Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Leaks

PET Power Containers, a Canadian manufacturer of PET plastic containers, had plans for expanding its operations with the addition of more blow-molding equipment. Before the expansion could happen, however, the company needed to assess its compressed air system. Based in Vaughan, Ontario, PET Power provides a dizzying array of differently shaped and sized plastic bottles. Their operations run 24/7, and compressed air plays a key role in their primary manufacturing applications, including PET blow molding, PET preforming, and labeling bottles.
A Canadian fiberglass plant has completed a lengthy compressed air improvement journey and achieved significant efficiency gains by applying “the systems approach.” Along the way, the company ran across many frustrating problems, the solutions to which were only determined after the entire system was monitored holistically using data loggers. The overall compressed air audit led to a reduction in energy usage of 48 percent, yielding savings worth $17,500 per year. The project also qualified for a large utility incentive of $32,000 with a calculated payback of 4.4 years.
Sometime in mid-2015, I received a call from a project engineer at a major plastics firm. He had a troubling issue with one of his PET bottle plants. The bottom line was this: They could not run all five high production blow-molding machines at one time—even though they were able to do so 18 months previously.
One of the statements made in the Compressed Air Challenge’s Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems seminar is that improvements can always be made to every compressed air system, including new ones. The statement definitely applies to a Canadian pork processing facility built a few years ago. This article is based on a compressed air audit performed two years into the life of a brand new plant. The audit found numerous problems and made recommendations that helped reduce plant compressed air operating costs by 60 percent. 
Compressed air has moved to higher visibility in the energy conservation field, and the buzzwords abound: “the fourth utility” — “your most expensive utility” — “eight times more expensive than electricity” — “a quarter-inch leak costs $9,000 in wasted energy.” This greater awareness has also produced compressed air auditors that are springing up like summer dandelions. With audits available from many sources, it is important to understand what plant operations, engineers and maintenance managers should expect from a complete audit — or more aptly — a complete air system review.
As a reader of this journal, you are well aware that large compressed air systems often have significant wasted air — often from leaks — that represent tens of thousands of dollars of waste per year. However, it is our experience that the so-called “low-cost” measures identified often go un-repaired, while other more costly capital projects get funded. Why? With an ROI of a half year or less, they seem like IQ tests to many compressed air auditors.
As plant personnel know, repairing compressed air leaks can be an expensive, labor intensive and never-ending process. This article discusses ways plant personnel can reduce and maintain their leak rate at a lower level without repairing leaks. It discusses how pressure/flow controllers, variable speed and variable displacement compressors, automation, and addressing critical plant pressures allow plant personnel to lower the header pressure, which eliminates artificial demand and controls the leak rate. More importantly, the article brings a new dimension to the idea of turning off the air to idle equipment by focusing plant personnel’s attention on the idle time within the cycle of operating equipment.
Over many years of reviewing industrial compressed air production machinery, of many types and styles, there is one common thread or complaint; “push-to-connect pneumatic tubing connections/fittings are a continual source of compressed air leaks and production interruptions.”  Probably seventy-five to eighty percent of push-to-connect type tubing fittings use flexible tubing selected for lower material cost and assembly rather than an alternate appropriate hard metallic tubing.  
This article reviews portions of an audit report commissioned to survey the condition of a compressed air system in a factory located in the U.S. The objective of this study is to determine the current operating conditions and make recommendations for improvement based upon application of industry recognized best practices. Due to article space limitations, this article will focus on portions of the over-all audit report provided to the factory.
How does one become a top notch compressed air auditor? There is very little in the way of formal schooling available to help interested persons become competent in the art of assessing compressed air systems or recommending improvement measures. As we will read in the following interview, having an excellent attitude a good aptitude, applying continuous learning techniques, using the Compressed Air Challenge’s excellent training seminars and materials, and seeking out mentorship opportunities have allowed one compressed air auditor to progress from a ”dumb kid” parts clerk to the Vice-President of Business Development for Industrial Air Centers.
Employees of New Gold’s New Afton Copper/Silver/Gold Mine, located just West of Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada have just completed an intensive round of Compressed Air Challenge and in-house compressed air efficiency training for their employees. The awareness raised by these seminars has already led to significant improvements to system efficiency. Further efforts initiated by Andrew Cooper, an Energy Specialist hired through special support from BC Hydro’s Power Smart program are set to gain even more power savings and improve their compressed air system reliability and stability.