One of the most common problems in plants is low air pressure. One of the most common solutions is to purchase new air compressors. Often this advice leads to a poor return on investment with the company’s hard-earned money. Often the issues are related to demand, distribution, or both. Solving the wrong problem can be expensive from a capital and operating cost perspective. Determining root cause analysis may cost more up front, but will save tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars long term.
The purpose of this article is to show there isn’t always a proportionally linear relationship between what happens with flow reductions on the demand side of a compressed air system - and what happens with the energy consumption in the air compressor room. Optimizing an entire compressed air system requires precise knowledge of the supply side, how compressed air is used in the process itself and how those two relate together.
A zinc producer spends an estimated \$516,000 annually on electricity to operate the air compressors in a compressed air system at its north American plant. The current average electric rate, at this plant, is 5 cents per kWh, and the compressed air system operates 8,760 hours per year. This system assessment recommended a group of projects able to reduce these energy costs by fifty-one percent (51%) to an annualized \$270,000. The simple payback of the project was 15 months – without taking into account potential incentive dollars from the local utility.
Great Plains has carved a global reputation for producing world-class seeding equipment since it first opened its doors in 1976. Great Plains manufactures a range of products from grain drills and planters, to compact drills and tillage equipment. They have established an international business built on expertise, knowledge and a commitment to producing products meeting the rigorous demands of the agricultural sector.
A meat processor, located in Canada, hired a consultant to assess their compressed air system as part of a company-wide energy conservation effort. The assessment and analysis showed, despite having a modern compressed air system using a VSD air compressor and pressure/flow control, the system was running inefficiently and had significant levels of leakage and inappropriate use.
An electronics manufacturer with a very large compressed air system recently had a compressed air audit done in their plant to assess system efficiency. The audit discovered the system had been designed to be extremely efficient, yet some previously undetected problems were causing less than optimal operation. Despite being located in a tropical environment, this plant utilizes heat recovery to help reduce the overall energy consumption.
Parrheim Foods, a division of Parrish and Heimbecker, is an innovative starch, protein and fiber mill situated in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The plant has improved system efficiency and reduced production problems by addressing some problems with the consumption of compressed air by their reverse pulse baghouse cleaning operations. This effort has allowed them to turn off one of their 100 hp air compressors, saving significant electricity costs.
A chemical plant spends an estimated \$587,000 annually on electrical energy to operate their compressed air system. In addition, the plant has an expenditure on rental air compressors of equal or greater size - but this will not be covered in this article. The plant was built in the 1940s and modernized in the 1970s. The plant generates its own power and serves many processes. The average cost per kWh is \$0.0359.
Compressed air is used as a convenient and often necessary source of air flow to perform blow-offs, cooling, or drying. And since compressed air is a costly utility, a frequent recommendation in this magazine and audits is to reduce the compressed air use by using high efficiency engineered nozzles. Using these nozzles is a good practice as they are designed in a way that uses the compressed air to accelerate the surrounding air to deliver the same mass transfer effect as a standard nozzle (or tube) with a much larger orifice.
At a Midwest window manufacturing plant, the cooling process for the plastic frame pieces, after leaving the extruder, was critical to process productivity and quality. Too much cooling air (or not enough cooling air) would generate scrap and rejected product. The plants’ 17 extruders and 55 separate blow-offs in these lines had similar cooling stations at the cooling boxes. They consisted of about three hoses at each exit frame angled down to the extruded piece moving past it. The compressed air flow was controlled by a manual control valve set by an operator. The operator used his experience to control the flow delivered and thereby control the product quality.
A major poultry processor and packager spends an estimated \$96,374 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system at its plant located in a southern U.S. state. The current average electric rate, at this plant, is 8 cents per kWh.