Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Compressor Controls

It was early summer, the air compressors were above the production floor on a mezzanine, and temperatures were heating up both outdoors and indoors. The compressed air system was comprised of three 500-horsepower centrifugal air compressors, and one 350-horsepower variable speed drive oil-free rotary screw air compressor.
Compressed air reliability has been the obsession of both factory personnel and service providers for a number of years now. Constant availability of high quality air can be absolutely critical to maintaining efficient plant production. Most modern factories operate reliable compressed air systems – and more recently have also begun to focus on the efficiency of those systems. The objective of this article is to use a few real-life case studies of already reliable compressed air installations to illustrate the potentially huge economic benefits of also improving system efficiency.
This paper mill currently spends $1,747,000 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system at their plant located in the southwestern region of the U.S. The set of projects recommended, in this system assessment, could reduce these energy costs by $369,000 or twenty-one percent (21%). Estimated costs for completing the projects total $767,900, representing a simple payback of 25 months. More importantly, these projects will improve productivity, quality and maintenance costs - many associated with poor compressed air quality.
Based on the air system operating 8,760 hours per year, the group of projects recommended below could reduce these energy costs by an estimated $170,718 or 56% of current use.  In addition, these projects will allow the plant to have a back-up compressor and help eliminate the rental expenditure for compressor maintenance or downtime.
This glass bottle production plant had a complete compressed air audit in 2001 and 2002 at which time many successful projects reduced and stabilized the demand at 3,148 scfm at 95 psig for the high pressure system air and 9,300-9,500 scfm at 58 psig for the low pressure system. Successful application of an oversized 7,200-scfm rated cycling refrigerated dryer completely dried up the high-pressure air, allowing the removal of several non-performing desiccant dryers and savings in direct kW and purge air.
The Technical Director of a large facility in the Mid-West (producing valves and meters) hired us to assist with a Site Energy & Utility Systems assessment. The compressed air system quickly became one of the main issues identified. The plant was built in the 1960’s and had expanded over the years. Recent reduction-in-force programs (to reduce costs) had impacted the maintenance department and the plant air system was high among the systems that were the most affected. Over the next several months, as management became attuned to all of the air system issues affecting utility costs and process quality concerns, resources were provided and significant improvements occurred.
TIGG Corporation, a manufacturer of activated carbon adsorption vessels, custom air receivers and other steel tanks and pressure vessels, substantially reduced its energy costs after implementing equipment, labor consolidation and procedural changes resulting from a compressed air energy audit. The audit was performed at TIGG's 155,000 square feet manufacturing facility in Heber Springs, Arkansas to determine the efficiency of the existing compressed air system and to set a baseline for TIGG's participation in Entergy Arkansas’ Large C&I Custom Incentive Program.
Not long ago most air compressors were controlled with mechanical pressures switches, relays and gauges. The setup of these units, especially when attempting to coordinate multiple compressors could be a frustrating and fruitless experience because often, no sooner than the controls were correctly adjusted, some sort of mechanical gremlin would throw something out of adjustment again.
It is common to see energy assessment specialists treat centrifugal compressors like positive displacement compressors when attempting to reduce compressed air system energy consumption. Unfortunately, centrifugal compressors are normally much larger, and miscalculations can easily represent hundreds of thousands of dollars in overestimated energy savings. These errors are not malicious; they result from oversimplified best practices perpetuated by individuals with limited centrifugal compressor knowledge. This type of knowledge is not readily available and most energy assessment specialists do not have access to engineering teams responsible for the technical development and design of centrifugal compressors.
This article reviews portions of an audit report commissioned to survey the condition of a compressed air system in a factory located in the U.S. The objective of this study is to determine the current operating conditions and make recommendations for improvement based upon application of industry recognized best practices. Due to article space limitations, this article will focus on portions of the over-all audit report provided to the factory.
Energy conservation measures (ECMs) associated with compressed air have received a significant amount of attention over the years, mostly due to a reasonably short financial return compared with other energy-consuming equipment. Over time, many of the recommended corrective actions to reduce compressed air energy consumption were simplified so much that they did not lead to positive results. One of the most common compressed air ECMs is reducing system pressure, and it leverages the best practice calculation —.5 percent power per psi — outlined in the Department of Energy’s Compressed Air Challenge. This article highlights more common issues associated with estimating energy conservation resulting from changing system pressure.