Five Basic Issues Operators of Compressed Air Systems Face

A study by the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) show that 10 percent of industrial electricity is consumed by compressed air systems. This 10 percent translates into about $6 billion in operating cost annually. Manufacturers that consume large amounts of compressed air for their processes can spend well over $1 million annually in operation costs. The following are 5 basics areas that, if addressed properly, can create substantial savings and quick paybacks on compressed air systems.

1. LeaksAccording to the DOE Office of Industrial Technologies, leaks account for nearly 20-30 percent of wasted energy in compressed air systems. These problematic leaks can create a variety of system operating issues, such as:

  • Fluctuating system pressure causing air-operated equipment such as air tools to preform less efficiently
  • Creation of excess compressor capacity resulting in higher costs
  • Diminished service life and maintenance of supply equipment resulting from unnecessary cycling and increased run time

These problems affect production, increase maintenance and operating costs, and decrease service life. The prevention of wasted energy is ideal for any business. Something as simple as addressing air compressor leaks is a great way for many companies to improve efficiency.

2. Lack of Maintenance – Deferring compressed air maintenance can have a significant impact on energy consumption. Ignoring maintenance will cause inconsistencies with:

  • Compression efficiency
  • Pressure variability
  • Operating temperatures
  • Moisture control
  • Contamination levels

Saving in the short run by deferring maintenance will almost certainly cause expensive problems in the future. Simple cleaning or small adjustments can prohibit the need for future replacements. Regular maintenance allows operators to identify issues that lead to wasted energy and to run their process at the lowest, most efficient cost.

3. Pipe Sizing and Storage Issues – Approximately 70 percent of all manufacturers have compressed air systems. Many of these manufacturers struggle with compressed air piping sizing issues. Factory expansions, adding extra equipment, or air tools can cause the existing piping to be too small to handle the increase in demand. This will certainly lead to issues and downtime. Things to remember with compressed air sizing and storage:

  • Pressure drop issues can occur with the incorrect header and run pipe sizing
  • Type of piping use steel vs. plastic can cause temperature issues
  • Systems layout is extremely important regarding pressure and temperature concerns

4. Pressure Settings – Running compressors at the required pressure is essential to their longevity. Running systems at higher pressures increases the workload of the system and can lead to failure. Exceeding pressure limits also wastes energy and increases energy costs. Simple ways to fix these issues are to:

  • Reduce pressure whenever possible and run systems only at required pressures. This will stabilize your systems and save you energy.
  • Share the load. Instead of having one system working more than its original capacity, consider separate systems for certain operations to lower pressure and save energy.
  • Multiple leaks and clogged filters will cause pressure issues causing costly repairs.

5. Controls / VSD’s – Compressor and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) have developed several different types of control strategies.

  • Start/stop systems power is used only while the compressor is running. This system should only be used for processes with very low duty cycles.
  • Load/unload systems allow a motor to run consistently while unloading the compressor, given an appropriate pressure is present.
  • Variable Speed Drive (VSD) will allow for a system to operate conditionally. This allows a system to constantly adjust the drive motor speed to match the demand requirements and extends motor life and use energy more efficiently.

 

As you can see, eliminating wasted energy in your compressed air system is a continual process of ongoing maintenance and strategic systems upgrades that can lead to savings of thousands of dollars annually. If your facility isn’t currently employing one or more of the strategies listed above, you should consider making an investment that will save energy, create a good internal rate of return, and possibly generate rebate dollars from your serving utility.

If you want to improve your compressed air efficiency, you can rely on the experts at Chateau Energy Solutions who can help identify issues and implement compressed air system improvements. These improvements can make a significant and immediate impact on your utility bill.

Good luck with your projects!  Please continue to support Energy Efficiency and Environmental Stewardship.