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BOILER TUNING BASICS PART I

On my first project as a combustion control engineer, I was responsible for loop checks and for
watching the experts tune the system controls. The first loop I tried to tune solo was the drum level
control. At that time the trend-tune program defaulted to a 2-minute window, and no one bothered to
mention to me that the proper time span to tune drum level control to is 20 to 30 minutes. I also
zoomed in on the drum level, which has a normal range of 15 inches, though my trend range was
3 inches. Finally, I did not know that drum level can be a very "noisy" signal, so the hours I spent
trying to tune out that noise were wasted.
Eventually, I got the bright idea to add a little derivative to the loop control. In the time it took to
program 0.01 as the derivative gain and then immediately remove it, the boiler tripped. Thus began
my career in boiler tuning.
In the 20-plus years since my inauspicious debut, Ive had the opportunity to successfully tune
hundreds of boilers, new and old, that needed either a control loop tweak or a complete overhaul.
Many inexperienced engineers and technicians approach boiler tuning with a heavy hand and little
insight into the inner workings of individual control loops, how highly interconnected they are with
other loops in the boiler system, or what change should be expected from the physical equipment the
loops are to control. My purpose in writing this article is to explore these fundamentals and share my
experiences. I trust these insights will be of value to the power industry and specifically to those who
want to tune boilers for rock-solid stability yet agility when responding to process changes.

What Constitutes Good Control?


Every boiler ever built has its own set of peculiarities. Even two boilers built at the same plant at the
same time to the same drawings will have unique quirks and special tuning issues. I begin with a
description of the various boiler and subsystem control loops before moving to good boiler-tuning
practices that are sufficiently robust to accommodate even minute differences between what should
be identical boilers.
From a pure controls perspective, the most important goal is to tune for repeatability of a value, not
the actual value itself. We do not care that there are exactly 352,576.5 pph of fuel going into the
furnace; we only care that, for a given fuel master demand, we get the same amount every time.
There will be process variation, of course, but the goal is to tune the controls to keep that variation as
small as possible and then tune for accuracy.
Boiler control processes are where I will begin. Additional control functions outside the furnace will be
explored in Part II in a future issue of POWER.

Operator Controls
The operators window into the control system is referred to as a master or as a hand/auto station,
control station, or operator station. The station is the operator interface to a given control loop and is
typically a switch located on the control panel in older plants or accessible from the operators
keyboard in those equipped with all-digital controls. Typically, the control station allows the operator
to move between manual and automatic modes of operation. All of the control loops discussed in this
article combine to form the set of controls that manage the key boiler operating functions.
When a control loop is placed in manual mode, the operator will have direct control of the output. In
automatic mode the output is modulated by the proportional-integral-derivative (PID) controller. In
automatic mode the operator usually has some control over the set point or operating point of the
process, either directly or through the use of a bias signal. Occasionally, as in primary airflow control,
the set point is displayed either on the controller located on the control panel or on the computer
screen graphic display. Cascade mode is a subset of the automatic mode in which the operator turns
over control of the set point to the master, whose internal logic generates the set point. Usually, there

is some digital logic that requires the station to be interlocked to manual, as well as control output
tracking and set point tracking.

Furnace Pressure Control


Furnace pressure control is a fairly simple loop, but its also one that has important safety
implications. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes, such as NFPA 85: Boiler and
Combustion Systems Hazards Code, are dedicated to fire and furnace explosion and implosion
protection. Before you begin tuning a boiler, you must read and understand the NFPA codes that
apply to your boiler.
Balanced draft boilers use induced draft (ID) fans and/or their inlet dampers to control boiler furnace
pressure. The typical control system has one controller that compares the difference between the
furnace pressure and the furnace pressure set point that uses a feedforward signal usually based on
forced draft (FD) fan master output. The output from the controller typically is fed through an ID fan
master control station. Smaller units may have a single ID fan, but larger units usually have two or
more ID fans. The most I have seen is eight ID fans for a single unit. In this case, the output from the
control loop or master is distributed to the individual fan control stations.
The NFPA also requires some additional logic for the furnace pressure control loop to ensure adequate
operating safety margins. There should be high and low furnace pressure logic to block the ID fan
from increasing or decreasing speed, as is appropriate. For example, because this fan sucks flue gas
out of the furnace, on a high furnace pressure signal the fan should be blocked from decreasing speed
and on a low furnace pressure signal it should be blocked from increasing speed. On a very negative
furnace pressure signal, there should be an override that closes the ID inlet damper or decreases ID
fan speed. The settings of these signals are determined by the boiler and fan supplier during the
design of the plant.
Also, on a main fuel trip (MFT) there should be MFT kicker logic. An MFT occurs when the burner
management system detects a dangerous condition and shuts down the boiler by securing the fuel
per NFPA and boiler manufacturer requirements. When fuel is removed, the flame within the furnace
collapses violently, which can cause a lot of wear and tear on the boiler and related boiler equipment.
It also presents the very real danger of an implosion. The MFT kicker should immediately reduce the
control output to the fan(s) proportional to the load being carried at the time of the MFT and then
release the device back to normal operation.
I am constantly amazed at how well furnace pressure can be controlled, especially when you consider
the amount of fuel and air being injected into a ball of fire many stories tall and the ferocious and
chaotic environment inside a boiler. The fact that a well-tuned system can maintain furnace pressure
to 0.5 inches H2O is remarkable.
A typical mistake made by boilers tuners is the use of very fast integral action to the furnace pressure
controller. Furnace pressure changes quickly, but not instantaneously, so consider the size of your
furnace and the amount of duct work between the furnace and the fans as capacitance in the system,
because air is compressible. I recommend restraint when tuning furnace pressure when it comes to
adding integral gain. Interestingly, the feedforward for almost every boiler is on the order of 0% to
100% in, and 0% to 80% out.
The trends in the following figures show what you should expect to see from your furnace pressure
control. The plant from which these data were taken uses both fan inlet damper position and fan
speed to control furnace pressure. Figure 1 illustrates an ID fan tuning trend and the reaction of the ID
fans and the furnace pressure to a change in set point.

