The need to optimize water usage is becoming critical as we deal with ever-increasing global water scarcity challenges. Although the macro trends may not yet be seen on the local level, impacts on local water supply are imminent.
Many corporations are acknowledging that water supply is a major issue — one that will impact their operations, profitability and brand reputation. This new thinking has prompted the recent rise in reuse and recycle projects. This has resulted in many plants increasingly using more challenging waters such as gray water, well water and effluent from other systems for the cooling water systems.
This increased use of impaired waters highlights the need for improved automation and control of the cooling water system. Just as a trickle can turn into a flood, so cooling system problems that initially seem small can, without adequate control, become major disruptions that affect the entire operation. Process inefficiencies, machinery breakdowns, poor product quality and environmental excursions can result in costly fines and, ultimately, plant closures.
In most cases, the basic requirements for operating cooling water systems are well known. However, especially for industrial installations, it is surprising how often best practices are not followed. As a result, many plants are using more water and energy than necessary and shortening the life of their assets. Typically, these issues can be traced to lack of training, resources or information. The challenge of trying to do more with less while dealing with the stress associated with impaired water sources exacerbates the need for a holistic approach.
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Most plants built in recent years enjoy significant data collection and storage capabilities. Some collect sensor data, sending it to their SCADA or data historian systems. Others use PLCs that collect this data and send it to the web. The expectation is that leveraging this information will improve performance and aid in achieving strategic goals. The reality is that operators are not always clear on how to best respond to the displayed data and, often, only the critical alarms generate a response.
Scale, corrosion, fouling and biological growth all threaten the cooling water system and, in turn, the plant’s water and energy usage, productivity and asset life. You need to stay on top of these threats, especially when impaired waters are in play. Otherwise, problems can quickly escalate, putting goal achievement out of reach. The ability to anticipate problems and solve them before they become issues is essential. To do this, round-the-clock access to information from all of your systems and sites — no matter how remote — is required.
One approach is to rely on off-site experts to help interpret the data and recommend actions to achieve strategic goals and maintain optimal operation. Before taking this step, it is important to establish a robust, foundational operational philosophy to ensure best results. This operational philosophy provides a framework for ensuring that the advisor for your cooling systems is using a holistic approach to addressing the issues you face and the goals you need to achieve. It all begins with a thorough mechanical, operational and chemical audit of the cooling system using an integrated approach that combines system expertise with advanced technology to monitor key performance parameters.
This integrated approach is used to drive a three-step process improvement sequence of detect, determine and deliver.
- Detect. The first step is focused on spotting the onset of problems and upsets that, left unchecked, will cause performance and operational issues in the cooling system.
- Determine. The next step is to determine the corrective response to detected problems and upsets, in order to eliminate or mitigate them.
- Deliver. Finally, the means to implement the corrective response and so realize the gains of your process improvement efforts is the deliver step. For especially challenging problems, this sequence may require weeks of a process improvement team’s efforts to complete. For other problems or upsets, the sequence can be accomplished automatically in just minutes. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Detect. The detect phase is supported by the combination of on-site technical services and the right chemical and equipment selections. Equipment and chemicals will enable you to spot problems and upsets quickly. You also need to be monitoring the right chemistry and physical properties. This monitoring can include both automatic and manual measurements. On-site technical services provide guidance on selecting the chemical, equipment and measurement combination that best fits your challenges, needs and goals. This guidance should be based upon a thorough audit of the mechanical, operational and chemical aspects of your cooling systems.
Determine. The determine phase is empowered by modeling and optimization as well as thorough, best-in-class automation. These also are recommended and performed by on-site technical experts. Modeling and optimization should include current operations as well as possible changes to the system’s makeup water. This modeling enables a deeper understanding of the boundaries of both the as-is and to-be conditions, optimizing the system to achieve your goals. Selection of the best-in-class automation then is made to implement the optimized solution while minimizing risk and reducing labor requirements.
Deliver. The deliver phase is sustained by off-site support services and a dashboard-based data warehouse. Off-site support services should monitor your systems continually, enabling you to maximize the benefit of the optimized solution and best-in-class automation. Upsets and other problems are addressed remotely, if possible, or through on-site personnel. The dashboard-based data warehouse enables your team to stay current on progress made and supports troubleshooting and continuous improvement efforts.
In conclusion, the detect, determine and deliver sequence — when supported by the right tools — provides a highly effective way to improve and optimize even the most challenging cooling systems. The result is achievement of goals and the avoidance of problems and upsets. Establishing a foundational philosophy is the best way to begin this journey.