How to Make Your Air Compressor More Efficient
Compressed air is one of the most widely used forms of energy throughout many industries, with approximately 70% of manufacturers using a compressed air system.
Compressed air can be one of the most expensive forms of energy for manufacturing plants, often using more energy than other equipment. One horsepower of compressed air requires eight horsepower of electricity. With many air compressors running at efficiencies as low as 10%, there’s often plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, 50% of compressed air systems at small- to medium-sized industrial facilities have opportunities for low-cost energy conservation.
Air Compressor Efficiency
What influences air compressor energy efficiency? Such factors include type, model, size, motor power rating, system design, control mechanisms, uses and maintenance schedule. The chief reason for inefficient air compression is the loss of heat generated from the increased temperature of pressurized air and from friction caused by the system’s many moving parts.
When it comes to air compressor efficiency, it’s important to examine the entire system, which includes not only the air compressor itself
but supply lines, air storage tanks, air dryers, receivers and after-coolers. By making the right adjustments to your compressed air system,
you can save significant amounts of energy and money.
What Factors Make Air Compressors Inefficient?
Many factors can contribute to an air compressor’s inefficiency. Air compressor performance may grow less efficient with time when any of the following factors are at work:
- Poor quality air intake: An air compressor’s efficiency can be significantly reduced if the incoming air is too hot, contains impurities or has high humidity.
- Inconsistent air pressure controls: The air compressor controls deliver an inconsistent or sustained high pressure. When air compressors run closer to the maximum pressure, they can put increased strain on the system and reduce efficiency.
- Design system flaws: Flaws in the system design can cause an air compressor to become less efficient. Design flaws may include an improperly sized distribution system, lack of recovery system and increased heat waste, unnecessary bends in the pipes and unfixed leaks.
- Mismatched air compressor: The air compressor doesn’t match or is poorly tuned to the compressed air needs of your devices. When air compressors are mismatched to the application, the compressor’s efficiency and overall performance are significantly reduced.
- Decreased pressure: Pressure drops in your air compressor system can have a noticeable impact on your air compressor’s efficiency. A pressure drop may occur from improperly sized pipes, excess moisture, dirty filters or long air travel distances.
- Irregular maintenance: Inconsistent maintenance will cause the system to wear prematurely and increase repair expenses. Due to the number of moving parts and the heavy usage of these systems, failure to set a regular maintenance schedule can make air compressors inefficient.
How to Maximize Compressor Efficiency
Maximizing air compressor efficiency usually starts with determining what factors are wearing the system down. Energy-efficient compressors depend on both the controls and the design to provide maximum efficiency.
The most efficient air compressor system will require properly tuned controls that run closer to the minimum pressure and a well-maintained system design that matches the application.
Improve your system’s efficiency with the following approaches:
- Improve the quality of the air intake.
- Match the air compressor controls.
- Improve system design.
- Consider compressed air needs.
- Minimize pressure drop.
- Maintain your compressor.
By maximizing compressor efficiency using these approaches, you can also boost air compressor performance and increase its lifespan.
Improve the Quality of the Air Intake
There are three components of the air compression system that influence performance:
- Temperature: The temperature of the intake air determines the density of the air. Cool air requires less energy to compress, making it far more efficient to pump into the air compressor system. Avoid using hot air, which has a lower density, as it will significantly reduce your productivity.
- Composition: Clean intake air ensures that compressed air can move more smoothly through the system. Dirt, dust or other impurities in the air will accumulate inside an air compressor. These contaminants can build up on vital parts and cause wear as well as reduced storage capacity.
- Humidity: Moisture can be harmful to an air compression system since it accumulates inside the system, causing components to rust. This may lead to wear and tear as well as leaks and reduced storage capacity. Dry air is less likely to damage your air compression system and tools performing work at the point of use.
Match the Air Compressor Controls
Air compressor controls match the compressor output with the demands of the compressor system, which may consist of a single compressor or multiple compressors. Such controls are essential for air compressor system efficiency and well as high performance.
