Industrial Utility Efficiency

Maintenance Saves Energy: Automatic Leak Detection on OEM Machines

Why So Many Air Leaks - Even Today?!

Energy conservation has been much talked about lately, in the media, the government, and at the water cooler. Lean manufacturing is also a popular topic these days, as are any ways to increase productivity, reduce costs, and increase profitability.

One topic that has historically been overlooked is the cost of compressed air in a facility. Studies conducted over the years by SMC Corporation of America have suggested that, of the energy consumed by a typical factory, twenty percent goes to the production of compressed air. Of that twenty percent, it’s often the case that at least thirty percent of that energy is wasted by leaks.

Detecting and correcting leakage would seem to be of significant benefit, both in reduced operational costs, and in increasing environmental responsibility. So why does a typical factory still allow thirty percent of the energy used to be consumed by compressed air leaks?



The new ALDS Automatic Leak Detection System from SMC.


Leak Detection is Time Consuming for Maintenance

The answer is that leak detection is a costly and time consuming maintenance activity, both in labor costs and in equipment required. The typical method has been to employ an ultrasonic leak detector, essentially pointing it at every component, and listening for leaks. In a busy factory, this is difficult, and only effective if done on a regular basis. This method also calls for checking numerous components that are actually NOT leaking.

Other methods of detecting leaks include the installation of flow switches on each and every circuit, the addition of pigments or gases which would make the leak visible to the naked eye, or detectable through the use of “sniffers”, and the time-tested spray bottle of soapy water! The problem with any of these methods is that they take time, may be costly, and can only be done sporadically due to a shortage of resources. Furthermore, there are many machines (or parts of machines) that cannot be accessed during production, and, as such, cannot be accessed during a normal leakage investigation. For these reasons, large potential energy savings are disregarded.


Automatic Leak Detection on OEM Machines

What if there were a way for a machine’s control system to not only warn you if a leak developed, but also to provide a report that would indicate the total amount of leakage, the number of leaks, and the part of the system actually leaking?

SMC’s Automatic Leakage Detection System (ALDS) is able to quantify the amount of leakage on a machine on a daily basis, even while the machine is in operation. The system will report the exact value of the leak in liters per minute, and provide maintenance personnel with a detailed report listing the location of each leak. For example, the system can provide a report something like:

“Machine XX on line XY; Press cylinder XYZ leaks 12 litres per minute in the pressing position, and 3 litres per minute in the home position.”

This type of report eliminates the need to check components that are not leaking. Imagine the benefits if maintenance personnel can easily determine that there’s a leak to fix, and be directed to the component that requires attention. Not only will there be an increase in productivity, but leaks will be addressed before they have a chance to eat up the profits!


How it Works

How does this work? The Automatic Leakage Detection System is installed on the OEM machine’s main air line, and integrated with the machine’s control software (PLC), thus eliminating the need for costly System Control and Data Acquisition software (SCADA). When the machine is newly installed, the ALDS system will run the machine through a complete sequence, measuring the air consumption of each actuator, and confirming that there are no leaks.

During an idle moment in the machine’s daily operation, the ALDS system will perform a “Leakage Detection Cycle”, operating each component in sequence again, recording the air consumption, and manipulating the data to identify each leak. In this way, leakage can be detected and a report generated that will list the amount of each leak and its location. Maintenance personnel can then concentrate their activities only on the components that require repair, without having to check the entire machine.

Sound good to you? It certainly does to maintenance staff. Besides the reduction in energy costs, there will be a marked improvement in productivity from implementing Automatic Leak Detection Technology.



Picture this scenario: In a bottling machine where multiple bottles are filled simultaneously (think 100 bottles of beer), one of the valves is leaking, causing 1 bottle out of 100 to only be partially filled. This bottle would later be rejected. If this bottling machine cycled 6 times per minute, there would be an entire six-pack wasted every minute. This is a significant cost to the bottling company, and an unnecessary waste of good beer! Imagine the increase in productivity if maintenance personnel can repair issues before they escalate to the point of causing waste.

In today’s competitive marketplace, any opportunity to increase productivity, reduce costs, and increase profitability is well worth exploring. SMC Corporation is extremely confident that the inclusion of a low cost Automatic Leak Detection System in manufacturing equipment will lead to the aforementioned cost savings, as well as a significant reduction in energy consumption.


For more information please contact Jon Jensen, SMC Corporation of America, tel: 630-449-0562, email:,