How Do Commercial Boilers Work?
A commercial boiler contains water and transfers heat from a fuel source, such as gas, oil or coal, into steam. The steam is piped to a specific location, allowing it to run equipment, sterilize, steam-clean or provide heat. These boilers are essential to transfer heat energy from one place in your business to another, allowing everything to operate efficiently.
Some commercial boilers use an open system, which allows the steam to return to water form and be reused for different functions. Other boilers run on a closed system, meaning they don’t return the steam to water where it can be reused.
Below, you’ll learn more about how industrial boilers work, the types of boilers and other high-pressure steam boiler basics to help you operate your building’s equipment effectively.
Parts of a Commercial Boiler
Generally, commercial boilers contain the same parts and components essential for effective heating. Some of the standard components of a commercial boiler include:
- Burner: The burner is responsible for providing the flames that heat the water in the vessel. The burner helps create a mixture of fuel and oxygen, allowing the fire to burn efficiently and consistently.
- Combustion chamber: This is the area in the boiler where fuel burns to assist with heating the water. The combustion chamber is where the burners are located and is designed as a secure and safe location for the combustion of volatile fuel at high temperatures. Typically, combustion chambers are made from steel, cast iron or other heavy-duty metals.
- Heat exchanger: This vital component transfers the burners’ heat to the water, allowing it to create steam. Heat exchangers are usually made of copper, steel, cast iron or heavy-duty metal.
- Exhaust stack: This component is also called the flue. It consists of a series of pipes that carry exhaust fumes away from your facility’s interior and outside. An exhaust stack must be carefully constructed to ensure toxic fumes, such as carbon monoxide, are safely removed from your facility’s interior.
- Controls: System controls are an essential part of a commercial boiler, allowing you to set the water temperature, internal pressure, ignition, and fuel and air supply mixtures. You can control how often your burner fires, the rate at which your fuel is used and the quality of the fuel and oxygen mixture. The controls have safety features, allowing you to ensure your system stays operational.
All of these components are essential to a boiler, allowing it to operate safely and efficiently within your business. Without one of these components, your boiler couldn’t provide heating or other essential functions to your commercial enterprise.
How a Commercial Boiler Operates
There are different commercial boilers you can use. However, most boilers work similarly, using burning fuel or electricity to create heat and provide a hot water supply to a building. Depending on the type of system, the boiler may produce steam or hot water, which is then circulated in the pipes within a commercial facility.
Electric coils or fuel burners create heat in a boiler, which is transferred to the water from the heat exchanger. The hot water or steam travels through pipes within the building to the designated area. The water or steam enters the radiators of other heating systems in the building to disperse the warmth, allowing you to keep a space at your desired temperature.
The end goal of a commercial boiler is to produce consistent heat within a commercial building, whether it’s an office, medical facility, apartment complex or school.
Commercial Boiler Maintenance and Safety Tips
Remember that boilers contain steam or hot water under high pressure, so boiler maintenance is essential to sustain your boiler’s life span. You must take the proper steps to ensure your boiler stays clean and works correctly.
Hot water or steam leaks can cause significant damage or injuries. In some cases, boilers can explode when not adequately maintained, creating the potential for severe injuries or death.
You can follow some of the tips below to keep your boiler properly maintained:
- Ensure operators are aware of boiler regulations: Boiler operation regulations vary by state. For example, most states require your boiler to be inspected yearly, but some don’t. You should make any rules or regulations available to anyone who comes in contact with the boiler to ensure they follow protocol.
- Train everyone on boiler safety: While boiler explosions are rare, they can still happen. It’s essential to train operators on boiler safety, so they know what to look for, including temperature and water or pressure levels. They should also be able to spot signs of corrosion to ensure it’s handled correctly and quickly.
- Keep the boiler room clean: An unorganized or dirty boiler room can create a hazard. You also don’t want to store any flammable materials in a boiler room for the same reason. You should also consider restricting access to the boiler room to technicians and operators who have training in basic boiler safety so you don’t risk injuries and the area stays clean.
- Schedule time to make repairs or upgrades: A boiler requires repairs and upgrades throughout its lifetime. You may need to schedule some downtime for these repairs or upgrades, which means you can use rental boilers while yours is being repaired or upgraded. Even with a rental boiler, you’ll still need to inspect it regularly to ensure everything is working.
- Hire a professional: You should hire a professional to conduct your maintenance and repairs to ensure your boiler is taken care of properly. Professionals have the experience and knowledge to perform high-quality maintenance and repairs when necessary efficiently.
Schedule Boiler Installation or Repair With McNeil
If you need professional help with boiler installation or repairs, McNeil is here to help. We offer high-quality boiler installation services to help you install complex equipment that’s efficient and safe for your commercial processes.
We also offer boiler repair services when your boiler needs maintenance or repairs for specific components. We can work on all commercial boilers, whether you use electricity, gas, hot water or steam.
You can utilize our repair and installation services from any of our Florida, Virginia, or New Jersey facilities. When you choose us, you can rest assured we’ll exceed your expectations and help you keep your commercial operations functional.
Contact us today to learn more about our boiler services or get a quote!
