Industrial Utility Efficiency

Smart Monitoring: The Power Behind Pneumatics Productivity

In manufacturing and packaging facilities that rely on pneumatics, there’s a four-letter word worse than virtually any other: leak. Unidentified air leakage and unexpected maintenance in pneumatic systems are significant sources of revenue and productivity loss but identifying the cause of leakages and preventing unforeseen downtime is typically a challenge.

Today, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – and the smart pneumatics monitoring it enables – has the potential to revolutionize pneumatics productivity. New systems and technologies are making it easier than ever for operators of all sizes to see the enormous productivity increases and energy savings these systems can provide.


Day-to-day Challenges for Manufacturers

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Called “Industry 4.0,” this change in traditional manufacturing and industrial practices was brought about largely by the intercommunication of machines made possible by a network of sensors, software and other technologies that communicate via internet protocols. The convergence of sensing networks, automation, control systems, analytics and related developments is more commonly known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and it has enormous potential for manufacturers. More specifically, several unique IIoT capabilities are leveraged to address challenges faced by manufacturers with pneumatic operations.

Aventics Pneumatic System

Manufacturers and packaging operators are incorporating IIoT technologies into their pneumatic systems to help reduce downtime and increase overall productivity.

Whenever energy is converted from one form into another, some of it is lost. When compared to electric energy, for example, pneumatics energy could be considered inefficient. But when installation, maintenance, and other costs are considered, pneumatics still provide a compelling value proposition. In order for manufacturers to run an efficient operation, therefore, maintaining optimal energy use within the pneumatics system is critical. The most obvious enemy to pneumatics efficiency is leakage. In fact, the average manufacturing plant loses up to 35% of compressed air annually due to leakage. Unsurprisingly, large leaks lead to machine downtime and increased costs.

Operators with pneumatic machines also face a volley of competitive pressures from every angle. Whether the competition is regional, national or even international, production consistency and throughput are critical to maintaining a competitive edge. Extended troubleshooting and production downtime due to unexpected maintenance on pneumatic components within the system can have a dramatic effect on the ability to remain competitive and profitable.

To that end, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is becoming a buzzword that equates to profitability and increased competitiveness for many facilities. OEE is a simplified way of expressing any form of lost productivity in a manufacturing process by looking at:

  • Availability – A 100% score means the process is always running during planned production times. Any stops during this time result in a reduced score.
  • Performance – A 100% score equates to a process that is running as fast as possible. Any stoppage or slow cycles will likewise decrease this score.
  • Quality – A 100% score indicates there are no defects or reworks.

Multiplying availability by performance by quality provides the total OEE score. It should come as no surprise, then, that systems operating at or near design capacity are inherently more efficient than those that don’t. Even so, studies from the automation experts at Emerson® indicate a typical packaging line’s OEE is only about 45 to 55 percent — meaning as little as half of planned production time is truly productive.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers don’t currently have adequate measures for determining OEE, much less a big-picture understanding of their operations. Without consistently measuring air consumption, leakage in pneumatic systems can be difficult to identify while leading to significant energy loss and an unclear picture of overall efficiency.

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The Promise of IIoT Intelligence

For manufacturers with pneumatic operations, the benefits of IIoT are realized most effectively by monitoring air usage within systems. Continuously monitoring the flow of air to detect leakages in real time, the system can identify the machine exhibiting the problem and send alerts directly to maintenance staff to investigate. The benefits of this real-time approach to addressing leakage include:

  • Reduced downtime — both planned and unplanned.
  • Improved overall equipment efficiency.
  • Quantifiable reduction in compressed air energy spend.

Aventics AF2

The AVENTICS Series AF2 flow sensor continuously monitors air consumption in pneumatic systems, providing actionable insights to help optimize energy consumption, prevent machine downtime, and reduce costs.


Misconceptions Surrounding IIoT Adoption

While IIoT stands ready to unleash new standards for productivity and efficiency, there are still a number of myths, misconceptions and perceived barriers to adoption within the manufacturing and packaging sectors. Typical barriers to smart system adoption can be overcome and should be considered in the context of the benefit potential.

