The generation of compressed air accounts for approximately 1/3 of all energy costs in an industrial facility. According to the Compressed Air Challenge, about 30% of that compressed air is lost through leaks. This means nearly 10% of your facilities energy costs are simply wasted through poor connections, faulty air valves, improper installation, etc. In addition to simply wasting money, compressed air leaks can also contribute to a variety of other operating losses. A leak can cause a drop in system pressure. When this occurs, end users may not operate as efficiently and has an adverse effect on production. This same drop in system pressure will also cause the equipment to cycle on/off more often, shortening the life of your compressor and other equipment. If the leaks cause an issue in supply volume, it may lead to the belief that more compressor capacity is necessary, further increasing your operating costs.
To put leaks in perspective (assuming energy costs of .10/ kWh), the folks at Compressed Air Challenge put it this way:
- A $200/year leak cannot be felt or heard
- A $800/year leak can be felt, but not heard
- A $1,400/year leak can be felt and heard.
If you walk through your facility, how many leaks can you hear? These are only the REALLY bad ones!! So if we know that a large amount of compressed air is leaking, what do we do about it? ? A proper leak prevention plan is the key to success. Since these leaks are impossible to see and some cannot even be heard, you need a tool to help assist you. EXAIR’s model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector is the right tool for the job. When compressed air leaks through a pipe, it creates an ultrasonic signature due to turbulence. While this sound is not always detectable by the human ear, this meter will allow you to locate leaks up to 20’ away by converting the ultrasonic signature into an audible sound.
The first step will be locating the leaks using an Ultrasonic Leak Detector and tagging them throughout the facility. Don’t let this overwhelm you!! If you have a larger facility, break it up into sections that can be completed in 1 day. This will allow you to decide which areas of the plant should be looked at first. Once you’ve located and tagged all of the leaks, rate them under two separate criteria so that you can prioritize what to fix first. Rate them based on the difficulty that it will take to fix them and also by the severity of the leak. Those that are severe yet easy to fix would make sense to begin fixing first. Those that may require a period of shutdown can be planned to fix at a more appropriate time.
When you’ve had the opportunity to fix them, don’t just forget about it. When new piping is installed, new lines are added, or anything involving compressed air is installed there is the potential for new leaks to develop. Set this as one of your regular PM activities and complete your own compressed air audit once a year. Implementing the process and maintaining it are the keys to your success.
If you have questions about developing a leak program or how to use the Ultrasonic Leak Detector, give us a call. An Application Engineer will be happy to help with the process and recommend some other methods to save on your compressed air supply.