When Should You Replace Refractory Materials?
Refractories are vital components in boilers and furnaces. These linings of brick and fiberglass act as a protective lining against the ongoing processes within a boiler’s combustion chamber, including destructive heat, abrasion and corrosion. Installing refractories correctly is essential for ensuring efficient and safe operation in both industrial and commercial boilers. However, just as important as proper installation is proper maintenance, which includes knowing when to replace key refractory materials.
What Causes Refractory Lining Wear?
Like the tires of a car, refractories wear out over time due to the damaging environment in which they operate. While wear can be minimized by following proper heat up and cool down procedures and performing simple maintenance, the refractory lining can crack, erode or otherwise get damaged for many reasons. Some of the most common causes of refractory lining wear include the following:
- Abrasion: Abrasive products like fuel, ash and other particles are often used in boiler systems. Like a sandblaster, these products will wear away at the refractory lining over time.
- Thermal cycling: Boilers and furnaces cycle in their heat production, generating massive amounts of heat up to 3,000°F before cooling off. Refractory linings, therefore, undergo the same thermal cycling, causing the refractory materials to expand and contract continuously. This results in materials such as firebricks, gaskets and fiberglass insulation degrading over time. In some cases where there is a sudden massive change in temperature called thermal shock, the rapid expansion or contraction of the material will cause more drastic and immediate damage to the refractory lining.
- Corrosion: The lining of a refractory can chemically react with materials and byproducts from the boiler. These chemical reactions can cause the refractory materials to soften or glass over, eventually resulting in surface failure.
- Erosion: Moving liquids like slag and molten metal in a boiler create a washing action against the refractory lining. Over time, this movement of liquid can erode the refractory lining, leaving the materials more prone to destruction from other causes like abrasion and corrosion.
- Mechanical wear: Moving equipment and parts in the boiler can place stress on the refractory lining, resulting in wear. Continuous mechanical wear can damage the structural integrity of the refractory lining.
- Improper materials: Sometimes, refractory materials wear down more quickly because the wrong materials were used to build the refractory. The material may not be suitable for the type of fuel being burned or the environment needed for the boiler and fuel combustion process.
- Improper installation: In some instances, a refractory owner or their hired installation team will rush the refractory installation or repair process, resulting in an improper installation. Missed or shortened steps in laying refractory bricks, choosing materials or letting the setup cure can all result in significant structural problems for the refractory.
- Improper maintenance: Another cause of refractory failure is human error in the form of improper maintenance. For example, refractories will often form “good cracks” as part of the natural cool-down process, which disappear during the heat-up process. Filling in these cracks unnecessarily can result in shell bulge and material wear since the materials will naturally expand again.
Refractory failure is one of the leading causes of boiler failures and inefficiencies, and refractory lining wear can also result in damage to other components of the boiler, such as the boiler tubes, burners and other systems. This extensive potential damage is the reason why boiler owners need to be aware of the causes of wear and implement a maintenance procedure to identify and handle wear as soon as it happens.
How to Find Refractory Lining Failure
Discovering the cause of a refractory material failure is a complex process that requires expert repair and installation personnel working in tandem with your internal team. While the process itself will look different depending on the specific qualities of your boiler plant, the process generally follows the steps below:
- Data collection: To start, have your repair crew work with your internal team to collect as much information about the refractory as possible, including details about performance changes, chemical compositions of boiler fuel being burned and material samples of slag and ash. In addition to this information, provide as much detailed information about the installation of the refractory, such as the composition and manufacturer for the materials used, the condition of the material during installation and all installation procedures and timelines used.
- Examination and testing: After collecting samples and data, a repair crew can analyze the information to determine the likely cause of wear and how to handle it. Experts will typically look for evidence of the above-listed causes of refractory lining wear to determine the primary culprits. The team will also likely run samples through various tests to verify the strength of refractory materials and the type of environment the refractory operates with.
- Boiler history review: The repair crew will also take a look at the details of a boiler refractory’s history to glean clues as to the types of repairs and replacements needed. This often involves analyzing the details of the refractory installation to determine if any errors could have compromised the refractory’s integrity. They will also take a look at the recent boiler and refractory services to determine if any changing boiler conditions or faulty repair operations may have affected the refractory.
Once the repair team has completed these steps, they will typically know the cause of the wear. From here, the team should be able to make a recommendation for the repair, whether it is replacing an insulation board or redoing the installation completely.
Maintenance Schedule for Refractory Lining
Like any essential equipment, refractory linings should undergo regular maintenance to ensure optimal operation and longevity — without proper maintenance, refractory lifespans can be reduced by 50% or more. This means that your company needs to create a thorough maintenance schedule for your refractory lining. But when should you schedule maintenance for refractory components?
The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to scheduling maintenance for refractory lining. Different types of materials and equipment require different maintenance schedules — when to replace ceramic fiber will differ from how long a gasket will last in the same environment. Depending on what materials and components are used in the refractory lining, maintenance schedules will vary widely from boiler to boiler.
The best way to set a maintenance schedule is to have a refractory engineer perform an inspection similar to the process outlined in the previous section. Using the information gathered, they can then create a custom maintenance plan for your equipment.