The efficiency of a steam distribution system is largely dependent on the integrity of the distribution piping and the proper operation of steam traps installed throughout the steam distribution piping line. A properly operating steam trap effectively removes the condensate while maintaining static steam line pressure. Steam traps, while relatively inexpensive, are prone to failure. Their average life expectancy is 3 to 5 years. Steam traps typically fail in either an open position, allowing the loss of steam and its energy, or closed position, where no steam is lost but significantly reduced heating capacity and potential damage to steam heating equipment is likely due to the buildup of condensate. Planned steam trap maintenance is typically approached as an “inspect and replace at the point of failure” activity or as part of an annual or semi-annual steam distribution system inspection. Thus, failed steam traps can go undetected for significant periods, diminishing the overall effectiveness of the distribution system to deliver steam to the point of need and contributing to high facility operating costs due to wasted energy associated with steam generation and heating equipment failures. The objective of this project is to integrate and demonstrate distributed steam trap leak detection and centralized location-based alerting technology at the Washington Naval Yard (WNY).

Technology Description

The steam trap monitoring system (STMS) to be demonstrated will include thermocouple and acoustic sensors at each of the 250 WNY main steam distribution line steam traps.  STMS will be integrated with a secure wireless network to transport the sensor data to the existing Enterprise Industrial Control System (EICS).  Approximately 250 acoustic and 500 thermocouple sensors will be deployed.

The demonstration of the monitoring technology will not be a one-time staged event. The STMS demonstration period is planned for 6 months, during which the STMS will actively monitor the trap sensors and provide trap failure alerts to WNY Public Works personnel and facility decision makers via the STMS Decision Support tool. At the end of the demonstration period, to provide a comparison of STMS performance to current trap failure identification methods, NDW will schedule a physical inspection of the WNY main steam distribution line. Skilled technicians will periodically be deployed with portable handheld trap diagnostic tools to assess the condition of the steam traps.


Integration of the STMS with NDW’s EICS will provide NDW facility management personnel the capability to monitor and control critical facility infrastructure areas for potential hazards or intrusions and to manage facility energy utilities effectively and efficiently. This automated technology will increase infrastructure readiness and reduce costs by eliminating personnel-intensive monitoring tasks. Real-time sensor network connectivity will facilitate improved collaboration between the facility command center, security forces, emergency responders, and facility managers.

After the system has been successfully demonstrated, the technology could potentially be extended throughout the Washington D.C. region, other Navy regions, as well as other Department of Defense facilities that utilize large-scale steam distribution systems. An estimated $1.4 million in annual savings is anticipated at WNY alone. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2015)