Industrial Utility Efficiency

Smart Pneumatics Play Big Role in Meeting Industrial Sustainability Goals

Industrial manufacturers of all sizes are turning to smart technologies to optimize efficiency and reach their most challenging goals. But when it comes to reaching sustainability and decarbonization targets, there is one area of opportunity that many facilities overlook in their digital transformation journeys. 

Pneumatics and the generation of compressed air accounts for about 10% of a typical facility's energy consumption. That number could be much lower, but because of leaks and poor air pressure regulation, a surprising amount of energy is wasted in the process. Yet, most manufacturers are not taking full advantage of smart pneumatic technologies or data analytics to improve energy efficiency. By installing connected pneumatic solutions in their plants, manufacturers can continuously collect critical data to understand where energy is being wasted and make informed decisions to optimize energy consumption. 

A Smart Way to Save Energy

Wasted energy in pneumatic systems can be staggering. To put a number on it, manufacturing plants typically lose 30% of compressed air just due to leakage alone. This wasted energy leads to machine downtime and, of course, increased energy use. 

Compressed air is used throughout industrial facilities, and its prevalence makes it pivotal to lowering year-over-year energy costs. Improvements in the compressed airflow of a plant’s machinery of as little as a few percentage points can mean tens of thousands of dollars saved in energy costs each month, depending on the size and nature of the equipment. That can translate to hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions saved. By using smart pneumatics like software monitoring and notification solutions to detect leakages, manufacturers can often reduce their compressed air energy spend by 10 to 20% and reduce their CO2 footprint by 10%.  

Achieving these energy savings is a goal for many manufacturers, but turning aspirations into a practical plan for success is another story. More than 70% of manufacturers lack a data analytics plan or a clear blueprint for making pneumatic operations more efficient.  

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Manufacturers can invest in plug-and-play smart pneumatic solutions that keep installation time and costs to a minimum. Manufacturers can take the first step toward digital transformation by taking a closer look at how smart pneumatics can be applied to save energy in two critical ways. 

The AVENTICS AF2 Series air flow sensor monitors air consumption, detects leaks and provides alerts to give operators a clear view into the efficiency of their pneumatic systems. (Image courtesy of Emerson)


Continuous Monitoring for Leaks and Near Real-Time Detection

The most obvious way manufacturing plants lose energy in pneumatic systems is through leakage. Leaks cause the average manufacturing plant to lose about 35% of compressed air annually. Some can lose more than $50,000 worth per machine, per year!

A compressed air leak can also cause system pressure in machinery to fluctuate, affecting equipment efficiency and even production. As a result, a machine may have to work harder to compensate. This unnecessary cycling and increased run time can raise energy costs, decrease equipment service life and increase maintenance. 

To detect and locate compressed air leaks, many operations rely on scheduled inspections at regular intervals. This method of detection usually relies on specialized technicians and ultrasonic equipment to effectively detect leaks. However, leaks can appear at any time between inspection intervals, and they can grow over time to cause greater losses in productivity and energy efficiency.

In comparison, smart pneumatics continuously monitor airflow. Some sensors can collect and provide real-time insights on flow while also capturing pressure and temperature data in the feed line, enabling advanced diagnoses of the operating parameters. These solutions can often easily retrofit to existing machines with the use of edge gateways. Around-the-clock software monitoring can detect leaks in near-real time. The software identifies the machine in question and sends notification alerts directly to maintenance staff so they can further investigate. 

In this way, smart pneumatics can significantly lower energy spend and emissions. Addressing compressed air leaks earlier also reduces both planned and unplanned downtime and improves overall equipment efficiency (OEE).

The PACSystems RXi2-BP Edge Computing Device translates and analyzes air flow data to provide easy-to-understand insights into pneumatic efficiency. (Image courtesy of Emerson)


Optimizing Air Pressure and Flow for More Efficient Production 

Some manufacturers may not know the optimal consumption point of compressed air for their manufacturing process, and the air pressure in their industrial machines may be higher than it needs to be. Smart sensors, plus an edge computing device, can collect data about air pressure and airflow. By analyzing the edge analytics of the pneumatic system, plants can get a clearer picture of the relationship between air pressure and flow. By lowering the overall pressure of their pneumatic system, they can reduce the airflow to a certain point while maintaining the same cylinder cycle time. 

Finding the optimal ratio between pressure and flow can lead to a 10 to 20% reduction of compressed air consumption and energy costs, as well as a 10% reduction in CO2 footprint, without affecting production. This allows manufacturers to maintain current cycle times in production but with lower energy consumption, costs and CO2 emissions.


Driving More Efficient Production with Smart Pneumatic Technology

A global producer serving the automotive industry partnered with automation solutions provider Emerson to monitor and measure the amount of energy an existing production line lost through compressed air leakage.

The production line included various legacy equipment from different suppliers and a limited number of Ethernet access points. To meet the needs of this complex setup, Emerson recommended the AVENTICS™ Series AF2 Sensor, an easy-to-use airflow sensor that measures flow, pressure and temperature and monitors air consumption in pneumatic systems. 

The compact AF2 is easy to assemble and install on existing machines and pneumatic systems and provides clear notifications and alerts to users when it detects a leak. This flexible sensor allowed the company to invest in energy savings while keeping installation time and costs to a minimum.

In addition to the AF2, the company chose PACSystems™ RXi2-BP Edge Computing Device from Emerson, which digitizes then translates incoming AF2 sensor data into straightforward, user-friendly information that’s displayed on a live, web-based dashboard and gives users even more energy insights without additional software. 

The all-in-one, energy-saving, sensing and edge computing solution Emerson provided monitors pneumatic air consumption and analyzes machine data, giving the automotive producer actionable insights and a more complete picture of what’s happening in its plant. As a result, the company has been able to identify critical areas for improvement, reduce peak power consumption, optimize maintenance costs and avoid downtime. Now, they have an action plan to continue optimizing energy usage in their machines.


Smart Energy Savings, Better Sustainability 

Industrial manufacturers today are setting ambitious targets to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to improve their impact on the planet and their overall business. Compressed air monitoring with smart pneumatic technology is another tool in the toolbox to help reach those goals. With this approach, manufacturers can get a clear view of their energy efficiency and take action to reduce wasted energy quickly. 

With the scalability and flexibility offered by today’s smart pneumatic technology, getting started on the journey toward digital transformation and energy efficiency doesn't take a large upfront investment. Manufacturers can choose to digitally transform their facilities at their own pace. And by partnering with an automation and digital transformation expert, manufacturers can receive the guidance they need to find the best solution for their unique sustainability goals and facility needs. 

About the Author

Robert Brezni serves as a key account manager, Discrete Automation at Emerson. Prior to his current role, Robert has held account manager positions in several global manufacturing companies. He earned his engineering degree from the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, where he studied energy and automation technology.  

About Emerson

Emerson is a global technology and engineering company providing innovative solutions for customers in industrial, commercial and residential markets. Emerson’s Automation Solutions business helps process, hybrid and discrete manufacturers maximize production, protect personnel and the environment while optimizing their energy and operating costs. Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions business helps ensure human comfort and health, protect food quality and safety, advance energy efficiency and create sustainable infrastructure. For more information, visit  

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