Steam Boiler Water Level Control

Steam boiler level control diagram.
Steam boiler level control diagram.
Click on image for larger view.
Steam boilers are very common in industry, principally because steam power is so useful. Common uses for steam in industry include doing mechanical work (e.g. a steam engine moving some sort of machine), heating, producing vacuums (through the use of “steam ejectors”), and augmenting chemical processes (e.g. reforming of natural gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide).

The process of converting water into steam is quite simple: heat up the water until it boils. Anyone who has ever boiled a pot of water for cooking knows how this process works. Making steam continuously, however, is a little more complicated. An important variable to measure and control in a continuous boiler is the level of water in the “steam drum” (the upper vessel in a water-tube boiler). In order to safely and efficiently produce a continuous flow of steam, we must ensure the steam drum never runs too low on water, or too high. If there is not enough water in the drum, the water tubes may run dry and burn through from the heat of the fire. If there is too much water in the drum, liquid water may be carried along with the flow of steam, causing problems downstream.

The first instrument in this control system is the level transmitter, or “LT”. The purpose of this device is to sense the water level in the steam drum and report (“transmit”) that measurement to the controller in the form of a signal. In this case, the type of signal is pneumatic: a variable air pressure sent through metal or plastic tubes. The greater the water level in the drum, the more air pressure output by the level transmitter. Since the transmitter is pneumatic, it must be supplied with a source of clean, compressed air on which to operate. This is the meaning of the “A.S.” tube (Air Supply) entering the top of the transmitter.

This pneumatic signal is sent to the next instrument in the control system, the level indicating controller, or “LIC”. The purpose of this instrument is to compare the level transmitter’s signal against a setpoint value entered by a human operator representing the desired water level in the steam drum. The controller then generates an output signal telling the control valve to either introduce more or less water into the boiler to maintain the steam drum water level at setpoint. As with the transmitter, the controller in this system is pneumatic, operating entirely on compressed air. This means the output of the controller is also a variable air pressure signal, just like the signal output by the level transmitter. Naturally, the controller requires a constant supply of clean, compressed air on which to run, which explains the “A.S.” (Air Supply) tube connecting to it.

The last instrument in this control system is the control valve, operated directly by the air pressure signal output by the controller. Its purpose is to influence the flow rate of water into the boiler, “throttling” the water flow more or less as determined by controller. This particular type of control valve uses a large diaphragm and a large spring to move the valve further open with more signal pressure and further closed with less signal pressure.

When the controller is placed in the “automatic” mode, it will move the control valve to whatever position necessary to maintain a constant steam drum water level. The phrase “whatever position necessary” suggests the relationship between the controller output signal, the process variable signal (PV), and the setpoint (SP) is complex. If the controller senses a water level above setpoint, it will close off the valve as far as necessary to decrease the water level down to setpoint. Conversely, if the controller senses a water level below setpoint, it will open up the valve as far as necessary to raise the water level up to setpoint.

What this means in a practical sense is that the controller’s output signal (equating to valve position) in automatic mode is just as much a function of process load (i.e. how much steam is being used from the boiler) as it is a function of setpoint (i.e. where we wish the water level to be). Consider a situation where the steam demand from the boiler is very low. If there isn’t much steam being drawn off the boiler, this means there will be little water boiled into steam and therefore little need for additional feedwater to be pumped into the boiler. Therefore, in this situation, one would expect the control valve to hover near the fully-closed position, allowing just enough water into the boiler to keep the steam drum water level at setpoint. If, however, there is a high demand for steam from this boiler, the rate of evaporation will be much greater. This means the control system must add feedwater to the boiler at a much greater flow rate in order to maintain the steam drum water level at setpoint. In this situation we would expect to see the control valve much closer to being fully-open as the control system “works harder” to maintain a constant water level in the steam drum. Thus, we see how the controller automatically positions the control valve to react to different boiler operating conditions even when the setpoint is fixed.

A human operator supervising this boiler has the option of placing the controller into “manual” mode. In this mode the control valve position is under direct control of the human operator, with the controller essentially ignoring the signal sent from the water level transmitter. Being an indicating controller, the controller faceplate will still show how much water is in the steam drum, but it is now the human operator’s sole responsibility to move the control valve to the appropriate position to hold water level at setpoint – in manual mode the controller takes no corrective action of its own. Manual mode is useful to human operators during start-up and shut-down conditions. It is also useful to instrument technicians for troubleshooting misbehaving control systems. Placing a controller into manual mode is akin to disengaging the cruise control in an automobile, transferring control of engine power from the car’s computer back to the human driver. One can easily imagine an automobile mechanic needing to throttle a car’s engine “manually” (i.e. with the cruise control turned off) in order to properly diagnose an engine or drivetrain problem. This is true for industrial processes as well, where instrument technicians may need to place a controller into manual mode in order to properly diagnose transmitter or control valve problems.

Reprinted from Lessons In Industrial Instrumentation by Tony R. Kuphaldt – under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

Two Point Calibration of the Foxboro IDP-10-T Pressure Transmitter

The Foxboro / Schneider Electric I/A Series Electronic Pressure Transmitters are a complete family of D/P Cell, gauge, absolute, multirange, multivariable, and premium performance transmitters, as well as transmitters with remote or direct connect seals, all using field-proven silicon strain gauge sensors and common topworks.

