Industrial Utility Efficiency    

System Assessment

“Retro-Commissioning” (ReCX) of compressed air systems has become a trendy activity with many utility demand-side-management programs emerging in the last 5-10 years.  This is intended to be the process of “tuning up” a compressed air system, getting low cost savings from mostly adjustments and repairs.  The term was borrowed from the building/HVAC industry, where it means to get a system operating as it was originally “commissioned”. 

Compressor Controls

UniFirst is one of North America’s largest workwear and textile service companies. They outfit nearly two million workers in clean uniforms and protective clothing each workday. Founded in an eight-stall garage in 1936, the Company has grown to 240 customer servicing locations throughout the U.S. and Canada servicing 300,000 business customer locations. The subject of this article is an energy-saving Air Demand Analysis (ADA), conducted by Kaeser Compressors, at UniFirst’s centralized 320,000 square foot hub Distribution Center located in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Piping Storage

Technology is available which enables a compressed air flow meter to measure not only the magnitude of the flow, but also the direction. Why is this important? In this article we will describe two case studies where bi-directional compressed air flow measurement plays a key role to come to the right conclusions. In the first case study, we will describe an electronics manufacturing plant, which has a large interconnected ring network with two air compressor rooms located in different buildings. The two air compressor rooms are about five hundred feet apart. In the second case study, the effect of compressed air flow measurement upstream of a local receiver tank is described.

End Uses

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 Canadian chemical plant installed a large heated blower-purge style compressed air dryer, years ago, to condition the instrument air system against freezing temperatures.  The dryer selected was oversized for the connected air compressors and had unused on-board energy savings features.  A compressed air assessment revealed the site air compressors and compressed air dryers were running inefficiently and causing in-plant pressure problems.  Repairs to a compressed air dryer and the replacement of aging air compressors and dryers has reduced compressed air energy costs by 31 percent.

Air Treatment/N2

A pharmaceutical product manufacturer spends an estimated $137,443 annually on electricity to operate the oil-free air compressors in its compressed air system. The compressed air system operates well and is providing the level of purification required.  Our team visited the plant and identified a group of projects which could reduce compressed air demand and reduce energy costs by $42,248 – or 31% of current use.


Compressed air optimization measures adopted by PTMSB have reduced the consumption of compressed air by 31 percent resulting in savings of about 3,761,000 kWh per year in energy consumption. The monetary savings are MYR 1,090,627 per year ($255,000 USD). The CO2 reduction is estimated at 2,735 ton per year.


Energy, in all forms, has always been a key Lantech focus. It was, in fact, a key element of the core packaging problem the company’s founders set out to address. They saw an opportunity to capitalize on an inexpensive and under-used resource – stretch film – to displace a high materials cost and energy intensive way of unitizing pallet loads of products – shrink bagging.

Vacuum Blowers

Every municipality and utility is facing the reality of rising energy costs. In 2010, the Town of Billerica, MA, which is located 22 miles northwest of Boston with a population of just under 40,000 residents, engaged Process Energy Services and Woodard & Curran to conduct an energy evaluation of the Town’s Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) and pump station systems sponsored by National Grid. The objective of the evaluation was to provide an overview of each facility system to determine how electrical energy and natural gas were being used at the facility and to identify and develop potential costsaving projects.
Compressed air has moved to higher visibility in the energy conservation field, and the buzzwords abound: “the fourth utility” — “your most expensive utility” — “eight times more expensive than electricity” — “a quarter-inch leak costs $9,000 in wasted energy.” This greater awareness has also produced compressed air auditors that are springing up like summer dandelions. With audits available from many sources, it is important to understand what plant operations, engineers and maintenance managers should expect from a complete audit — or more aptly — a complete air system review.
As a reader of this journal, you are well aware that large compressed air systems often have significant wasted air — often from leaks — that represent tens of thousands of dollars of waste per year. However, it is our experience that the so-called “low-cost” measures identified often go un-repaired, while other more costly capital projects get funded. Why? With an ROI of a half year or less, they seem like IQ tests to many compressed air auditors.
Many thousands of dollars of annual electrical savings are being achieved worldwide using special purge reduction controls on desiccant air dryers. These controls reduce the expensive purge air that must flow through the dryer to regenerate the desiccant beds. But, unexpected problems with these controls can cause hidden problems that can reduce or eliminate the savings.
After more than 25 years in the compressed air industry, it still amazes me that many plant personnel and even those who sell compressed air products for a living don’t fully understand the relationship between flow, or volume (cfm), and pressure (psig). Walk into many body shops or small manufacturing plants, and you will find the compressor operating at an elevated pressure to satisfy the “demand.” If a plant has low air pressure on the production floor, what is the first thing that the maintenance professional does? You guessed it: He or she “jacks” up the pressure on the compressor, not realizing that he or she made the problem worse.
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.
There is a partly true idea floating around some plant maintenance circles that “compressed air is free.” Readers of this journal know that isn’t true. But, what if non-compressed air could be seen as “free?” Is there something we can get for free from nature to reduce the cost of our compressed air? What if lower temperature intake air was nature’s gift? What if all we need is a bit of tin to duct air from a different source?
Replacing air compressors, dryers and filters with more efficient models has saved electrical costs and improved compressed air reliability at the Canada Bread plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In addition to this, plant personnel found some additional savings by reducing air leakage and eliminating inappropriate uses. As a result, the plant reduced its compressed air electrical costs by 58 percent and qualified for a utility incentive.
A major snack food manufacturer spends an estimated $148,220 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system at its food processing plant located in the Mid-Atlantic area.  As electric rates rise from their current average of 8 cents per kWh, their annual expenditure will only increase.
Cement production facilities have a significant number of dust collectors. Many have continuing problems with short bag life and low-pressure problems at the further points from the central air system. They often run on timers. When they try to run on demand control, they often get extreme short cycling, which causes even more bag problems. Most have gauges at the entry, on at least half of the dust collectors, and the compressed air feed lines are always the same size as the connector opening. This article reviews where these problems come from and provides some troubleshooting ideas.
As plant personnel know, repairing compressed air leaks can be an expensive, labor intensive and never-ending process. This article discusses ways plant personnel can reduce and maintain their leak rate at a lower level without repairing leaks. It discusses how pressure/flow controllers, variable speed and variable displacement compressors, automation, and addressing critical plant pressures allow plant personnel to lower the header pressure, which eliminates artificial demand and controls the leak rate. More importantly, the article brings a new dimension to the idea of turning off the air to idle equipment by focusing plant personnel’s attention on the idle time within the cycle of operating equipment.