The opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to optimize their compressed air systems and reduce electrical consumption as a result is nothing short of massive. There’s also no shortage of solutions for manufacturers to take advantage of it.
That’s at the core of a recent report issued by Atlas Copco Compressors, which is on a mission to shed light on the opportunity – while also helping to guide manufacturers on their journey toward sustainability-based production.
“We’re so passionate about this subject and have been for many, many years,” said Robert Eshelman, President & General Manager, Atlas Copco Compressors, regarding the importance of the comprehensive report. “We want to share all of the different opportunities for savings on that monthly power bill, as well as the ability for them to reduce their CO2 footprint.”
Equally important, said Eshelman, is for manufacturers to understand the full picture of any investment in compressed air technology that contributes to sustainability.
“While there is focus on energy costs, it’s also drilling down to the total cost of ownership. What companies want to see is payback. We want to bring them the business case so they can decide whether a given technology offers the right payback,” he said. “Payback is something which has changed a lot over the last decade; it used to be measured in months or years, but now with the different ways to buy, the right ROI can provide positive cash flow from day one – and the monthly energy savings are greater than the monthly cost.”
Heat recovery technology is among a variety of options that can help companies reach their sustainability goals.
Eye-opening Savings Potential
To shine a light on the opportunity compressed air system optimization offers, Atlas Copco Compressors (www.atlascopco.com/air-usa) analyzed the U.S. air compressor market and subsequently shared eye-opening findings.
It concluded the market has a compressed air installed base of at least 15 million horsepower. Further, it evaluated various air audits across different customer types, sizes and segments and determined U.S. manufacturers stand to save around 13 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) annually in electricity associated with compressed air. That translates to a savings of $1 billion in energy costs per year, which would remove nine million metric tons of CO2 annually. That equates to more annual energy usage of more than 1 million homes in the United States.
Atlas Copco Compressors took its analysis another step by sharing an example of potential savings to help companies better understand what the opportunity could mean for them. An inefficient 50-hp air compressor, the report showed, easily consumes 148,000 kWh per year. Optimization can reduce electrical consumption of the same machine by 44,000 kWh per year, which represents a 30% reduction in energy use.
“We know the numbers are big, yet they’re in line with other things we’ve seen,” said Paul Humphreys, Vice President of Communications, Atlas Copco Compressors, in reference to the figures in the report and other studies by various organizations and governmental agencies worldwide. “One of the key takeaways for us is that companies can only reach their sustainability goals with optimized compressed air and gas. We’re absolutely convinced it’s the only way it can happen.”
It Starts with Measurement and Monitoring
Another conviction of Atlas Copco Compressors and other industry leaders is that manufacturers can only achieve energy and cost savings goals by investing in the right technology specific to their compressed air systems.
To help companies reach their goals, Atlas Copco Compressors is committed to ongoing development of innovative energy-saving technologies, among other initiatives. It starts, said Eshelman, by making informed decisions regarding investments in compressed air optimization.
“Part of what we’re able to do is bring you the numbers,” Eshelman said, citing the capabilities of solutions like Atlas Copco’s SMARTLINK, which is the company’s remote data monitoring system on all of its air compressors. SMARTLINK tracks key compressed air information and relays it at all times to users. Users can use it to view reports and recommendations for how to realize system efficiencies. It also issues alerts to potential problems, helping protect the investment, but measuring data just from the compressor is only one data point when it comes to efficiency.
Measuring and monitoring key compressed air information is essential for system optimization and energy savings.
“I see a lot of companies, especially in the food industry, moving toward airflow and power monitoring to gain efficiencies and to be able to see whether they’re getting the amount of compressed air they paid for,” said Leslie Marshall, an Atlas Copco Compressors National Accounts Manager.
The remote monitoring system is in addition to Atlas Copco Compressor’s team of dedicated energy consultants who are experts at performing compressed air audits that lead to recommendations for energy-efficiency improvements. Atlas Copco Compressors is now expanding its team of experts who perform air audits to help companies gain insight into their systems and capitalize on the opportunities that exist.
Atlas Copco Compressor’s team of dedicated energy consultants perform compressed air audits to help companies navigate energy-efficiency improvements.
“A lot of companies are moving to verifiable energy reduction programs, and we can give them the data to support that,” Eshelman said.
