Compressed Air Systems Maintenance Reliability & Maintenance Center

Who Cares About Compressed Air?

EP Editorial Staff | August 10, 2016

gun for compressed airBy Ron Marshall, For the Compressed Air Challenge

Compressed air is one of the most expensive sources of energy in an industrial facility. Consider the amount of energy that goes into air compressors, compared with the actual useful work returned at the compressed-air tool or machine.

Training courses on the fundamentals of compressed air include details on the high cost of producing this valuable resource for a point of use. Participants in such classes are usually amazed when they learn about the inefficiency of the energy transfer. The realization that compressed air isn’t free and, in fact, is quite pricey compared with other forms of energy, can mark a turning point in the attitudes of many users—and, for the health of their companies, they finally start to care.

randmHuman nature is a funny thing. If we don’t know the cost of something, it’s easy not to care about it—which results in waste. For example, people in my Canadian hometown are quite familiar with effective means for staying warm in cold weather. Yet, in the dead of winter, it’s not unusual for us to see wide-open windows in occupied apartment buildings around the community. To my eye, this is a sign of poor temperature control caused by faulty heating systems. In an attempt to keep their living spaces from becoming overheated, the residents resort to controlling the temperatures by the brute-force method of opening windows. After all, they don’t have to pay the heating bill; the building owner does. In short, it’s evidently easier for these apartment dwellers to continue wasting heat than to pick up the phone and call the building superintendent to fix a problematic thermostat.

A similar situation persists in industry when it comes to compressed air. Those of us who have spent much of our careers preaching about energy efficiency continue to see it time and again: a lack of caring from the plant floor on up. That can be changed, though. A good way to do it is to make people aware that what they are doing (or not doing) reduces their sites’ profitability, and could ultimately affect their job security.

Since compressed-air systems typically aren’t equipped with electricity meters, it’s easy for users to believe their compressed-air utility comes at no charge. This misconception leads to all types of inappropriate applications, i.e., using compressed air for cooling, mixing liquids, or cleaning dust. Proper training for all personnel is required to drive home the fact that what users are doing may be costing the plant a fortune in lost profits.

Installation of permanent power- and flow-measuring instruments on compressed-air systems is another way to make operators of this equipment aware of the actual costs. It also proves to them the positive effect of energy-efficiency measures that are implemented to save costs. Measuring, in turn, leads to effective management of a costly resource. These instruments can then be used to assist a company in setting up systems such as those described in the ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard. MT

For more information on compressed-air topics and related training through the Compressed Air Challenge (CAC), visit compressedairchallenge.org, or contact Ron Marshall directly at ronm@marshallcac.com.

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