Powering Progress: The Impact of Turbine Upgrades on Industrial Performance

Turbine Technology in action

Turbine upgrades enhance efficiency by utilizing steam more efficiently.  Old facilities can use existing energy consumption to produce more or reduce fuel while maintaining production levels.  This is a strategic plant benefit that reduces carbon emissions, providing a fast Return on Investment while reducing maintenance and downtime risk by replacing outdated equipment.

To learn more about turbines and the impact that upgrading them can have, we sat down for an interview with Bill Hunter, West VP of Sales and Turbine Products at ProcessBarron. We discussed the importance of turbine upgrades in industrial manufacturing, as well as considerations before implementation, and their role in enhancing industrial performance. Let’s dive in!

Historical Context: Turbine Technology

Steam turbines go back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, displacing expensive steam engines to power the modern world.  Thousands of steam turbines still operate in modern facilities, some of them almost 100 years old.  While the turbines may appear to be operating just fine, the reality is that they are likely inefficient and represent downtime risk.

Due to clean steam, steam turbines typically last a long time. However, they can be quite inefficient, since it can be costly to completely overhaul and redesign turbines. If a facility hasn’t kept up with technological changes, its turbines are less efficient and more costly to run. Advancements in turbine upgrades, particularly in the last few decades, have significantly transformed the industrial landscape!

Untangling the Benefits of Turbine Upgrades

Turbine upgrades in industrial manufacturing have several key benefits.  Inefficient application of steam turbine technology can result in overproduction of steam, increased use of fossil fuels, boiler emissions, increased maintenance, and even limitations to increasing production.  Finding the right boiler operating conditions, applying the appropriate controls, and integrating the most recent turbine advancements can lead to dramatic improvements at your industrial plant.

With enhanced efficiency, industries are able to produce more while using less energy. Boosted reliability reduces the likelihood of downtime and improves productivity.

In addition, turbine upgrades prove to be cost-effective in the long run. The financial benefits in terms of reduced energy costs and increased productivity over time more than offset the initial cost.

As the price of power increases nationwide, steam turbine upgrades provide a nice return on investment.  In fact, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provides significant tax-saving advantages that can be applied to these projects, providing even faster returns.

We consider how much power we can generate using the provided steam conditions. After conducting an analysis, we can provide customers with a simple payback calculation. To do this, we just need to know the blended power rate, which allows us to quickly show customers their potential payback period.

On average, Hunter said, most customers expect to see a 3-year payback. If additional equipment is required, the payback period could extend to 4-5 years.

Real-World Case Studies

Turbine upgrades lead to measurable improvements in industrial performance.  The facility leadership saw these real-world case studies illustrate increased productivity and efficiency following an upgrade.

Hunter mentions a specific case precipitated when a sugar facility experienced a manufacturing failure. The facility leadership saw this as an opportunity to improve the overall steam cycle. The old system that was being utilized was saturated steam, which is of lower quality. So, after consulting with the ProcessBarron team, the sugar manufacturers replaced the boilers with natural gas to create a more efficient steam cycle. This led to increased output and added more value to the facility. Now, they can almost entirely produce their own power for the facility’s operations.

Here’s another example:  consider a sawmill in Washington State.  Their turbine was oversized, resulting in an operating efficiency of only 40% compared to an expected 70-80%.  Oversized steam turbines appear to be operating just fine.  Not until the efficiency is calculated are you aware of all the lost energy, fossil fuel consumption, and increased profit potential.

These issues are often overlooked because the system operates silently, resulting in reduced output without apparent cause. As a solution, service providers can guide customers to optimize their equipment and help plants identify improvement opportunities.

Although older steam turbines aren’t necessarily inefficient, changes in the steam system’s conditions, including inlet steam flow rate, pressure, and temperature as well as exhaust steam conditions, can significantly impact the turbine’s operating efficiency.

Navigating the Turbine Upgrade Process

Key considerations before upgrading

Often, manufacturers don’t think to make upgrades to their turbines because they assume that they are costly.  However, that is not always the case.  New steam turbine controls and nozzle block retrofits may not be expensive but can add significant value. When deciding to upgrade turbines, manufacturers should consider several key factors, including the current performance and efficiency of their existing turbines, the costs associated with the upgrade, and the potential return on investment.

They should also take into account the compatibility of new turbine technology with their existing infrastructure, potential downtime during the upgrade process, and the reliability of the supplier. A comprehensive evaluation of these aspects will ensure a smooth and beneficial upgrade process.

Common challenges and how to overcome them

It’s crucial to conduct a thorough evaluation and plan ahead to mitigate any challenges. By ensuring a reliable supplier like ProcessBarron, manufacturers can successfully navigate these obstacles.

Industry Perspectives

One significant development in the future of turbine upgrades is in the area of control systems. Historically, older turbines in the industry have used mechanical speed control, which is now outdated and not as safe. These basic controls are being replaced, and newer models can seamlessly interface with a plant’s entire control system.

This integration provides greater visibility into the functioning of your steam turbine, rather than it being an isolated unit. By installing a new control system, operational parameters become readily accessible on the network, making them easily visible to operators and engineers. Upgrades can be simple, such as updating old hydraulic systems.

Efficiency in turbine systems can be greatly improved through targeted actions.  Issues like internal clearances and packing steam losses can result in significant inefficiency.  Deposits on blades over time can lead to losses, vibration, and unscheduled downtime.  Working with the plant managers ProcessBarron can help minimize these turbine maintenance and safety issues.

Significant changes might also be considered.  Optimizing the turbine steam path to new boiler conditions, or modifying exhaust conditions can result in greater turbine output.  ProcessBarron can even review major system components, such as condensers, heaters, pumps, piping, and cooling towers, which can also mitigate efficiency losses. Upgrading blades to low-pressure variants presents another method to improve overall performance.

Like all rotating machinery, steam turbines require annual maintenance.  Major overhauls are expected every 3 – 5 years.  Failing to properly maintain this equipment can lead to potentially catastrophic events.  Having ProcessBarron provide maintenance checks and overhauls will help assure operators that the equipment is safe and can feel confident in its long-term reliability.

However, some factors remain unknowable, such as invisible signs of buildup. The valves are designed to close rapidly. If the inlet valve does not close, an incident may occur. As the buildup is not visible externally, it is essential to check monthly to prevent any events.


In the world of industrial manufacturing, turbine upgrades offer a practical and cost-effective solution for manufacturers seeking to enhance efficiency, reliability, and overall performance.

Bill Hunter points out, “We can increase the overall boiler/turbine efficiency of an industrial facility that produces cost-effective carbon-saving projects that increase reliability and profitability.”

As industrial manufacturing continues to advance, the role of turbine upgrades remains important, offering a practical solution for manufacturers seeking to optimize performance and drive progress.

Our goal at ProcessBarron is to help you enhance the safety, reliability, and visibility of equipment on your control network. Upgrades are not only cost-effective but also offer a quicker payback than you might expect. We analyze your existing equipment’s efficiency and help you decide on upgrades. We do not employ third-party engineers or consultants – our team is highly trained to help you optimize your facility. Request a quote; we’d love to help you evaluate your objectives.

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