Article Archive
Combustion Hazard
Ford Motor Company Learned The Hard Way
Vol 21 No 2

CEC was founded in 1984 as an engineering consulting firm specializing in utility systems and energy conservation. Eventually, the company turned toward updating existing combustion systems and bringing them up to code.

"We cut our teeth trying to identify problems while remaining objective," Smith said. "But so many people came to us and said 'Thanks for telling me about the problem, but how do I resolve it?' We said to ourselves 'Why don't we start designing ways to resolve it?"

The company evolved into offering turnkey upgrades where CEC can design a project, order the equipment, install it and even offer performance contract financing. CEC finances the energy improvements to a business facility and the energy savings repay the loan while providing a positive cash flow to the client. No up-front investment is needed.

"With fuel prices going through the roof, everybody wants to know that they are using that fuel in the most efficient and economical way," Smith said. "People with metal melting furnaces or boilers have reliability issues and may leave them running because they are afraid if they shut them down they will not start again. Any kind of efficiency at all could give them a bigger return on their investment and had to ensure they stay competitive."

CEC also offers emergency support for companies who only call after the worst thing has happened. For example, CEC was called in by an insurance company whose client had a furnace explosion at their main plant

"The company made egg cartons and this was right before Easter," Smith said. "There were twisted I-beams and rivets had shot through a wall like bullets from a machine gun. Of course all this caused a major business disruption."

To investigate, the state fire marshal's office brought in a local expert to do a root cause analysis on the cause and origin of the disaster. However, the expert said he would need three weeks to give

On Feb. 1, 1999, Ford Motor Company learned about combustion system problems the hard way. A catastrophic explosion in a seven-story power house at the Ford Rouge Manufacturing Complex in Dearborn, MI, left six workers dead, 14 more injured and crippled car production for nearly a week. A steel plant located in the complex did not resume production for three months.

To date, that accident has cost Ford over $1 billion, said Dale Smith, president of CEC Combustion Services Group. Yet, convincing other manufacturers of their exposure to risk regarding combustion remains difficult.

"At Ford, the culture has changed," Smith said. "Any company who has had an explosion has learned painful lessons. Still, it is very hard in this economy to go knock on doors and ask companies to spend money on safety."

Based in Cleveland, OH, CEC handles all aspects of improving the safety and reliability of heat processing equipment worldwide. Prominent clients include Ford Motor Company, Tyson Foods, Alcoa, General Motors and Colgate-Palmolive, among many others. To date CEC has serviced more than 9,600 fuel trains at more than 375 plants in 22 different countries.

The Rouge power plant produced steam by burning a mixture of natural gas, pulverized coal, and blast furnace gas. The new facility that replaced it, already under construction at the time of the accident, uses natural gas to generate electricity. Today, that new facility is one of 37 Ford power houses across the U.S., Canada and Mexico that CEC services.

"Our struggle is that we can't get people outside of Ford who have not experienced this kind of tragedy to truly believe it," Smith said.

How does CEC go about maintaining industrial combustion equipment? Technicians do hands on testing of safety interlocks and rebuild fuel trains and combustion equipment. The company consults on safety programs, writing standards, generating training material and preparing capital budget plans for upgrading equipment. Professional trainers assess the skills and knowledge of the client, then draw from training material libraries, mock ups, and photographs to meet client needs.

"Too often the owners think that as long as there is a jurisdictional inspection sticker on the boiler that everything, even the gas train and the fuel delivery system has also been blessed," Smith said. "In reality, the inspectors and most facilities do not test the boiler's safety interlocks or evaluate the combustion controls to see if they truly perform to design requirements. Furnaces and process equipment do not even come up on the end-user's radar screen."

Staff members serve on three national combustion related safety committees including NFPA 86 (Standard for Ovens and Furnaces), NFPA 85 (Combustion Hazards for Large Boilers), and ASME CSD1 (Safety Standards for Automatically Fired Boilers). One staff member also holds an NBIC (National Board of Boiler & Pressure Vessel Inspectors) commission.

"Basically, we make sure things do not blow up," Smith said. "We go around the world helping corporations establish either personnel safety programs or equipment maintenance programs. We make sure the programs work together and we help document the progress being made."

CEC visits each facility and tests equipment that the owners rarely test themselves -- gas trains and fuel control systems on boilers and furnaces and any other fuel fired device, he said.

"Imagine living on the tallest hill in San Francisco but never testing your brakes, always hoping that the one day you need them they will work right," Smith said. "That's the attitude that too many companies take about their combustion safety devices."

CEC was founded in 1984 as an engineering consulting firm specializing in utility systems and energy conservation. Eventually, the company turned toward updating existing combustion systems and bringing them up to code.

"We cut our teeth trying to identify problems while remaining objective," Smith said. "But so many people came to us and said 'Thanks for telling me about the problem, but how do I resolve it?' We said to ourselves 'Why don't we start designing ways to resolve it?"

The company evolved into offering turnkey upgrades where CEC can design a project, order the equipment, install it and even offer performance contract financing. CEC finances the energy improvements to a business facility and the energy savings repay the loan while providing a positive cash flow to the client. No up-front investment is needed.

"With fuel prices going through the roof, everybody wants to know that they are using that fuel in the most efficient and economical way," Smith said. "People with metal melting furnaces or boilers have reliability issues and may leave them running because they are afraid if they shut them down they will not start again. Any kind of efficiency at all could give them a bigger return on their investment and had to ensure they stay competitive."

CEC also offers emergency support for companies who only call after the worst thing has happened. For example, CEC was called in by an insurance company whose client had a furnace explosion at their main plant

"The company made egg cartons and this was right before Easter," Smith said. "There were twisted I-beams and rivets had shot through a wall like bullets from a machine gun. Of course all this caused a major business disruption."

To investigate, the state fire marshal's office brought in a local expert to do a root cause analysis on the cause and origin of the disaster. However, the expert said he would need three weeks to give definitive answers. The company balked at what it considered a lengthy delay before any production could resume.

"We came in and identified the root cause and the secondary causal factors in the same day and built an action plan for the client," Smith said. Understanding the cause, our engineers were able to test the specific safety devices of the plant's other furnaces to make sure the problem was eliminated."

With regard to training, CEC offers on-site training specific to the facility, on-line training available around the clock and training road show that tours nearly a dozen cities across the U.S. every year.

CEC operates with a staff of 35 people, two-thirds of which are engineering personnel or technicians coming from two major sources, he said.

"These are either people who retired from the Navy after 20 years of operating boilers or are professional combustion engineers who have worked for burner manufacturing companies, furnace manufacturers or have experience troubleshooting combustion control systems," Smith said.

What CEC offers boils down to three words -- safety, efficiency and reliability, Smith said.

"Helping people be safe and bringing some reliability back is important," Smith said. "But unless you can show some impact on the bottom line it's a very hard sell." o

 
 

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