Compressed air systems are designed to maintain a certain range of pressure and to deliver a volume of air that varies with end-user demands. The control system decreases compressor output when the pressure reaches a certain level. If pressure drops, on the other hand, compressor output is increased.
The most precise control systems can maintain low average pressure without falling below system requirements. Falling below system requirements may cause equipment to malfunction. This is why it’s so important to match system controls with storage capacity.
The following controls can help increase the efficiency of single compressors:
- Start and stop controls turn compressors on and off depending on pressure.
- Load and unload functions unload the compressor to discharge pressure.
- Modulating controls manage flow need, while multistep controls allow compressors to operate at partially loaded conditions.
- Dual-Control and Auto-Dual controls allow the selection of either start/stop or load/unload.
- Variable displacement can operate in two or more partially loaded conditions.
- Variable speed drives continuously adjust drive motor speed to meet variable demand requirements.
- Systems with multiple compressors use system master controls to coordinate all the functions necessary to optimize compressed air.
- System master controls can coordinate compressed air systems when complexity exceeds the capabilities of local and network controls. Such controls can monitor system components and trend data to enhance maintenance functions.
- Pressure and flow controllers store higher pressure air, which can later be used to meet fluctuations in demand.
A well-designed system should use the following:
- Demand control
- Compressor controls
- Good signal locations
- Overall control strategy
The primary goal of such a system is to deliver compressed air at the lowest stable pressure while supporting fluctuation with stored higher pressure compressed air.
For multiple compressors, sequencing controls can meet demand by running compressors to meet system loads while taking them offline when not needed. Network controls also help manage loads for the entire system.
Improve System Design
There are six ways to improve the design of your air compressor system.
- Straighten the path. Narrow delivery lines or sharp bends in those delivery lines can cause increased friction and pressure drops in the system, which means less pressure reaching the point of use. A better design without so many bends and loops should produce more pressure using the same energy.
- Save energy when needed. A storage tank, or receiver, can buffer short-term demand changes and reduce on/off cycling. A tank can also prevent system pressure from dropping below minimum pressure requirements when demand is at its highest. A pressure drop may cause the system pressure to increase, resulting in wasted air pressure. Tanks are sized depending on the power of the compressor. A 50 horsepower air compressor, for example, needs a 50-gallon air receiver tank.
- Cool the intake air. Since the energy needed to compress cool air is less than the energy needed to compress warmer air, you can reduce the energy required for compression by moving the compressor intake into a shaded area outside. A reduction of 20 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, can lower operating costs by almost 3.8%.
- Use several small compressors. Oversized air compressors can be very inefficient because they use more energy per unit while operating with a partial load. Such systems may benefit from the use of many smaller compressors with sequencing controls, permitting portions of the system to be shut down merely by turning off some of the compressors.
- Recover waste heat. Waste heat can be used for boiling water for space heating and heating water. A properly designed heat recovery unit can recover 50-90% of the electrical energy used in air compression.
- Locate near areas of high demand. By locating air receivers near sources of high demand, it’s easier to meet demand with reduced overall compressor capacity.
Consider Compressed Air Needs
- Examine the load profile. A properly designed compressed air system should consider the load profile. If there are wide variations in air demand, the system will need to work efficiently when it’s under part-load. Multiple compressors will provide more economical energy use when there are large fluctuations in demand.
- Minimize artificial demand. Artificial demand is the excess air volume required for unregulated use when using higher pressure than necessary for applications. If an application requires 50 psi and receives 90 psi, the system is producing unused air. Pressure regulators at the end-use can minimize artificial demand.
- Determine the correct pressure needed. Required pressure levels must consider system losses from filters, piping, separators and dryers. Raising discharge pressure will increase the demand for unregulated usages, such as leaks. In other words, pressure increases will generate increased inefficiency. For example, a 2-psi increase in header pressure will increase energy consumption by as much as 1% because of the consumption of unregulated air. To save energy, you should consider how to achieve high performance while reducing system pressure.
