- By Ron Sustich
- January 04, 2022
As burner management technology and processes have evolved, many leaders in the industry supplying burner management systems have ensured that as technology advancements are realized, their systems require comprehensive upgrades instead of allowing customization or modification.
Flame detection and burner management systems are key to safe, efficient burner operation. As burner management technology and processes have evolved, many leaders in the industry supplying burner management systems have ensured that as technology advancements are realized, their systems require comprehensive upgrades instead of allowing customization or modification. Purge timing changes, for instance, would require new components–increasing profits for the vendor–and create delays if not ordered in advance, instead of simply allowing for on-site modifications and customization at a software level.
These "hardwired" system components are not more effective inherently; this system was created to limit the ability of plant experts to make changes or customizations to sell more add-on components per year. Coupled with a closed proprietary system design, many times plants were left with few options other than buying more hardware each time a change was needed. To accommodate these new products, the base units may have to be modified or upgraded. The new bases may be compatible with some of the old add-ons but not all, while the new add-ons will not fit into the old base units. This means more hardware purchases to ensure all the upgrades and add-ons are compatible. These same manufacturers resisted the safety certifications of competing programmable burner management systems that would offer flexible, open system architectures.
What is the problem with closed, proprietary systems?
There is nothing wrong with the technology in these closed systems–it does its job. The issue with closed systems is on a business-wide and industry-wide level. Businesses are running leaner than ever and working with vendors that offer little in the way of compatibility with 3rd party vendors means significant risk. Supply chain issues, changes to a vendor’s product line, or the unexpected costs associated with new hardware or upgrades because of the system design all offer substantial risks to any business.
As an industry, high switching costs for a plant means significant barriers to true, open competition between systems and technologies. Building proprietary systems that do not allow for broad compatibility across component vendors and software customization by plant experts makes these barriers to competition higher. Robust competition drives higher quality and innovation across the board. Open systems that are programmable and designed to offer wide compatibility deliver lower risk for the customer and drive competition among BMS vendors–creating a stronger burner management industry.
How do plants avoid risk with open-architecture burner management systems?
There are numerous situations where a plant can experience risk if tied to a closed, proprietary system. In a scenario where a large vendor acquires a smaller one and is shutting down support for that product line, the customers of the smaller vendor will face increasing difficulty getting spare parts and support. With downtime costs alone, plants could lose millions of dollars a day simply for lack of a key component that only one vendor provides. A similar situation happens when a vendor obsolesces a product line, ending product support and requiring customers to move to a new solution for upgrades or new components. Cutting corners as parts become scarce for the existing system can lead to an unoptimized system and all the risks associated with burner management - the risks a BMS is designed to avoid in the first place: explosions, unintended carbon monoxide production, or even a simple ‘nuisance trip’ where flame is present, but the furnace gets shut down, leading to possible batch failure, restart costs or other downtime costs, depending on the application.
Avoiding single-source risk needs to be a part of executive planning for any plant in today’s economy. For BMS, a customizable, "open source" Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) system is the basis of a plant ecosystem that is compatible with many vendors. PLC-based panels are available that are designed to be independent of the flame-detection systems and compatible with numerous flame detection technologies and vendors, allowing plants to make the best component choices for their applications and equipment. Instead of forcing plants to choose a specific solution native to a specific vendor, employing customizable, broadly compatible solutions help reduce downtime and help ensure component and spare parts availability.
When choosing a technology platform, understanding what solutions are designed with compatibility and customization as central tenets can be crucial to mitigating risk down the line. As plant decision-makers choose solutions that offer broad compatibility and reduced long-term cost, vendors are realizing that operating within their own closed ecosystem isn’t what’s best for their customers or the industry as a whole. Their customers are looking for ways to reduce cost and risk, and staying within a closed ecosystem means those vendors that don’t evolve will be left behind.
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