Compressed air systems are rarely installed with instrumentation that can provide a baseline to monitor system energy performance and associated cost. Operators usually operate these systems blind to the real operating costs and perhaps unaware of the consequences of the problems plaguing their systems and associated compressed air powered machinery. Studies have show that a few hours of basic awareness training can go along way in increasing system efficiency. This 'efficiency' training often proves to have significant side benefits of more stable pressure, reduced compressed air system downtime and increased plant productivity.
Compressed air systems account for approximately 10% of all electrical consumption and roughly 16% of all motor system energy use in U.S. manufacturing industries per 'The Assessment of the Market for Compressed Air Efficiency Services', hereafter referred to as the Compressed Air Market Assessment, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy with technical support provided by the Compressed Air Challenge® (CAC). If you're a typical industrial facility this could represent the part of your electrical bill with the biggest potential for savings.
The Compressed Air Market Assessment indicated that recent experience in a variety of 'system optimization programs,' as well as the experience of consultants in the field, showed that over 50% of industrial plant air systems harboured opportunities for large energy savings with relatively low project costs.
Compressed air system measures identified in energy audits of small to medium-sized industrial facilities by the DOE’s Industrial Assessment Centers had average projected savings of 15% of compressed air system usage, with simple paybacks in less than 2 years. And many case studies conducted for system optimization programs have identified savings in the range of 30 to 60% of initial system usage. In addition to energy benefits, optimization of compressed air systems frequently result in corresponding improvements in system reliability, product quality, and overall productivity.
An interesting fact is that customer awareness of and concern for compressed air efficiency is low. Only 9% of customers interviewed for the program identified controlling energy costs as the primary objective in compressed air system maintenance and management. Only 17% mentioned efficiency at all as a system management objective. This low level of interest and knowledge was echoed in findings from the regional studies and interviews with compressed air system efficiency consultants.
Maintenance of consistent, reliable compressed air supply is the principal objective of system management. Seventy-one percent of customers reported that ensuring adequate air supply is their primary objective in system management. According to consultants interviewed for this project, concern about operating consistency provides an effective route to selling efficiency-oriented services.
A large portion of customers report serious problems in compressed air system operation and maintenance. Thirty-five percent of those interviewed reported that they had experienced unscheduled shutdowns of their compressed air systems during the previous 12 months. For 60% of these establishments, or 21% of all establishments, the shutdown had lasted 2 days or more. Two-thirds of the customers reported experiencing potentially serious operating problems in their compressed air systems. Excess moisture and inadequate air pressure were the most frequently reported problems.
Seventy-five percent of operators of the systems installed had no formal training in compressed air system efficiency. With this level of education it is not surprising that a significant number of systems run inefficiently due to the lack of awareness of the real costs of compressed air and what can be done about it.
To address the key challenges identified in the Compressed Air Assessment, the CAC developed a comprehensive package of training seminars which was rolled out in 1999. Over the past number of years, over 10,000 attendees have been given the tools and knowledge to enable them to put together a viable action plan to improve their air systems. The CAC, along with the DOE, has assessed the results of this training in a study titled 'Evaluation of the Compressed Air Challenge® Training Program'. Almost unanimously, training attendees consistently find these training sessions to be both useful and of high quality.
A very high portion of end-users reported using materials directly from the training to make efficiency improvements to their compressed air systems. In fact, 76% percent of the sample end-user representatives reported that they had made significant capital and/or operating improvements to their compressed air system since attending the CAC training. Two-thirds of end-users who made such improvements reported that they had used materials and knowledge gained from the training to guide the improvements they made.
End-users who implemented compressed air system efficiency measures achieved high levels of energy savings. Using a conservative approach to the savings analysis, the study estimated that attendees who implemented compressed air system efficiency measures after completing the training saved, on average, 149 megawatt hours (MWh) per year, or roughly 7.5% of pre-project system energy. As a point of reference, compressed air system efficiency experts find that, for the typical compressed air system, 30% of system energy usage can be saved through cost-effective measures.
The Compressed Air Challenge® training program is highly cost-effective. The evaluation showed even the average savings gained by seminar attendees paid for the cost of attending the training many times over, making the return on investment very attractive.
End-users who implemented compressed air system efficiency measures also experienced significant non-energy benefits. A full 76% of end-users who implemented system efficiency measures reported experiencing benefits such as: reduced downtime, reduced moisture and contamination in the system air, more consistent system pressure, and restored delivery of adequate pressure to all system components. The study did not seek an estimate of the dollar value of these benefits.
Any interested organization can be the sole host of any CAC training for your internal staff or hold an open session for customers, sales forces or engineering groups, with course fees covering the cost of the seminar. To make this training more economical many organizations arrange to co-host with other service providers, utilities, or energy efficiency organizations. Funding is also available from the DOE for qualified training sessions.
Are budget cuts keeping you at home? Here’s some welcome news; web-based training has arrived. Now you can receive all the benefits of face-to-face training, but in the comfort of your own office with minimal travel costs. CAC’s website contains valuable information about these seminars, to find out how to attend, or check out the many listings of regional compressed air seminars visit compressedairchallenge.org/.
If this not in your current budget, and you would like to know more, there is an excellent Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems reference manual available for sale on the website. If this is still not in your price range, check out our free guidebook 'Improving Compressed Air System Performance: A Sourcebook for Industry' or one of the menu of free Tip Sheets, Fact Sheets, Guidelines Tip Sheets, Fact Sheets, Guidelines or Compressed Air related articles available for your immediate use.