What is a compressed air system?

According to NRCan, compressed air is a form of stored energy used to operate machinery, equipment or processes in manufacturing and certain service industries. Compressed air systems are often used when it’s impractical or dangerous to use electrical energy directly to power tools and equipment.

Accounting for nearly 10% of all electricity consumption and approximately 16% of all motor system energy use in American manufacturing industries, compressed air systems are a weighty consideration for any business looking to reduce energy costs. Taking measures to improve the efficiency of your compressed air system can lower costs by 30-60%! Here are a few tips to get you on your way.

Top tips for an energy-efficient compressed air system

There are a number of ways to make your compressed air systems more energy-efficient. When investing in upgrades and repairs, keep in mind that the entire lifecycle cost should be taken into consideration; if you’re looking for long-term efficiency, you may have to pay a little more up front. That being said, the benefits of making improvements on both the supply and demand sides of the system will save you electricity and energy costs, increase downtime, increase productivity, reduce maintenance and improve product quality.

Gathering advice from experts in the industry, like Carbon Trust and the British Compressed Air Society Limited (BCAS), we’ve put together some great tips to help you create and maintain an efficient compressed air system:

Reduce pressure: Did you know that reducing the pressure of your compressor by 10% can lead to 5% savings in energy? In fact, it’s been shown that every two per square inch decrease in compressor operating pressure reduces energy consumption by approximately 1%.

Test for and fix leaks: Budget for cost-effective leak reduction and consider conducting a “no load” test for piping, tubing, valces, hoses, filters and quick connectors. For certain systems, air loss from a 3/8 inch leak could lead to $41,000 annually in wasted energy. Keeping an eye on leaks can result in significant savings for your business.

Know your options: Check that compressed air is really the most cost effective option for the running of all equipment. Explore cheaper options that could help cut down on your energy bill and inform your staff about the appropriate uses for compressed air (like avoiding using it for drying and ventilation when possible).

Explore energy-efficient add-ons: Small changes can lead to big savings. Try making small changes like switching from open-ended pipes to Venturi-type nozzles which are quieter and use 30% less air. Consider buying an air dryer to remove moisture in the system that would otherwise condense, and condensate drains that lie at common collection points, removing excess moisture.

Switch off your compressors: Be sure to switch off your compressors when not in use. Consider shutting down for lunch breaks, team meetings, and especially overnight. Be sure to shut off air flow to unused equipment as far back in the system as possible.

Don’t over-treat air: Treating air is necessary in order to remove dirt, water and oil, but try not to treat the entire system at once. It is more efficient to address application or piece of equipment at a time.

Recover and use heat: Recovering the unused heat (which hovers around 80% of energy entering the compressor) is a great way to save on energy. Use the leftover heat for other processes in your plant and watch the savings accrue.

Maintain your equipment:  Ensuring that all equipment in the compressed air system is being maintained in accordance with the manufacturers’ specifications is a simple way to ensure the entire unit is operating as efficiently as possible.

Cut corners: While cutting corners is not encouraged when it comes to equipment maintenance and long-term efficiency investments, reducing the distance that air travels through the distribution system can save you a lot of energy, and lower your costs.

Questions about creating an energy-efficient compressed air system? Leave them below!

 image credit: country_boy_shane