Industrial Utility Efficiency    

End Uses

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.
Technological trends in plastics manufacturing are driving the costs of production down. In industrial PET blow molding specifically, two innovative techniques have had major impacts over the last 15 years: “light weighting” the plastic bottles, and recirculating high-pressure compressed air. Both have helped to improve the energy efficiency of PET blow molding by reducing compressed air requirements dramatically.
PET Power Containers, a Canadian manufacturer of PET plastic containers, had plans for expanding its operations with the addition of more blow-molding equipment. Before the expansion could happen, however, the company needed to assess its compressed air system. Based in Vaughan, Ontario, PET Power provides a dizzying array of differently shaped and sized plastic bottles. Their operations run 24/7, and compressed air plays a key role in their primary manufacturing applications, including PET blow molding, PET preforming, and labeling bottles.
A Canadian fiberglass plant has completed a lengthy compressed air improvement journey and achieved significant efficiency gains by applying “the systems approach.” Along the way, the company ran across many frustrating problems, the solutions to which were only determined after the entire system was monitored holistically using data loggers. The overall compressed air audit led to a reduction in energy usage of 48 percent, yielding savings worth $17,500 per year. The project also qualified for a large utility incentive of $32,000 with a calculated payback of 4.4 years.
Sometime in mid-2015, I received a call from a project engineer at a major plastics firm. He had a troubling issue with one of his PET bottle plants. The bottom line was this: They could not run all five high production blow-molding machines at one time—even though they were able to do so 18 months previously.
Air-operated double diaphragm (AODD) pumps are common to many manufacturing facilities. As estimated by veteran compressed air auditor Hank van Ormer of Air Power USA, approximately 85 to 90 percent of plants in the United States have AODD pumps. They are used for all kinds of liquid transfer applications, like those found in chemical manufacturing, wastewater removal, and pumping viscous food products.
One of the statements made in the Compressed Air Challenge’s Fundamentals of Compressed Air Systems seminar is that improvements can always be made to every compressed air system, including new ones. The statement definitely applies to a Canadian pork processing facility built a few years ago. This article is based on a compressed air audit performed two years into the life of a brand new plant. The audit found numerous problems and made recommendations that helped reduce plant compressed air operating costs by 60 percent. 
In recent years, we have seen an upward trend of higher production manufacturers wanting to integrate their air gauging quality checks from a stand-alone, outside-of-machine device where the operator is performing a manual check to an automated in-process gauge. There are several reasons for this trend, including higher quality standards, tighter tolerances, as well as running a leaner operation. The benefits are 100 percent inspection of the required geometric callout, as well as handshaking between measuring device and machine to make each piece better than the prior one. It also removes any bad parts.
When a company is considering making an investment of more than a million dollars in system upgrades, it is crucial for them to review all options to get the best return. By exploring energy efficiency impacts throughout the entire compressed air system, vendors can propose projects resulting in both a larger sale for them and increased financial benefits for their customers, while still meeting capital expenditure guidelines. This “best of both worlds” scenario was evident when a foundry in the Midwest was evaluating options for replacing its steam system used to drive the plant’s forging hammers.
EnSave, an energy auditing company based in Richmond, Vermont, recently performed compressed air audits at two facilities of a leading U.S. steel manufacturer. Both plants are mills that melt, cast, and roll steel to produce a variety of products, including: rebar, merchant bar, steel flats, rounds, fence posts, channel bar, steel channels, steel angles, structural angles and structural channels. These products are used in a diverse group of markets, including: construction, energy, transportation and agriculture. Compressed air is provided at 100 psig in both plants for a variety of applications — from optical sensor cooling to pneumatic cylinders for stacking finished products.
Compressed Air Performance Specialists (CAPS Inc.) is a compressed air consultancy located in Calgary, Alberta. In its most recent compressed air project, the company reduced a 200-hp, multi-compressor system down to a single, 100-hp variable speed drive (VSD) air compressor utilizing 75 hp of compressor energy (kWh), resulting in $70,000 in annual energy savings.