Fouling can also cause high-cost unplanned shutdowns. Because it occurs at different rates for every heat exchanger, personnel may even be performing maintenance on exchangers that don’t need it, while others might have required service much sooner. It’s challenging for users to predict these failures without asset analytics in place.

With continuous monitoring on each heat exchanger, the data is put to the best possible use. A simple software dashboard has all the data intelligence needed to make sure maintenance resources aren’t wasted servicing heat exchangers that do not require maintenance – and catch the ones that do before fouling results in unplanned production losses. Cutting production costs like this can save millions of dollars in a typical, medium-sized refinery, for example. Lost energy costs also are built into the software analytics for heat exchangers, so it’s clear how much energy is being spent on heat exchangers in a critical state.

Industrial emissions: Keeping pace with an evolving regulatory future

Harnessing the power of data with a digital ecosystem allows operators to reduce emissions and track lost energy costs from these traditionally overlooked assets in a facility. From smaller-scale operations to large industrial plants, everyone can benefit from these exciting advances in IIoT technologies and software analytics. Data visualization and analytics software help track the health and performance of key assets. Apply this solution to achieve performance goals and keep up with expanding energy regulations while driving long-term performance improvement.

Logan Woolery is part of Emerson‘s Digital Transformation business and has product management responsibility for the Plantweb Insight analytics software. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,


KEYWORDS: HMI, dashboard, asset management, IIoT


Change the future: Can you see what industrial assets are about to cause a shutdown, and prevent that before it happens?

Author Bio: Logan Woolery is part of Emerson's Digital Transformation business and has product management responsibility for the Plantweb Insight analytics software. Woolery holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota Duluth and is in the process of obtaining his MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.