Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Compressor Controls

As readers of this publication know, there are many ways to save energy in industrial compressed air systems. One common supply side technology is the variable frequency drive (VFD) of the compressor. It is well-documented that positive-displacement compressors with VFDs provide cost-effective savings in comparison to inlet modulating, load-unload, and variable displacement control.
Vale in Thompson, Manitoba, Canada has reconfigured a system of large turbo compressors in their mining, milling, smelting and refining operation and gained very large energy savings through a series of improvement projects. In addition, these projects qualified for some significant financial incentives from their local power utility.  Vale is a large multinational mining company with headquarters in Brazil.  Vale operations focus on the production of iron ore, coal, fertilizers, copper and nickel.  The Thompson Manitoba operations consist of mining, smelting, milling, and refining of Nickel in the 250 acre complex that employs 1,500 people.
A factory expanded their production facilities in response to a new product line being introduced in their plant. The plant was to run as a separate entity with its own utility services. Because this company is very conscientious about their energy consumption, they specified top-of-the-line compressed air production equipment to keep their costs low while maintaining the very clean air quality required by their product. This equipment should have worked wonderfully. Unfortunately, events transpired, and poor decisions were made that pushed their system out of control, resulting in unexpected inefficient compressor operation and higher-than-desired energy consumption.
This article introduces a new and useful compressed air system parameter called the “Compressor System Factor,” or CSF. The CSF of a given system defines the relationship between an air compressor, its system, and how the compressor is being operated. Knowing the CSF of a system allows comparisons to be made between existing operating characteristics and the characteristics of a proposed system. Changing a system by applying energy efficiency measures like adding storage receiver capacity, changing pressure bandwidth, or switching to different compressor control modes also changes the CSF. The results of the change can be easily predicted using the CSF number.
Acrylon Plastics located in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada manufactures an extensive variety of custom plastic parts for a wide range of end use applications. Years ago changes to their production volumes increased the compressed air flows to above what their compressed air system could deliver. As a result the plant pressure would fall to low levels during production peak demands, which negatively affected sensitive compressed air powered machines. In addition to this during light plant loading conditions the air compressors would run inefficiently. Plant personnel tried a variety of strategies to deal with the plant peaks, with the most efficient solution coming as a result of installing VSD style compressors and pressure/flow control.
Quite a number of worst-case compressed air scenarios have been encountered over the years but none may compare to the conditions that existed in a metal foundry somewhere in North America. For reasons you are about to discover, we will not reveal the name of this factory or its location, in order to protect the innocent from embarrassment.
Production complains about frequent work stoppages due to air supply related problems. It wants a more reliable consistent source of compressed air. Maintenance says it will need to replace an older compressor with a new one to improve the reliability and stability of the system. Maybe purchase a bigger one than currently needed in anticipation of future increases in air demands. Management wants assurances a good return on the investment will be realized from the expenditure before making a financial commitment. For comparing and evaluating alternatives, a benchmark must be established to determine the cost to run the current system. An assessment must be performed to identify the saving’s opportunities and assign dollar values. Questions about the cost of the assessment and what is to be expected in return need to be answered.
This metal fabrication and machining facility produces high-quality precision-built products. Over the years, the plant has grown and there have been several expansions to the current location. The company currently spends $227,043 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system. This figure will increase as electric rates are raised from their current average of 9.8 cents per kWh.
EnergAir’s unrivalled expertise in compressed air management is helping to save in excess of $50,000 per year at Whirlpool Corporation’s Ottawa, Ohio production facility. Whirlpool is the largest global manufacturer of home appliances and employs almost 70,000 people in more than 60 production and technology centres around the world. The Whirlpool plant in Ottawa manufactures a market-leading range of trash compactors, chest freezers, upright freezers and refrigerators.    
Boeing Canada Winnipeg (BCW) has been recognized with the best improvement project of 2013 within the Boeing enterprise worldwide. A cross-functional project team including BCW staff, Manitoba Hydro technical support, and design engineers from Alliance Engineering Services, Inc. used innovative high-pressure storage to reduce the required size of their air compressors and save substantial utility energy and demand charges.
Most of us understand each individual has a unique DNA combination. Compressed air is very similar, each compressed air system should be uniquely designed so the system performs in harmony. Properly managing the compressed air system requires an investigative audit to understand the nuances of the system and identify the most effective solution(s) for efficiency. Not investigating the system, before selecting improvements, would be like consenting to surgery without having an exam. Yet, this frequently occurs in businesses operating compressed air systems.