Plant maintenance is king

Design Plant Rooms for maintenance

What can be done to ensure a plant is operating efficiently - and, should a worst-case scenario occur, what happens when a plant fails completely and what are the risks in this case? Steve Warne of Ideal Heat Solutions provides answers.

The cost of living

In April 2022, energy bills rose by £693.00 for 22 million people across the UK, contributing to a hike-up in the cost of living which has risen to its highest levels in over 40 years. What’s more, over the past few weeks, inflation has had a 9% increase, with the Chancellor warning of a tough few months for all.

These unprecedented increases are affecting every corner of society. Inevitably, they are also having impacts on industries such as construction and engineering. Very specifically, from a building operation point of view, rising energy bills have the potential to affect numerous areas, including the systems and products within buildings that are integral to their performance.

One such example is a plant. Given the current cost of living crisis, there is a great need to ensure that a plant runs without any issues, so that any unforeseen or unwanted costs can be controlled and mitigated. Not only must these additional costs be prevented, but the plant must be able to perform so as not to place the health, wellbeing, and comfort of building occupants in jeopardy.

Keep boilers maintained

If a boiler is not monitored regularly over time for efficiency, when deposits build up inside the appliance it may go unnoticed. The link between the amount of gas that the appliance is burning, and the monthly cost of that gas, can easily be missed especially if costs are increasing incrementally at the same time.

Inefficient boilers can cost a lot more than the cost of a new boiler in the long term if it is badly maintained. When considering our current socioe-conomic context, it’s essential to ensure a plant is properly maintained – as the famous saying goes, ‘Prevention is better than cure’.

It is always recommended monitoring as the first cause of action. There should be heat meters on the appliances to monitor the efficiency of the plant. A planned maintenance and replacement schedule is in place. A ‘disaster’ plan just in case the plant fails completely and this identifies where a temporary plant can be safely sited. This will reduce the time it takes to put in temporary measures and avoid delays getting sites up and running again. 

The solution is for building owners or managers to be proactive and build resilience into any building management plan. This ‘disaster’ plan not only identifies where a temporary plant could be sited, but how it can be connected to the existing system and where the pipework will run so that if the worst should happen, they are ready to act. This can reduce a site’s downtime to just hours rather than days. If the pandemic taught us anything, it is that we need to be more prepared.

Furthermore, the use of a temporary boiler and plant room can safely allow existing plant rooms and boilers to be worked on offline. This allows the old plant to be safely cooled and avoids anyone having to work on a live system which is innately dangerous.

Working on any live system is dangerous; it is safer to work in a plant room that is cold and has its power isolated because otherwise, one error can have fatal consequences. Of course, strict safety measures are put in place but you can never account for human error so there is always a residual risk. By using a temporary boiler, you can eliminate that risk. If something were to go wrong whilst working on a live system a hospital or school could be forced to close.

When a primary school in Dartford, Kent needed a temporary boiler whilst their plant room was being replaced, Ideal Heat Solutions was able to set up and install a temporary boiler within half a day. This was a planned project because the school had organised contractors to replace its plant room. They required a temporary boiler to provide heating for just over two months and during the school Christmas holidays until the work to the plant room was finished. We identified a safe location to site the boiler to ensure the safety of children and staff on site.

We provided a 250kW oil-fired containerised boiler, 3000ltr fuel tank, 30m x 50mm HTG hose. We were able to set up and install the temporary boiler within half a day to ensure minimum disruption to the school. The client had used us before so they knew they could trust our expert team of engineers to work quickly and safely to provide them with a solution.

Temporary boilers can also be monitored remotely to ensure they perform as expected. In recent years and with the advent of technology, remote monitoring has become a possibility. This means that control centres can keep an eye on a temporary boiler’s efficiency and performance. Remote monitoring technology continuously sends data and reports on how a plant is doing. It also alerts engineers of any issues affecting a temporary heating system, where engineers can have full control over the temporary plant at the click of a button.

Good design is key

Plant rooms don’t generate any value, so architects are often encouraged to design plant rooms to be as small as possible. On sites where there has been a great deal of redevelopment, plant rooms can often be hard to gain access to. Plant rooms can often be built in inaccessible places including roofs which means contractors sometimes have to use a crane to access a plant room and remove an old boiler. If a building has had a retrofit, it can mean the plant room is extremely tight. This could mean it is necessary to take a plant room offline to replace a boiler. To break down a boiler and rebuild it in a plant room is a hugely expensive operation and many manufacturers will not even allow this. There is often not enough allowance made to get equipment out whilst leaving everything else in situ.

As a result, plant replacement becomes extremely difficult from an operational perspective. This means that sites are often forced to limp along with appliances leaking water and fumes because it is known that replacement is going to be complicated and potentially time-consuming.

By taking a plant offline and using temporary solutions people can save time and money in the long run. On a large site where there may be underground pipework which can be difficult to get to, we are able to break down the loads to take the site on and offline, helping to maintain the system and avoid having to turn off large parts of the network. This allows people to keep their buildings running, which for some sectors like healthcare could be critical.

In summary, it is important now more than ever to ensure that plant is running safely and effectively, so that buildings perform as intended for the benefit of occupants. It certainly pays to be proactive rather than reactive under these circumstances. With a planned maintenance schedule in place, risk and extra costs can be kept at bay.

Steve Warne is National Sales Manager at Ideal Solutions

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