1. Blowing hot air. Induced draft fans are used to control furnace pressure and primary combustion
airflow. In this test, induced draft fan and furnace pressure respond to a step increase in furnace
pressure set point. Source: Tim Leopold

Airflow and Oxygen Trim


Forced draft fans are typically placed in automatic after the ID fan master is placed in automatic.
Usually, the FD fan master is only controlling airflow; however, some boilers are designed with
secondary airflow dampers that control the airflow. In this case the FD fan will control the secondary
air duct pressure to the dampers (Figure 2).

2. Favorite trend. I typically monitor airflow, O 2 content in the flue gas, and furnace pressure control
when I tune airflow. The particular response of those variables was observed after a 20% load
increase in coordinated control mode. Source: Tim Leopold
Air and, consequently, O2 control are critical to the safe and efficient operation of a boiler. The airflow
signal is normally measured in terms of a percentage and is usually not available in volumetric or
mass flow units. The obvious question is, "Percentage of what?" The answer is the percentage of
airflow that is available from a given fan or system of fans. The actual measured pounds per hour of
air does not matter, because air is free, and the final arbiter of proper airflow is the O 2 content in the
flue gas (gases leaving the furnace). Because of variations in coal heat content, air temperature, and

combustion conditions inside a boiler, we ensure proper burning by measuring the amount of oxygen
content in the flue gas, commonly referred to simply as O2.
Pulverized coal has an interesting property: Under certain conditions of heat in a low-oxygen
atmosphere, coal can self-ignite or even explode. Therefore, personnel safety and equipment
protection require boiler operators to maintain excess O2 in the flue gas. The amount of excess O 2 is
determined by the load on the plant and the type and design of boiler. Typically, the load signal used
is steam flow. In any coal-fired boiler, airflow demand is a function of the boiler firing rate or boiler
demand (Figure 3). Gas- and oil-fired boilers have lower O 2 requirements at higher loads.

3. Extra air is a good thing. A typical O2 set point curve for a coal-fired plant is a function of boiler
firing rate or boiler demand. Minimum levels of air are required so that reducing conditions in the
furnace never occur. Source: Tim Leopold
The term cross-limiting refers to the function of fuel flow that limits the decrease in air demand and
the function of airflow that limits the increase in fuel demand. When decreasing load, the air demand
follows its lag function and the fuel demand follows the boiler demand to ensure that there is always
more air than fuel going into a furnace so explosive conditions never develop inside the furnace.
When increasing load, the opposite is true. This is truly an elegant piece of logic.
The output from the boiler master is the boiler demand. Cross-limited air demand is developed by
choosing the highest of four calculated values: boiler demand function, the lag of the boiler demand
signal, a minimum value (per the boiler manufacturer under the NFPA codes), and a function of the
actual fuel flow. The cross-limited fuel demand is selected from the least of three signals: boiler
demand function, a lag of boiler demand, and a function of actual airflow. When load is increased, air
demand follows the function of the boiler demand and the fuel demand follows its lag of the boiler
demand.
To develop the air demand for your boiler, hold your O 2 trim controller in manual at 50% output. At a
low, medium, and high load, place your FD fan master, or secondary airflow dampers (if the boiler is
so equipped), and your fuel master in manual. Then manipulate the airflow until you find the amount
that satisfies your O2 set point requirement, using stack opacity as a reality check on the O 2 set point.
Next, manipulate the airflow characterization curve as required to allow the air demand to equal or
slightly exceed the fuel flow or boiler demand. Record the airflow required for that fuel flow and then
move on to another fuel flow setting. Three points should be sufficient for a good airflow curve.
Typically, the airflow measurement is a differential pressure taken in air ductwork and requires a
square root in order to make it linear. Ensure that your signal is also temperature-compensated. Each
boiler should have an airflow characterization curve that should be a virtual straight line. If it isnt, I
would be concerned about unexplained "correction factors" or "magic numbers" that should not be
necessary.
Next, the characterized airflow is multiplied against a function of the O 2 trim controller. The O2 trim
control loop uses the set point curve, discussed above, plus an operator bias to calculate an O 2 set
point for various loads. This set point is compared with the O 2 content of the flue gas used by the

