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International Operating Engineer - Winter 2017

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The quarterly magazine of the International Union of Operating Engineers.


Stationary Engineers UIC Engineers Master Boiler Operation That Spans the Ages BUILDING MAINTENANCE OPERATING processes and procedures have changed significantly over the last century – from coal to oil to dual-fuel to the automatic gas train. The operators from each of these eras had their own specialized training. We recall the highly labor intensive coal burning to the risky days of manually lighting and operating the gas and air mixture rates to the automated fuel efficient combustion systems installed today. From the manually operated combustion systems of the vintage steam power generation plants through to the PLC controlled gas systems of the modern engine rooms of today, they all require a highly trained and skilled team of union operating engineers. In today’s operating environment, it is rare to see multiple fuel systems in operation in a single plant, but that is the case at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The seven high pressure steam boilers at UIC’s cogeneration plant integrate both the “old” and “new” technologies. Currently, the operating process of yesteryear is still utilized and some of the original boilers have seen the transition to state of the art controls. Imagine the operation in 1949, seven high pressure boilers—two of which are Babcock Wilcox 4 Drum Stirling Boilers—are fired up to maximum capacity and in full operation. The physical demands on the plant engineer and fireman to keep steam pressure up and the plant functioning in normal operation mode is tremendous. Then imagine having to learn the new processes and procedures that came with the transition to gas in the mid- 1950’s. Minor upgrades to the pneumatic controls—which include the installation of a 6” gas main, the addition of a manual reset Maxon gas valve, and a new operating procedure—the engineers now can operate the boiler through the purge cycle, manually set the gas valve, “open lite” the pilot and slowly open the gas valve by hand on each of the four burners, and then manually open the air registers for proper combustion. Jump forward to 2014, where there is a need to upgrade to meet new regulations that require hospitals to operate for 96 hours on an alternate fuel, in this case #2 fuel oil. Once again the union operating engineers are required to learn a new process and procedure for day-to-day operations. The new control system incorporates a state of the art PLC system which controls eight Maxon double block and bleed vented gas valves – one for each burner and one for each pilot of the burner. The gas header has pressure switches that work with the PLC logic to supply precise gas pressure to each pilot and burner. Each burner has a custom feedback enabled fire eye that allows the operator to be able to light each burner, this elaborate purge system has the operators enabling each step of the ignition procedure from a touch screen computer located on the front of the boiler. The only item that was not able to be automated were the air registers for combustion because of lack of space for actuators. When asked to compare the automatic and manual operation of the boilers and which one the UIC engineers prefer, Chief Engineer Kevin Casserly said, “Each boiler has its own unique characteristics as does each engineer, so it really would depend on which engineer you ask.” As far as energy savings, the automatic gas train is not only more energy efficient, but it also carries with it a safer operation. Incorporated into the gas train are safety features for each of the four stages. The engineer has the ability to fire in a remote location for an added safety feature. Chief Engineer Casserly is proud of his entire staff and the persistent training on safety and operating procedures. He also pointed out that having skilled union engineers on staff means identifying issues, which if not resolved can potentially turn into hazardous operating conditions. He also remarked on the ongoing education needed in order to stay current, to search out more efficient and safer methods of operating the co-generation plant. Chief Engineer Casserly and his UIC crew take particular pride that although the plant is located on a busy campus with thousands of people passing by each day, the anonymity of their facility is a testament to the fact that they are always operating quietly and efficiently. [this page] UIC Engineer Kevin Nagle operating the gas valve. [opposite page] Kevin Nagle next to the latest addition of PLC controlled gas train. [photos & article] Tom Phillips, IUOE Local 399 10 INTERNATIONAL OPERATING ENGINEER WINTER 2017 11

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