Technology Evolves to Meet Need
Aside from offering tools to measure and monitor air compressor performance and identify energy-saving opportunities, Atlas Copco continues to push the envelope in air compressor advancements to give manufacturers a leg up in their sustainability efforts.
An example is the company’s VSD+ air compressor range which comes with a number of unique features, such as vertically oriented, space-saving airend and an interior Permanent Magnet (IPM) motor. Unlike traditional Variable Speed Drive (VSD) air compressors with induction motors, the direct-drive system eliminates gears and couplings between the motor and airend for optimal efficiency. The closed-circuit, oil-cooled drivetrain further enhances efficiencies. A sentinel valve, in the meantime, seals the airend when the machine stops to prevent any escape of compressed air to eliminate blow-off losses.
In 2022, Atlas Copco engineers developed a combination of technologies to further increase efficiency with the launch of the latest generation VSDS+ air compressors. They include an advanced, in-house developed inverter and a Smart Temperature Control (STC) Valve, along with a variable-speed fan. The inverter manages the machine’s motor and also regulates control of the STC Valve and fan. The valve, which continuously monitors ambient conditions, works in conjunction with the fan to inject oil into the system at the optimal temperature. The result is an additional measure of efficiency, as well as the elimination of condensation and increased reliability.
Jan Vansweevelt, Global Product Manager at Atlas Copco, said these advancements in individual air compressor components are built into the latest GA VSDS air compressors and combine to deliver better overall performance, especially concerning energy savings.
“Our GA VSDS air compressors rated from 22 kW to 37 kW (30-50 HP) achieve a reduction of approximately 10% in terms of a specific energy requirement and an increase in free air delivery of 11% when compared with the previous generation VSD+ machines,” Vansweevelt said, noting it operates efficiently at low and high speeds. “In every working condition, the air compressor is designed to reduce the amount of energy required to produce air.”
In addition to advanced air compressors, Atlas Copco Compressors encourages manufacturers to consider any number of technologies that offer the best opportunity for sustainability. Examples include air compressor heat recovery modules to put waste heat to use, as well as technologies to conserve water, such as air-cooled compressors instead of water-cooled machines where applicable.
Education Fuels Progress
Whether it’s data collection and connectivity, or any number of investments to optimize a compressed air system, the Atlas Copco Compressors team said ongoing education is essential for those working toward sustainability-based production.
“The biggest challenge is time for everyone,” said Adam Legters, Atlas Copco Compressors Vice President of Service, regarding the immense opportunity and the wide variety of options for achieving energy savings. “You could argue that air compressor systems can be the ultimate caveat to the phrase, if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it, and so to step back and see what is truly possible is a big challenge for many companies, just due to the multiple priorities they have. Dedicated resources and teams mean most of the large corporations have already created energy-programs in compressed air but many still fear the time it will take, and that’s where we can really help them.”
As part of its ongoing educational efforts , Atlas Copco Compressors has offered and will continue to offer free or heavily discounted online seminars through the Compressed Air Challenge (https://www.compressedairchallenge.org/). The training covers two courses, including The Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems (Level I) and Advanced Management of Compressed Air Systems (Level II). Offering training through The Compressed Air Challenge is in addition to a host of training programs Atlas Copco Compressors offers customers.
Paul Maguire, Department of Energy (DOE) AirMaster+ Specialist, Atlas Copco Compressors, said those who attend their first Compressed Air Challenge training session often walk away with actionable steps.
“Using basic information, users can typically save 20% on their energy consumption right off the bat with things like maintenance and system adjustments that can be done very easily,” Maguire said.
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Decisions Rest with Manufacturers
Looking forward, Atlas Copco Compressors will continue to promote the immense opportunity for energy savings compressed air system optimization offers U.S. manufacturers and the nearly countless options available to achieve measurable results. At the same time, it will continue to help companies determine what’s best for their operations as they strive to balance profitability with sustainability – while bolstering product quality.
Choosing between a lubricated air compressor or an oil-free air compressor to meet production goals, while also achieving energy-savings, serves as a classic example.
“We’ll show the advantages and disadvantages of each,” Eshelman said. “We want the best solution for the application, but in the end, it’s really up to the customer to decide.”
All images courtesy of Atlas Copco Compressors.
Visit https://www.atlascopco.com for more information.
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