control system. It is best to have several O2 measurements because of striations or variations of


temperature and oxygen that are present across the stack cross-section.
Different plants use different measurement schemes, selecting the average, the median, or the
lowest measurement to control. O 2 trim is designed to be a steady state trim of the airflow. If you, or
your tuner, are trying to control airflow with the trim controller, stop it. The O 2 trim controller should
be mostly integral action with very little proportional and no derivative gain. Your time is better spent
reworking your air demand curves or airflow characterization than attempting to tune the airflow
using the O2 controls.
The output from the O2 trim control station then goes through a function generator such that a 0% to
100% input signal equals a 0.8 to 1.2 output signal. This value is then multiplied against the
characterized airflow. This means that the O2 trim controller can adjust the airflow 20%. In some
extreme cases this amount can be varied, but for most boilers 20% is more than sufficient. The final
result is a signal referred to as "O 2 trimmed airflow." This value is then used by the airflow controller
to modulate the ID fans or dampers.
Because O2 trim control uses a primarily integral-only controller, it does not have the dynamic
capabilities of most controllers. As a result, there are times when the controller should not be allowed
the full range of control. At low loads, typically less than 30% to 35%, output from the O 2 trim
controller should not be allowed to go below 50% but should be limited to some minimum setting so
that an air-rich atmosphere is always maintained in the furnace.
Also, when the lag function in the cross-limited air demand is driving air demand, airflow will lag
behind. That is, the air will remain elevated for a period of time as the load, and the fuel flow,
decreases. As a result, oxygen in the flue gas will spike up. If the O 2 trim controller is not limited, the
controls would see the O2 go higher than the set point and start cranking, cranking, cranking down.
Then, when the load gets to where the operators have set it and the fuel flow is no longer decreasing,
airflow demand will catch up with the boiler demand, and the O 2 will quickly begin to fall. The
controller will see the O 2 falling and begin to crank up. But because there is very little, or no,
proportional gain, it will take a long time to bring the air back. This can result in an unsafe or, at the
least, a nerve-wracking condition.
The NFPA requires some additional logic for the airflow control loop. There should be high and low
furnace pressure logic to block the airflow from increasing or decreasing, as is appropriate. Because
this fan forces air into the furnace, on high furnace pressure, the fan should be blocked from
increasing speed; on a low furnace pressure signal, it should be blocked from decreasing.
Also, on an MFT there are NFPA and boiler manufacturer requirements that must be considered. One
important consideration is the need to hold the air in place for a time after an MFT or if the airflow
should drop very low during or just after a trip. The dampers should go to a full open position shortly
after the loss of all FD or ID fans (providing a natural draft air path). Moreover, in the typical boiler air
control system, if the ID fan is placed in manual, then the FD fan is normally forced to manual. If the
FD fan is in manual, then O2 trim is forced to manual.

Drum Level and Feedwater Control


Feedwater is fed into the drum in a typical subcritical pulverized coal fired drum boiler via either a
series of valves in parallel with a series of constant-pressure feedwater pumps or a battery of
variable-speed feedwater pumps. If the feedwater level in the drum goes too high, water can become
entrained in the steam going to the turbine and can cause catastrophic results. If the drum feedwater
level goes too low, the drum itself can become overheated, possibly resulting in catastrophe.
Feedwater (and drum level) control has two modes of automatic operation: single- and three-element
control. The drum level set point for both modes is set by the operator. In single-element control the
difference between the drum level and the drum level set point provides the error signal that is used
by the single-element controller to control the rate of water entering the drum by modulating the
feedwater flow control valve. Three-element control governs the three variables, or elements, that are
used in this control scheme: drum level, steam flow, and feedwater flow.

Drum level control uses a cascaded controller scheme consisting of an outer and an inner controller.
Steam flow is an indication of the rate at which water is being removed from the drum. A function of
steam flow is used as a feedforward to the outer controller. The drum level error is then operated on
by the outer controller. The output of this controller is the feedwater flow set point. The difference
between this set point and the feedwater flow is then operated on by the inner controller. The output
from this controller is then used to modulate the feedwater flow control valve.
Three-element control is much more stable and robust than single-element control. The reason that
we use single-element control at all has to do with the nature of the instrumentation. Typically,
feedwater flow, and occasionally steam flow, is developed by using a flow-measuring device like an
orifice plate or a flow nozzle, where flow rate is proportional to differential pressure. However, a
problem occurs at low flow rates (low boiler load), where differential pressures are not as solidly
proportional as we would like and therefore untrustworthy for boiler control. Consequently, singleelement control is used at low loads.
A well-tuned drum level control can be placed in automatic as soon as a pump is started. By the time
steam flow has passed 25% of the total range, we can consider steam flow signals to be reliable. That
is a good point at which to switch to three-element control.
There really is not much in the way of manual interlocks or control tracking when it comes to the
drum level loop. If the drum level signal or the feedwater flow valve control output goes out of range,
or no pump is running, this station is normally locked to manual mode. Thats about it.
Normally, tuning for the single-element controller consists of big proportional and very small integral
gain settings. Tuning for the three-element controller has some additional requirements. As in any
cascaded loop, it is absolutely crucial that the inner controller be tuned as tightly as time will allow.
The inner controller, the feedwater controller in this case, must have an integral action that is faster
than that of the outer, or drum level, controller (Figure 4). This is true for all cascade loops.

