The most basic necessity of any life form is air. Mammals cannot survive more than moments without life-giving oxygen. Even sea creatures need air to survive — their magnificent bodies are just capable of pulling the oxygen out of the water. While plant life does not need oxygen to thrive, they won’t survive without carbon dioxide to breath. Even our machinery need air to function.
That’s right, you read that right. Over 70% of all manufacturing setups are powered with an air compressor. While air compressor energy is extraordinarily efficient and powerful, a great deal of it is lost before it ever reaches it’s intended purpose. In fact, by some estimates, 85% of air compressor energy that is generated is wasted through heat. The invisible cost of manufacturing with air compressor power is the loss of energy that escapes before it ever reaches the function it was generated for. While some of the energy loss in a compressed air distribution system is unavoidable, there are some ways to reduce the amount of energy loss and improve air compressor efficiency.
- Reduce unnecessary usage.
The most basic way to reduce unnecessary energy waste in a compressed air distribution system is to not run the system when it is not being productive. Some manufacturers run their air compressor systems continually, even when there are no products on the assembly line (or not fulfilling whatever function the machinery serves). This is basically money going down the drain. Even if your manufacturing process only involves running the compressed air system while it is actually in production, identifying ways the manufacturing process can be conducted faster is a good way to reduce time that the air compressor is running, and energy is being wasted.
- Keep up with maintenance.
As high pressured air runs through the compressor piping and air fittings, eventually the tubes and pipes develop leaks that waste energy. As other elements in the compressed air system degrades, such as the temperature and moisture controls, so does the efficiency of the entire system. A compressed air design system will run at its peak efficiency when the maintenance on all aspects of it are maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Monitoring of systems
Along with maintaining a compressed air system on a regular basis, it is incredibly important to pay close attention to every element that make is run constantly throughout the manufacturing process. A few key factors to pay attention to include:
- The gauges that monitor air pressure and differential
- Thermostats that monitor the temperature throughout the system
- Meters that track the quantity of air used as the system operates
- Meters that monitor the effectiveness of moisture dryers
- Pay close attention for leaks
Air leaks in an air compression system is literally just energy (in the expense of creating it) being flushed down the toilet. Paying close attention to any air leaks in the manufacturing process is an important way to improve efficiency. While monitoring for leaks, pay attention to:
- Air compressor piping joints
- Hoses and fittings
The most effective way to catch any leaks in the compressed air system is with a ultrasonic acoustic detector. Even a minor air leak will emit a very subtle hissing noise; the ultrasonic acoustic detector will be able to pick up even a leak that is nearly silent. Otherwise, applying soapy water to the site of any suspected leaks is an easy way to identify the source, as the leak will gurgle and bubble.
- Reduction of the inlet air temperature
The greatest energy expense to the compressed air process is heat. A majority of the energy is lost through heat. By reducing the temperature of air in the compressed air system, less energy is expended. The generally accepted rule is that every reduction in inlet air temperature of 3 degrees saves 1% in energy required to run the compressed air system. Some air compressor operators use suction that pulls outside air into the system to keep the inlet air temperature low.
Using compressed air in manufacturing is both efficient and practical. Out of even ten manufacturers, seven of them embrace the power of air compression. Using compressed air is particularly cost effective if you are careful to reduce wasted energy.