University of Michigan-Dearborn Replaces Old Steam System

Case Study

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    • Institution: University of Michigan
    • Location: Dearborn, Michigan
    • Profile: Regional campus of the University of Michigan that has 9,400 students.
    • Challenge: Design a new system to fit inside a 1950s-era boiler room when three-pass boilers were standard
    • Solution: Engineer a 600-hp burner to fit inside the Cleaver-Brooks 3WG 700-hp shorter-length shell.
    • Results: Installation went smoothly, and the new control systems ensure reliable, efficient operation.

    University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-Dearborn) was founded on more than 200 acres of the original Henry Ford estate in Dearborn, Michigan. When the university opened in 1959, three large steam boilers located in the basement of its Engineering Lab Building (ELB) provided heat and hot water to the campus via underground tunnels.

    After nearly 40 years, it was time to begin updating the plant.

    Throughout a 20-year period, Gary Taylor, head of plant operations at UM-Dearborn, oversaw the replacement of surge and deaerator tanks as well as leaking underground steam piping and condensate return piping in multiple phases. In addition, the chemical treatment systems and procedures were revamped and updated to ensure protection of the plant equipment and systems.

    “With the right operators in place along with procedures for operating the plant, chemical treatment and monitoring, replacing the boilers was the final phase of rebuilding the plant,” explained Taylor.

    “If you were to replace a three-pass boiler with a four-pass, you wouldn’t be able to properly vent everything.” – Patrick Michels, D.J. Conley Associates

    As part of a larger project to renovate the ELB, which housed the steam boiler plant, the university contracted with Detroit-based SmithGroup for engineering and Lansing-based Granger for construction management. D.J. Conley Associates, Inc., located in Troy, Michigan, was brought on for boiler system expertise. The team worked together to layout an efficient, reliable new boiler system that would fit inside a boiler room built in the 1950s.

    Cleaver-Brooks Boilers installed at the University of Michigan.

    Back then, a three-pass boiler was the design standard. Today, four-pass boilers are more common.

    “In the original three-pass design, the flue and chimney stack ran out the back,” explained Patrick Michels, sales engineer for D.J. Conley Associates. “If you were to replace a three-pass boiler with a four-pass, you wouldn’t be able to properly vent everything, so the boilers had to be similar in design and layout to the original ones.”

    Working with Cleaver-Brooks, Michels determined that the best solution was to use the three-pass Cleaver-Brooks 3WG firetube boiler.

    Cleaver-Brooks Boilers installed at the University of Michigan.

    The specs called for three 600-hp boilers, but the 600-hp 3WG boilers were too long for the space, so the team decided to go with the larger 700-hp 3WG shell because it is shorter in length than the 600-hp 3WG boiler shell. Cleaver-Brooks then engineered its burner design to offer a 600-hp unit on a 3WG 700-hp shell.

    “All of the drawings on the engineering side, including the boilers, surge tank, stack and all the breeching was Revit-drawn or BIM-coordinated by Cleaver-Brooks,” said Michels. “We had to lay out the space in the room before anything was ever delivered to the site so when everything showed up, it was properly placed and allowed for boiler breeching and all equipment to line up perfectly.”

    Brian Frank, project manager for D.J. Conley Associates, added, “If the placement of the equipment was off even an inch, things were not going to line up properly, and the doors were not going to open.”

    “One major challenge was shutting down the old boiler plant and getting the new one up and running in the middle of an active construction zone.” – Emily Hamilton, UM-Dearborn

    UM-Dearborn ELB Project Manager Emily Hamilton said one major challenge was shutting down the old boiler plant and getting the new one up and running in the middle of an active construction zone while also keeping the rest of campus fully operational.

    A rental boiler was brought in to maintain heat and hot water throughout the campus while the plant was shut down; however, the rental boiler did not have redundancy, which posed another challenge in the way of timing. Getting the new boiler system online before the weather turned frigid was a priority.

    Bringing the new boilers into the 1950s-era building was tricky. The boilers were balanced on two side-by-side forklifts and then lowered through a very tight opening in the side of the building. The installation went smoothly, enabling start-up to be on time. The power house is located next to a lab with instrumentation, so Cleaver-Brooks took extra steps to minimize the noise from the boiler system by installing sound attenuating devices on the front of the burners. Vibration isolators were also installed on the equipment to limit movement.

    Cleaver-Brooks provided flow meters on major components of the boiler system so the facilities team can easily monitor the gas and steam flow rates as well as see the real-time efficiency of the boilers.

    “The new boiler control systems will provide our leadership with operating data to ensure efficient and proper operation,” said Taylor. “I expect the new plant to last well past my tenure here and serve the campus for the next 60 to 70 years.”

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