Industrial Utility Efficiency

Outsourcing Compressed Air Gives GKN Sintered Metals Peace of Mind

GKN Sintered Metals, St. Mary’s Pennsylvania, excels at developing innovative customized high-precision metal-shaped solutions, in addition to providing a high level of engineering support, for products used in a variety of industries such as the automotive marketplace. The company has also created well-honed processes that give it a competitive advantage when it comes to product performance, quality and cost.

With an eye toward strengthening its competitive edge, GKN opted for a new approach for the compressed air it uses to power metal molding machines in addition to a variety of other applications at its manufacturing facility. After careful analysis and planning with the Total Equipment Company located in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, GKN opted to move beyond its aging compressed air system – and instead – outsource compressed air as a utility. Doing so allowed it to free up valuable floor space, while also achieving peace of mind since it can now count on a fixed cost for a reliable compressed air supply for years to come.


Freeing Up Space, Gaining Fixed Costs for Compressed Air

GKN Sintered Metals Engineering Manager Shawn Gnan set out to accomplish a number of goals when planning a better approach to meeting the plant’s needs for compressed air.

A top priority was to expand production square footage and add production equipment to the facility. As such, Gnan looked at the air compressor room as an option since it occupied 2,200 square feet of valuable space. The compressor room would also be an ideal location to store raw materials, freeing up other areas for production.

Gnan also wanted to address increased maintenance costs associated with the aging compressed air system. Importantly, GKN also experienced frequent periods of downtime due to breakdowns with the compressed air system, which limited production and threatened to shut down the plant. Something had to be done to provide a constant and highly reliable supply of compressed air to the facility.

Another priority for Gnan was to establish a fixed cost for compressed air, and thereby eliminating the challenges of budgeting for it since demand for air and the energy cost to produce the air fluctuates throughout the year. A related goal was to more effectively address the costs associated with compressed air maintenance and repairs, which were often unpredictable.


Compressed Air Powers Metal Molding Machines

Compressed air is a vital utility at GKN, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to powering molding machines, GKN uses air to power grinders used in the production process, as well as other hand tools used throughout the facility. It also uses compressed air for blowing off the molding machines after parts are ejected.

GKN’s aging compressed air system was comprised of two, 100 horsepower (hp) fixed-speed, oil-lubricated rotary screw air compressors, a refrigerated dryer and one 1,080 gallon air receiver tank. GKN operators had manually controlled the air compressors. Under normal operating conditions, both units would operate simultaneously to meet air demand of between 400-700 cfm.

When evaluating the compressed air system, the team at Total Equipment Company (TEC) determined there is less air demand during the weekends. The weekend load profile is around 450 cfm of compressed air, while weekday demand averages around 618 cfm.

Based on the plant’s air demand and GKN’s goals, TEC and GKN together decided the best solution was to replace the aging units and install an over-the-fence compressed air system. The solution incorporates the use of a 40-by-8-foot sea container designed to house a complete compressed air system. Sometimes called an “over-the-fence compressed air system”, TEC assumes all responsibility for owning, operating and maintaining the compressed air system. GKN pays a fixed amount for compressed air per month over the life of the long-term year contract with TEC, eliminating the need to invest in capital for compressed air - while also addressing the GKN’s goals.

Sea Container

The 40-by-8-foot sea container at GKN houses a complete compressed air system. The unit is located six feet away from the exterior wall of manufacturing facility.


Integrated Compressed Air Packages Fit the Bill

Located outdoors and just six feet away from the GKN facility, the modified sea container features three, 100 horsepower (hp) compact Ingersoll Rand Total Air System (TAS) contact-cooled rotary screw air compressors. Two units are fix-speed R75i TAS air compressors, while the third is an R75n TAS VFD unit equipped with variable frequency drive (VFD). All three were sized to provide complete compressed air redundancy to ensure the availability of compressed air at all times. 

Each air compressor has a integrated dryer package housed in an enclosed cabinet. Each package contains the air compressor, as well as a coalescing filter and refrigerated dryer for the delivery of high-quality, clean dry air. Having all components inside the same cabinet allowed for three air compressors to be placed inside the container – and provides ample room to service the units. Additionally, the components are smartly placed inside the cabinets for ease of serviceability. Double doors installed on the back of the container also allow for the removal of any unit, if necessary.

IR compact

The compact air compressors, with integrated dryer/filter packages, are all housed in the same cabinet, allowing three air compressors to be placed inside the sea container with room to spare.


Aside from space constraints, the team designed the compressed air system to perform flawlessly despite the wild temperature swings in and around St. Mary’s. The temperature can go from extremely cold to relatively warm, sometimes in a matter of days. This meant the system would see temperatures as low as -15 oF and as warm as 100 oF.  Given the conditions, the container would have to use some of the warm discharge air to heat the compressor when the temperature dropped in the cold winters. It would also need to be able to ventilate air in the summer to keep it cool.