4. Rapid responder. A typical coal-fire boiler with a properly tuned drum level control will respond
very quickly to a substantial load increase (top) or load decrease (bottom). The dynamic response of
other key variables in boiler drum level control system is also illustrated. Source: Tim Leopold
You may notice that as the load decreases, the drum level sags downward, and as the load increases,
the drum level is slightly elevated. This means that the steam flow feedforward is just a tad too
strong. A minute adjustment to the feedforward signal can add stability to the control loop (Figure 5).

5. Small is big. A small increase in the feedforward signal added more stability to the drum level
controls. Only very small incremental changes in feedforward should be made when tuning drum level
controls. Source: Tim Leopold

Superheat Temperature Control


Superheated steam temperature control is very straightforward. Normally, steam leaves the drum
and travels through a primary superheater(s) before entering the desuperheater, where
attemperating water is mixed with the steam to modulate its temperature before it enters the next
superheater section. After the steam passes through that superheater, the outlet temperature is
measured.

If the inlet temperature to the superheater is a measured variable, the preferred method of control is
a cascaded loop. In this case the outer controller uses the superheater outlet temperature as the
process variable. The output from the outer controller is the inlet temperature set point. The output
from the inner controller is spray water demand. If the superheater outlet temperature is the only
available measurement, then we are forced to use a single-element control loop. In either case, it is
important that the controls are equipped with a feedforward signal.
A variety of signals can be used for the superheater temperature control feedforward. Usually, the
boiler demand is a good starting point for the feedforward because this signal anticipates the
measured temperature signals. My experience is that the boiler demand usually has a well-defined
relationship with the superheater temperature.
Other measured variables are available to supply the feedforward signal. Throttle pressure is usually
used in tandem with the throttle pressure set point as an indication of over- or underfiring of the
boiler, but throttle pressure is transient in nature. Airflow versus fuel flow or steam flow may be used
in the same way. The ratio of fuel flow to the top mill versus the other mills is a good indicator of the
changing dynamics in the boiler, especially if the boiler is large and has many burner levels. In this
case it is a good rule of thumb to think of the top elevations as affecting temperature more than
pressure, and the lower elevations as affecting steam pressure more than temperature. Finally, the
reheater temperature control affects the superheater temperature to a greater or lesser degree,
depending on the type of boiler manufacturer and its method of control.
The feedforward signal development may include both static and dynamic functionality. The static
cases are basically a function of the variable that you are using. Dynamic feedforward refers to a
derivative kick based on the movement of the chosen variable. For example, the ratio of airflow to
steam flow might be used as an indicator of the boilers movement up or down, and the feedforward
then can be manipulated accordingly.
Patience is a virtue when tuning these feedforwards, because steam temperature processes may
have long time constants.

Deaerator Level Control


It is often possible to use a three- element controller for deaerator level control. Whereas the drum
level controls use drum level, steam flow, and feedwater flow, the three-element controller for the
deaerator uses deaerator level, feedwater flow, and condensate flow.
It is usually not necessary to provide adaptive tuning for this control loop, but do add it if possible.

Reheat Temperature Control


It is an interesting fact that superheater spray adds to the efficiency of a unit but reheater spray flow
decreases the units efficiency. Maximum boiler efficiency is always the goal, so boiler manufacturers
have developed alternative approaches to control reheat steam temperature.
Babcock & Wilcox uses a gas recirculation fan to move flue gas from the outlet of the boiler back into
the furnace, either directly or through the secondary air wind box. More recirculation yields higher
furnace temperature and, therefore, higher steam temperatures. Combustion Engineering, now
Alstom Power, is famous for its tangential, tilting burner design that can move the furnace fireball
vertically to control steam temperatures. Foster Wheeler boilers use a superheat/reheat gas bypass
damper to shunt flue gas to the appropriate gas pass ducts to control reheat temperature. Spray
valves are also used in each design, although the reheat temperature set point to the spray valve
controller is usually several degrees higher to keep the reheater spray to a minimum.
The setup for the reheat temperature spray valve control is the same as that for the superheat
temperature control: two valves (modulating valve and block valve), an attemperator or
desuperheater, and a reheater section. However, reheat steam temperature control is not normally a
cascaded loop. Assuming that the primary method of control (gas recirculating fan, tilting burners, or
bypass damper) is operating, the sprays are held in reserve. The operator-adjustable set point is used
directly by the primary control mechanism. A sliding bias is added to the set point before it is sent to

the spray controller. Usually, the spray set point is set higher than the primary reheat temperature
control set point before the sprays are enabled, to reduce the reheater spray flow.
Part II will look at fuel flow control, pulverizer air control, and overall plant control options such as
boiler- and turbine-following modes and plant coordinated control.
Tim Leopold (tim.leopold@hotmail.com) is a field service engineer with ABB and has more than 20
years experience tuning controls on power plants around the world. His book You Can Tune a Boiler
But You Cant Tuna Fish is slated for publication in March.