A common HART electronics module is used for all HART Pressure Transmitters. Also, because all configuration and calibration data is stored in the sensor, you can replace a HART module with another HART module without transmitter reconfiguration or recalibration.

The video below provides step-by-step instructions for two point calibration of the IDP-10-T pressure transmitter.

Flowserve Limitorque WG Series Gear Operator Installation, Maintenance, and Operation Guide

WG Series Gear Operator
WG Series Gear Operator (Limitorque)
The most basic function of a valve is to be opened and closed, allowing or preventing a process media to flow. Gearboxes, such as the WG series, provide the mechanical advantage to make hand operation possible for most valves.

The Flowserve Limitorque WG series of worm gearboxes is designed for quarter-turn butterfly, ball, and plug valve applications as well as quarter-turn and multi-turn dampers and offers unsurpassed quality and longevity in a wide variety of weatherproof, submersible and buried-service applications.

The following installation and maintenance manual (IOM) explains how to install and maintain the Flowserve Limitorque WG operator. Information on installation, disassembly, reassembly, lubrication and spare parts is provided in the embedded document below.

Alternatively, you can conveniently download the Limitorque WG Series Installation, Operation, and Maintenance in PDF here.

Happy New Year from Mead O'Brien

With 2017 coming to a close, all of us at Mead O'Brien wanted to reach out and send our best wishes to our customers, our vendors, and our friends! We hope that 2018 holds success and good fortune for all of you.

Process Temperature Sensors: Basics of Thermocouples and RTDs

Industrial Thermocouple
Industrial Thermocouple
Proper temperature sensor selection is key to getting useful and accurate data for maintaining control of a process. There are two main types of temperature sensors employed for industrial applications, thermocouple and resistance temperature detector (RTD). Each has its own set of features that might make it an advantageous choice for a particular application.

Thermocouples consist of a junction formed with dissimilar metal conductors. The contact point of the conductors generates a small voltage that is related to the temperature of the junction. There are a number of metals used for the conductors, with different combinations used to produce an array of temperature ranges and accuracy. A defining characteristic of thermocouples is the need to use extension wire of the same type as the junction wires, in order to assure proper function and accuracy.

Here are some generalized thermocouple characteristics.
  • Various conductor combinations can provide a wide range of operable temperatures (-200°C to +2300°C).
  • Sensor accuracy can deteriorate over time.
  • Sensors are comparatively less expensive than RTD.
  • Stability of sensor output is not as good as RTD.
  • Sensor response is fast due to low mass.
  • Assemblies are generally rugged and not prone to damage from vibration and moderate mechanical shock.
  • Sensor tip is the measuring point.
  • Reference junction is required for correct measurement.
  • No external power is required.
  • Matching extension wire is needed.
  • Sensor design allows for small diameter assemblies. 
RTD sensors are comprised of very fine wire from a range of specialty types, coiled within a protective probe. Temperature measurement is accomplished by measuring the resistance in the coil. The resistance will correspond to a known temperature. 

Industrial RTD
Industrial RTD
Some generalized RTD attributes:
  • Sensor provides good measurement accuracy, superior to thermocouple.
  • Operating temperature range (-200° to +850°C) is less than that of thermocouple.
  • Sensor exhibits long term stability.
  • Response to process change can be slow.
  • Excitation current source is required for operation.
  • Copper extension wire can be used to connect sensor to instruments.
  • Sensors can exhibit a degree of self-heating error.
  • Resistance coil makes assemblies less rugged than thermocouples.
  • Cost is comparatively higher.
Each industrial process control application will present its own set of challenges regarding vibration, temperature range, required response time, accuracy, and more. Share your process temperature measurement requirements and challenges with a process control instrumentation specialist, combining your process knowledge with their product application expertise to develop the most effective solution.

Metso Neles T5 Series Top Entry Rotary Ball Valves

Metso's Neles T5
Metso's Neles® T5 series top entry rotary ball valves are designed to meet the requirements of chemical, petro-chemical and refining industries with improved process safety and efficiency of plant.

T5 series valves with famous trunnion mounted Stemball® design are suitable with wide rangeability for demanding heavy duty rotary control applications such as crude oil, hot residual oil, LPG and other hydrocarbon gases and vapors under medium and high pressures. 

Unique Stemball® design combined with anti-cavitation and low noise Q-trim technology are making the T5 series valve most suitable with wide rangeability for demanding control applications like anti surge and blow down services. The new high noise reduction Q2-trim is available for gas applications.

Process Control Basics: The Underlying Principle Behind Coriolis Flowmeters

The Coriolis effect, a derivative of Newtonian motion mechanics, describes the force resulting from the acceleration of a mass moving to (or from) the center of rotation. As this video demonstrates, the flowing water in a loop of flexible hose that is “swung” back and forth in front of the body with both hands. Because the water is flowing toward and away from the hands, opposite forces are generated and cause the hose to twist. Coriolis flowmeters apply this principle to measure fluid flow.

For more information on any process flow application, contact Mead O'Brien by calling
(800) 892-2769
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