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Getting the Most Out of Compressed Air Systems

Posted by Jeff Hopkins on 10/11/17 12:00 PM

The air may be free, but compressing it can be costly when your system leaks


Compressed Gas Leak Detection

Pictured above is a leak found at a customer site by our team. After a leak is found through the use of our ultra-sound technology, Snoop is applied to the area for visual verification. These leaks are then tagged and recorded, so you can fix them. 

Learn more about the Swagelok Northern California Compressed Gas Leak Detection Program and other Energy Management Services Here >>


Least efficient utilities

Fortune magazine once described compressed air systems as "probably the least efficient utilities in manufacturing plants." The air itself may be free, but not the machinery and electricity required to keep it under pressure. Every time air leaks out of the system, more air must be squeezed back in. This is a waste of money.

A longtime customer of Swagelok once saw that their two compressors were running at capacity, and had plans to add a third. Before the addition of the third compressor this customer had their local Swagelok sales and service center check the system for leaks. So many leaks were found that once they were fixed the company didn't need to add a new compressor. In fact, they were able to take one of the existing compressors offline.

That was about 10 years ago. They still have their local Swagelok sales and service center check out the system for leaks twice a year. Altogether the company has captured more than $1 million in savings.

If you notice that your compressors are running longer without any other changes being made to the system, it's a good bet you've developed some new leaks. Even if the compressors are running the same as always, you could still have leaks. On average, uninspected systems lose 25 percent to 30 percent of their compressed air through leaks.

Three cateories of leaks

Leaks typically fall into three categories. The smallest are those that you probably didn't even know you had. Then there are leaks that you suspect but can't find on your own.

The third category is when enough air is escaping that there's no doubt about the location of the leak.
Usually we're called out because the client already knows about a large leak and while we're on site we look for all other leaks.

We find leaks through ultrasound technology. The turbulence of the leaking air creates sound waves that the human ear may not be able to detect, but our equipment can. When we find a leak, we always follow up with a visual test by putting Snoop leak detector on the area and looking for the telltale bubbles.

 

Fortune magazine once described compressed air systems as "probably the least efficient utilities in manufacturing plants." 

 

On the hunt

Each time we find a leak, we list it on a spreadsheet, noting the location, severity, and the air pressure on that line and then tag it. In the course of a day we might find 100 leaks in a medium sized facility, even in operations considered "best in class." When we're done, we'll take you through the site and show you where the leaks are. We'll help you benchmark your system so that you can measure the improvement when all the leaks are fixed.

Here's a tip when you can clear your schedule to fix the leaks: If you work your way straight through from one end of the plant to the other, you probably can fix them all in one day. Too often, customers start with the worst leaks, and somehow never seem to make it all the way to the smallest ones. We know, because when we come back a year later, we see some of the previous year's tags still in place. By then, some of those small leaks aren't so small anymore.

Not just air

If it's expensive to lose air through leaks, think of how much worse it is to lose gas that must be purchased, such as helium or argon. And think of how much more dangerous a leak will be if the gas is flammable, such as hydrogen.

To get a more detailed look at the cost of leaks, download our free Hidden Costs of Leakage PDF. It presents some examples of costs associated with compressed air leakage. 

Or learn more about the Swagelok Northern California Compressed Gas Leak Detection Program and other Energy Management Services

Then, contact us through our website or by calling 510-933-6200, so we can start helping you save money.


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