BOILER TUNING BASICS PART II


Boilers have enormous thermal mass and are relatively slow to react. Turbines are nimble and
quickly answer an operators command. Coordinating an entire plant requires an intimate
knowledge of both systems and selecting the right logic tools to bring them together.
The front end, in the jargon of the power plant controls engineer, consists of the boiler master
and turbine master. As explained in Part I of this two-part series, the operators window into the
control system is referred to as a station or master, and it provides the operator interface for a
given control loop. Access to that loop is typically from a switch or hand station located on the
control panel in older plants or, more commonly, the operators keyboard in plants fortunate
enough to be equipped with digital controls.
The best case is when both the turbine and boiler masters are in the distributed control system
(DCS). But this is not always the case. We often find that only the boiler controls have been
upgraded. In such cases it is important that the DCS be able to interface with the existing turbine
controls if you want to take advantage of the DCSs full abilities. Options for tuning the entire
plant are limited with a DCS that includes the boiler master but lacks a communications link with
the turbine controls.
Boiler Control Options
Boiler tuning is something of a balancing act. Feedwater enters the boiler through a series of lowand high-pressure steam heaters into the drum. The water then journeys through the water walls
of the furnace and absorbs heat until steam is formed in the main steam drum.
This steam then enters the main steam line and passes through a series of superheaters and
desuperheaters until it finally ends up at the turbine governor and/or stop valves. The boiler
controls the turbine throttle pressure by modulating the boiler-firing rate. This means that the
amount of fuel and air that is going into the furnace is increased or decreased depending on
whether the turbine requires more or less steam pressure.
There are four usual modes of operation in the world of drum boilers: base mode, boiler-following
mode, turbine-following mode, and coordinated control (Table 1). Each of these operating modes
is described in the following paragraphs.

Table 1. Options for plant boiler control. Source: Tim Leopold


In general, the boiler master will be either in auto or manual control mode. The turbine is another
matter. Turbine controls generally have a number of stand-alone loops such as megawatt,
pressure, valve position, or speed which are control loops that do not respond to the DCS
turbine master. If the turbine controls are not looking at the front end, then as far as the front
end is concerned, the turbine is in manual control. For our purposes, "auto" under the turbine
master heading in Table 1 means the front end is controlling the turbine governor valves.
Base Mode. In this mode, there is no automatic response to changes in main steam or throttle
pressure or megawatt setpoint by the front-end controllers. An operators steady hand is required
to make the final boiler control adjustments. The turbine might be in one of its own stand-alone
loops, but the turbine master has no control of the plant. Many plants operate in this or a similar
mode prior to upgrading their turbine controls to a DCS.
Boiler-Following Mode. In this mode of operation, the boiler master is in automatic and the
turbine is not. This is an automatic control loop, controlling steam pressure. Depending on the
boiler, it can be well controlled. Generally, this is the loosest of the three typical automatic frontend modes of operation (Figure 1).

1. Loaded questions. A typical boiler-following response following a setpoint change. Source:


Tim Leopold
This is one of those loops that uses the dreaded derivative gain. The proportional gain is normally
pretty high, the integral action slow, and the derivative is absolutely a must. The real keys to
tuning the front end are a few simple concepts. For example, dont add to an upset; that is, dont

