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Process and control today | Reduction of energy costs thanks to the insulation of plate heat exchangers


Although the piping is always insulated, it is less common to see insulation on plate heat exchangers. To ensure optimal operation and efficiency, duct wraps will reduce energy expenditure with a short term return on investment and can be fitted to any size appliance. Ensuring that the plate heat exchanger is in optimum condition is also crucial to ensure maximum performance and efficiency.

Tony Church of Rotamec explains the benefits of plate heat exchanger insulation and efficient maintenance procedures.

Regardless of the type of building, from a dairy or brewery to a factory or office environment, piping is almost always insulated. Insulation and coating protect pipes from environmental conditions, supporting long-term operation and minimizing maintenance requirements. Basically, insulation reduces temperature transfer, minimizes heat loss, or helps maintain cool temperatures for gas and liquid flow. Pipe insulation therefore increases energy efficiency, reduces operating costs and lowers the carbon footprint of an installation.

What is less common, however, is the isolation of plate heat exchangers and larger flow control devices, such as isolation valves. If a plate heat exchanger is not insulated, it will radiate heat in the same way as piping, wasting energy and reducing its operating efficiency. Without insulation, temperature differences can also generate condensation, creating maintenance problems such as corrosion as well as increased ambient humidity.

The pipes are quick and easy to insulate thanks to their uniform, cylindrical and narrow structure, and lagging is ubiquitous and inexpensive. Although equipment such as valves and especially plate heat exchangers vary in size, it is always inexpensive and simple to insulate them.

Plate heat exchangers usually incorporate insulation into their design, but this does not completely prevent heat loss or ensure optimum efficiency. The larger the unit and the more heat exchangers in an installation, the greater the potential losses and the greater the need for insulation. Given the years of lifespan and 24-hour use, this can be a significant waste of energy and budget. For these reasons, it is almost always more cost effective to insulate a heat exchanger than to leave it exposed.

As insulation protects the plate heat exchanger from environmental challenges, it will also extend service life, reducing long-term capital expenditure as well as maintenance requirements. Insulation is also a cost effective but important safety precaution, protecting operators and personnel from hot surfaces.

The insulation of the plate heat exchanger is provided by an insulating jacket, an inexpensive way to optimize energy efficiency. The sheath is usually constructed from an outer glass fabric with an inner layer of mineral fiber insulation. The thickness of this layer can vary depending on requirements, but is typically around 50mm, and insulation can be provided for a temperature range of -50°C to over 1000°C.

As plate heat exchangers and equipment such as valves vary in size, jackets are usually custom made and cover all required sizes. The jacket’s insulation can also fit into tight spaces with minimal clearance. Assembly is quick and easy, with the multi-panel insulation ducts secured by velcro and drawstring, with no need to uninstall equipment prior to assembly. It can also be quickly and easily removed if needed for future maintenance. A facility management support company such as Rotamec can inspect a building, create the required specifications, then supply and install the insulation ducts, with installation typically taking less than a day.

Before protecting a heat exchanger with insulation, it is useful to ensure that it is operating at its optimum efficiency, which includes checking that all maintenance requirements are addressed. Visual inspection by an experienced technician can identify replacement needs, and new plates and gaskets can be installed on site by Rotamec engineers within 24 hours, minimizing downtime and disruption.

If any plates or gaskets are corroded, non-destructive testing is helpful to check for leaks and whether repair would be a more cost effective outcome than replacement. By removing the plates and gaskets, they can then be analyzed in a workshop where they are tested for cracks, weakness and discharge. The plates are repaired, after thorough chemical cleaning, and are then relined, or alternatively, if more efficient and economical, the plates are replaced. The plates and gaskets are then brought to site and mounted on the heat exchanger in situ by a Rotamec engineer.

All repairs and new equipment from Rotamec come with a 12 month warranty. In addition to the 24/365 repair and supply of rotating mechanical equipment, for which Rotamec is best known, the company repairs and supplies all equipment required for facilities management services. The same fast service covers the South West, South Wales, and now with Covelec, the Midlands and the M1 Corridor.

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