So what are the costs to your business of compressed air leaks? Firstly and most obviously, compressed air leaks waste electricity. They are simply demands for air that create no value and they consume flow needed by other productive uses. The result is often decreases in pressure at the points of use. To compensate many compressed air users will just turn up the pressure on the compressor. This actually just makes the situation worse as a leak will waste more air at a higher pressure.
You can calculate the annual energy costs for a leak using the following formula:
Annual cost of a leak = leakage rate (m3/min) x kW/m3/min x operating hours x $/kWh
Take for example just one single 2 mm diameter leak in a compressed air system which runs 24/7 and has a power cost of 15 cents/kW/hr. The cost of just that one leak would be $2,364 per annum! Now imagine the accumulative cost of multiple leaks in a larger compressed air system…
Another cost of compressed air leaks it reduced productivity. Compressed air leaks can cause system pressure to fluctuate. This can cause air-operated equipment to not perform as intended. Automatic equipment shutdown is a common indicator of this problem. As a leaky compressed air system is already working harder than necessary to meet existing production demands, it is therefore not prepared to take on additional capacity when surges in production and growth occur.
Finally maintaining pressure in a leaky compressed air system requires the compressor to run more. More run time means the requirement for more frequent maintenance. More maintenance means more downtime which also further reduces productivity. And, if the system is continually working harder than necessary, it may need replacing sooner therefore meaning reduced equipment life.
So where can leaks be found? Anywhere from the compressor right to the point of use. The more fittings and hoses – the more leaks a system is likely to have. They may occur in poorly installed fittings or in joints that have loosened or degraded over time. They are also likely to occur in the last 9 metres of piping as this is generally the smallest piping and hose size and gets the most vibration and stress from the point of use. Some other problem areas include; condensate traps, shut-off valves, fittings and pipe joints, filters, regulators and lubricators to name only a few.
Unfortunately many compressed air users accept that compressed air leaks are just an unavoidable by-product of running a compressed air system. However unmanaged, the costs of compressed air leaks can really start to add up – especially when you factor in the heightened electricity prices we all now face. While it may be unrealistic to eliminate all leaks, it’s not actually that hard to greatly reduce them and identifying and fixing leaks could really have a significant impact on the bottom line.
Join us next month for part 2 of our compressed air leaks 101 blog post series where you can learn the 3 main methods of compressed air leak detection, best practice for fixing leaks and how to manage leaks on an on-going basis.
McCorkle, M. Kaeser Compressors (January 2018): Compressed air system leaks whitepaper