22 July, 2024

Digital sensor data demonstrates the power to transform compressed air energy consumption

17 April, 2023

Everybody is talking about digitalisation – and sometimes it is the simplest applications that demonstrate its power to transform. By opening a window to visualise their compressed air energy consumption in real time, production teams are defending against rising costs and achieving operating efficiencies with relatively little effort. H&P spoke to Darren Pratt, Industrial Instrumentation Product Manager for SICK UK.

Manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges to stem rocketing energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. As the socalled “fourth utility” of manufacturing, compressed air systems can frequently be the cause of wasted energy. Yet despite offering possibly the greatest opportunity for belt tightening, opportunities for savings are all too easily overlooked. Compressed air accounts for 10% of energy use in a typical manufacturing operation, rising to 30% in heavy use industries such as food and beverage, automotive, plastic products and pharmaceuticals, according to the British Compressed Air Society1.

Hissing Sound

Many engineers are familiar with the experience of walking onto a shop floor in the early morning, before the machines start up and the workers arrive, and an eerie sound of hissing pervades the silence. That hissing is the unmistakable sound of compressed air leaks. It’s also the sound of your company’s cash quite literally disappearing into thin air.

It’s estimated that manufacturers waste around 30% of the compressed air they generate.2 But, until now, operators have only been able to get a limited grasp on how much energy is actually being used by their compressed air systems, and where the problems lie. Tracking down and fixing leaks can be a laborious, hit and miss affair.

Even with a modern energy management system in place, a maintenance team may only survey the plant every three or six months. External companies may be brought in to conduct periodic spot check audits. The data provided is reliable only for one moment in time, and very little can be gleaned from it about any trends or patterns. Do some machines use more compressed air than others, when, and why? How can compressed air energy reduction best be targeted across entire processes and production halls to maximise results? ‘

Bolt-on’ transparency

By feeding the data from accurate sensing instruments into new cloud-based monitoring systems, sensor manufacturers like SICK are introducing digital services that are easy to ‘bolt on’ to the existing production process with minimal set-up and no programming. The results can be remarkably revealing, and SICK customers have been surprised by the discoveries they can make Darren Pratt, Industrial Instrumentation Product Manager for SICK UK highlights that his company has developed a turnkey solution specifically for continuous compressed air energy management. The SICK FTMg is a multifunctional flow sensor that enables the measurement of live values for compressed air energy in kWh. He explains that using data from SICK FTMg flow meters strategically positioned around a plant, and usually close to machines or cells, a wealth of both real-time and historic data about compressed air usage, including energy consumption, is available.

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