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Standardisation and the compressed air industry

14 May 2015

Compressed air is often regarded as the fourth utility, yet, despite being a pivotal component of many manufacturing and industrial processes, its safe use can sometimes be overlooked. A vital part of safely and efficiently managing a compressed air system is in the installation, servicing and auditing – all of which have varying amounts of regulation. Chris Dee, executive director of BCAS (British Compressed Air Society) explains

Just like other items of industrial equipment, the compressor needs to be installed and maintained correctly to ensure it operates safely. If a system isn’t properly and regularly maintained it could end up posing a danger, and in extreme cases, catch fire or explode. 

Formal accreditation

There is continuing concern that despite the risks, there are currently no formal accreditation schemes for designing, installing and maintaining compressed air systems, so end-users could well be receiving poor advice and safety could be compromised. 

Every compressed air system, virtually without exception, should have a Written Scheme of Examination in place, and the system should be regularly inspected in accordance with that scheme.

Written Schemes of Examination are legal requirements under the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000. The document contains a wide range of information, including the parts of the system that need to be examined, the nature of the examination required, the preparatory work needed and the maximum interval allowed between examinations.

The Written Scheme of Examination has been in place for more than 14 years and carries a potential fine if you are caught without one. However, the worry is that many businesses running compressed air systems either ignore this or are simply not aware of it, as there is no thorough policing. 

The British Compressed Air Society offers courses for those involved in the installation and maintenance of compressed air systems. However, these are voluntary. There is a real need to introduce recognised training programmes and an official accreditation scheme for service engineers working on compressed air systems, as well as for designers and installers that can work in support of the Written Scheme of Examination.

Energy audits

It is advisable to have regular energy audits taken out on all aspects of the compressed air system as they don’t always run to their best potential, with incorrectly specified equipment, leaks, poorly sized pipework, long distance, excessive bends, fittings and improper use – all affecting energy efficiency levels. 

For some years responsible compressed air equipment manufacturers and suppliers have been offering energy audits as part of their service offering, along with data logging exercises and leak detection surveys. 

However, standardised energy audits by compressor manufacturers and compressed air equipment suppliers have only recently been implemented.

On the 19th March 2015, the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) made EN ISO 11011, the International Standard for compressed air efficiency, an approved European Standard.  

Prior to EN ISO 11011, individual manufacturers and suppliers had to decide for themselves how to measure compressor energy consumption, and what recommendations to make to their customers. With the introduction of EN ISO 11011, companies can now offer advice and carry out assessment and auditing procedures on a level playing field. Like-for-like energy audits can only benefit the end-user and make it easier for them to decide what action to take. 

BCAS would strongly encourage end-users to see the value in assessing their compressed air usage within a standardised framework. It’s likely that many businesses don’t know how much compressed air they use, or how much it costs them. EN ISO 11011 should deliver sustainable results for the businesses that take it on board, saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

Both the Written Scheme of Examination and EN ISO 11011 are in place to protect end-users of compressed air. Legislation offers a standardised service that can be trusted and used across the industry. However, there is much more to be done.

In the absence of formal accreditation, companies working in the compressed air industry can demonstrate their professionalism and competence as well as their commitment to health and safety and best practice by joining BCAS.

Membership is by peer review and members have to adhere to the society’s codes of conduct. Members can also choose to proactively participate in the BCAS AIRSAFE register, which promotes the credibility and professionalism of BCAS members as identified by customer feedback.