Boosting compressor efficiency

20 November 2018

A consistent supply of clean, dry compressed air is essential to many sectors, but it can require a considerable amount of energy to produce. Here, Andrew Power, country manager at Gardner Denver, details some simple steps that operators can take to improve energy efficiency and bottom line profitability

Generating compressed air accounts for 10% of the industrial sector’s overall energy costs, with industry requiring approximately 20TWh of electricity to meet compressed air demand. Such figures make it clear that optimising compressor performance and identifying inefficiencies can lead to sizeable financial and productivity benefits. By contrast, not remedying these issues could have a marked effect on site operations.

Total cost of ownership

One of the first steps to improving efficiency is to analyse the total cost of ownership of the compressed air system. This incorporates a number of variables, including the initial purchase price and maintenance regime, but the largest proportion, 80% in fact, is the energy costs.

It is therefore vital that a compressor is correctly sized and specified to the site’s demands. Installing a data-logging device to monitor and audit relevant performance metrics, such as maximum and minimum air pressure, and compressed air flow demand can help operators specify a more efficient compressor with reduced energy consumption.

The unit’s initial purchase price should also be factored into its whole life costs. While purchasing a less expensive compressor can seem like a shrewd business decision, a lesser-quality unit may require more maintenance across its working lifetime.

This ongoing maintenance can be more expensive, with rising service costs negating any initial savings over time. By considering purchase price alongside the longer-term service and maintenance required, total cost of ownership can be improved.

Audits and leakages

Alongside energy costs, compressor efficiency should be taken into account when considering a unit’s total cost of ownership. An energy audit will identify key factors affecting overall efficiency and highlight simple methods to reduce site downtime, increase productivity and safeguard product quality. Consequently, an audit can prove vital to improving compressor efficiency and reducing otherwise-avoidable costs.

One such example is the identification of pipework leakages.  A single 3mm hole could cost as much as £600 a year in wasted energy and account for 35% of total air consumption, making it clear that audits could prove vital to improving system performance. 

An audit can also identify the compressor’s possible heat potential. Some 94% of compressor-generated heat can be recovered and reused for other site processes, resulting in pronounced efficiency gains.

iConn and analytics

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things offers further opportunities to improve compressor efficiency. By taking advantage of data-driven opportunities, operators can make more informed decisions about compressor maintenance and performance. Taking this into account, Gardner Denver has introduced iConn, a cloud-based, air management platform that provides historic, real-time, predictive and cognitive analytics, allowing operators to rectify potential issues before they arise.

Using iConn, operators can monitor data in real time and view in-depth reports and trends concerning potential energy wastage, including how, why and when it occurs. Access to this detailed level of information enables plant managers to make more informed decisions regarding unit performance, optimising overall efficiency.

In conclusion, remedying inefficiencies and optimising performance can lead to pronounced benefits. By carrying out energy audits, using platforms like iConn and correctly specifying compressors, operators can ensure maximum energy efficiency and minimal wastage.