How to assess the cost of a compressed air flow interruption

November 16, 2021

Regardless of your air compressor size, it's crucial to understand how the mechanisms work so that you can pinpoint performance issues that could lead to costly problems. In this article, you will gain a basic knowledge to assess the flow rate and cost of an outage in the compressed air network, such as a system leak.

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Depending on the structure type, air compressors could power much more than just a set of pneumatic tools. In pressing plants, compressed air is often the driving force between the motors and actuators that set automated machines in motion.

Compressed air system leaks

In addition to being a penalty for your energy supply, air leaks can have a detrimental effect on your work environment. If excessive amounts of pressurised air were allowed to leak and concentrate in the presence of people working in production, the situation could be unhealthy and dangerous for anyone working in this condition.

If you operate large facilities, remember that it is critical that on-site leak inspections are performed on each air compressor on a periodic basis. Inspections must be carried out by in-house technicians or by an external company specialised in the analysis and maintenance of compressors. With the proper equipment and know-how, assessing the cost of a compressed air outage is easy and useful to master.

What is the cost of compressed air leaks?

To generate sufficient amounts of compressed air for a given set of industrial applications, the functions involved are generally expensive due to the amount of energy consumed in the process. The higher the pressure of the system, the greater the energy expenditure of the compressor. 

While the compressor works to transform the incoming air into compressed air, the internal components generate large amounts of heat, consuming most of the energy that powers the entire production process. As a result, the energy that translates into compressed air power accounts for only 10-15% of the overall energy consumption of a typical air compressor.

Even if you take into account the amount of energy that turns into heat in an air compressor, much of the pressurised air that is produced never actually gets to one of the applications at the point of use. On average, a quarter of the compressed air produced by the machine will end up coming out through the cracks created in the system. 

How much do compressed air leaks cost?

In small businesses, the financial impact of air leaks can cause significant damage to the limited budget. If your produce product in small batches for a select market, you know that it is crucial to maximise the efficiency of your air compressor because this will optimise productivity and increase profits. 

It is therefore essential to carry out an audit of the compressed air system to clarify the level of performance of the system in its current conditions.

In large production companies, several compressors are often used at the same time for applications that require high power. Again, if air leaks are never checked in these plants, an audit could be useful to avoid a series of expensive practices. 

Is it worth fixing air leaks?

If your processes are powered primarily by compressed air,. the energy used by your pneumatic processes could easily account for a large part of your energy consumption. If you haven't organised an effective system to manage leaks, air loss could halve your productivity. Installations which don't provide for the establishment of an air leak management plan lose between 30 and 50 percent of their compressed air production.

Am I losing money by fixing air leaks?

You should inspect your air compressor regularly to monitor performance drops that could be indicators of air leaks.

If you work in a large facility, the people who manage the operation of the compressor should have protocols to follow for maintenance. The most critical compressor components should be inspected periodically to ensure that they work in line with the manufacturer's specification.

Other less critical components should also be inspected regularly to prevent problems that affect the quality of the product as well as the efficiency of the system. 

Why have an audit performed at your company?

To properly assess the efficiencies of your compressor, you should have a certified partner perform a system audit. In this way, you can acquire information on how the system performs and compare the numbers with similar installations in other structures.

Ideally, an audit should be carried out every two years. If you are able to isolate the source of losses and reduce them, you can save money and increase your profits in the following ways:

  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Increase productivity
  • Reduce the strain on the system
  • Turn off the extra compressor

With the results collected from the audit, you will have information to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your system.

Buy an Ultrasonic Leak Detector

With an ultrasonic leak detector, you can easily detect even the smallest leaks that appear in your compressed air system. If a leak develops in the compressor itself or along one of the drops, the detector can identify the source of the leak and provide information on the intensity and extent of the leakage problem.

On small systems, air leaks are often identified with the use of ultrasonic instruments, which can detect the presence of air leaks in places that are difficult to access. 

After purchasing a leak detector, it is necessary to train everyone who works with the compressor to use the tool. The detector should be used regularly to identify problems that may arise during the working week. With preventive diagnosis, you can isolate and correct leaks before they grow and get out of control, leading to more expensive problems. 

If a leak gets larger, it could easily become audible to anyone in the factory or compressor room. In cases like these, ultrasonic equipment is not even necessary because the leak is usually noticeable to anyone working near the air system.

Empty drains

In order for an air compressor to produce moisture-free pressurised air, the machine must have a functional exhaust to remove moisture from the incoming air. Without sufficient moisture extraction, the compressor could end up generating moist air, which can degrade the quality of various pneumatic functions, such as sanding, painting and air drying.

For small systems, a manual discharge will generally be sufficient for moisture extraction. For large industrial systems, automatic discharges are usually integrated into the compressor. These drains are typically located under pipes and are often difficult to access during maintenance. However, discharges must be examined during system inspections due to the potential for leakage in this part of the system.

Replace straps

On a semi-annual basis, the air compressor belts should be checked for quality reasons.

It is essential that the straps have adequate tension and are free of cracks. If the belts are not replaced when necessary, the compressor is subject to stress. 

When inspecting the belt, make sure it has the right amount of traction and tension. Check the edge for any signs of opacity and cracks. If you notice such problems, we suggest replacing the belt before reactivating the compressor.

Inspect instruments

In some cases, air interruptions result from causes external to the compressor. If your pneumatic applications and compressed air processes are less efficient than before, try inspecting the instruments for obstructions. Make sure the nozzles are clean, free of dirt and residues. 

Check that the pipes do not show signs of leakage and bending. If the pipes extend for large distances, check the entire length for any cuts and holes. If possible, cover the pipes with soapy water, then run the compressor air at full power. If the bubbles start to burst, chances are you've spotted an air leak.

Turn off the compressor when not in use

One of the easiest ways to increase the efficiency of the compressed air system is to turn off the machine during the hours when it is not in use. 

Unless you perform a series of compressed air processes 24/7, the compressor should be completely turned off during rest hours. On weekends, you could save even more energy by disconnecting the compressor from its power source. Even when a machine is turned off, power can still be consumed as long as the power cord is plugged into an outlet.

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