- Examine proper supply and demand. Verify that air compressors are not too large for end-use. Consider all end-use, quantifying the volume of air needed for each application. A general assessment of your entire compressed air system should help investigate the distribution system for problems and minimize inappropriate uses of air.
- Use block diagrams and pressure profiles. Block diagrams will help identify all components in an air compression system. A pressure profile reveals the pressure drops in the system, which should provide feedback for adjusting controls. To complete a pressure profile, you’ll need to take measurements of the inlet to the compressor, the differential across the air/lubricant separator and the interstage on multi-stage compressors. By data logging system pressures and airflow, you can determine system disruptions, intermittent loads, system changes and general conditions. Variations in pressure and airflow can be managed with system controls to minimize the impact on production.
- Use compressed air storage. Storage can control demand events during demand peaks by reducing the rate of decay and the amount of pressure drop. It can also protect critical operations from other events in the system by turning off a compressor if necessary.
Minimize Pressure Drop
Pressure drops occur as compressed air travels through the distribution system. Excessive pressure drops may cause poor performance and elevated energy consumption. Pressure drops upstream from the compressor signal result in lower operating pressure for the end-user. This requires higher pressures to meet the compressor control settings. Before adding capacity or increasing system pressure, be sure to reduce pressure drops in the system. Compressed air equipment should be operated at the lowest efficient operating pressure for best results.
The following are ways to reduce pressure drops:
- Maintain proper system design. The most common reason for excessive pressure drop is the use of inadequate pipe size between the distribution header and the production equipment. This can happen if you choose piping based on the expected average compressed air demand without considering the maximum flow rate.
- Maintain air filtering and drying equipment to minimize moisture.
- Ensure filters are free of dirt that restricts airflow and causes pressure drops. Timely maintenance and replacement of filter elements are critical to reducing pressure drop.
- Choose separators, dryers, filters and aftercoolers with the lowest possible pressure drop. A typical pressure differential for a filter, hose and pressure regulator is 7 pounds per square inch differential (psid).
- Choose regulators, hoses, lubricators and connections offering the best performance at the lowest pressure differential.
- Reduce the distance air travels through the compressed air system.
Many tools can operate effectively with air supply of 80 pounds per square inch gauge (psig) or less. By reducing the air compressor discharge pressure, you can reduce leakage rates, improve capacity and save money. However, reductions in operating pressure may require modifications to pressure regulators, filters and storage size. Keep in mind that if system pressure falls below minimum requirements, equipment may no longer function properly.
Reducing pressure drops allows a system to operate more efficiently at lower pressures. For machinery that uses large amounts of compressed air, operating the equipment at lower pressure levels can provide significant energy savings. Components like larger air cylinders may be necessary to maintain proper functionality at lower pressure levels, but the energy savings should exceed the cost of additional equipment.
Maintain Your Compressor
Poorly maintained air compression systems can cause wasted energy and money. This makes it important to constantly check your systems for leaks, premature wear and tear and the accumulation of contaminants.
Wasted air is the leading cause of energy loss in air compression systems, wasting as much as 20 to 30% of a compressor’s output. Even small leaks can be very costly, leaking large amounts of air over time if left uncorrected. Keep in mind, the loss of air is proportional to the size of the leak and the amount of supply pressure in the system.
Leaks not only waste energy but also cause drops in system pressure that make air tools less efficient. This lack of pressure means that equipment will run longer to achieve the same results. Increased running time also means additional maintenance and even downtime.
Detecting and fixing leaks can reduce energy loss to less than 10% of the compressor output. Leaks can be found anywhere in the compressed air system, but most leaks occur in pressure regulators, open condensate traps and shut-off valves, disconnects, pipe joints, thread sealants, couplings, hoses, tubes and fittings.
To estimate the leakage in your compressed air system, take measurements that will determine the time it takes for the compressor to load and unload. Air leaks will make the compressor cycle on and off because of pressure drops caused by leaks. Calculate the percentage of total leakage by using the following form: Leakage (%) = [(on-load time in minutes x 100) / (on-load time in minutes + off-load time in minutes)]. In a well-maintained system, the percentage should be less than 10%. A poorly-maintained system will reveal leakage of 20% or more.
