New Air Services Reduce the Operational Costs of Pneumatic Systems

Published On April 11, 2016 | By Denise Rockhill | Tech Blog

This next blog series, contributed by Festo Corporation, focuses on reducing the operational costs of pneumatic systems and discusses how users can get more throughput while using less energy. According to Festo, “This is the goal of every manufacturer, but in order to optimize usage, machine builders and manufacturers alike need accurate information on the energy they consume.”

In the past few years, oil prices have continually skyrocketed upwards. Consequently, saving energy and optimizing throughput has become more crucial. Successfully decreasing energy usage while increasing output depends on paying the greatest attention to the small details in the way we design and operate manufacturing equipment and processes. Compressed air specialists help both the machine builder and the end user first understand and then improve energy consumption at the individual machine level.

The importance of compressed air
Second only to electricity, compressed air is the most important energy carrier in manufacturing. However, a recent study done by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that approximately 10% of the electricity consumed by a typical industrial facility is for generating compressed air. For some facilities, compressed air generation can account for even 30% or more. Yet there is hardly a factory that can function without compressed air. For many industrial applications, pneumatics is the preferred drive technology. Pneumatic technology is often selected due to its advantageous characteristics including overload resistance, extraordinary service life, ease of assembly, reliability, economical cost factors and safety aspects. All these advantages might suggest that pneumatic applications wouldn’t require any monitoring technology for operation. However, after looking at Figure 1, it may be suggested that this statement be reconsidered. In view of the fact that 88% of the costs for compressed air are for electrical energy and maintenance, it becomes apparent that the cost of pneumatics is not the investment but the operation. Therefore, it makes sense to pay special attention to the proper usage of compressed air.

Assuming that the compressors, the distribution system, and the pneumatic drives are all properly sized, steps must be taken to avoid the inefficient use of compressed air and/or air losses caused by leaks.

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Figure 1:
Operating costs for compressed air systems source: U.S. Dept. of Energy

Wasted Air
Wasting compressed air is usually seen as harmless. A little air lost here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal. This may be the reason why air leaks are often not taken seriously. The fact is compressed air is the most expensive energy medium available in a production facility. Consequently, air leaks are an underestimated waste of energy and money. In existing installations, leaks are the primary cause of excessive compressed air consumption, as high as even 30% of the total air used. In today’s highly competitive markets, manufacturing companies and machine builders may be surprised to learn that costs for compressed air can range up to $ 0.30 per 1000 scf. Wasted compressed air may be harmless to the environment, but it is not harmless to the bottom line. When cost is an issue, it is absolutely essential to recognize when compressed air is exhausting into the atmosphere.

Next week we will continue our focus on reducing operational costs of pneumatic systems with a frank discussion on leaks and artificial demand.

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About The Author

is the technology and standards development manager for NFPA. She blogs about the advantages of using fluid power in a number of key markets and applications. Denise also shares ISO/TC 131 - fluid power systems and U.S. TAG committee updates through the NFPA News.

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