Take a total system approach to compressed air reliability

Understanding how systems work together can lead to energy savings in compressed air systems.

09/09/2015


Developing a compressed air system today requires not just proper piping, but also sensors throughout the system to look for leaks and inefficiencies. Courtesy: Ingersoll RandVirtually every modern manufacturing facility uses compressed air in its production processes. Compressed air is clean, easy to store, and can be used for a vast number of applications, from operating power tools to conveying or lifting materials to controlling robotics. The plant manager is responsible for maintaining reliable compressed air power while upholding process requirements and keeping costs in check.

By taking a total systems approach, plant operations can increase performance and reduce inefficiencies for significant bottom-line benefits. Understanding the total impact of running a compressed air system and identifying the necessary actions based on unique compressed air needs can reduce energy costs by as much as 20%.

A one-sided view can prove costly

Many companies have a limited view of compressed air system performance, often focusing on routine compressor maintenance and power consumption. While compressor technology is important, focusing on supply-side components alone won't guarantee cost savings or performance improvements. Factors such as undersized downstream equipment, wasted air, and leaks can reduce potential savings and performance along the way.

Most plant managers are familiar with the equipment in their compressor room and how to remedy isolated issues that arise in this environment. While knowing how to manage the compressor room is essential, additional factors such as air pressure and flow, heat recovery, air quality issues at point-of-use, and wasted air must also be assessed to effectively impact system performance, energy use, and cost savings.

Even in cases where a system appears to be running well, it's likely that somewhere along the line costly compressed air is being wasted. Taking a total systems approach, including a complete analysis of both the supply and demand sides of your system, is the only way to ensure constant and steady system pressure, uninterrupted workflow, and minimal downtime. A total systems approach also is central to understanding your total cost of ownership.

Constituents of supply

  • Excessive pressure drop—filters, dryers, inadequately–sized piping.
  • Air loss—timed condensate drains, cracked valves, leaks at connections or instrumentation.
  • Inefficient control scheme—modulating valves or load/unload with short cycling.

Constituents of demand

  • Air events where specific applications create large swings in demand.
  • Leaks in transmission and point-of-use.
  • Inappropriate uses of air-venturi vacuums or open blowing for cooling or drying.
  • Inefficient consumption equipment analysis, especially multiple regulation devices.
  • Flow restrictions or undersized hose at point-of-use.
  • Rate of change in a facility's overall demand profile.

The real cost of air

A compressed air system is a significant investment for any operation and requires disciplined maintenance to ensure maximum performance, payback, and system longevity.

For example, the initial cost of a 100-hp compressor with air treatment can cost up to $100,000 with installation. Following the initial investment, a facility can expect to spend between 10% and 30% of their total electric costs to generate compressed air, and as much as 10% of the initial system cost on annual maintenance. Compressed air systems are also notorious for inefficiencies and leaks that, on average, waste from 30% to 50% of compressed air.

Yet in the majority of cases, the idea of "total cost of ownership" is trumped by the initial equipment and installation investment cost on paper. According to the Compressed Air Industry Sourcebook, "Many facilities have no idea how much their compressed air systems cost on an annual basis or how much money they could save by improving the performance of these systems." In fact, an overwhelming majority of compressed air users rate consistent and reliable air supply over efficiency and energy savings. With priority needs that include immediate reliability and uptime, plant managers often consider the cost of new or replacement equipment rather than the complete and ongoing efficiency of the system—leaving near- and long-term dollars on the table.

You can't accurately determine savings without looking at the entire system, part by part, and how each element works together. This includes supply-side components such as compressor controls, air-treatment equipment, dryers, and filters as well as demand-side equipment that includes heat-recovery and point-of-use systems. How air-system components work together to produce air and exactly what's happening throughout that process to configure, calibrate, and maintain optimal performance is what a total systems approach is all about.

Advances in compressor technology are making total system expertise not just desirable, but increasingly essential as many companies look to their equipment provider for specialized know-how and component expertise. In addition, advanced analytics are now available to help determine the right equipment configurations throughout the system to optimize performance.

Know your options

A facility can spend between 10% and 30% of their total electric costs to generate compressed air, and as much as 10% of the initial system cost on annual maintenance, and still may waste up to 50% of the air they create. Yet, the focus on equipment costs

Working with a compressor provider who understands the demand and supply sides of your compressed air system can help you identify your requirements and maintain a reliable supply of air while reducing your overall energy and maintenance costs.

You will also want to protect your investment. Consider how an all-inclusive agreement, with access to experienced compressed air experts, can help manage your air demand and supply system and related assets with an eye to reducing operational costs.

With a wide range of known inefficiencies and an obvious lack of controls, many problems can arise within compressed air delivery and storage infrastructure. Companies that take control with a total systems approach not only reduce their total cost of ownership, but also significantly boost their operational performance.

When equipment providers and end users come together with a shared focus on maximizing the total cost of ownership, it's possible to turn the liabilities of an inefficient system into a performance advantage. Implementing total systems programs help companies improve the energy efficiency and performance of compressed air systems.

Chad Larrabee is director of services marketing in North America for Ingersoll Rand's Compressed Air & Gas business unit. Larrabee has 23 years of experience in the compressed air industry and currently serves as education committee chairman for the Compressed Air and Gas Institute.

The Bottom Line:

  • Taking a total systems approach to compressed air, including a complete analysis of both the supply and demand sides of your system, is the only way to ensure constant and steady system pressure, uninterrupted work flow and minimal downtime. A total systems approach also is central to understanding your total cost of ownership.
  • You can't accurately determine savings without looking at the entire system, part by part, and how each element works together. This includes supply-side components such as compressor controls, air-treatment equipment, dryers and filters as well as demand-side equipment which includes heat recovery and point-of-use systems.
  • Working with a compressor provider who understands the demand and supply sides of your compressed air system can help you identify your requirements and maintain a reliable supply of air while reducing your overall energy and maintenance

Key Words:

At www.plantengineering.com, KEYWORD: COMPRESSED AIR, you'll find more articles on this topic:

Preventing compressed air leaks: Taking a proactive approach

Much has been written about leak management programs, best practices and the like, but little has been offered in terms of a proactive approach. That is, when installing a new system or expanding or rerouting an existing one, what can be done to prevent leaks? The pipe-joining method is an important decision that will impact maintenance programs down the road. Press-to-connect pipe-joining systems can be a means to prevent air loss in compressed air systems. 

Compressed air efficiency at a distance

Until recently, compressed air system maintenance was reactive-an unforeseen event required immediate intervention from a service technician. In this scenario, the facility is in the dark about maintenance needs, suffers from inefficiencies, and is at increased risk of breakdown. Remote monitoring of compressed air equipment is one of the most effective strategies to help facilities avoid downtime. Whatever the facility's production schedule, 24/7 remote monitoring is constantly compiling compressed air data in real time-data that can be analyzed for key performance indicators to predict potential problems. 

The business case for compressed air systems

Do you operate a compressed air system as a business, understanding the financial consequences of your actions or as a misunderstood necessity? Do you carefully consider additions and changes as you would with electricity or water? If the answers to these questions are no, it may be difficult to understand why management seems to place this critical asset so low on their priority list.  



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