Compressed air is vital to production at PC Forge’s forging operation in Colborne, Ontario, Canada.
With an eye toward energy savings and production efficiency, PC Forge scored high marks when it decided to re-engineer the compressed air system powering its forging operation in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada.
Since completion of the system upgrade in the fall of 2020, PC Forge is on track to save an average of 1.9 million kWh and \$266,000.00 per year in energy costs – and increase the production capability of its forging operation by 40%. The project also achieved a one-year payback with a \$245,000 incentive from Government of Ontario’s utility Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).
Bud Kinney, IMT Forge Vice President, Innovation and Development, and PC Forge General Foreman Ron Reece, said they could not have asked for more from the compressed air system upgrade.
“We’re able to reduce the number of kilowatt hours per year we use and still get increased production capability,” said Kinney. “The project exceeded our expectations.”
Said Reece, “From the production end of things, the difference in the compressed air system is night and day. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s a 10.”
PC Forge, Colborne, Ontario, Canada, installed an Atlas Copco GA 315 Variable Speed Drive (VSD) air compressor as part of a re-engineered compressed air system project that saves energy and increases production efficiencies.
Compressed Air Powers Large Forging Hammers
An IMT Forge Group partner, PC Forge (imtforgegroup.com) specializes in custom, closed-die forging with the ability to process most commercially available materials, including multi-grades, ferrous and non-ferrous materials, brass, aluminum, titanium, stainless and nickel-based alloys. At the PC Forge operation, the company employs 62 people who work two shifts, five days per week to produce diverse products used in a variety of applications in mining, automotive, aerospace, defense, oil and gas, and energy industries.
At the heart of PC Forge’s 50,000-square-foot forging facility are five forging hammers weighing between 2,000 to 8,000 pounds each. The hammers, which are powered by compressed air, pound metal into shape with controlled high-pressure impact blows. The value of compressed air at the plant, said Reece, cannot be measured.
“If we don’t have compressed air, we don’t run. It’s really critical,” he said, noting volume and proper pressure of compressed air are equally vital. “We also have to keep pressure in the system close to 100 psi at all times.”
Efficiencies and Costs Drive Change
Over the years, the compressed air system at PC Forge increasingly struggled to provide a reliable and stable supply of air to the plant. The system included six 350-horsepower (hp) fixed-speed rotary screw air compressors, each of which is rated to deliver up to 1,500 scfm at 110 psi. It also included a 5,000-gallon receiver tank.
The limited capacity of the compressed air system hampered production, which ultimately became unacceptable given high demand for PC Forge’s products. The issue, Reece said, was the inability of the system to keep pace.
“Our goal is to keep the hammers running at full capacity when needed without running ourselves low on air,” he said. “Unfortunately, if we were running three hammers at the same time we’d be starved for air, which would slow them down. Other times there wasn’t enough air to have both of our two bigger hammers running at the same time so we’d have to shut one down until the other one was finished before we could start it back up. It just wasn’t good for efficiency.”
Additionally, the costs of electricity to power the compressed air system – as well as the entire plant – continued to climb.
“Our problem is that electric utility costs have been skyrocketing, “Kinney said. “We’re upwards of 15 cents per kWh and it’s only expected to go higher.”
Compressors for Manufacturing, Inc. (CFM)
Founded in 2004, Compressors for Manufacturing, Inc. (CFM) prides itself on providing outstanding service and support to companies in Southern Ontario. The full-service firm, based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada, works with diverse companies from medical labs to large manufacturing operations in a wide range of industries.
CFM offers air compressors, air dryers, oil/water separators, filters, breathing air purifiers, and air compressor controllers. Its extensive product line also includes industrial blowers, nitrogen generators, industrial vacuum and readily available parts. Additionally, it offers rental air compressors and dryers to customers’ meet short- and long-term needs.
With its extensive industry knowledge, CFM offers comprehensive system audits and installation and maintenance services designed to help companies maximize system efficiencies and achieve energy savings. For more, visit https://comp4mfg.ca.
Quentin Foran and Brian Wilkins, Compressors for Manufacturing, Inc. (left to right).
Compressed Air Partner Tapped
With the goal of reduced operating costs, Kinney explored IESO’s Save on Energy Retrofit program, which helps fund retrofits, energy audits, and controls at plants with programs that reduce electricity demand at peak usage times. Knowing the full extent of the potential incentive, Kinney decided the time was right to revisit the compressed air system.
