Industrial Utility Efficiency    

The Compressed Air Challenge: Twenty Years and Moving Forward

As the current president for the Compressed Air Challenge™ (CAC), it is an honor to write about this organization and how it has progressed, now since we have hit our 20-year milestone. What it means to be involved in the CAC means something different to each person who has contributed. What I will share in this article is from my own experiences and observations over the past 21 years in the compressed air industry, with some help from my fellow board members.


My CAC Beginning

I entered the compressed air industry on Valentine’s Day in 1996. At the time, there was not much talk about energy efficiency, at least not from much of the industry. Even today, it is still one of the least focused on areas in manufacturing process systems, considering how inefficient compressor systems are and how much they cost to operate. I had no idea what I was getting into, a compressor is a compressor is a compressor, right? It was not until the year 2000 I attended my first CAC trainings in Chicago, Illinois. Back to back Fundamentals and Advanced classes (more on this later). These classes opened my eyes to the opportunities available for improvement, and a core desire within me grew to help companies improve their systems through being an auditor. These trainings were the first stepping stone to help me work towards becoming a DOE AIRMaster+ Qualified Specialist in 2003.

My direct involvement with the CAC began in summer of 2006. In my new sales manager role at a larger distributor, I was asked if I wanted to participate on the Project Development Committee (PDC) to replace the current Compressor Distributor Association (CDA) representative who was stepping out. I was very intrigued with the opportunity, and jumped at the chance to be a part of the organization. At my first PDC meeting, I was introduced to the people making things happen behind the scenes. It was not what I expected, considering the pre-conception I created for myself of the group. Stuffy government people? I’d say not! These were people just like me. (No offense intended to the stuffy-type government people out there who may read this article). Each had a passion for the industry and drive for the CAC’s continuous improvement of what it could offer. I was right at home. I was honored to meet Kevin Keena, representing National Grid and president of the CAC at the time. I later found he was on the original board of directors in 1997. At his side was Bill Haman, CAC secretary, as well as PDC members Joe Ghislain, Aimee McKane and Bill Scales also involved in the CAC since the beginning. Almost as good as meeting Jay Leno at the Indy 500 in 1999!

I was active on the PDC, assisting with inspiring new ideas and development of new products for four years until 2010. This is when I was asked to join the Board of Directors as treasurer, because the Board CDA member was stepping out. I happily accepted. In 2012, the role of Kevin Keena’s job had changed, and had to step down as the president. Joining me on the Executive Committee was CAGI representative, and prior vice president, Tim Fox as president, Bill Haman as vice president and Ram Kondapi as secretary. Wow what a change! Overnight, the board really became a newly enthusiastic group driving the organization to do more.

In early 2015 Tim Fox, president of the CAC, left the industry, as well as the CAC, and Bill Haman was named our interim president. At the May meeting, I was nominated for President and elected under Joe Ghislain’s request to, “Keep the new president under control.” It is always great to hear that, it makes me feel I am doing my job, and a very common statement throughout my career, I might add.


CAC: The Beginning

What exactly is the CAC? How did the CAC get started? Let’s jump back 20 years. The CAC was founded as a non-profit corporation. It was incorporated in Wisconsin in 1996 by a group of forward-thinking individuals with the desire to educate end users about their compressed air systems in a product neutral fashion. They recognized the opportunity, and decided to create training classes and resources available to the end user directly, with no influence one way or the other to promote a specific manufacturer’s product. The goal was to help companies improve their systems themselves, or through their local service providers, by knowing what questions to ask or what to look for. The founding group of sponsors consisted of industrial users, distributors and their associations, utilities, government, energy centers and manufacturer groups. The CAC was officially formed in October of 1997 and kicked off in January, 1998 with the following founding goals:

  • Increase the reliability and quality of industrial production processes
  • Reduce plant operating costs
  • Expand the market for high quality compressed air services
  • Save energy – 10% over current, about 2.7 billion kWh nationwide (1998)

Sound familiar? I thought so as well.

There were ten founding sponsors paying a founding sponsor fee of $45,000, and committed to a yearly sponsor fee of $30,000. The money was needed to develop the training packages eventually used to educate end users, compressed air industry workers and auditors on the costs of compressed air and how they are reduced. Three of the founding sponsors are still part of the CAC today.


The Board Was Formed

A Board of Directors was formed, consisting of one representative from each sponsor, ensuring there was not a majority of one specific group. The original board was:  Dan Reicher – US DOE, Ken Rollins – CAGI, Chris Beals – Compressor Distributors Association, Marc Hoffman – CEE, Floyd Barwig – Iowa Energy Center, Barbara Caropolo – NYSERDA, Denise Swink – US DOE, Gary Shafer – Honeywell, Mark Hanson – Energy Center of Wisconsin and Kevin Keena – NEES Companies.

Members of the board took on roles in order to coordinate projects with a group of volunteers from within the Projects Development Committee (PDC). This also had one representative from each sponsor. The function of the PDC was to complete the work set by the board within a certain timeframe. The PDC was split into working groups, allowing for focus to complete projects. The PDC also contracted industry professionals to help facilitate more time intensive aspects of projects. Most of the labor was volunteered. We are not talking about individuals with limited experience, I am talking about decades of direct work in the industry.


