Compressed air efficiency for the dogs

Canadian plant uses leak-sniffing canine to reduce compressed air waste.

By Ron Marshall, Compressed Air Challenge

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Figure 1. Nylia, a German shepherd, was born locally to a retired law enforcement officer who breeds dogs for drug-sniffing duty.

In a quiet, rural Canadian community lives a man and his dog. Mark Hofer, vice president of E&R Furnishings and Millwork, is a shy, honest, and peaceful man. He also lives with his wife, Mary, southeast of Portage La Prairie in Manitoba. Besides helping out with ministering in Elm River Colony, one of more than 100 Huttarian communities in Manitoba, Hofer is the local electrician and energy efficiency leader.

Nylia, a German shepherd, was born locally to a retired law enforcement officer who breeds dogs for drug-sniffing duty (Figure 1). These dogs are very intelligent and have finely bred senses. The dog was a gift to the Hofers, and it was love at first sight. Nylia, as it turns out, has an extraordinary sensitivity to compressed air leakage.

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Figure 2. E&R Furnishings and Millwork makes beautiful custom cabinetry for the local market, shipping product to locations as far away as North Dakota and Alberta.
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Figure 3. In the compressed air room, Nylia circles and barks, often pointing her nose at a leaky filter drain or wasteful dryer timer drain.

E&R Furnishings makes beautiful custom cabinetry for the local market, shipping product to locations as far away as North Dakota and Alberta (Figure 2). A few years ago, the millwork plant suffered a major fire, so it needed to be rebuilt from scratch.

Most of the machines in the facility require a nice steady flow of dry compressed air. As part of the rebuilding project, E&R had to purchase two new 30-hp lubricated screw air compressors and air dryers. Knowing that the local utility, Manitoba Hydro, had an energy program, Hofer contacted the utility’s engineering technical support to see if it could assist in helping to specify his new system.

E&R could have installed a low-cost system using air compressors with a small standard-sized receiver tank and non-cycling air dryers, but Manitoba Hydro advised that this would cause the air compressors and air dryers to run almost constantly due to short-cycling, which would waste significant energy. When lubricated screw compressors short-cycle, especially under light loading conditions, they run continuously, producing air efficiently in the loaded condition, but wasting energy due to inefficient excessive unloaded run time. Installation of very large storage receiver capacity, on the other hand, would allow the compressors to run in start/stop mode, minimizing the run time and saving power. In addition to this, the use of cycling thermal mass dryers minimizes the refrigeration power consumed by the associated air dryers, saving even more power.  Manitoba Hydro estimated a standard system would cost $5,400 per year in electrical power to operate. The optimized system actually consumed about 50% less power.

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Figure 4. When compressed air is wasted on tasks such as cleaning the shop floor, Nylia can get a bit cranky and give the operator a less than playful growl or nip on an extremity.

Every dog has its day, but Nylia has more than her share. The dog plays a large part in maintaining the significant savings at E&R. She’s very sensitive to the ultrasonic frequencies given off by air leaks. Like an electronic ultrasonic meter that air auditors use to detect leaks, Nylia’s sensitive ears lead her to air leaks in the plant that are imperceptible to humans.

In the compressed air room she circles and barks, pointing her nose at a leaky filter drain or wasteful dryer timer drain (Figure 3). Out on the plant floor, she patrols looking for hose leaks or anyone who dares to waste compressed air for cleaning the floor. When this bad habit is found, Nylia can get a bit cranky and give the operator a less than playful growl or nip on an extremity (Figure 4). Talk about motivation to save.

A compressed air consultant might dream of breeding a pack of Nylia’s offspring and unleashing them on an unsuspecting factory filled with wasteful users (Figure 5). The results would be instant efficiency, or else.

Perhaps one day, more enlightened users such as Hofer and his dog Nylia will develop some keen sensitivities of their own about compressed air efficiency. It’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks and save a pretty penny in energy costs. Just ask Nylia. She’ll wag her tail and nod. What a smart dog — power smart.

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Figure 5. The E&R work areas have become example of efficient compressed air use.
Ron Marshall is a member of the Project Development Committee at the Compressed Air Challenge. Contact him at rcmarshall@hydro.mb.ca and (204) 360-3658.

Compressed Air Challenge

The CAC is a voluntary collaboration of:

  • manufacturers, distributors, and their associations
  • industrial users
  • facility-operating personnel and their association
  • consultants
  • state research and development agencies
  • energy-efficiency organizations and utilities.

The mission of the CAC is to be the leading source of product-neutral compressed air system information and education, enabling end users to take a systems approach, leading to improved efficiency and production, and, ultimately, increased net profits. Compressed Air Challenge provides numerous helpful information resources about compressed air efficiency in materials on its website.

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