Starting a Long Distance Relationship with Your Compressed Air System
When was the last time you visited your compressor room? A week ago? Several weeks ago? If you are like many, you went in for the last scheduled maintenance interval and have rarely been back since. Air compressors, dryers and other air system components have become more reliable and self sustaining from a maintenance standpoint with each generation, requiring less and less human intervention. This progress has been extremely beneficial. Less direct involvement frees maintenance staff to focus on other plant issues and reduces the overall cost of compressed air. However, out of sight can mean out of mind. Unmonitored compressed air systems can fail, leading to substantial production delays or work stoppages. Even compressors that are operating reliably can waste significant amounts of energy if they are not properly controlled. Air system components that are not optimized to function as a system may not be running efficiently. With the rising cost of energy and limited resources, effectively managing a compressed air system remains a challenge, leaving many looking for new ways to:
- Effectively manage multiple compressors for maximum energy efficiency
- Monitor compressed air system health without investing significant time or effort
- Ensure optimized compressed air systems continue to run efficiently and reliably over time
Managing Multiple Compressors for Maximum Energy Efficiency
Energy figures prominently in most industrial environments, and the compressed air system is typically one of the largest consumers of energy in any given facility. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, roughly $1.5 billion is spent annually generating compressed air in the United States. Between 20% and 50% of this energy is wasted¹. One of the primary drivers behind such waste in systems with multiple compressor units is misalignment between system supply and demand².
Adding system automation controls like Ingersoll Rand’s Xi-Series can help eliminate the complexity of compressor coordination and ensure that your compressed air system is properly optimized to help reduce system waste and related energy costs. These systems continually monitor and learn the air system demand requirements then use advanced algorithms to dynamically determine the most energy efficient compressor or combination of compressors to meet current system demand levels. The system control manages the air system pressure at the minimum pressure required, operating compressors only as needed and bringing standby compressors on line incrementally during peak demand, all without compromising air supply reliability. Some advanced system automation controls, like the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series, also allow the operator to control both variable-speed compressors and fixed speed compressors to minimize wasted energy due to unloaded compressor run-on time or short cycle operation. System controls that can manage compressors of different capacities, types (fixed speed, variable speed and variable capacity) or brands, will help ensure that all compressors in the system are efficiently controlled for maximum energy savings while maintaining or even improving productivity levels.
Adding system control to your compressed air system does not prevent manual access to the compressed air system. While the system controller employs advanced algorithms to effectively manage the system, Xi-Series automation will allow users to drill down to individual compressors for troubleshooting purposes or individual level control. “At the pace of work today, our customers can’t afford to think much about their compressed air system, so we created the Xi-Series system automation controls to automate most of the work, and alert operators when there is a need,” said Randall Finck, Global Category Manager at Ingersoll Rand.
A typical Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series system automation installation
¹U.S. Department of Energy, Industrial Technologies Program, “Compressed Air,” http://www1.eere.energy.gov/industry/bestpractices/compressed_air.html, (accessed October 5, 2010).
²United States, Department of Energy, Office of Industrial Technologies, Compressed Air System Control Strategies, (Washington: OIT, 2004) 1.
Monitoring your compressed air system made easy
In addition to reducing energy costs, some system automation controls can provide a greater level of insight into and remote access to the compressed air system, enabling a more proactive approach to system maintenance and optimization. By capturing operational information from each machine and presenting it in one, easy to understand dashboard in a central location, system automation tools eliminate multiple trips to each compressor to gather performance information and make system adjustments or monitor system status, reducing the labor burden on maintenance staff. With technology advances, today’s modular control systems provide many of the advanced functions that used to be available only with custom-built systems at substantially reduced prices. Some customers have been able to cover the cost of a new system control in under six months with their energy savings alone.
The Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series System Visualization Moduleprovides useful efficiency gauges to help monitor energy consumption.
Using system control features like the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series web-based Visualization Module, operators can fully view their entire compressed air system and change key parameters as needed. Some system controls, like the Xi-Series, can even send automatic email alerts, ensuring the right individuals are immediately notified whenever compressor settings are changed, abnormal operating conditions occur or when equipment has been shut down, regardless of whether they are located on-site or across town. This ensures that potential problems are resolved quickly to prevent or minimize downtime. “The remote visibility provided by the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series automation system allows me to keep close tabs on my compressed air system and proactively deal with issues before they affect production,” said Gary Gingras, Facilities Manager, TurboCare, Inc. “I also appreciate the savings, both in energy and manpower.”
Setting up remote access and control can seem like an intimidating task. However, system controllers are becoming increasingly user friendly. For example, the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series provides multiple connection options to fit a wide range of facility needs including Modbus RS485 and Ethernet ports. This provides the user with flexibility to choose the simplicity and freedom of an Ethernet connection or integration with an existing Distributed Control System (DCS).
Maintaining efficiency gains and energy cost savings
Optimizing compressed air system operation is often only half the challenge. The other is measuring and maintaining these improvements and savings over time. Fortunately some advanced system controllers feature built-in performance reporting capabilities that can help accomplish this. For example, the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series Visualization Module automatically records key operating parameters, compiles to a reporting format and provides access via a web browser on the facility’s Local Area Network (LAN).
One common efficiency loss occurs when end-use compressed air demand changes significantly, which can drive down overall system efficiency. To help operators notice these types of changes, the Xi-Series includes useful efficiency gauges that measure useful parameters such as kilowatts used per unit of air flow on the visualization dashboard. Anyone who is monitoring this parameter over time will see that something has changed, even though everything may still be working fine. By graphing key parameters like system flow over time, the Xi-Series Visualization Module makes it easy to notice and respond when demand is up, system pressure is averaging high or compressors are being turned on or off more frequently. Data can easily be emailed or exported to standard software like Excel for further analysis, enabling users to remotely optimize and maintain the performance of their system.
The Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series System Visualization Module provides operators with intuitive, graphic-based control of their compressed air system
Another frequent occasion where efficiency is lost occurs with staff changes. If a new employee cannot quickly grasp a compressor’s status or understand how to use the system controller, it may be turned off the first time that something appears to be wrong. The simplest solution to this problem is to select intuitive system automation controls. For example, the Xi-Series Visualization Module software features clear, graphic-based screens that offer at-a-glance system updates and quick access to critical compressor controls—virtually eliminating the learning curve. All system menus are arranged on easy to follow tabs and control icons are easily identifiable. In addition, the system can be accessed from any web-based browser and requires no special software. With streamlined access to compressor controls and clear information about the compressed air system, intuitive controllers like the Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series prevent operators from wasting time figuring out how to manage the system and allow them to focus on delivering efficiency gains and energy cost savings.
The Ingersoll Rand Xi-Series Visualization Module provides graphing of key performance data over time to help effectively monitor system performance.
There is an ever increasing responsibility being placed on those managing compressed air systems to mitigate risks, optimize processes to meet sustainability goals and save money. By combining simple remote connectivity options with clear and actionable information, an automated control system is a simple, practical way for operators to provide sustained savings in energy and efficiency for their compressed air systems – all without having to physically visit the compressor room.