To address ambient temperature issues, the team installed thermostatically controlled dampers on the air compressor exhaust for each unit. It also installed electric heaters on each end of the container to help control the temperature in the colder months. Also taken into account in the design of the system was air intake. With such a small space it opted for louvers that open to direct cold away from the air compressor intake, allowing for acceptable intake air temperatures in extremely cold weather. Additionally, the cold air from the outside has time to mix with the warm interior air before entering the airend.


Efficient Control, Plus Remote Monitoring Capability

In addition to tackling space constraints and ensuring optimum performance year-round, the over-the-fence solution is designed to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver compressed air. The team also added remote monitoring capabilities to the system to further support GKN’s need for quality compressed air without fail.

Efficient production of compressed air is achieved through the use of an Ingersoll Rand X8i System Automation controller, which rotates the two 100 hp fixed-speed units to meet the majority of GKN’s demand for air during the business week. The 100 hp VFD unit serves as a trim machine and supplies additional air needed when demand increases beyond the capacity and pressure of the base load air compressors. The controller also allows the VFD air compressor to carry the compressed air load on the weekends.

The team installed an UptimeRMX cloud-based diagnostic and analytic wireless remote monitoring system to the solution, which is particularly beneficial since GKN is over 150 miles away from TEC’s office. The TEC team connected all of the compressed air equipment to the Uptime RMX 4G base unit, which allows it to view the system status, performance and history from any web-enabled device.  

In addition to providing a customizable compressed air system overview, the web interface shows real-time data for pressure, acfm, ambient temperature, kW usage, uptime, and energy savings. It also serves as an extremely valuable service tool since it sends an email and a text message alert to TEC based on alerts issued by the X8i control, or a system alarm. It specifically relays the exact alarm code to allow a service technician to assess the situation remotely. Service technicians can then be dispatched when needed with the correct parts.


Worry-free Compressed Air

While the new compressed air system at GKN wasn’t overly large it involved quite a few moving parts, which came together successfully during a short window of opportunity to install the system.

The GKN-TEC team carefully coordinated the installation during a scheduled compressed air system downtime. The project involved coordination of electricians, mechanical piping contractors, crane operators, and an air compressor technician to ensure the plant could be back up and running.  Synchronization and teamwork allowed the installation to be completed in less than six hours.


A crane deftly places the sea container into place at GKN. The container houses the entire compressed air system used to meet the air demands of the manufacturing facility.


In addition to the self-contained compressed air system, the team addressed a number of challenges associated with the existing piping featuring countless elbows, which impeded the efficient delivery of air.  The team installed a new, larger piping system in a straight run. It also eliminated the older inefficient filters. The piping and new filters together eliminated of a pressure drop of six psig. This allowed the new compressed air system to be set at a lower pressure, while still satisfying the compressed air demand of the facility. Overall, the project resulted in an overall decrease of 245,340 kWh in energy consumption.

According to Gnan, the over-the-fence compressed air solution was a success by all counts since it freed up valuable floor space and alleviates any concerns associated with fluctuating costs for compressed air and maintenance of a compressed air system.

“It’s very comforting to know what my compressed air is going to cost me for any given year,” Gnan said. He also said he appreciates the ability to see up-to-the-minute data on the compressed air system since it provides valuable insights he wouldn’t have had before.

“The remote monitoring system is extremely successful,” he said. “The visibility and data collection ability give me a chance to take a closer look at how the plant is running. Anytime we see a jump in compressed air or electrical usage I can check to see what event caused that. This will provide plenty of opportunities to improve our overall efficiency.”

Looking ahead, GKN plans to examine other plants elsewhere to determine where it might come out ahead by utilizing an over-the-fence compressed air system.

TEC Logo

About Total Equipment Company

Total Equipment Company is based near Pittsburgh in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. It also has a facility in St. Albans, West Virginia. For 35 years, the company has distributed and serviced fluid- and air-handling products for industries in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and beyond. As an Ingersoll Rand distributor, it has become the go-to source for air compressors and air system accessories, including dryer and filtration equipment. It offers the largest inventory of pumps, air compressors, blowers, mixers and mechanical seals in the region.

The company’s equipment is used in a variety of applications, including construction, mining and water/wastewater. Energy companies also rely on the TEC to help them unearth natural gas from the region’s Marcellus Shale.

In addition to it’s extensive product offering, TEC provides air quality audits, leak detection and industry-specific solutions to enhance compressed air system efficiency and productivity. It has an extensive staff of factory-certified technicians who maintain, repair, and install equipment daily. The company is backed by Ingersoll Rand's more than 100 years’ experience in compressor engineering, manufacturing, service and parts distribution. Offering unparalleled service has earned it the honor of being Ingersoll Rand’s 2018 Distributor of the Year designation.


For more information about the over-the-fence compressed air system installed at GKN, contact Total Equipment Company Sales Engineer Jason Onyshko, tel: 412-269-0999, email,, or visit

All photos courtesy of Total Equipment Company.

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