Government Regulations? No.

There are often misconceptions as to what the CAC does versus some of the more regulating entities out there. Other groups, such as the US Department of Energy (US DOE), and the Compressed Air and Gas Institute (CAGI), are involved in the energy efficiency side of the compressed air industry, but how does the CAC differ, and what is the core function of our organization?

CAC is not playing a part in the energy efficiency standards or regulations being implemented setting a minimum efficiency on compressed air equipment sold. The CAC encourages end user company representatives to become compressed air “champions,” by seriously looking at their existing systems to make them more efficient, or when looking at new systems, to design them according to the best practices in the industry. Coming from a distributor myself, the CAC training classes have opened many doors to companies wanting to improve their systems, but never realizing the extent they could impact their bottom line. 

“Compressed Air represents 15-30% of our electric costs, depending on the plant.”

Joe Ghislain, Ford Motor Company, 1998


CAC Training Workshops

The first training developed by the CAC was Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems. This is a one day, 8-hour, system overview and awareness class taught by a level 1 CAC trainer. The class covers all the major components associated with compressed air systems including compressors, dryers, filtration, storage, piping and flow controllers. The course explains the different type of compressor controls, and how each can affect the efficiency of the system. The various technologies of drying and filtration equipment are explained, as well as the energy costs associated to the method of drying selected. End users create block diagrams of their systems as well as a list of poor practices to avoid when reviewing their systems back at their facilities. Attendees are also provided with an action plan to improve their current system, including finding a solutions provider who has their best interests. The overall goal of this course is to bring awareness to how much energy is consumed in compressed air systems.

Advanced Management of Compressed Air Systems was the second training course developed by the CAC. It is a two day, 16-hour course taught by one or two instructors, depending on number of attendees. This is a much more detailed training, getting into designing, troubleshooting and calculations used by system specialists in designing large systems, including oil free and centrifugal compressors. The course also looks at what is required for auditing systems and what measurements should be taken, as well as where to take them. The training also includes developing system profiles, and even calculation for storage, to handle intermittent demands, high pressure applications and proper maintenance of the complete system. Air quality requirements, aligning supply with demand and heat recovery options are also reviewed. This is a far more advanced course typically geared to efficiency improvement managers, engineers, industry professionals or those who find compressed air absolutely invigorating to the soul.

AIRMaster+ Specialist is a three-day joint training developed by the CAC and the USDOE to train auditors on proper auditing procedures, best practices and also how to utilize the AIRMaster+ auditing software. The two CAC Classes, Fundamentals and Advanced Management were used by industry people as stepping stones to taking the AIRMaster+ qualification course and exam. It was not a pre-requisite, but was some of the only training capable of preparing you for the course. Today, AIRMaster+ training is still offered once per year through the CAC, as well as through organizations hosting the training.

In 2013, the CAC developed the Fundamentals class to be delivered in a series of Webinars. This allowed the CAC to reach groups of end users who otherwise may not have had the time or expenses to travel to a location where the course was being offered. This webinar version is held once per year, based on demand and interest.

“The Challenge (CAC) gives me the ability to help develop a process to reduce compressed air usage and optimize compressed air systems… These savings can be accomplished with little or no major capital investment.”

Henry Kemp, Strategic Air Concepts, 1998

Instructors for the CAC classes go through a rigorous process with co-teaching, evaluation and approval by a team of evaluators. The material presented is proprietary and must be taught based on the course curriculum, ensuring the same message is delivered uniformly across the globe. Instructors must provide continuous training and contribution to the CAC to keep their credentials.

The Compressed Air Challenge™ also worked with authors Bill Scales and David McCullough, in the creation of the most comprehensive, easily understandable compressed air system reference book the market had seen. Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems was released in 2003, and soon was showing up in every compressed air distributor office. It has also been a part of the take home information from the Fundamentals’ classroom.

In 2016, the CAC completed an update to the Fundamentals class to make the training materials current with today’s technologies. We are also in the process of updating Advanced Management for the same reason. These modifications are completed by a team of industry professionals who teach and work with compressed air systems on an ongoing basis. The modifications are then reviewed by the training materials advisory board, and approved by the board of directors.

“We are all joined by the convergence of our interests around the Challenge’s Core objective – To help industry use compressed air more efficiently.”

Marc Hoffman, Consortium for Energy Efficiency, 1998


Going Global!

2017 has been an exciting year with some large leaps forward for our group. We have taken on a global stance, working towards providing our training classes outside of the United States and Canada. Last month we released our new website, changed our logo to be more representative of what we are. Thank you to Jeromy Cotten and his group from Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the new marketing designs and new logo!

CAC Logo

The Compressed Air Challenge™ is Training, Education, Efficiency.

We have brought on more new sponsors who want to be a part of the development of new training workshops, as well as the building of our social media presence, strategic outreach and more. We also have manufacturers who have joined to support our mission directly, these include Sullair and Airleader.

Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems now has SI units for all those outside of North America who do not think in psig and cfm! We know this was long overdue, but it’s here!


