Mechanical Insulation for the Manufacturing Industry

Elizabeth Ruiz, Editor, Maintenance World

Posted 6/5/2024

Introduction

A recent study shows that using mechanical insulation on mechanical systems in your plant can result in huge energy savings (reducing cost) and helps reduce GHG and carbon emissions. See the charts below to see details on emission reduction and cost savings. (1)

Chart showing the magnitude of mechanical insulation’s savings.

Image courtesy Business & Industry Connection

The study aimed to determine how much energy could be saved and GHG emissions reduced by using insulation on systems operating at high temperatures. The results of the study were surprising due to the restricted scope of the study. It only examined some types of ready-to-use mechanical insulation used on popes and equipment operating between 150ºF and 800ºF. (1) Read more about the study.

So, what is mechanical insulation and how is it used? What are the best ways to use it in the manufacturing industry? Why should companies consider using insulation in their plants? 

What is Mechanical Insulation and How is it Used?

We all know about building insulation within walls and roofs of buildings. It insulates equipment or processes. It is used on both hot and cold mechanical piping equipment, HVAV applications, and refrigeration/other low-temperature piping and equipment. It is also used for furnaces and boilers, storage tank, and loud equipment. It is used in many places, including manufacturing facilities, power plants, refineries, hospitals, schools, and government buildings. (2) (3)

Insulation is used to reduce heat or cooling loss, minimize expansion and contraction, lower noise levels, prevent burns or limit exposure to heat/cold, and prevent/suppress fires. The moisture control it provides can help with mold prevention. It can be used to maintain the temperature of a substance being held in pipes or equipment, preventing the use of more energy to reheat or cool it when it reaches its destination. It is used to protect workers from burns or hot surfaces as well. (3) (6) (2)

Insulation can be made from a number of different materials that are: 

  • Cellular: e.g. expanded plastics and closed-cell foams; polyethylene, elastomeric “rubber”, polystyrene, polyisocyanurate
  • Fibrous: e.g. mineral wool or fiberglass
  • Flaked: e.g. processed minerals; vermiculite
  • Granular: e.g. perlite or calcium silicate
  • Reflective: e.g. silver-painted insulation panels 

(2) (4)

Types of cellular materials:

cellular materials used to manufacture mechanical insulation
Image courtesy Armacell

Types of fibrous materials:

fibrous materials used to manufacture mechanical insulation
Image courtesy Armacell

Insulation products are made in different forms for different purposes. Rolls of woven or expanded material are used to wrap pipes or ducts in tight spaces. Panels and tiles are good to install around equipment. Sprayable expanding foam insulates inaccessible places. Loose or granular products are used to fill up irregular spaces. (2)

Best Ways to Use Insulation for the Manufacturing Industry

In the manufacturing or industrial sector, insulation should be applied to:

  • Hot Water Plumbing Lines
  • Circulating/Service Hot Water Lines
  • HVAC Systems-Liquid Lines (Chilled Water)
  • HVAC Systems-Air Ducts
  • Rain Water Leaders
  • Cold Process Piping
  • Hot Process Piping
  • Food Process Piping

(5)

Properly insulating the equipment and processes in your facility immediately reduces the carbon footprint and energy costs. Regular inspection and good reliability and maintenance of mechanical insulation is key to experiencing the potential benefits it can provide. (3) (2)

mechanical insulation on piping in boiler room

Benefits of Mechanical Insulation

Applying mechanical insulation to equipment and components prolongs equipment life. It protects equipment from rust and helps it run more efficiently. The reduction of moisture buildup mechanical insulation provides protects workers from mold exposure and other bacterial diseases. The reduction of energy usage immediately helps reduce operating costs. (6)

More overall benefits of installing insulation:

  • Condensation control
  • Water conservation
  • Freeze protection
  • Improved fire safety
  • Energy savings
  • Reduced overall energy costs
  • Emission reduction
  • Equipment and system performance
  • Extended equipment life
  • Better heating and cooling performance and efficiency
  • Worker protection
  • Acoustics; noise reduction

(3) (5)

Conclusion

Mechanical insulation is referred to some in the industry as the “forgotten technology” or the “best kept secret.” Why is it so often overlooked? Because it is hidden inside walls, it is easy to forget about insulation in favor of more visible technologies like electric vehicles or wind and solar power generation. (3) (2)

The recent study highlighted the substantial energy savings and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions achievable through the use of insulation on high-temperature systems in industrial plants. The results underscore the critical role of insulation in enhancing efficiency, lowering operational costs, promoting environmental sustainability, and increasing safety of personnel. 

By properly insulating equipment and maintaining these systems, many types of organizations can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and energy expenses, while also benefiting from improved equipment performance and worker safety. The adoption of mechanical insulation is a practical, cost-effective measure that supports both economic and environmental objectives in the manufacturing industry.


Sources:

1) “Study Confirms Insulation Reduces Energy Usage, Emissions.” Jack Bittner, NIA President, Senior Product Manager, Johns Manville Industrial. June 3, 2024. Published by Business & Industry Connection Magazine.

2) “What is Mechanical Insulation?” Insulation Outlook online blog post. February 1, 2012. © 2024 Copyright National Insulation Association.

3) “What is Mechanical Insulation & Why It Matters (Beginner’s Guide)” Multiservice Industrial online blog post. December 23, 2022.

4) “A Comparison of Mechanical Insulation Materials.” Armacell blog. January 12, 2022.

5) “Mechanical Insulation: Where and Why.” Armacell blog. January 19, 2022.

6) “Industrial/Commercial Mechanical Insulation.” LMCT Mechanical Insulators blog

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