Compressed Air Best Practices Take the Pressure Off of You
Compressed air touches so many aspects of the production process for most manufacturers. Yet few facilities utilize proven compressed air best practices to optimize efficiency. As a result, the Department of Energy estimates that half or more of this vital energy is being wasted.
Compressor manufacturers will tell you what you need is newer, bigger and better compressors to generate more PSI. As it turns out, what most manufacturers need is a plan. We can tell you from experience that patch, Patch, PATCH is not a plan.
In our last post, we focused on why compressed air system management can be a daunting task. Too many companies look at compressed air system management as a one-time, incredibly complex and prohibitively expensive undertaking. The result is that nothing gets done about it. But ignoring the issue can lead to catastrophic failure.
Here’s your 15-step checklist to compressed air system success.
The key to successful compressed air best practices and compressed air system management is breaking the process down into steps. You want to start with the easiest and most economical tasks first. Following this systematic, sequential approach makes it easier to get buy in from throughout your organization. And best of all, the initial steps are demonstrated to consistently show the highest return on investment when it comes to compressed air. So, start small. Enjoy big dividends. And gradually take on additional steps as time and budgets allow.
1. Measure the effectiveness of your compressed air systems. Typically, you think of a system evaluation as a means to justify the purchase of a new compressor. But an accurate assessment of the current state of supply and demand side performance creates a quantifiable baseline that enables you to set realistic system performance goals and measure your progress as each subsequent step is taken.
2. Conduct a compressed air leak inspection and make repairs. To appreciate the impact of leaks, take a look at these Focus On Energy statistics on the average costs of leaks based on their size.*
It’s been our experience that a manufacturing plant easily can have dozens to hundreds of leaks in their compressed air system, depending on the square footage of the facility. So, the costs can add up quickly.
We recommend you effect repairs as the leaks are detected. If you don’t, the repairs have a tendency to not get made and you defeat the purpose of conducting the leak inspection.
Using advanced industrial acoustic imaging technology, our trained technicians can locate leaks up to 10 times faster than a traditional manual inspection using soapy water. You also want to make sure proper repairs are made. Don’t slap on a little Teflon tape and expect it to hold up. But if you fix the leaks effectively, you’ll start to realize system savings immediately. It’s a simple and inexpensive step, but it can net you up to 42% of your overall system savings opportunity.
3. Inspect rubber hoses and T’s. Walk your plant looking for air hoses that are being used like extension cords and see if you have any T’s feeding multiple air hoses. If you find either, correct the situation as these are major sources of air loss and overall system inefficiency.
4. Identify hoses that are too small. For example, if you find ½” or 3/8” hoses, they are creating restrictions which force maintenance to raise air pressure to compensate. Proper hose size for the application improves system efficiency.
5. Do an air pressure study on machines and Point of Use (POU). Use “Locking” Filter-Regulator-Lubricant (FRL) units. Gradually reduce the air pressure until it affects performance. Then, increase air pressure back up by 5% and tag the FRL with that precise air pressure.
In the future if there is a compressed air related issue with the machine or process, you’ll know it’s not an air pressure problem. It’s most likely a worn-out part.
6. Examine machines to see if they leak air when not in use. If they do, install an integrated air solenoid into the on switch, controls, or motion sensor. When the machine is not in use, the air solenoid will assure a positive shut off that eliminates the leak.
7. Assess the hard piping of the demand side of the compressed air system. Look for distribution piping that’s undersized. Replacing any undersized piping eliminates these problematic demand side restrictions.
8. Look for improper uses of compressed air. If you are using your compressed air system for cooling, cleaning, drying or for drilling and grinding tools, there are far more efficient solutions for these applications.
9. Add air tanks near the heavy uses of compressed air. This helps balance out the system so compressors aren’t constantly asked to kick-in.
10. Assess the hard piping of the supply side of the compressed air system. Find any restrictions or improper piping and update as needed to improve system efficiency.
11. Separate supply from demand by installing a flow controller. This, in effect, turns tanks into storage tanks to compensate for start-up spikes.
12. Install basic data logging on lines. Tracking CFM, PSI and amps per air compressor enables you to more accurately gauge compressor performance and overall system efficiency.
13. Add controls between air compressors. This can help balance out demands from multiple inputs, so you don’t experience a lot of unnecessary compressor starts and stops.
14. Incorporate controls per air compressor, such as VFD. Smoothing out starts and stops is easier on your compressors and helps reduce overall system volatility.
15. Remeasure system efficiency. Take your latest data and compare it to your baseline from Step 1. This enables you to determine if your systems efficiency and savings goals have been achieved.
Following these guidelines provides a logical path to helping you achieve your compressed air system efficiency goals. It makes the process practical to implement. It enables you to see significant ROI quickly.
And in many states, these projects qualify for financial incentives.
In the final installment of our series, we’ll walk you through an example of how one manufacturer was able to save more than a $57,000 per year just by finding and fixing compressed air system leaks. In the meantime, to find out more about how we can help you efficiently and cost effectively optimize your compressed air system performance, visit our web site and be sure to learn about our Find & Fix Compressed Air Leak Program.