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INSPECTA III locally developed acoustic steam leak detection system backed by 30 year’s industry experience is launched

“Much of the world’s electrical energy is generated by steam.  And steam is produced by boilers.  A shocking and mostly unknown fact is that up to 60% of unscheduled outages in power generation are caused by boiler tube steam leaks![1]”  -  Hugh du Plessis, research and development director at INSTROTECH.

INSTROTECH, SA manufacturer and distributor of a range of process control instrumentation and specialized systems, is a world leader in developing an acoustic steam leak detection (ASLD) measurement system called INSPECTA, currently in use in the boilers of power generating facilities worldwide. 

The current system INSPECTA FFT, first released some 20 years ago, is reaching its end-of-life, and INSTROTECH’s design engineers felt the time was right to upgrade to newer technology, by combining their 30 years’ experience with the latest industry-standard technology available.  

“There hasn’t been a major upgrade in quite some time and there has been so much advancement in technology that we could really throw everything at it - do it differently and build INSPECTA III with the latest technology and a suite of impressive new ‘add-ons’,” says Pieter Deysel, Instrotech MD.

As technology advances, so has boiler technology. Power generators are pushing materials technology by increasing boiler operating pressures (450 bar / 450 atmospheres) to get greater efficiency, which in turn makes the early detection of steam leaks even more critical to the performance of a facility or power station.  There has always been a requirement for the early detection of steam leaks but with the modern boiler technology, if steam at these levels escapes out of the system, it can understandably, cause huge, further secondary damage.

This is why the positive identification of a leak is critically important to a power station/facility.  If good data is captured and analysed to provide the relevant information derived from the raw data, it can be determined if the leak is serious or not and what the rate of progression is, slow or catastrophic.  This information is vital as if the location and progression of the leak can be ascertained, an effective decision can be made as to whether to continue or shut down boiler operation.  For certain leaks, delaying the shut-down decision for a period of 2 hours can result in the downtime of a boiler changing from 2 days to in excess of 14 days.  Thus a couple of hours can be crucial in making a correct remedial decision. 

Typically, for a 600-megawatt boiler at a large power generating facility, an hour of downtime will lose approximately R600 000 of billable electricity sales, charged out to consumers at R1 per kilowatt-hour.  INSPECTA III goes an appreciable way to mitigating these punitive income losses, and pays for itself in early leak detection within a short period of time! 


INSPECTA FFT was an unconnected, stand-alone system, giving an alarm to the operator who would attend to the problem.  Later it was connected to a distributed control system (DCS) in a power station, taking the data collected and incorporating it into it the facility’s SCADA system.  This required interpretation by the operators of the captured to diagnose the presence of a leak or not. INSPECTA FFT was thus limited by the level of technology and skills available at the time.  Today’s technology provides low-cost computing power, the internet, mobile communications, which INSTROTECH has taken full advantage of, allowing the delivery of a vastly streamlined INSPECTA III. 

“With current technology, we now have access to unlimited computing power that means infinite possibilities for INSPECTA III.   Our clients can do so much more with the features we have added to INSPECTA III,” says du Plessis.

 “Providing reliable early steam leak detection is, in its essence, a time-critical operation. Shutting a large boiler down unnecessarily will cause loss of production and incur start-up costs in excess of R 1 million. Delaying the shut down of a boiler with damaging steam leaks will incur even more production losses and expenses.  Thus the decision as to whether to continue operation or shut the boiler down had better be an informed one.   We believe that INSPECTA III provides exactly that – quick, precise, informed, and reliable information on which the operator can act confidently,” du Plessis concludes.

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