Electric Heat Trace Systems

The Value of HT Systems

In the operation of many different types of industrial plants (power generation, pulp and paper, chemical, etc) electric heat trace systems are deployed to prevent pipe freeze up when temperatures fall, and/or to maintain process pipe temperature for process efficiencies. If either of these conditions occur (pipe freeze or process media temperature decline), the result can be catastrophic. The plant may be unable to operate at proper efficiency, or it may be shut down or damage done.

Once a failure occurs, it requires immediate attention and significant time from plant personnel to resolve the issue. Since these conditions are always an “upset” and never a “scheduled occurrence,” they normally take personnel away from doing constructive and revenue generating activities. When an electric heat trace system fails to keep pipes from freezing or from maintaining a set process temperature, it is always a double loss:

  • Lost revenues from poor or non-existent operations
  • Lost wages for utilizing plant personnel on non-productive activities

Properly Functioning Electric Heat Trace Systems Are Your Insurance

A properly functioning electric heat trace system is indispensable. It’s your “insurance” against catastrophic failures. It’s crucial to maintaining critical process availability, and provides ease of maintenance and troubleshooting should a problem occur. The benefit to the day-to-day operations is to allow plant management the higher value use of their skilled, trained and knowledgeable technicians. Fixing the problems caused by a frozen pipe is NOT the best use of the limited resources (highly trained technicians) of most industrial plants. And most importantly, whenever an upset occurs, efficiency is reduced, and money is lost.

Whether it’s a total inability of the plant to operate (i.e. drum level control transmitter at a power plant freezes, creating a “zero” reading, thereby not allowing the plant control system to “fire” the boiler) or a case of a process temperature not being maintained (i.e. coconut oil component of a chocolate manufacturer being too cold to maintain desired flow rates causing severe delays in the manufacturing cycle), malfunctioning electric heat trace systems create significant problems and serious losses for industrial plants.

Let’s Get Real

Even with the potential problems identified to the plant, its personnel, and its profits, the reality for most systems is that the heat trace is often the “last item” on a project, and the budget is nearly exhausted when it comes time to specify the proper hardware and installation of the electric heat trace system. This inevitably leads to poor practices in the design and execution of the system, such as multiple circuits per breaker; poorly labeled breaker panel/line list due to changes in field;  ineffective design (not enough watts/foot for pipe size; for insulation type and thickness; etc); and little thought given to operating functionality and maintenance concerns.

Electric heat trace systems, even with proper design and specification, can still malfunction once installed in the field. The most common causes of these malfunctions are:

  • Moisture intrusion from poor installation practices (junction boxes; conduit; insulation barriers; etc.
  • Insulation problems (poor install; poor re-install; moisture)
  • Maintenance on operating devices (valves, pumps, etc) leads to broken or damaged lines

We know how important a properly functioning electric heat trace system can be to the operations and profitability of a plant. And we know that even a properly designed and installed system can develop problems over time. So the conclusion is clear: monitoring the “health” of the electric heat trace system is critical.

Control and Monitoring Systems

The objective of an electric heat trace control and monitoring system is simple: it’s to alert plant personnel BEFORE a problem occurs, and to prevent catastrophic failure, interrupt critical process availability, or diminished revenue. The best systems build in the control logic needed to turn on or turn off specific electric heat trace circuits based upon the input signals received into the control system.

Monitoring systems currently available can be as primitive as a simple LED on the end of an electric heat trace circuit (indication of voltage at the LED), or as sophisticated as a pipe temperature-sensing and breaker current-sensing multiple circuit system. Most systems fall somewhere in between, with the most common having local visual indication as the primary method of alarm. Although local visual indication is the most common alarming method, it is also the least effective.

Hard-wired Technology Is Old Technology

No matter the complexity or the simplicity of today’s control and monitoring systems, they all suffer from one inherent drawback:  they must all be “hard wired.” Hard wired monitoring systems are permanent “in place” systems and require the same infrastructure and installation issues (electrical code requirements, installation labor, etc) as does any electrical project. These costs are significant when included as part of the original electrical heat trace project, but they grow by a factor of 2X to 3X when a Monitoring System is added after an initial electric heat trace system has been installed.

Because of the cost of installation of these older-technology monitoring systems (whether as part of the original project, or when considered as an additional “insurance” measure later), many of the systems get reduced in size and capabilities, thus reducing their overall effectiveness, and decreasing their ability to meet the intended objective – to warn personnel BEFORE a problem occurs.

The Problem

How to provide a flexible, scalable and low installed cost electric heat trace control and monitoring system that provides the effective and consistent means of alarming?

The Solution

A WIRELESS electric heat trace control and monitoring system that provides all of the functionality and alarming that operating plants and plant personnel require. The solution is DYMOCON.