Monitoring Steam Traps with the PI System

Blog Post created by supson on Apr 10, 2020

Without excellent data, it can be difficult to make the most out of your critical assets and processes. Steam traps are equipment that quietly operate in the background when functioning, and have the potential to severely hurt your safety and operations when they fail.


Yet, most steam traps are not monitored with excellent data. In the white paper and Asset Framework demo attached at the bottom of this post, Steve Edwards and I discuss and demonstrate how to:


  1. Get steam trap data into the PI System from IoT sensors
  2. Use this new sensor data and data from related assets to successfully monitor your steam traps


Here are some excerpts from the white paper:




The Business Problem

Steam traps are mysterious creatures for many operations teams in industry.  Steam traps don’t play favorites and will silently fail in any application. Companies deal with steam trap unreliability by conducting manual audits, installing redundant traps, and stocking complete spares.

Business impacts for failed traps include:

1. Losing heat to a critical asset during production, likely resulting in:

  • Production rate loss
  • Product quality shift
  • Unplanned process downtime

One study done by Emerson showed a particular refinery with 16 failed traps would lose $526,992 per year if the traps were not fixed – trap failures that were not found by a semi-annual audit.

2. Paying for steam escaping through a failed trap

  • Losses from one failed trap can cost from around $4,000/year to $550,000/year, pending on the conditions of the steam trap (data obtained from Armstrong International)

For example, a trap losing steam through a 1/4” orifice under 250psig will lose $38,832/year

3. Paying for unnecessary inspection labor and repairs

4. Safety hazards - steam systems are naturally hot and hazardous to all workers


The Business Problem for plant managers is how can I equip my operations teams with data to eliminate losses from all steam traps in my plant.  Steam trap diagnostics are too complex for my workers to remember and not delivered directly to them when they need it.



The Solution

To demystify a steam trap, measure its sound and temperature.  Use the knowledge and sensor hardware from steam trap suppliers like Armstrong International.  Put their technology to work in your PI System.  Continually run analytics on steam trap sound and temperature to watch for failure.  Notify users of failures, educate them in the notification and gather their feedback.  Store all of this steam trap history alongside the surrounding process history in your PI System.  With your operations information well organized and stored in a common platform you will discover new insight. 

Steam Trap Steps To Value: Data collection, Data Contextualization, Real Time Analytics, Notifications & Visualization



Real Time Notifications automatically generated by your steam trap analytics are important so that users act fast and with a purpose.  Text messages work well to get people mobilized immediately.  Email messages are effective for sharing data, procedures and instructions in the context of the problem.


Steam Trap Email Alert

Figure 1: A comprehensive email with process data, links to a troubleshooting guide, engineering drawing and a dashboard for the event.  Also note the table with troubleshooting advice specifically for this type of steam trap.



Equipment Displays allow users to see process performance and machine health history side by side.  Steam trap failure for example is related to the pressure and temperature of the steam supply.  Equipment displays promote users to find dependencies between performance and health. 


Steam Trap System Dashboard

Figure 2: Dashboard containing steam trap data and surrounding process data.  Note the event tracking list of all prior outages this trap has undergone.  Also see the troubleshooting advice from the manufacturer is listed here.  These are the same instructions that will be emailed to users when new outages occur.  This trap is currently in a BLOW-THRU failure.




Look valuable? Steve and I encourage you to take a look at the attached white paper and Asset Framework demo to see how you can benefit from getting more out of your existing critical operations.


Many thanks to the excellent feedback and help from Kurt Armstrong and Justin Grubka from Armstrong International, as well as John Maytum and Jack Fries.