Becoming 'trap active:’ Asset management is gaining steam

Asset management is getting a lot of attention during these turbulent economic times. Financial planners shudder every time the phone rings because they know another client has just reviewed their financial statement and is trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding. The same holds true for energy and maintenance managers when it comes to reviewing plant operating costs and trying to pinpoint energy losses and capture efficiencies.


Asset management is getting a lot of attention during these turbulent economic times. Financial planners shudder every time the phone rings because they know another client has just reviewed their financial statement and is trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding. The same holds true for energy and maintenance managers when it comes to reviewing plant operating costs and trying to pinpoint energy losses and capture efficiencies.

Despite a recent %%MDASSML%% and what many consider a temporary %%MDASSML%% drop in energy costs from historic highs, managers can’t afford to turn their attention away from energy efficiency. On the contrary, feedstock and energy make up about 70% of processing costs in such things as bulk chemical manufacturing, and one of the biggest energy-use applications for any manufacturing process is steam.

Research shows that just one blown steam trap can cost a plant more than $700 a month. Multiply that loss by hundreds and even thousands of steam traps in a typical plant, and the costs can be staggering. In addition, blown steam traps can also have an adverse effect on the quality of the end product.

Stop the bleeding with steam asset management

The best fuel for any recovery is discovery. Steam asset management (SAM) is gaining momentum among energy and maintenance managers as they evaluate steam systems and try to stop the bleeding caused by failed steam traps.

SAM is based on the principle of becoming “trap active.” Being “trap active” means continuous auditing, repair and replacement of defective equipment; it also requires routine maintenance of steam assets.

Greg White, steam trap specialist for DuPont, knows the value of being trap active. “Our steam trap population of more than 1,000 traps is divided into six routes, which are diligently checked twice a year. We see value in this process because an efficient steam system helps produce quality product and minimize unscheduled downtime,” he said.

Becoming trap active is challenging, however, as maintenance crews are stretched thin and may not have the technical expertise or resources to identify equipment failures and respond in a timely manner. Fortunately, technology is available to aid in diagnosing trap failure as well as collecting and disseminating data in real-time.

Tools of the trade

Wireless, radio-frequency-based tools are now available to not only take the guesswork out of monitoring steam trap performance, but also to enable plant managers, utility managers and maintenance supervisors to capture wasted energy costs and better deploy labor.

A transmitter is typically mounted externally to the trap to monitor the operation of the trap, identifying fluctuations in flow and deviation in temperature. These indicators are used to determine if the steam trap has failed open or closed. The transmitter then relays the signal to a receiver, which translates and stores the data in a readable format. Users can access the data from any network computer or from any off-site location with a Web-enabled device. The gateway receiver can be programmed to signal an alarm of trap failure on critical equipment applications, and it can be integrated directly into the building’s automation system or digital control system.

Manual trap inspections offer only a point-in-time evaluation. Wireless monitoring provides instantaneous and continuous trap monitoring enabling achievement of 100% steam system efficiency %%MDASSML%% which is considered a “best practice.”

The second-best approach is to use hand-held devices that can detect the condition of a steam trap and then store the data for easy download and retrieval. This “semi-instantaneous” approach can achieve steam system efficiency of 95%.

Traditional temperature monitoring and listening devices such as ultrasonic stethoscopes, offer a low-cost alternative but are less reliable. Use of these methods still require intervention by trained professionals who can listen and determine if a steam trap is blowing through, leaking or functioning properly.

Regardless of the diagnostic method that’s used, the most critical step in SAM is to access and act on the data that’s collected.

Moving from data to deliverables

“Managing” data is the most important step in SAM. Moving trap survey data from paper to practice is a challenge that James Kirkland, a mechanical integrity specialist for Rohm and Haas, readily accepted.

“Our facility conducts an annual trap survey using a trusted local company, but there was little we could do with the data after the steam traps were repaired and replaced,” Kirkland said.

Using Web-enabled software, Kirkland was able to upload trap survey data into a database and run reports showing how much estimated steam, fuel and dollars are lost between surveys. The software enabled him to benchmark energy efficiency with real time information integration, allowing him to issue reports for routine maintenance and work order prioritization. Kirkland can now trend performance from one year to the next by building, unit, site and region.

Another valuable aspect of the software is that it contains built-in formulas using a methodology approved by the United Nations to calculate greenhouse gas emissions and determine carbon credits for global trading.

“My goal is to continue to reduce energy losses, help keep our company competitive and keep our processes running smoothly. Steam asset management is not only a concept, but a best-in-class practice that we’ve embraced,” Kirkland said.



*Maximum flow-through is calculated using a 7/64-inch orifice at 200 psig for each application.

Cost of steam


$10.00 (Cost/Mlb)

Working pressure


200 (psi)

Maximum flow-through*


62 (Pound/hour)

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Days a week


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Hours per year

1 hour

1 day

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1 hour

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One failed trap can result in 70,000 pounds of steam loss every month. At a cost of $10 per 1,000 pounds of steam, this can result in more than $8,500 a year for just one failed trap.

Hand-held electronic devices can automatically detect steam trap condition and store the data for easy retrieval.

Author Information

Kerry Philips serves as manager for Armstrong International Smart Services Group in Three Rivers, MI.

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