23 April, 2024

Pneumatics leakage – the invisible disrupter

17 June, 2015

Leakages in pneumatic systems have been a major problem for virtually as long as compressed air has existed. Like water, air will do its best to escape from every possible area of low resistance. Unlike water, though, air is invisible to the naked eye and poses little health and safety risk, making detection hard and a low priority for many firms.

Though compressed air might be harmless to employees, leakage is waste and can hit a company’s finances hard. The average leakage level may typically be between 25 and 35 per cent. If a company was losing a comparable amount of fuel from its vehicles, it would take immediate steps to rectify the problem. Considering a relatively modest example, losing nearly 550,000m³ of air in one year could cost an organisation over 10,000 Euro: a wholly preventable loss. This financial loss is incurred through increased energy costs to drive larger compressors needed to offset leaks and maintain air flow and pressure to equipment, plus bigger, more robust piping systems. Conversely, in an efficient system without leaks, smaller, lower power compressors and reduced diameter of pipe can be utilised without jeopardising the operation of pneumatically powered equipment.

Well-managed programme

A key method to mitigate the damage and losses from a compressed air system leaks is to prevent them in the first place, and that involves getting all employees involved in a well-managed leak prevention programme. The more aggressive and pro-active the programme, the greater the chance of keeping leaks to an absolute minimum.

By having the correct air preparation technology in place from the day a pneumatic system is first installed and commissioned, many problems that lead to leakage can be avoided. Appropriate use of filters, regulators, lubricators and dryers can alleviate issues such as pipe scaling (in steel-based systems) that interrupt air flow and put damaging contaminants into the supply. Intrusive fittings can also interrupt smooth airflow and reduce overall efficiency. While aluminium piping systems such as Parker Hannifin’s Transair can mitigate the problem of scaling and, with its innovatively designed push-to-connect fittings, not impede airflow, good air preparation is still vital.

In most work places, however, wear-and-tear are normal and human error can never be eliminated entirely, as such air leaks are regrettable but inevitable consequence. It is then the speed of response that makes all the difference in correcting the problem and minimising financial loss. One study showed that effective leakage detection and repair gave companies savings of around 43 per cent in under six months. The scale of these savings is due to both the speed at which the leak could be resolved and the high cost of compressed air to companies.

There are many areas in a pneumatic air system which are prone to leakages. These include couplings, hoses, tubes, and fittings. Equally problematic are missing O-rings, badly fitted filters, regulators and lubricators, inefficient solenoids, dirty seals, bad welds on pipe joints and flanges, thread sealants not being applied properly, worn control and shut-off valves and worn cylinder rod packing.

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