Smart control systems for heating units to minimize outages
- Standardization of parts for higher reliability and easier maintenance
- Implementation of VPN Service routers
- Fast remote support
- Smart preventive maintenance
- Fewer breakdowns
- ECOnnect pilot project
From residential areas to the petrochemical industry. The heating units of Eco Steam and Heating Solutions can be found everywhere. The company builds steam and hot water boilers in shipping containers and leases them throughout Europe. Since 2014, Eltra has provided maintenance and modifications to the control systems in the heating units. Senior service engineer Joost Kools has been involved in the collaboration from the beginning.
What makes it special to work on this project?
“The heating boilers of Eco are used in district heating systems for the heating of homes, but also in industrial applications. That makes the reliability of the boilers particularly important. When outages occur, a residential area might be left without heat or valuable cargo in the port may not be kept at the right temperature. This means that sometimes I get a call in the middle of the night to urgently resolve an issue. When that happens, I do need a moment to get my bearings! After my coffee, I often call back to make sure I’ve written everything down correctly. The days can sometimes be long, but customers are very happy when you solve the issue. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
“When outages occur,
a residential area might
be left without heat”
How has the service and maintenance program developed in recent years?
“The focus is on minimizing and quickly resolving malfunctions. In 2014, we started standardizing components. This increases the reliability of the units and makes maintenance easier. After that, Eltra installed a VPN Service router in each unit. This is an industrial internet router and data logger that sends an SMS and/or email in case of malfunctions and collects data that we can read remotely. This allows us to see what the issue is immediately and solve most problems without having to send a technician. The VPN Service router also enables smart preventive maintenance. By constantly collecting data, we can replace parts or carry out repairs before problems arise. As a result, major malfunctions have become very rare in recent years.”
What developments are still to come?
“We are currently working on a pilot to implement an online visualization platform: ECOnnect. We use Ignition for this: an HTML5-based SCADA package (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition). It is often used in factories for data collection, machine control, and reporting. We are now using it to collect data remotely and make it accessible to users. ECOnnect collects data every minute and stores it in the cloud. This allows us to view the data at any time, even when a unit has failed and has no power. This application of Ignition is still quite rare. Wind turbines and service elevators are the only examples I found in my preliminary research. By implementing ECOnnect on these (steam) boilers, we’ve introduced Industry 4.0 to this project as well.”
“This allows us to prevent problems at an early stage and resolve them more easily.”
What are the benefits of ECOnnect for the end user?
“ECOnnect makes it easier for the customer to gain insight into consumption. It presents collected data clearly on a website. This way, end-users don’t have to be given access to the machine, which contributes to safety. ECOnnect also helps customers in case of malfunctions. When something goes wrong, the machine generates an error code consisting of letters and numbers, but that doesn’t mean anything to a layman. ECOnnect links the error codes to a text message, making it clear what the problem is and what the next steps are. This allows us to prevent problems at an early stage and resolve them more easily.”