Insulation improves economic returns

If purchased fuel is the 'currency' of an industrial plant's energy budget, then mechanical insulation is one of its 'savings' components. Just as savings have a specific place in a financial plan for creating wealth, so does insulation play a role in optimizing a plant's valuable energy resources.


Key Concepts


  • Insulation should be used on all surfaces hotter than 120 F.

  • Insulation thickness determines its effectiveness.

  • Insulation can reduce fuel consumption by up to 13%.


    Best Practices Steam



    If purchased fuel is the "currency" of an industrial plant's energy budget, then mechanical insulation is one of its "savings" components. Just as savings have a specific place in a financial plan for creating wealth, so does insulation play a role in optimizing a plant's valuable energy resources.


    According to the U.S. Department of Energy's BestBractices Steam program, mechanical insulation should be used on any surface over 120 F. Boiler surfaces, distribution mains, condensate return pipes, and vessels, and hardware fittings should all be properly insulated to conserve thermal resources.



    Two tips sheets, part of a series of BestPractices Steam tip sheets that currently numbers 19, discuss the benefits of mechanical insulation and demonstrate the calculation of energy savings that it provides.


    The value proposition is not the steam itself, but the heat that steam provides. Steam can efficiently and safely dispatch thermal resources from the boiler to multiple locations within a plant, usually to locations appreciably distant from the steam source.


    Potential savings from insulation application and upgrades may reduce fuel consumption anywhere from 3% to 13%, according to the U.S. DOE's Industrial Assessment Center program.


    By conserving thermal resources, insulation not only saves money but also improves plant productivity. In this sense, insulation makes money for the plant. In addition, the expense relief that it provides becomes a new source of cash that can be applied to other processes in the plant, or to marketing and administration. All of these benefits make insulation a priority for plants in a competitive marketplace.


    Plant managers depend on insulation not only to conserve thermal resources throughout a steam system, but also to enhance process stability, ensure personnel safety, and attenuate noise.



    Two prime considerations are "whether the insulation is dry and snugly fitted, and whether there is enough of it," suggests Don Wulfinghoff, author of the Energy Efficiency Manual .


    Moisture drastically reduces the heat retention capabilities of insulation. But if the insulation system — insulation and protective jacketing — is properly specified and installed for the steam application, moisture penetration is reduced and the insulation system remains effective indefinitely.


    The performance of the insulation system is maximized when the correct thickness is specified for the application. Energy savings justify insulation up to a certain thickness, beyond which any additional economic or energy savings may not be worth the cost.



    Results are sometimes dramatic: a plywood plant in Georgia upgraded the insulation on steam lines to its dryers. This allowed the plant to reduce its steam load by 6000 lb/hr and cut its fuel bill. The investment paid for itself in 6 mo.


    An insulation energy appraisal was performed on a chemical plant in Kentucky. They had a nagging maintenance issue, and over the past 5 yr had discussed the cost and value of fixing and upgrading the insulation on their distribution lines. A $300,000 investment in insulation upgrades yielded a $700,000 savings in fuel costs. Payback for the investment: 3 yr. An added benefit was reduced emissions.


    More Info: For more information on saving steam energy go to the web sites mentioned in the sidebar or call the BestPractices Clearinghouse. Edited by Joseph L. Foszcz, Senior Editor, 630-288-8776,


    Best Practices Steam

    BestPractices Steam, a U.S. DOE initiative , generates references, diagnostic software, case studies, and industry outreach events for the benefit of the industrial steam community. A series of 19 steam Tip Sheets are available. Each is one-page, providing an overview of a steam improvement opportunity and an example for calculating its economic impact.


    Two steam Tip Sheets are devoted to insulation use: Insulate Steam Distribution and Condensate Return Lines and Install Removable Insulation on Uninsulated Valves and Fittings.


    Determining the appropriate thickness for a given mechanical component is addressed by "3E Plus," a free software tool developed by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, and distributed by BestPractices Steam.


    An insulation energy appraisal performed by a certified insulation energy appraiser can provide an energy user with a comprehensive assessment of the piping and equipment in a facility and provide recommendations that will help save energy, reduce fuel costs and greenhouse emissions.


    The DOE has embraced the insulation energy appraisal certification training program available from the National Insulation Association. See


    Readers are encouraged to visit the BestPractices website at

    No comments
    The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
    The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
    The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
    Safer human-robot collaboration; 2017 Maintenance Survey; Digital Training; Converting your lighting system
    IIoT grows up; Six ways to lower IIoT costs; Six mobile safety strategies; 2017 Salary Survey
    2016 Top Plant; 2016 Best Practices on manufacturing progress, efficiency, safety
    Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
    Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
    SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
    What controller fits your application; Permanent magnet motors; Chemical manufacturer tames alarm management; Taking steps in a new direction
    Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
    Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

    Annual Salary Survey

    Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

    There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

    But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

    Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

    Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
    The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
    The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
    Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
    IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
    Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
    The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
    This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
    Motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
    This article collection contains several articles on preventing compressed air leaks and centrifugal air compressor basics and best practices for the "fifth utility" in manufacturing plants.
    Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
    Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
    Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
    click me