Want to save money? Get out of the compressor room

Aug. 16, 2016

There are big opportunities to reduce energy costs by thousands or even millions of dollars depending on your plant’s compressed air demands.

Wouldn’t it be nice to reclaim some of the $3.2 billion dollars spent on energy in U.S. manufacturing facilities every year? It’s quite possible that your plant experiences some amount of wasted energy, and the culprit may be an inefficient or poorly designed compressor system. The good news is that this means there are big opportunities to reduce energy costs by thousands or even millions of dollars depending on your plant’s compressed air demands.

To seize this savings opportunity, your plant needs to look outside of the compressor room. That might seem like strange advice coming from someone who works for a compressor manufacturer, but the real savings come when you look backward – from point of use back to point of generation.

For example, we often see inefficiencies on the compressed air demand side, including swings in compressed air demand for transmission and at the point of use. Typical systems reduce power by only 3% to 7% for every 10% reduction in demand. A best-in-class system will reduce power in direct proportion to a reduction in compressed air demand.

Air is distributed from storage to the point of use, and compressors replenish the air stored in both the tanks and the distribution system. This means that efficiency depends not just on the compressor but also on maintaining the right balance between storage volume and pressure. Incorrect sizing of compressors or storage capacity diminishes system efficiency. Determining the proper compressed air volume required during routine operation and peak events needs to be a data-based decision, not a best guess.

Multiple compressed air events occur over time to generate the demand curve for the operation.  Rate of change is an important consideration, and isolating an infrequent but regular event such as bag house pulsing, for example, can help determine the proper solution versus sizing the compressor(s) and system for the largest event or the highest pressure required.

Another factor with a major impact on efficiency is leaking. A pinhole leak of 1 cfm at a 24/7 operation can cost $100 annually. Add up all of the pinhole leaks, and that’s a lot of cost spent on inefficiency. Even more costly, open blowing of a quarter-inch hole will leak 100 cfm at 100 psi, which is the equivalent of a 20 horsepower compressor running continuously to meet an artificial demand. In addition to lost costs, leaks cause all kinds of problems, including fluctuating system pressure, lost efficiency of tools and equipment, greater need for maintenance, and lower equipment service life. A good service partner will identify the leaks, mark them, assess the value of the repair, and prioritize repairs.  

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Graphical images are based on Ingersoll Rand data studies.

Other typical issues that can decrease operational efficiency are improper piping, inefficient consumption equipment analysis (especially for multiple regulation devices), restrictions or undersized hosing at the point of use, or the rate of change in a facility's overall demand profile.
There are solutions to these issues, but it takes the right expertise to identify them. Ask your service provider about a thorough analysis across the entire path of compressed air to pinpoint leaks, pressure drops, and design flaws that are a drag on your plant’s efficiency.

Today, we have sophisticated tools to find system flaws and to accurately measure what those flaws cost plants in terms of wasted energy. These tools can also identify where to make improvements or changes based on predictive data. Not all plants are large or complex enough to warrant using all of these technologies, but every plant can benefit from total systems knowledge.

So, break out of the compressor room and work with your service provider to claim your share of dollars lost to wasted energy.

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About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

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