Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Air Compressors

As an end user, have you ever heard the message to put in the biggest VFD air compressor, and the system will always be reliable and efficient.  Why do an audit?  Just add up the compressors on site and put one VFD for that size or larger.  Why have the complexity of multiple compressors, storage, sequencing, etc?  Even better, put in two of them, one for the whole system, and one for back-up.  If you could wave a wand, wouldn’t that be what every system should look like?  Perfect peace and efficiency, with 100% confidence of reliability.
The Department of Energy estimates that compressed air systems in the U.S. consume about 30 trillion Watt-hours of energy per year. Of all the energy used in manufacturing, compressed air systems have the greatest potential return for implementing energy efficiency practices, according to the DOE. One approach to access some of that return is to eliminate waste by producing compressed air efficiently and only in the amount demanded. Another approach is to leverage compressed air system data to assess the impact of any system changes on energy consumption and productivity.
During my forty years of involvement with distribution (companies that sell and service compressed air system products) as a Vice President of Sales and Marketing and Account Manager, I have witnessed a tremendous amount of change in the compressed air industry. As much as we like to reminisce about the good old days, it is quite apparent that the resources, capabilities and knowledge of distribution today are significantly better than ever before.
Sullair of Houston, one of the largest North American distributors of Sullair industrial and portable diesel compressors, loves a challenge. The company designs customized air compressor packages that fit the rough and rugged world outside the walls of an industrial plant. It builds air compressor solutions that operate efficiently in extreme, harsh environments around the globe. This includes offshore or marine environments, high or low ambient conditions—any environment where a standard air compressor will not operate safely or efficiently.
Production complains about frequent work stoppages due to air supply related problems. It wants a more reliable consistent source of compressed air. Maintenance says it will need to replace an older compressor with a new one to improve the reliability and stability of the system. Maybe purchase a bigger one than currently needed in anticipation of future increases in air demands. Management wants assurances a good return on the investment will be realized from the expenditure before making a financial commitment. For comparing and evaluating alternatives, a benchmark must be established to determine the cost to run the current system. An assessment must be performed to identify the saving’s opportunities and assign dollar values. Questions about the cost of the assessment and what is to be expected in return need to be answered.
As an industrial distributor for 65 years, C.H. Reed, Inc. has been providing ideas, concepts and sustainable solutions to help manage issues associated with three key areas of industrial plants: compressed air systems and equipment; assembly tools and ergonomic material handling; paint finishing and fluid handling equipment. Compressed air has always been a strong focus for C.H. Reed, and it’s a common thread running through all of its product families.
This metal fabrication and machining facility produces high-quality precision-built products. Over the years, the plant has grown and there have been several expansions to the current location. The company currently spends $227,043 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system. This figure will increase as electric rates are raised from their current average of 9.8 cents per kWh.
When the topic of discussion is making ice cream, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t heat, but at Nestlé’s Ice Cream factory in Tulare, California, heat is recovered from air-cooled air compressors to heat process water. “Right out of the gate, everything is pneumatic,” explains Tom Finn, Project Engineer with Nestlé Ice Cream Division. “Air cylinders and air driven motors, the process piping valves which divert, route, stop/start, and mix process fluids, our packaging machinery including rejection, cleaning and vapor removal processes, all of these rely on compressed air.
Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazine interviewed Dr. Jay Varadaraj, (Managing Director) of ELGi Equipments Ltd. ELGi today is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of air compressors. Like most companies, however, it started with one ambitious person. My grandfather, Lakshminaickenpalayam Govindaswamy (this where the “L” and “G” in ELGi come from) was a bus driver for the British in 1918. He purchased one bus and proceeded to build a fleet peaking at 300 buses. He believed he was in the transportation business so he entered the airline business ultimately withdrawing however when this industry was nationalized.  
Boeing Canada Winnipeg (BCW) has been recognized with the best improvement project of 2013 within the Boeing enterprise worldwide. A cross-functional project team including BCW staff, Manitoba Hydro technical support, and design engineers from Alliance Engineering Services, Inc. used innovative high-pressure storage to reduce the required size of their air compressors and save substantial utility energy and demand charges.
Most of us understand each individual has a unique DNA combination. Compressed air is very similar, each compressed air system should be uniquely designed so the system performs in harmony. Properly managing the compressed air system requires an investigative audit to understand the nuances of the system and identify the most effective solution(s) for efficiency. Not investigating the system, before selecting improvements, would be like consenting to surgery without having an exam. Yet, this frequently occurs in businesses operating compressed air systems.