have any of your gains disproportionately high. We use the derivative because we are trying to
anticipate the steam pressure deviation.
The feedforward signal is an important part of this control loop and is often referred to as target
steam flow. Target steam flow is the measured steam flow multiplied by the ratio of throttle
pressure setpoint to throttle pressure. Typically, there is a function generator designed such that
0% to 100% of the input signal is proportional to a 0% to 100 % output signal. The nicely
dynamic nature of the ratio helps the boiler master move in the right direction. Additional
"kickers" may also be available. One option is a throttle pressure setpoint kicker that adds a little
to the feedforward signal if the setpoint is changed. The derivative action of the controller also
acts as a kicker.
Turbine-Following Mode. In many ways, this is my favorite plant operating mode, because it is
the easiest to tune. It also offers a good strong safety net to operators in times of crisis. In
turbine-following mode the boiler master is in manual and the turbine master is in automatic
mode. The turbine master controls throttle pressure by modulating the turbine governor valves.
Megawatts are then produced in the generator and pushed to the grid as a function of the boiler
load.
Compared to the slow and sometimes lumbering response of the boiler, turbine response is
usually fast and agile. Proportional gains are usually moderately large, and the integral action
can be quite fast. Although adaptive tuning is possible, there usually isnt the need for this; many
units use only one value for the proportional and/or the integral gain. Also, the need for a
feedforward is minimal. The turbine governor valves operate as one large pressure control valve
that can easily control throttle pressure when the control loops are well-tuned.
Turbine-following mode is also a favorite among operators. If the plant is in coordinated mode,
and the unit starts to go out of control for almost any reason, operators simply have to put the
boiler master into manual. Immediately, the controls will automatically default to turbinefollowing mode. The valves open or close, as necessary to control the main steam pressure.
Meanwhile, because the firing rate has steadied, the boiler controls will soon settle out.
Figure 2 plots the data taken during start-up of a 320-MW power plant. At the lower left corner
you can see where the valve transfer occurred. The valve transfer is a process in which the
turbine, upon start-up, transfers control from the stop valve to the governor valve. There are
actually two sets of valves in the main steam line before the turbine: the main stop valve and the
governor valves. The next interesting point on this figure is the area that I call the "disturbing
delta." There was a long period, during this load ramp, when the difference (delta), between the
throttle pressure and the throttle pressure setpoint was virtually constant (the purple and green
lines at the first vertical white dotted line). When we expect the controls to act one way, and
they do not, its time to investigate.

2. Under control. Taming a control loop that switched out the integral control on a load ramp.
Source: Tim Leopold
During a change in unit load demand, in coordinated control, it is common practice to decrease
the integral action of the boiler master controller to zero until the load ramp is finished. This
strategy was used in all of the turbine and boiler master controller modes. This is a case where
more is definitely not better; there was a touch of feedforward, based on boiler demand,
substantial proportional gain, and no integral gain when I looked at the logic. Tuned as it was, the
error signal between throttle pressure and throttle pressure setpoint will never go away.
I tried to tune out the error without success. Although the error decreased, as shown in Figure 2,
we soon discovered that the tuning was not robust under all operating conditions. We then
downloaded the necessary logic modifications (the second white vertical dotted line), causing the
unit to drop out of turbine-following and into base load mode, and then back again. When the
logic modifications were made, from that point on (the third white vertical dotted line) you can
see good control of the throttle pressure. This is how a well-tuned turbine-following mode should
operate.

Coordinated Control Mode


Coordinated front-end control was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s to answer a longstanding controls problem. For many years, the turbine master controlled megawatt production
and the boiler master controlled boiler pressure, and the two never spoke to one another. To this
day there are plants that continue to operate with no coordination between the boiler and
turbine masters.
For example, if we are in boiler-following mode, the boiler master is controlling pressure, and if
the turbine master uses the local megawatt control loop, we have what I refer to as an "anticoordinated" mode. If the megawatts increase, the turbine valves must close down. When the
valves close, the throttle pressure rises. When the pressure rises, the boiler master must
decrease. When the boiler decreases, the megawatts drop and the turbine valves must open up,
dropping pressure, raising the boiler demand, increasing megawatts, closing the valves and
around we go again, and will hopelessly oscillate this way forever.
Enter boiler-turbine coordinated control, where the boiler master and turbine master are used in
tandem to control both megawatt production and throttle pressure. In coordinated mode the
boiler master looks mostly at the throttle pressure error and just a tiny bit of megawatt error. The
turbine, on the other hand looks mostly at the megawatt error with some throttle pressure error.
The expert tuning the controls must then decide how much of each to use. The rule of thumb, as
passed on to me by Al Shultz, PhD, is 10 parts throttle pressure error to 1 part megawatt error for
the boiler master; for the turbine its 10 parts megawatt error to 4 parts throttle pressure error.

If there is no coordination between the boiler and turbine controls, they will fight each other to
the death. The boiler really cannot do much more than control throttle pressure, and even then it
is slow because of its massive thermal capacitance.
The turbine valves are much faster and are capable of controlling both megawatts and pressure.
The valves tap into the boilers thermal capacitance when the plants load changes. These ratios
focus the turbine controls on megawatt production with the megawatt setpoint and throttle
pressure are near the setpoint. When deviations occur, the throttle pressure error becomes more
important and slows the turbine down, moving it in the opposite direction that a pure megawatt
controller would demand. Amazingly, for all boilers (drum or once-through, coal- or gas- or oilfired) this rule of thumb will give you a good solid starting point to begin tuning the front-end
coordinated mode controls.
Next comes the tuning of the controllers. In general, the turbine master is the easier of the two
components to tune, so that is the one to attack first. The gains will be less aggressive than were
used for the turbine-following mode, but it is good practice to have the turbine master control
the megawatts as tightly as possible at first. If that response is too much for the boiler to handle,
the tuning can be loosened up later. Note that this will only be proportional and integral tuning
with no derivative action.
The key to tuning the boiler master is balancing the proportional, integral, and derivative action
of the controller so that the pressure is maintained with good control, moves toward the setpoint
in a timely manner, and correctly anticipates the movement of the error signal. In general, the
proportional gain will be fairly large, the integral action slow, and the derivative gain in the
controller should be relatively small.
Finally, the controls that make up the coordinated front end may use some feedforward and the
various kickers that are part of it. The feedforward signals to both the turbine and the boiler
master controllers, in coordinated mode, is a function of unit load demand.

