Demand Increases for Removable and Reusable Insulation Materials

Maria T. O’Brien

July 1, 2005

Exploding energy prices have shortened the payback time for new removable insulation added to insulation systems on steam processes from months to weeks, adding money to companies’ bottom lines every month thereafter.

Routine system maintenance on industrial processes often involves removing insulation on pipe valves and fittings. If it is not replaced, the energy loss can be substantial. Removable/reusable insulation blankets, pads and covers used in areas that need
occasional access provide a workable, efficient solution.

“The U.S. Department of Energy long ago documented that industries using steam in their processes [i.e., glass, paper, steel, aluminum] could save up to 5 percent of their energy costs by simply installing removable/reusable insulation on the flanges and valves of their steam systems. The dollars from a 5 percent savings on an energy bill at today’s prices should make even the sleepiest CFO take notice,” said Kathie Leonard, president of Auburn Manufacturing, based in Maine.

Although fuel costs have skyrocketed, the cost of removable insulation materials has not. Unlike the price of commercial and residential building materials—such as steel and lumber—reusable insulation materials, made of readily available textile fibers, have not yet been affected by price inflation. In addition, the labor needed to fabricate and install the covers can be provided by insulation contractors, and is still a bargain compared to residential or some commercial contracting, said Leonard. The most recent industrial recession combined with the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing has resulted in the industrial insulation market still having a good amount of capacity, and prices have remained fairly steady thus far, Leonard added. Most removable insulation covers carry an installed price of less than $500 per valve.

“Removable/reusable insulation jackets allow a cost-effective approach to insulating systems where insulation is desired but occasional maintenance or inspection is required. Items such as valves, pumps, tanks, turbines, instrumentation, heat exchangers, blowers and fans all utilize this product for either thermal or acoustical reasons,” said Bryan Watkins, Midwest regional manager at Advance Thermal Corporation. Watkins’ company offers energy analysis to show the return on investment for each project, as well as identification tagging to identify precisely where the jacket belongs on a system.

In the field, removable insulation is also finding itself on hard-to-insulate areas where its versatility, not necessarily its reusability, is its greatest asset.

“We’re finding applications for removables that we’d never thought of before. We insulated a previously uninsulated, irregularly shaped column on an ash cyclone that had many penetrations—pipes, sensors, etc. There was really no other way to insulate it except for the removable blankets,” said Mark Reed, operations manager for Zampell Insulation, an industrial insulation company headquartered in Auburn, Maine. Another recent application involved substituting silica mat for the standard glass fabric mat in removable insulation for a high-temperature gas turbine in a U.S. Navy project.

Reed has observed an increase in demand for removable insulation as industry insulation users move to do everything they can to conserve energy.

“We’re also seeing more and more requests for detailed CAD drawings for the more intricate configurations, so that they can be re-applied precisely. This is relatively new, that we’re seeing so much interest,” said Reed.

Despite this growth, there is room for much more improvement, said Leonard.

“Our customers in the industrial insulation business are telling us that industry is still dragging its feet about installing removables. Unfortunately, removables many times come under the maintenance budget, and such spending still seems sluggish in this fledgling economic recovery. If removables could compete with energy-efficient lighting, for instance, we think the cost-benefit analysis would tilt in our favor. In order to prove that point, I would urge plant engineers or plant managers to have a certified energy appraiser perform an assessment on their facilities. At little or no cost, there’s really no reason not to do it,” said Leonard.

Leonard’s company, like others, is working on ways to make it easier to fabricate, install and maintain the energy-efficient characteristics of their materials. Auburn recently introduced new heat-resistant webbing to keep removables tightly wrapped around valves and fittings. Instead of using wire, this coated webbing stays on the pad and can be easily installed and removed when work on valves is needed.

“Although some pads are made in the field by insulators by using hardware like hog rings, many pads are custom-sewn to size in fabricators’ shops. We’ve found a way to make our silicone-coated fabrics slide effortlessly through sewing machines, making fabrication easier and faster,” said Leonard.

Process Industry Practices (PIP), a consortium of process industry owners and engineering construction contractors who serve the industry, is currently updating its existing removable/reusable insulation practices.

“The anticipation is that ultimately the PIP will become an industry standard,” said Ed Schauseil, a member of PIP’s Coatings, Insulation and Refractory Committee.

Organized in 1993, PIP is a separately funded initiative of the Construction Industry Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. PIP publishes documents called practices, which reflect a harmonization of company engineering standards in many engineering disciplines. According to PIP, up to a 6 percent savings on capital projects can be achieved with the implementation of their practices. Specific practices include design, selection and specification, and installation information.

By harmonizing these technical requirements into a single set of practices, administrative, application and engineering costs to both the purchaser and the manufacturer should be reduced.

For example, these practices include:

  • Jacket Fabric Seam Construction Practice 5.2.1: All fabric seams shall be sewn. Machine stitching shall be used wherever practical. Hand stitching shall be kept to an absolute minimum.
  • Tie-Down/Anchor Strap Construction Practice 5.3.1: The terminal ends of splits in covers shall utilize flaps or drawcord/flaps to seal the covers from wind and water. Flaps shall have no gaps where they come in contact with adjacent insulation.
  • General Considerations Practice 5.4.1: All valve covers shall be designed to permit full function of the valves and not to obscure the valve’s position indicator.
  • Identification Tags Practice 5.5.1: Stainless steel identification tags shall be permanently attached to the outside of the cover. The identification legend shall be mechanically embossed on the tag. Information contained on each tag shall be specified by the purchaser.
Click Photo to Enlarge

Figure 1

Figure 1

For some irregularly shaped equipment, removable blankets are the only viable insulation option.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Removable insulation can help reduce energy loss on pipes and valves (Figure 2) and tanks (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3