- Leak detection: An ultrasonic acoustic detector offers the best chance of locating leaks by recognizing the hissing sounds. Ultrasonic detectors offer the benefit of speed, accuracy, ease of use, versatility and the ability to run tests while equipment is running.
If you don’t have an ultrasonic leak detector, you can apply soapy water with paint brushes to likely trouble spots.
- Leak repair: Once you locate a leak, repairing it may simply be a matter of tightening connections. However, it may also require replacing couplings, pipe sections, hoses, joints, traps, fittings and drains. Be sure to fit them with the proper thread sealant.
Until you can repair a leak, you can reduce leaks by lowering the pressure in the compressed air system. Stabilize the system header pressure at the lowest range to minimize leakage rate.
Prevention. A proper leak prevention program can help identify and address future leaks. It will also help maintain an
efficient, stable and cost-effective air compression system. A leak prevention program can be beneficial by doing the following:
- Determine the cost of air leaks. This will serve as a baseline to determine the effectiveness of repairs.
- Identify leaks. Although an ultrasonic acoustic leak detector is most effective, a hand-held meter can also help identify leaks.
- Document the leaks. Record the size, location, type and estimated cost of a leak so you can track where and how leaks occur.
- Prioritize larger leaks.
- Adjust controls to maximize energy use.
- Document repairs. Such documentation can indicate the equipment that may be causing reoccurring problems.
- Periodic reviews. Periodic checks will help keep your system efficient.
Filters are used to ensure that clean air reaches end-users. Dust, dirt and grease can clog filters, causing a drop in system air pressure. If filters aren’t cleaned, pressure drops can require more energy to maintain the same pressure. Also, be sure to use low-pressure drop, long-life filters and also size these filters based on the maximum rate of flow.
Be sure that procedures are in place for maintaining the compressed air system and that employees are properly trained in these procedures. This should keep the system running efficiently for years to come.
Fortunately, there are many approaches to improving the efficiency of your compressed air system. With proper maintenance, there’s no reason your system can’t provide cost savings along with high performance.
Ash Air's Efficient Air Compressors
Ash Air can ensure high performance and minimal energy use with power-saving options on its line. Energy efficiency translates to cost savings for your business.
Ash Air has been around in New Zealand since 1979, and we’ve grown into a nationwide company with international support and a
reputation for quality and reliability.We look after all things compressed air for your business!
Ash Air's range of Chicago Pneumatic, Alup, Pneumatech, and Quincy compressors are used extensively around the world in industries
ranging from oil and gas to food, automotive and farming, and we bring you these world class compressors here in the land of the long white
cloud.Our technicians are compressed air equipment experts and are dedicated to addressing customer needs. Supported by a 13 locations
nationwide, Ash Air offers one of the widest selections of compressed air equipment and parts available today in New Zealand.
With Ash Air compressors, you can count on reliability and high performance for even the most demanding applications. We focus our
efforts on the following:
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Ash Air has been around in New Zealand since 1979, and we’ve grown into a nationwide company with international support and a reputation for quality and reliability.We look after all things compressed air for your business!
Ash Air's range of Chicago Pneumatic, Alup, Pneumatech, and Quincy compressors are used extensively around the world in industries ranging from oil and gas to food, automotive and farming, and we bring you these world class compressors here in the land of the long white cloud.Our technicians are compressed air equipment experts and are dedicated to addressing customer needs. Supported by a 13 locations nationwide, Ash Air offers one of the widest selections of compressed air equipment and parts available today in New Zealand.
With Ash Air compressors, you can count on reliability and high performance for even the most demanding applications. We focus our efforts on the following:
Talk to the team today:
There are two types of vacuum pumps: the ‘wet’ kind, which is essentially a hydraulic pump, and the pneumatic, ‘dry’ variety. Read More…