Tuning for Unit Response


Unit load demand is the high- and low-limited and rate-limited version of the unit master
demand. The operator enters in his target megawatt load into the DCS. There are high and low
limits on what the operator can enter that are determined by the operator, the boiler and turbine
suppliers, and good practice. A unit load increase rate limit is also available to the operator.
Typical values used by the industry are 1% or 2% per minute unit load rate of change. I have
tuned boilers that can go up to 5% a minute, but nobody really uses that value because of the
wear and tear on the equipment. I normally expect to see a rate limit of about 1 MW/minute for a
100-MW unit or 8 MW/minute for an 800-MW unit.
The feedforward to the turbine will usually be a very weak function of unit load demand, when
used. This is because the turbine is quite capable of doing its part in this coordinated control
dance it can respond much faster than the boiler. The feedforward to the coordinated boiler
master controller is quite different. The important aspect of feedforward is the slope of the line.
This is determined by the function of unit load as well as the rate of change of the unit load
demand chosen by the operator. This feedforward helps the boiler master keep up with the
increase or decrease in load to maintain the throttle pressure at setpoint.
However, a simple feedforward addition is almost never sufficient for a robust coordinated
control system. Remember that the boiler is a reservoir of energy trapped by the turbine
governor valves as the load demand changes. However, its not an infinite reservoir, and the
main steam pressure tends to sag or balloon as the unit increases and decreases load. That is
why kicker circuits are included in the controls.
The first kicker is based on the feedforward (that is a function of unit load demand), and it should
be a derivative kick that can be tuned to minimize the pressure sag on a load change.
Remember, the closer the throttle pressure can stay to the setpoint, whatever it is, the easier it

is for the turbine to provide megawatts and the less swing will occur when the load change is
finished. Some boilers are well behaved and very responsive, so this kick is minimal. Some
boilers are not well behaved, and their kickers can be pretty substantial. There can be other
kickers, possibly based on the throttle pressure or the throttle pressure setpoint kicker, as
described for the boiler-following mode.

Practical Controls Magic


The tuning process cant be rushed and does take some time to get right. Here is an example.
Recently, I walked into the control room of an 800-MW unit just as the operators made a load
change. As you can see, the response of the unit left something to be desired (Figure 3).

3. Unresponsive. A load change on this 800-MW unit showed poor response and controls in
need of a good tuning. Source: Tim Leopold
By the third day, the coordinated controls were responding well after I slightly decreased the
integral and proportional gain and increased the derivative action of the controller by about 25%.
I also modified the feedforward signal slightly. Figure 4 illustrates the unit response to a 353-MW
load increase test. About halfway through, the operator was unable to start an induced-draft (ID)
fan, so he changed to base mode and then to boiler-following mode. When the ID fan was finally
started, he returned to coordinated control mode. As you can see in Figure 4, a request was
received by the front end to increase load just after the operator decided to raise his throttle
pressure. This well-tuned boiler sailed through each test with rock-solid performance.

4. New lease on life. The same 800-MW unit as in Figure 3 showed much better response to a
load change after tuning the proportional and integral gain and increasing the derivative action
of the controller by 25%. Source: Tim Leopold

Runbacks and Rundowns


The final phase of tuning is runback testing. Turbine following is a nice safe place to retreat to
when the operator has the time to take action. However, what happens when there is no time to
react?
For these situations two control strategies are used: runbacks and rundowns. A runback is an
action taken on a loss of a major piece of equipment. Typical runbacks include coal feeders,
boiler feed pumps, or any plant fan induced draft, forced draft (FD), or primary air.
A rundown is a reaction to a large process error that does not go away, such as a major boiler
tube rupture. In this incident, the feedwater pumps pick up the increased feedwater demand or
the feedwater valve goes completely open, but the drum level keeps dropping. Eventually, the
plant must initiate a rundown or reduction in steam generation rather than trip the boiler. Typical
rundowns are associated with air flow, furnace pressure, fuel flow, feedwater flow, or drum level.
Rundowns are seldom tested, on purpose, and thats not because they are overlooked. Rather,
the logic decides if the boiler or the turbine can or should respond. If the fuel master is in auto
and looking at the boiler master for its output, then the boiler is capable of responding, and there
is no need for the turbine to respond. If the turbine is not looking at the front-end controls for its
output and the fuel master is not in auto, then the only device that can respond is the turbine,
and so it does. This last scenario has a very high potential for tripping the unit.
Usually, the fuel master will be in auto. The boiler demand is then reduced by the rundown logic
from where it was to some value that allows the error that is driving the rundown to fall below
some preset limit. If the error does not go down, the rundown will continue to reduce boiler load
to a set minimum value.
The first runback logic that I ever came into contact with was very severe. On a loss of
equipment, the boiler controls would attempt to stay in coordinated mode. The unit load demand
would run down, at some preset, fast, rate. This would decrease the boiler demand and the
demand to the turbine governor valves. That worked all right for some boilers, but the rate that
was necessary for the boiler to get to a safe operating load was very fast. The difficulty is that
the turbine governor valve would close down at the same rate. When these valves close, the
main steam pressure must climb and may eventually lift the boiler pressure safety relief valves.
This is very hard on the drum level and your ears, and often results in a master fuel trip. Granted,