  • Up-front investment costs – Connected predictive maintenance solutions can create rapid savings when used effectively. According to Accenture, predictive maintenance can reduce costs up to 12% versus scheduled repairs, while lowering overall maintenance costs up to 30% and decreasing breakdowns by up to 70%. If initial implementation costs are a concern, consider starting small with a targeted pilot. Once savings are proven in the pilot, getting approval for the cost of scaling up will be less of an obstacle.
  • Data complexity – Transforming raw data into actionable intelligence that operators and maintenance personnel can implement requires the right set of tools. Modern predictive maintenance solutions provide users with pre-configured data analysis tools for key machine characteristics, such as compressed air consumption and possible leakages. Software can provide root-cause analysis in real time and provide a range of warnings or critical alerts, which can help prevent further performance degradation and maximize overall plant efficiency.
  • Interoperability with other/existing systems – Unlike traditional Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are simply defined as any device that can connect to the internet, IIoT devices are built specifically for industrial settings, and typically offer much higher levels of security, precision, serviceability and, more importantly, cross compatibility. Cross compatibility helps ensure devices can coexist with other devices using software that is programmable and scalable. Open, globally available communication protocols are a key factor in the growth of IIoT. This is why many solution providers support development of the OPC-UA architecture, which is the leading communication standard for IIoT applications.
  • Integration – Between network protocols, sensors, modules, data storage, consolidation, analysis and display, a trusted partner with subject matter expertise is critical to realizing the benefits of IIoT solutions. Working with a trusted partner helps ensure your systems function properly and all stakeholders are able to leverage technology investments.
  • Infrastructure and cybersecurity – IIoT solution providers use different architectures for generating, transferring, analyzing and storing data. Some solutions utilize a cloud-based infrastructure while others use “local” infrastructure at the edge (on premises). There are pros and cons for each structure and there are even hybrid designs that use multiple strategies. Depending on your company’s preferences and your goals for leveraging industrial data, infrastructure may be a significant factor when choosing an IIoT solution. Cybersecurity is another critical selection factor that must be considered. Any cloud-based solution should be properly secured through data encryption and multi-factor authentication for logging into software.

Airflow and pressure monitor

Airflow and pressure is monitored to understand air usage of equipment through its various cycles. Click here to enlarge.


Real Results for the Real World

Thoughtful integration of smart pneumatics can provide actionable, easily understood data that leads to improved machine effectiveness and a positive return on investment — with the potential to revolutionize real-world pneumatics productivity for manufacturers.

  • Reduced downtime – Smart pneumatics monitoring powered by the IIoT can help better inform maintenance and production teams of potential issues within the machine. Continuous monitoring and visualization of compressed air consumption can be provided by the day, hour, piece or process step, and can measure usage and cycle time to monitor wear. Combined with cycle indicators, it can provide insight into remaining system life, aiding in the reduction of downtime through the power of predictive maintenance.
  • Lower operating costs Reducing pressure in the system overall can result in reduced airflow and lowered energy costs while still maintaining optimal cycle time. In other words, pneumatic operations can be improved by operating at pressures no greater than what is required. At the same time, the removal of leaks means the removal of artificial demand — by the time a leak is audible, the pressure has already dropped enough to change the throughput of equipment. And that’s a big reason why continuous monitoring can lead to big energy cost savings.
  • Increased productivitySmart pneumatics monitoring can help detect anomalies in manufacturing processes caused by cylinder movement and can likewise help identify the optimal parameters to keep cycle times high. Notifications and alerts can advise of leakages, anomalies or threshold breaches during manufacturing, helping to ensure optimal OEE and maximized productivity.

The history of industrialization spans centuries, but the revolution for manufacturing and packaging facilities is happening right now. IIoT — and the possibilities it enables through advances like smart pneumatics monitoring — is bringing digital transformation to operators of every size. Start your journey with smart pneumatics today; it has never been easier or more cost effective to add new technology to your operation.


About the Authors

Mark Densley is a Director of Business Development for Factory Automation at Emerson, specializing in AVENTICS products. Emerson’s trusted AVENTICS pneumatic solutions deliver steadfast and long-lasting operation for industrial applications with industry leading IIoT connectivity. Densley brings over 20 years of technical experience and acts as a consultant on Emerson’s Digital Transformation Team focused on delivering IIoT solutions and actionable insights with a clear return on investment for their customers. He possesses an outstanding understanding and practical application knowledge of automation technologies and engineering solutions.

About Emerson

Emerson is a global leader in engineering technologies and services providing solutions for customers in the industrial, commercial and residential, and machine automation markets. Our industry-leading brands including — ASCO™, AVENTICS™ and TopWorx™ — deliver an extensive suite of leading fluid control, pneumatic products and automation services. When applications demand innovation, reliability, and highspeed deterministic control, turn to Emerson experts who can help with your fluid control, pneumatics, industrial automation and control needs. To learn more, visit

About Motion Industries

With annual sales of \$6.0 billion, Motion Industries is a leading industrial distributor of bearings; mechanical power transmission products; electrical and industrial automation components; hose, belting, and gaskets; hydraulic and pneumatic components; process pumps; industrial and safety products; seals and accessories; and material handling products and solutions. With the goal of increasing customers’ productivity, the company offers many valued-added services, including engineering, fabrication, repair, and Industry 4.0 solutions across these product groups. In addition, Mi Automation Solutions Group and Mi Conveyance Solutions Group were formed to offer a wide range of specialized, related products and innovative solutions for many applications. For more information, visit To discover the advantages of Motion Industries’ cloud-based comprehensive predictive maintenance solution P2MRO, visit

All images courtesy of Emerson.

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