Mention utilities and energy in a discussion about manufacturing and the Big Three -- water, electricity and natural gas -- immediately come to mind. But compressed air is commonly accepted as a manufacturing facility’s Fourth Utility. A careful examination of a facility’s compressed air system will likely reveal several opportunities for reducing the plant’s energy draw, resulting in significant energy savings, lower operating costs and a minimized impact on the environment through a smaller carbon footprint. And, taking a closer look at the way that Fourth Utility is manufactured can provide savings in maintenance, and the peace of mind that comes with the assurance of clean air.
The largest component of wasted energy in the process of manufacturing compressed air is heat loss. Even within the most efficient compressed air systems, a small fraction of the energy required for the process – 10 to 15 percent – is ultimately delivered as compressed air. When leaks and inefficient flow monitoring are included in the equation, energy waste becomes staggering; estimates indicate that poorly designed and maintained compressed air systems in the United States account for up to $3.2 billion in wasted utility payments every year.
Leaks, artificial demand (uses of compressed air that could be powered by low pressure solutions like blowers) and poor practices supplement the rest. Depending on pressure requirements and energy costs, a single ¼-inch leak in a compressed air line can cost a facility from $2,500 to more than $8,000 per year. Locating and fixing these leaks throughout a facility’s compressed air system will result in significant savings.
Many manufacturers overlooked these problems for years when power was cheap, but under today’s energy costs, becoming educated about the importance of total cost of ownership is imperative to saving money.
Why is the cost of energy significant? Look at a case where a manufacturer was running a 200 horsepower compressor 24 hours a day at 3 cents per kWh; however, these costs have doubled everywhere in the last five years, increasing in some areas to 8 cents per kWh or more. The annual cost to operate that compressor at 3 cents per kWh was $41,273. Today, that same compressor costs $110,062 to operate every year at 8 cents per kWh, or more than $500,000 over five years.
While identifying and fixing these problems will result in significant immediate savings, many utility companies are offering additional rebates or reduced rates for industrial facilities that are able to decrease energy demands. These incentives can further reduce manufacturing costs and benefit the environment through lower energy demands.
Atlas Copco, offers a wide range of air compressors and services that help manufacturers drive down their energy costs. The company is committed to engineering products that improve manufacturing environments through energy saving compressor technologies like variable speed drives, which align air production with factory floor demand, and clean technologies like the ISO 8573-1 CLASS 0 standard for 100 percent oil-free compressed air. As the world’s first manufacturer to engineer air compressors that meet the CLASS 0 specification, Atlas Copco is the leading expert in oil-free air compressors that protect infrastructure systems, the environment and manufacturer’s products.
Oil-free compressor systems are critical to performance and quality control throughout the manufacturing process and help protect the environment by eliminating contamination in end products and eventual discharge of oil into the environment. Even a slight oil contamination can, over time, compromise valves, effect air tool performance and contaminate the end product, creating unnecessary waste, possibly producing an avoidable health risk and polluting the environment as well. One sure way to avoid these issues is to utilize oil-free air for all critical manufacturing endeavors.
Manufacturers who seek the ultimate in savings and quality rely on a combination of variable speed drive and oil-free air compressor technologies to significantly reduce their facility’s energy costs, while operating more efficiently and safely. These changes not only benefit the environment, but also make manufacturers good neighbors and environmental stewards in the communities they serve.