Industrial Utility Efficiency

Quad Drives Compressed Air Efficiencies at 1.7 million-square-foot Printing Plant

The philosophy toward compressed air at Quad’s 1.7 million-square-foot printing plant in Sussex, Wisconsin, is as clear-cut as it gets: The more you know about it, the more you’ll come out ahead – environmentally and economically.

To say the Production Support Team at the Quad plant knows a bit about compressed air is an understatement given numerous best practices at play for managing both supply and demand of the utility. At the end of the day, said Ken Berg, Quad’s Corporate Engineering Manager for Production Support, the importance of compressed air reliability and efficiency cannot be understated.

“Compressed air is a component of the production process itself. Without it, equipment just won’t function and we won’t make product,” said Berg. “It’s also our third largest energy consumer behind our printing presses themselves and processing paper trim waste. We’re always driving to be more efficient with our air.”

Quad WI Plant

Compressed air is a major component of production at Quad’s 1.7 million-square-foot printing plant in Sussex, Wisconsin.


An Industry Leader 

Quad (formerly known as Quad/Graphics) is a worldwide marketing solutions partner. Headquartered in Sussex, Wisconsin, just west of Milwaukee, it leverages its robust print foundation as part of a larger integrated marketing solutions platform with approximately 50 locations around the globe.

The company, founded in 1971, gained widespread recognition early on as one of the printing industry’s foremost innovators and grew to become an industry leader with a A-list client base including some of most well-known media brands in the world. The company continues to print magazines (including Compressed Air Best Practices Magazine), along with other types of commercial products, such as direct mail and consumer packaging, and today leverages its data-driven print expertise as part of an integrated marketing platform that helps clients not only plan and produce marketing programs but also deploy, manage and measure them across all traditional and digital channels. 

At its plant in Sussex, Quad ( creates magazines, catalogs and other materials using high-speed web offset presses, along with advanced finishing techniques. Its approximately 1,700 employees handle printing, finishing, mailing and distribution, maintenance and work-in-process operations (including two High-Density Storage Systems).

Managing the efficiency of compressed air and other utilities at the Sussex plant – and all Quad operations – is due to company’s dedication to sustainability. 

“Quad has always been and always will be focused on operating in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner,” Berg said, noting how Quad’s holistic approach includes a wide range of activity, such as conserving raw materials, minimizing waste, developing new manufacturing processes and materials, and working with employees and vendors to minimize waste and reduce the environmental impact of our processes.


High- and Low-pressure Systems

The Sussex plant operates no less than 22 air compressors to keep pace with demand, which ranges from 11,000 to 16,000 cfm. The water-cooled, rotary screw air compressors, which are predominately 200-horsepower (hp) machines, in addition to a select number of 100-hp and smaller units, are strategically located throughout the sprawling complex to consistently deliver clean dry air where needed. A total of 18 air compressors are fixed-speed machines while the remainder are Variable Speed Drive (VSD) machines. The plant’s system also includes 26 refrigerated dryers, as well as various receiver tanks.

Compressed air at the plant powers pneumatically controlled cylinders and solenoid valves used to control numerous functions of printing presses, including vital operations such as plate changes and delivery of ink. It is also used in the finishing process to keep sheets of paper separated and in alignment as they make their way through finishing activities, such as binding and decorative processes. Compressed air is also used to ensure smooth operation of large cyclones used in the plant’s recycling center to separate scrap from the air stream as its fed to balers. Additionally, compressed air is necessary  for reverse pulse-jet cleaning of baghouses and a host of other applications.

At the plant, a high-pressure compressed air system is used to supply air at 120 psi in keeping with the requirements of the plant’s three new, high-tech Man Roland web offset presses. A house-pressure system supplies air at 90 psi to the remainder of the plant.

Whether it’s the high- or low-pressure loop, the plant uses a master control system to closely monitor and manage compressed air. The control system consists of a Texas Instruments program interfaced with Wonderware graphics package. In addition to compressed air, the system is used to monitor and tightly control the plant’s process cooling system and low-pressure blowers.

Control room

Mitch Koenigs of Quad monitors the compressed air system at the company’s Sussex plant.

The plant uses the fixed-speed units as baseload machines with the VSD air compressors serving as trim units to satisfy spikes in demand. The Production Support team takes pride in how the control system in combination with the VSD air compressors gives it the ability to optimize the compressed air to meet production and energy-saving goals.

“We just don’t have load/no-load machines sitting there. They’ll stage up or down with the VSD  machines trimming between steps,” said Berg, adding how operation of compressed air is consistently held to within three psi of the established setpoint. “We’re matching supply with demand. It’s controlled very tightly.”


Energy Conservation a Natural

Carefully managing compressed air comes naturally to Quad since energy conservation has been a focus for the company for decades, said Berg. It’s also important since the plant’s compressed air system consumes approximately 1,040 MWh of electricity per year.

“Energy has always been one of those elements we manage tightly and consistently. It’s always been important,” Berg said.

The majority of Quad’s plants have an energy team comprised of a Production Support engineer or facility manager, as well as  system and equipment experts from the building and electrical maintenance teams. Members from the maintenance teams represent both the press and finishing departments. Often, the teams also include representatives from various areas of production, which is particularly beneficial as they are the energy end-users. Berg said the most successful plants are those with cross departmental participation and a true energy champion on the team to focus efforts.

