The Impact of COVID-19: Why the Steam and Boiler Industry Is Crucial Right Now

During these times of COVID-19, boilers are crucial for the continued operation of a variety of businesses.

The crippling impact of the coronavirus has been felt across the globe, severely impacting businesses,industries, and people throughout the world. 

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Businesses have suffered immensely due to lockdowns and curfews, leading many to close their doors and others struggling to survive with the little resources they have left. In this deep crisis, manufacturers across the U.S. and around the world are fighting to continue operations while assuring the maintenance of health and safety standards. 

When we look at the steam and boiler industry, the current financial climate has created both fears and opportunities. The growing uncertainty around the pandemic is pushing industries to seek energy system solutions that can survive through lockdowns and curfews—and steam boilers continue to be one of the best energy sources out there.

In this article we're going to look at the impact COVID-19 has had on the steam and boiler industry, and what the future might hold.

Defining the Boiler & Heat Exchanger Manufacturing Industry

Before taking a look at COVID-19’s impact on the boiler industry, let’s first define it:

[The Boiler & Heat Exchanger Industry] primarily manufactures boilers and heat exchangers. Boilers are closed vessels where the fluid is heated, while heat exchangers enable thermal energy to be transferred between fluids while keeping them separate. Industry products are used in a variety of industrial, energy and commercial markets.

- Ibis World

Here are some common products created in the boiler industry:

  • Heat exchangers and steam condensers
  • Power boilers and parts/attachments
  • Nuclear reactor supply systems

Although the boiler industry itself is primarily concerned with manufacturing boilers, a key aspect of the industry is maintenance. 

Boilers require regular maintenance to continue operating efficiently. Without maintenance, they become less and less efficient, and eventually can pose dangers to those working nearby in the form of leaks or even explosions.

Some Key Industry Statistics 

As of the end of 2019, there were around 336 businesses working in the Boiler and Heat Exchanger Manufacturing Industry within the U.S. In total, these businesses have almost 25,000 employees in both the commercial and industrial sectors. 

Prior to the pandemic, the global demand for steam boilers was projected to exceed $19 billion by 2025, and to exceed $3 billion by 2025 in the U.S. alone. These numbers reflect the growing demand for steam boilers across several industries, with power plants being one of the biggest consumers.

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Despite this robust outlook, the pandemic has significantly impacted the steam and boiler industry. 

And one aspect of the industry that has been impacted is maintenance.

With strict orders on social distancing and lockdowns in place throughout the U.S., many steam and boiler maintenance businesses have been unable to provide services such as routine inspections and maintenance as regularly as they once did. 

However, despite these challenges, several boiler maintenance businesses have stayed open, and helped lead the way by issuing statements and protocols on COVID-19 and continuing to find ways to provide their services.

The good news is that many are committed to continue serving the industries in which they work. Whether it’s providing industrial boiler maintenance, tending to emergency shutdowns, or performing scheduled boiler maintenance, businesses are doing their best to do their jobs.

Finding Opportunities—Essential Sectors that Rely on Boilers 

Despite its overall financial impact, COVID-19 has opened a floodgate of opportunities for the steam and boiler industry. 

Boilers are needed to make steam and prepare hot water for a variety of essential services. They’re not just important for homes, but are also critical for hospitals, manufacturing businesses, and power plants. 

Here are some essential sectors and assets rely on the continued safe operation of boilers:

  • Nuclear reactors rely on boilers to help produce steam which is then used to generate electricity. Nuclear power plants have a crucial role to play when it comes to consistent and uninterrupted electricity supplies throughout the country. Proper steam and heating systems need to be in place and well-maintained to ensure that nuclear power plants can continue to work smoothly.
  • Hospitals rely on boilers for a variety of essential services, including providing heat to hospital buildings as well as providing a proper steam sterilization system. With an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, hospitals need top-notch boiler systems and boiler repair services to ensure proper operations.
  • Pharmaceutical businesses rely on boilers in their everyday operations to help them manufacture the drugs they sell and sustain their production line. In the wake of COVID-19, the role of pharmaceuticals has grown even more important than before, with a sharp rise in the demand for drugs, medical supplies, and research on a possible vaccine. 
  • Food processing businesses rely on boilers for their work in creating and processing food—without properly functioning boilers, many food processing facilities would probably come to a grinding halt. 
  • Industrial buildings and power plants also rely on properly functioning steam boilers—in fact, almost any industrial or power generation facility has a vital need for well-maintenanced, efficient boilers.
  •  

Although COVID-19 has caused lockdowns on business activities, these industries are all doing essential work in fighting the virus and in providing daily services we all need. For this reason, the steam and boiler industry has a critical role to play as it provides the most basic energy systems for running these crucial wide-scale operations.

Installing new steam boilers, handling dangerous complications, and providing the right energy solutions are all critical jobs with which the steam and boiler industry is tasked on a daily basis to help keep these sectors alive and functioning.

Because these jobs are essential, we don’t see them going anywhere in the long term, but rather changing shape as new rules are put in place to keep personnel safe and follow professional health guidelines.

The Importance of Energy Efficiency

COVID-19 has triggered several policy responses across the U.S., as well as throughout the world.

Many industries must consciously adopt energy-efficient options in the wake of the coronavirus so that they can rebound quickly. In the wake of a series of economic shocks, all the factories and industries that rely on boilers will be looking for high-quality, energy-efficient boiler systems that can speed up production and help recover losses. 

Regular maintenance is a crucial part of ensuring that the boilers being used continue to stay energy efficient. 

Although there have been interruptions in business because of social distancing, the steam and boiler industry is a critical part of infrastructure in the U.S. and throughout the world, and we expect to see a strong demand for boiler maintenance in the coming months as industries recover and get back to work.

Increasing the energy efficiency of boilers through regular maintenance isn’t just about saving money. It’s also about reducing harm to the environment. 

A recent study conducted by Boiler House Consulting found that increasing the number of boiler inspections conducted per year by using drones to lower the overall cost of inspections could result in a reduction of CO2 emissions by as much as 649 metric tons a year—which is a huge difference, especially when you consider applying it to all the boilers currently in use throughout the world.

Ensuring the Safety of Workers 

Because steam boiler maintenance service is an essential service that must continue, ensuring safety is the need of the hour for these maintenance workers.

As gas engineers, technicians, and other personnel tend to emergencies and work near burners, controls, and pumps, they are strictly instructed to practice proper sanitation and maintain all recommended safety practices. 

Whether it’s installing new steam boilers, treating emergency shutdowns, or tending to the frequent maintenance of energy systems, workers know that they need to practice safety measures. 

These new safety measures include:

  • Thorough and regular hand sanitization (i.e., hand washing)
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) including protective masks, gloves, and coveralls to ensure work hygiene and safety
  • Maintaining a distance of six feet or more from other workers
  • Avoiding prolonged exposure to shared indoor breathing spaces

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In addition to enacting these measures, inspectors are turning to new robotics solutions to support boiler inspections as part of regular maintenance processes.

Using tools like the Elios 2—an indoor drone that sits in a protective cage, allowing it to be flown in confined spaces—inspectors can collect visual data remotely, using the drone as a proxy for their eyes. Robotics solutions like these are especially important in these times of social distancing, when we need to leverage every tool we can to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Note: This article was written for the Flyability site by energy system maintenance and installation provider Campbell-Sevey. Among other services, Campbell-Sevey is a U.S.-based business that has been helping energy systems operate at peak efficiency with optimized cost controls since 1937. Among other services, the company provides steam boiler maintenance. 

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