Kinney invited Compressors for Manufacturing, Inc. (CFM) of Burlington, Ontario, Canada, to recommend improvements to PC Forge’s compressed air system given the potential IESO incentives. CFM is PC Forge’s long-time compressed air system partner.
Although familiar with the plant’s system, CFM conducted a thorough evaluation of plant operations and the use of compressed air to formulate a plan for achieving PC Forge’s goals for a more efficient and less costly system. CFM’s compressed air assessment included a review of the plant’s Panoramic Power™ monitoring system, which tracks electrical power consumption for all plant systems, including air compressors. CFM also installed an airflow meter on the header of the compressed air piping system to gain insight into actual compressed air usage.
“The Panoramic Power system gave us all of the amperage and calculated kilowatt hours and we overlaid that information with data about plant compressed air flow to determine how much they could save with a system upgrade, said Quentin Foran, CFM Project specialist. “Once we saw the data it confirmed what we originally thought about the issues and what do to do fix them.”
Issues Thoroughly Vetted
PC Forge manually controlled the air compressors and normally operated all six units in modulation, non-stop throughout production. The air compressors operated part load at 70 to 80 percent five days a week, as well as alternating Saturdays.
On a typical day, the plant would turn on all of the air compressors at the start of the production shift and operate them in modulation. Doing so gave PC Forge the ability to meet wide swings in demand for compressed air since the amount of air needed was driven by the number of hammers in operation at any given time. Each forge hammer required 1,000 to 1,600 cfm. Demand for air plantwide could be 700 cfm one minute and surge to 6,500 cfm the next.
System pressure also swung widely, although each hammer required a stable supply of air at 100 psi. When numerous hammers operated, pressure would drop to as low as 80 psi. When fewer hammers operated, pressure would climb to 110 psi.
Brian Wilkins, Owner of CFM, said PC Forge had little choice but to keep the air compressors operating in modulation given the demand profile.
“The machines couldn’t start up and then add air to the system quickly enough since pressure would drop in seconds. The only way to combat it over the years was to leave them all on in modulation so they would all be making air already and could meet the big surge in demand,” Wilkins said.
In all, the compressed air system at PC Forge consumed 3.4 million kWh of power per year. The cost for electrical power, production issues and the opportunity for an IESO incentive of up to \$300,000 pointed to the need to re-engineer the system.
Re-engineered System Delivers Results
The retrofit recommended by CFM involved the installation of a 420-hp Atlas Copco GA 315 Variable Speed Drive (VSD) air compressor rated to deliver up to 2,200 scfm at 100 psi. CFM also installed two 8,000-gallon air receiver tanks. Additionally, it added an Atlas Copco E6 master controller to the system, along with Atlas Copco Mark 5 graphic controllers on five air compressors. The team de-commissioned the sixth air compressor, originally installed in the 1980s.
Key to the upgraded compressed air system at PC Forge are two 8,000-gallon air receiver tanks.
The master controller automatically controls the operation of the air compressors to gain maximum system efficiency. The VSD is used to satisfy fluctuations in demand for air up to 2,000 cfm. When the need for air climbs above 2,000 cfm, the system adds base-load air compressors as needed and runs the VSD machine at part load as a trim machine. The master controller also rotates the operation of base-load machines to minimize wear and tear on any one unit. The storage tanks, in the meantime, eliminate problems with pressure drop.
Since the completion of the installation in 2019, the system has performed flawlessly – allowing PC Forge to operate any and all hammers when needed to meet production goals. The ability to run all five forge hammers at any given time represents a 40% increase in forging capability.
“We learned a lot and we thank the folks at CFM for how much we learned since now know the VSD unit, controller, and additional storage together contribute to the outcome,” said Kinney, adding how the project exceeded expectations. “We’re running fewer air compressors to get the results we need. Before we were running five machines and not meeting the load. Now, we can generally run two to four machines and meet the load.”
Today, the compressed air system consumes approximately 1.5 million kWh of electrical power compared with 3.4 million kWh of power before the retrofit. As a result, PC Forge saves \$250,00-\$350,000 per year, which varies based on the IESO rate structure. IESO also awarded PC Forge a \$245,000 incentive, resulting in a one-year project payback.
With the completed project, PC Forge can now focus on production and not whether the compressed air system can match demand.
“It’s what we needed. We’re able to run the whole shop at the same time and not have problems with air when we’re at full capacity,” said Reece. “Now it’s right there all of the time. From the production standpoint, it’s just great.”
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