it was a trip from a lower boiler load, rather than if we had otherwise simply tripped the boiler,
but it was a trip nonetheless.
As a result, what I like to call a kinder, gentler runback was developed. Some call it the turbinefollowing runback, where the boiler switches to manual on the loss of a piece of equipment. If
you are in coordinated mode, the boiler should go to manual control and turbine-following mode
for the steam turbine. At this time, the runback logic reduces the boiler demand to a
predetermined level at a preset rate. In the meantime, the turbine is free to control the main
steam pressure. The megawatt load is then gently reduced, and the plant experiences a soft
landing. Turbine-following is the best mode to select in an emergency.
A further goal of a runback is to recover automatically so the operators can figure out what
happened to the equipment and fix it while the unit is still online and avoid a master fuel trip.
The data shown in Figure 5 were collected during an actual runback test on a 95-MW plant
operated with three pulverizers. The runback occurred when an ID fan was tripped, which
the effect of tripping one of the FD fans. The runback of the boiler was set to a point that
below the three-mill minimum load for safe and stable operation. As a result, automatic
tripping on a runback was developed.

that
had
was
mill

5. Avoiding unit trips. A runback test is necessary when any changes are made to boiler gas
pass, fans, or mills. In this test of a 95-MW unit, the runback occurred when an ID fan was
tripped. Source: Tim Leopold
You can see the boiler demand dropping, and the fuel flow percentage dropping even further as
one of the three mills is shut down by the runback logic. The pulverizer master (coal master
demand) picks up momentarily as the mill is stopped, then ramps back down, eventually getting
the fuel percentage down to the boiler demand. Automatic mill tripping is generally a good idea,
especially on larger units with a lot of mill capacity. Also, notice how the turbine pushes the
throttle pressure back to the setpoint. Drum level also dropped slightly before it recovered. The
entire runback occurred in just over two minutes. Figure 6 is a longer view of the entire episode.

6. Many moving parts. The same runback test (Figure 5) of a 95-MW unit but with a longer
time-span is illustrated. Here you can see the pulverizer master ramping back and the lowering
of the turbine operating pressure setpoint. Source: Tim Leopold
In this test, as is true for most of the tests I have run over the years, the fan and fuel runbacks
are easily handled by the turbine-following runback logic. However, the boiler feedwater pump
runback can be another matter. The turbine valves are relatively slow to respond and tend to
suck steam from the drum. Though some boilers are able to survive this without tripping on low
drum level, many cannot.
As a result, new logic was developed. I like to call this special type of runback the separated
runback. On the loss of a boiler feed pump, the boiler master goes to manual, coal mills are
tripped, and the boiler demand is driven to minimum. The turbine master remains in auto to stay
in turbine-following mode. At this point, we add a special high-limit override enabled during this
runback that overrides the turbine-following controller and marches the governor valves to a
predetermined position. The rate at which the valves are closed is variable and depends on the
throttle pressure. Higher pressures tend to depress the drum level, which we do not want, and
really high pressures lift safeties, which started us on this runback logic journey in the first place.
If you plan to test your runback logic, its a good idea to elevate the drum level a few inches
before your test. At this same 95-MW plant, we tested the boiler feedwater pump runback using
separated runback logic from 75% load with the drum level rundown initiated when the runback
was complete. Figure 7 data illustrate this successful test from the feedwater perspective. Notice
the action of the feedwater control valve. The drum level dropped about 6.5 inches. The low
drum level trip was set at 7.7 inches. That was successful, but a little too close for comfort.

7. Different perspective. The same runback test (see Figure 5) of a 95-MW unit but from the
perspective of the feedwater system. Note the drum level response. Source: Tim Leopold

When Enough Is Enough


One of the big challenges faced by a boiler and turbine controls tuner is to know when to stop. Its a
job that has no defined stopping point, and there are always ways to further improve performance.
So how do we know when boiler tuning is finished? Typically, I call it quits when the operators are
satisfied and, based on my experience, the plant is as good as other units Ive worked on over the
years. Or, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it."
Tim Leopold (tim.leopold@hotmail.com) is a field service engineer with ABB and has more than 20
years experience tuning controls on power plants around the world. His book, You Can Tune a Boiler
But You Cant Tuna Fish, is available through amazon.com.