“It’s a long-standing attitude that air is free,” says Jon Jensen, Energy Conservation Manager at SMC Corporation of America, “but the expense of compressing air and managing it is a major component in production costs.” He says compressed air’s low repair and replacement costs have kept customers from accurately assessing its true overall costs. Customers are now waking up. “Some 20 percent of the electricity used in a manufacturing facility is consumed by compressed air systems,” says Jensen, “and those systems are only about 14 percent efficient.” For every dollar of input energy in the form of electricity, you get fourteen cents of output energy in the form of compressed air. That’s a fraction of the efficiency of hydraulics, such as is found on construction equipment, and it’s clear there’s room for improvement.
Compressed air technology is borrowing heavily from construction equipment design to become more efficient and less expensive. For example, an auto-idle feature is being developed that will reduce or remove a machine’s operating pressure during periods of low demand, much the way engines on equipment go to idle when there’s no input from the operator creating demand for hydraulics. “This alone can save $1,000 or more per year in electricity, providing a payback period of just 14 months when the technology is applied as an upgrade to an existing system,” says Jensen. Self-monitoring networks that produce trouble codes are also being developed and are also shared with equipment design.
Two other strategies are carrying over from the equipment world. One is conditions-based maintenance to reduce both PM costs and unscheduled downtime. The other is an enterprise-level comparison of machine performance for customers with multiple facilities. Contractors compare productivity and costs on multiple jobs. The site with the best numbers is examined for techniques that can improve operations at other sites. The same can be done for compressed air costs across multiple manufacturing facilities.
Jensen will be leading the Efficiency in Pneumatics education session at the International Fluid Power Expo to be held in Las Vegas on March 14 through 18, 2023. The seminar, says Jensen, will explain low- and no-cost ways to improve compressed air efficiency, and strategies available now that use the low capital investment to achieve big gains in efficiency and cost control. Emerging technologies will be discussed, as well.
IFPE education sessions are key to IFPS mission fulfillment. From their website: “The International Fluid Power Society strengthens and advances professional careers in the fluid power workforce through our work in education, training, and certification. We are committed to promoting the advancement of technology and professionalism of the fluid power & motion control industry through training, education, and certification.”
“Real technological improvements to compressed air systems are being developed for the first time,” says Jensen. “They are in their early stages today, but the development is occurring rapidly. Now is the time for customers to become educated on what’s being done and what will be done in the near future. With this information, they can improve the efficiencies of their existing plants and optimize upgrades and new construction in the future.”
ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Jensen has been with SMC for 21 years. He started in tech support. He’s been manager of training for North America. Since 2012 he’s been the head of the energy conservation group and also manager of machine safety. Prior to coming to SMC, he was the theater technical director for the University of Arizona for eight years where he worked on mechanisms for controlling stage components.
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