“Having an active energy champion tends to generate excitement,” Berg said. “Plants with energy teams do really well because it provides a mechanism for pushing forward our energy program.”

Aside from the energy champions, the team members at the plants are responsible for monitoring data and researching initiatives to reduce energy consumption and thus CO2 emissions. They also meet regularly to review tracking models to evaluate performance of energy-saving initiatives and review projects that offer the best opportunities for energy reduction.

All the while, Quad has embarked on a journey to tie energy initiatives into a more comprehensive Energy Management System (EnMS) as part of a bigger effort to achieve ISO 50001 Ready and the associated benefits. In 2019, Quad’s plant in West Allis, Wisconsin, attained 50001 Ready status, which provides organizations with a self-paced, no-cost way to build a culture of structured energy improvement and more sustained energy savings. Quad has also been active in the Department of Energy’s Better Plants program since 2010.

“We encourage teams to set objectives and targets to manage energy as part of our ISO 50001 efforts,” Berg said. “Once these are identified during our annual energy planning session, the team brainstorms project ideas to meet our goals.”


Metering a Standout Practice

Quad’s Sussex plant has adopted numerous best practices that set high standards for managing the demand side of compressed air in order to conserve energy and ensure efficient performance, which is in addition to its proven approach to optimization of compressed air supply.

One standout best practice – in addition to a long-standing leak detection and repair program – is monitoring and measuring the use of compressed air to make informed decisions. Nearly every major piece of equipment and process at the plant that uses compressed air is equipped with airflow meters. 

Airflow meter

The Sussex plant uses airflow meters on all major pieces of equipment and processes to measure compressed air performance. Shown is an airflow meter on a high-pressure line.

“We’re trying to increase the level of awareness about how much compressed air we’re actually using on a continuous basis. And it’s not only for economic reasons but also for production,” said Quad Production Support-Regional Manager Joe Valoe, citing how the airflow meters allow the team to establish a baseline for acceptable compressed air leakage rates.

“Let’s say you install a new piece of equipment and determine it consumes ‘X’ amount of compressed air, but then you come back at a later date to find out the number has doubled,” Valoe said. “Now we start to look at that change and it becomes an economic decision. For example, when is the best time to go search for that leak and get it fixed?”

First implemented in 2004, the use of airflow meters is key to Quad’s ongoing energy program at the plant, said Valoe.

“Bringing that information from each piece of equipment back to a central point helps drive our energy program,” he said. Valoe said it definitely contributes to better choices for where to invest dollars to achieve efficiencies.

“We try to point out that high-pressure compressed air is an inefficient source of energy. As an example, if it takes five horsepower of electricity to make one horsepower of pneumatic air, I like to say, ‘I’ll give you one dollar if you give me five back. We can play this game all day long.’ ”


Saving Air with Automatic Shutoff Valves

While measuring and metering compressed air consumption clearly delivers value, Quad hasn’t stopped there to achieve energy efficiencies. A prime example is the use of automatic shutoff valves on major equipment.

“We took it one step further,” Valoe said. “When equipment isn’t used and goes idle, automatic shutoff valves will close down the air to the piece of equipment so we’re not supplying any air to it if it’s not running.”

The use of automatic shutoff valves is a significant departure from the days when the plant manually shut off valves when air wasn’t needed.

“In the past we relied on the equipment operator to turn off the air with a hand valve if the equipment shut down,” Valoe said. “But we knew a lot times an operator may not remember to shut it off sooner rather than later. But with automatic shutoff valves, it takes another step out of the process.”

Valoe said compressed air is also a priority item when the plant shuts down each year for scheduled maintenance.

“When the plant is down, we’ll audit a lot this and make sure those valves are closing properly,” he said, noting the team also uses the time to check other aspects of the compressed air system. An example is using an ultrasonic leak detector to investigate leaks, Valoe said.

“When the plant is down, we want to get out there and listen to see what equipment is still leaking, even if our automatic shutoff valves are closing and what have you,” he said. “It’s a focal point for our energy groups.”


A Promising Energy Future

Looking ahead, Quad plans to continue its journey of energy efficiency by continuing to adopt compressed air best practices and encouraging select plants to participate in the ISO 50001 certification process. In the meantime, the Sussex plant continues to set an example of compressed air management at its best. Compressed air metering and the value it provides is an example of another step in the right direction.

“It’s an ongoing effort and we’re evaluating the opportunities metering can uncover here in Sussex,” said Berg. “I think it will allow us to drive action at other plants. That’s our hope.”

Whether it’s compressed air or another utility, energy savings for Quad is a priority.

Joe Valoe, Quad Production Support-Regional Manager, and Ken Berg, Quad Corporate Engineering Manager for Production Support

Joe Valoe, Quad Production Support-Regional Manager, and Ken Berg, Quad Corporate Engineering Manager for Production Support (left to right).

“Energy conservation directly impacts Quad’s strategic goals and aligns with the social and environmental responsibility interests of our employees and customers,” Berg said. “A well-maintained and well-managed compressed air system certainly goes a long way toward supporting energy targets, which improves the bottom line, supports financial strength and helps create shareholder value.”


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