13 ways to optimize your compressed air system

The best compressed air system efficiency occurs when both sides of the system are optimized at the same time by taking a holistic systems approach.

By Ron Marshall, Compressed Air Challenge

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It is important to ensure that the air compressors at the other end of the system are well controlled and have good turndown characteristics to get the most from leak repair. The reduction in leakage flow reduces the power demanded by the air compressors; also, this reduced flow will cause reduced pressure differentials across all the system restrictions.

ca11.jpg11.    Reduce or eliminate inappropriate uses

The inappropriate use of compressed air is easy to implement. With proper training, your personnel might realize that seeking the easy way may not be in your best interest due to the high cost of compressed air (Figure 6). There are many compressed air powered activities that can more efficiently be achieved using other energy sources. Some of these may be blowing, cleaning, cooling, pumping, creating vacuum, agitation, moving material, running air motors, and atomization of liquids.

In optimizing compressed air system, these potentially inappropriate uses of compressed air are identified and analyzed during the air system study. The life cycle costs then are compared with other methods of doing the same job. In some cases the use may not be completely eliminated, but can still be optimized by supplying lower pressure, turning off the use when not required, or redesigning it to run with less compressed air.

ca12.jpg12.    Reduce artificial demand

When equipment and processes receive compressed air at higher pressures than they are designed they typically consume more volume, but this may not result in an additional benefit to production. Air cylinders consume more air at higher pressure because it take more air to fill at higher pressure. Blowing devices use more flow at higher pressure because there is more force available to expel the air. All of this translates to higher total flow and resulting higher compressor power consumption.

Reducing plant pressure by reducing compressor discharge pressure can yield savings, but so will the use pressure/flow control devices that regulate the complete main plant pressure to only the minimum level required by downstream equipment. And local, well-sized regulators that have been carefully selected to regulate without excessive drop can reduce the artificial demand at individual end users.

And, for a Baker’s Dozen:

ca13.jpg13.    Use incentive programs

Compressed air optimization can definitely be implemented using low-cost or no-cost measures, but to achieve the best results, significant expenditure is usually required. Your local power utility or energy organization may support compressed air improvements with financial incentives if the work you are doing saves energy. Some of these organizations will support initial basic energy studies or more detailed full audits and even fund a significant part of a compressed air energy project. These organizations may also have information resources and technical support personnel to assist you in applying for these funds. It pays to ask about the possibilities for your plant.

1. U.S. Department of Energy, 2004. "Evaluation of the Compressed Air Challenge Training Program."

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