Rebuild your wall against compressed air waste

Dec. 29, 2016

Are you letting your hard-earned profits escape?

We all know the production of compressed air is expensive, with the “wire to work” energy transfer of the production equipment being only about 10%. With electricity costs rising and the need to improve your plant efficiency becoming more urgent, one of the things you should look at is compressed air leakage.

In terms of barriers, the internal surfaces of your pipes, receivers, and compressed air components form a barrier or wall with the purpose of keeping the compressed air energy within the system to be used for actual useful work.  Allowing your expensive compressed air energy to escape before it gets to the end use is wasteful in terms of energy and profitability. This barrier is effective only if it actually keeps your compressed air from escaping. It's time to repair or rebuild the “compressed air wall” and get things back on track!

Because compressed air is invisible, it is easy to ignore costly leakage: It doesn’t make a mess, and it very rarely causes production to stop. But the multitude of holes in your compressed air piping and equipment can add up to thousands of dollars in lost profits to your enterprise. Typically about 20% to 30% of all the compressed air that your compressors produce is lost through leakage before it can even reach the end user. Sometimes in systems where there is no leak management program, the leakage levels can reach as high as 80%.

Imagine socking away your hard-earned wages in your bank only to have 20% to 30% of it lost before you can take it out. A situation like this would cause rioting in the streets, but with compressed air systems, this kind of loss is a common reality. Your compressed air system could be stealing your livelihood! It's time to take action.

Here are some things you can do about it:

  • Measure your leakage – The first step in any effort is finding out how much you are wasting and how much it is costing. There are some simple tests you can perform to help you calculate this. For more information, see Fact Sheet 7 in the library section of the Compressed Air Challenge website. Alternatively, take the easiest route: Find a compressed air system specialist and have them measure for you.
  • Find your leaks – Compressed air leakage may be invisible, but you can hear the hiss as air escapes. Finding these in a noisy operating plant can be made easier by use of ultrasonic flow detection equipment. Purchase or rent this equipment and use it, or bring someone in who can.
  • Fix your leaks – This is the hard part. You’ll need to get someone to actually fix the leaks you find, but as motivation, consider that repair of 100 cfm of leakage will typically save about $16,000 in annual compressed air costs in a well-controlled system that is operating full-time. That will pay for a lot of labor.
  • Monitor your leaks – Setting up a leakage and repair program where leakage levels are constantly monitored can help protect against system waste and help you identify when things get out of hand. Tools such as flow meters can help you measure your leakage flow. Maintenance procedures for production machines should always include leakage detection and repair.
  • Change your component design – As you find and fix leaks, you will notice that there are many common leakage locations. Sometimes these are caused by poor connection practices or poor-quality system components. Instead of replacing the faulty component with the same inappropriate part, consider choosing better-quality parts and redesigning the application to help prevent stress or vibration from reforming areas of leakage.
  • Turn it off – One of the easiest ways to fix leakage is to turn off the compressed air to piping and machines that are not being used. Also consider turning off the compressed air during nonproduction periods such as evenings or weekends.

Learn more about compressed air leakage at Compressed Air Challenge's next Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems seminar. Check out the calendar at www.compressedairchallenge.org.

About the Author

Ron Marshall

Ron Marshall first developed his skills as an industrial compressed air systems expert at Manitoba Hydro, where he worked for 38 years, supporting more than 600 energy efficiency projects. He now operates his own compressed air energy efficiency consulting firm where he provides technical advice, system auditing, and training.  Ron is a level 2 instructor with Compressed Air Challenge and conducts training internationally. Contact him at [email protected].Want to learn more about compressed air? We would suggest sending key staff to one of our Compressed Air Challenge seminars to help them learn what is possible. To learn more about upcoming training opportunities visit the CAC calendar at https://www.compressedairchallenge.org/calendar.

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