Cooling Towers and their Maintenance Challenges
A cooling tower is a system that makes use of evaporation and heat transfer processes to cool a fluid, usually water.
This equipment is commonly found in sugar and ethanol mills, thermoelectric and nuclear power plants, steel mills, chemical and petrochemical, pulp and paper, food industries, and others.
In addition, they are found in commercial and industrial air-conditioning systems and in refrigeration plants.
The cooling tower has the ecological and economic function of reusing water in industrial processes, making it recirculate in a closed circuit.
Among the various components involved in the operation of these towers are fans, motors, gearboxes, and transmission shafts.
Normally, when the industry has a production process in operation, the cooling tower linked to that process will also be in operation.
A process may be linked to more than one cooling tower, but if one fails, the others do not replace it, and this may generate stress in the system, reducing the cooling capacity.
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES FOR COOLING TOWER MAINTENANCE
Cooling towers are difficult to maintain due to:
- the positioning of its components at high locations;
- having components that are difficult to access, such as equipment that is inaccessible during operation or in positions that pose risks to the maintainer;
- the lack of a safety platform for access;
- high temperatures and generation of humidity in the components;
- high levels of noise and vibration;
- the conventional vibration measurement model: high cost and requiring access to the component by the maintenance personnel.
SOME PROBLEMS FOUND IN COOLING TOWERS
- high operating temperatures, which can contribute to shorter operating cycles, premature failure, and unscheduled downtime;
- excessive levels of sound and vibration, which can result in employee safety problems, fatigue, and premature failure;
- extreme temperature and humidity conditions inside the cooling tower, which can rapidly degrade mechanical systems, affecting the noise level and bearing life;
- premature bearing failure and excessive wear of the pinion shaft;
- inadequate lubrication;
- unbalanced fans;
- corrosion and erosion.
SAFELY MAINTAINING COOLING TOWERS
With the listed challenges in mind, how do you identify failures before a breakdown in a difficult to access, if not inaccessible, environment with high noise, vibration, and temperature?
Continuous remote monitoring by wireless sensor devices is a perfectly applicable technology.
It will help the industry in making intervention decisions before an increase in temperature and vibration results in a breakdown, incident or accident with high costs or more serious consequences.
When a gearbox needs maintenance or repair, it is necessary to hire a crane to remove it and take it to a specialized service provider, usually already hired by the industry.
Hiring a crane, besides the cost of removing and reinstalling the gearbox, also brings risks in this operation.
Depending on the situation, it takes about two weeks of work to maintain or restore a problematic gearbox.
So why not using a market solution that brings a new approach to cooling tower maintenance?
For example, by monitoring the gearbox, continuously and remotely, the industry will have assertive decision making regarding the prevention of failures. It can identify unbalances in fans, among other problems. Thus, it reduces risks and costs, besides increasing the reliability and continuity of the production processes.
Get to know the DynaPredict Solution: a device with acceleration and temperature sensors, accompanied by an Android Application and/or Gateway for data collection and synchronization, as well as a Web Platform, where the monitored data is centralized for analysis and diagnosis.
Co-authored text with Rodrigo Aquino – Mult Engrenagens