Our New Mission and Vision Statements

The Project Development Committee was restructured into Advisory Committees keeping focus on a smaller set of goals or projects. This has led to projects moving forward in weeks rather than months. We have a lot to do and not a lot of time to complete it.

Mission: Promote energy and operational efficiency in compressed air systems for industry through information and training, leading end users to adopt efficient practices and technologies, while leveraging collaborative cooperation among key stakeholders.

Vision: Be the global leader in developing and disseminating innovative product-neutral information and educational materials to help industries generate and use compressed air at maximum sustainable efficiency.

The Advisory Committees meet every month on conference calls. The Executive Committee also meets monthly via phone. Twice a year, the Board, and Chairs of the Advisory Committees meet in person in Chicago for a day and a half to bring our efforts for the past six months together. They review the work being performed, as well as new ideas, prioritize and eventually vote on final products.

This year, the CAC participated in our first outreach conference. Three CAC Board Members attended the AICD Conference in Reno, Nevada in May. Dan Ryan, Jan Hoetzel and I attended to both present the CAC to the distributor network members, as well as run a trade show booth. It was a great experience. Thank you, Phil Kruger, and the board of directors for having us!


AICD session

Steve Briscoe, Dan Ryan and Jan Hoetzel presenting at the 2017 AICD Conference.


The Future of the CAC: Looking Forward

What is in store for the future of the CAC, you ask? What else is there for us to accomplish? The world is very small when it comes to technology and business. Our goal is to make our knowledge global, in order to give all people the opportunity to learn from our efforts. With more sponsors, we gain more experience and talent. Ideas start to flourish and we will reach more corners of the globe. With the ISO 50001 Energy Efficiency Standard well on its way, reducing energy consumption from compressed air systems will reduce our global carbon footprint dramatically. This will be key to ensure a future for us and our children on this planet.

The CAC’s training Fundamentals and Advanced Management of Compressed Air Systems training classes, as well as the Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems Manual were used as part of the body of knowledge for the compressed Air System Specialist ANSI Accredited Certification coming soon! Soon afterwards, the ANSI Accredited Compressed Air Auditor Certification will be available, and the CAC’s goal is to provide a focused training program to match this certification.

There is also a new one-day training workshop being developed for release in 2018 to train end users on how to prepare energy efficiency projects and sell them to management. More details to come!

We are all looking forward to 2017 being a great year for the CAC. With the new focused Advisory Committees, we are aiming to have a new course for end users complete for the first quarter of 2018.  Going global means being able to provide training materials in SI units, and building a new instructor base in all areas of the globe continuing to teach to our standards.

I would also like to take this time to encourage additional large end users of compressed air, manufacturers, consulting groups and utilities to join our growing group of sponsors. The more sponsors we have, the more projects we can take on and really make a difference. Please contact me if you have interest or have any questions.


Special Thanks

In conclusion, I want to thank the Compressed Air Challenge™ for the privilege to serve as your president, and for the opportunity to write this article highlighting the successes of our group. I want to put in a thank you to the Executive Committee, Ram Kondapi (vice president), Dan Ryan (treasurer), Joe Ghislain (former chair of the PDC, chair for multiple Advisory Committees) and especially our executive director, Tracey Kohler, who brings it all together.

Thank you to our current Board of Directors and sponsors who make us what we are today:

  • Independent Compressor Partners, Inc., Steve Briscoe (president)
  • National Grid, Ram Kondapi (vice president)
  • Compressed Air & Gas Institute, Dan Ryan (treasurer)
  • Airleader, Jan Hoetzel
  • Efficiency Vermont, Matt Dooley
  • End-user Representative, Joe Ghislain
  • Sullair, LLC, Brian Tylisz
  • Tennessee Valley Authority, Jeromy Cotten
  • Manitoba Hydro, Myles Boonstra
  • U.S. Department of Energy, John Smegal
  • Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, Geoff Wickes
  • Pacific Gas & Electric, Carolyn Weiner
  • U.S. Department of Energy, Sandy Glatt
  • NYSERDA, Wendy MacPherson
  • CLEAResult, Sean Williams
  • Tracey Kohler (CAC executive director)

Also in closing I would like to reach out and thank Bill Haman on behalf of our entire group, as well as from all the end users finding benefit in the training we have provided, for your 20 years of dedication in making the CAC what it is today. You will be missed and we all wish you the best of luck in the future. I would also like to thank Aimee McKane and Bill Scales, who have been key players in everything the PDC and CAC has accomplished in the 20 years of their involvement. Best of luck to you both as well from all of us, and we will keep your seat warm for when you can return.


About the Author

Steve Briscoe has been in the compressed air field for 21 years and is the Vice-President of Business Development for IAC Air Compression and Power Systems based in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. He currently serves as President of Compressed Air Challenge™. Steve has been in the design and improvement of compressed air systems for facilities across the U.S. for the past 17 years, and is a Qualified US Department of Energy AIRMaster+ Specialist. Steve also leads a team in IAC’s Energy Management Group providing complete system product neutral evaluations of compressed air and vacuum systems in facilities nationwide to help develop more energy efficient solutions.


For more information contact Steve at 317-402-1261, or visit

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