Compressed Air Systems

How to keep compressed-air costs from ballooning

Thomas Wilk says the compressed-air-focused issue has the guidance you need for more-efficient compressed air management.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

One of the things on my life-experience bucket list is to take a hot air balloon ride.

It’s been something on my list ever since I was a kid, seeing all those school posters and calendar images of hot-air balloons floating serenely over a desert or forest or canyonland, adding huge splashes of color to the wide open spaces below. You could even hear the wind rush quietly by, if you just listened hard enough.

As the time came to prepare this month’s special issue of Plant Services,  the image of giant balloons floating confidently into the future seemed to capture the spirit of this month’s topic: compressed air. Like hot-air balloons, these systems require precision engineering to function properly, combining an elegant design with the brute-force capture and control of air power to help drive production forward.

Compressed air systems also require constant calibration in order to meet changing production conditions, much like balloon pilots need to stay focused and alert to small changes that can have large impact on the success of a flight.

Then there’s the cost. Hot-air balloon rides are not cheap, and neither is compressed air. The main difference here though is that a slow leak is a lot more noticeable when you’re in mid-air in the basket of a hot-air balloon, and it doesn’t take an ultrasound gun to figure out that you’re about to hit the ground hard.

For this issue, we asked consultant and compressed air expert Ron Marshall to lead our coverage with a cover story outlining the trends in compressed air technology and system design that he is observing in the age of plant digitization. His story describes five ways that compressed air is evolving in complexity, only some of which can be managed by compressor controls and continuous system monitoring. Indeed, Marshall notes that successful plants are focusing just as much on demand-side reduction (i.e., at the point of the end user) to reduce energy costs, and he describes the ongoing effort led by both CAGI and the Compressed Air Challenge to develop a recognized compressed air practitioner certification.

The rest of this month’s compressed air features are firmly grounded in principles of system maintenance and reliability:

  • Heinz Bloch and Bill Holmes both share case studies from the front lines of compressor system efficiency and failure risks;
  • Sheila Kennedy surveys the field of cutting-edge remote compressor monitoring technologies;
  • Adrian Messer walks through the value of ultrasound for compressed air leak detection; and,
  • Tactics and Practices dives into two U.S. DOE programs that help companies curb operating costs via energy audits.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to climb aboard a balloon and drift into the fall.