Anatomy of an Inefficient Compressed Air System

Controls 101
Anatomy of an Inefficient Compressed Air System BayControls Banner Image

In many industrial facilities, compressed air systems comprise an expensive “fourth utility” that is a key input alongside electricity, gas, and water.

But many facilities have inefficient compressed air systems that waste time, energy, and cost companies thousands of dollars.

So, what does an inefficient compressed air system actually look like—and what can you do about it?


Anatomy of an Inefficient Compressed Air System

Unproductive Demands

When the demand side of a compressed air system is running inefficiently, it can be extremely costly for a facility.

Besides normal production, typical—yet preventable—components of demand include:

  • Inappropriate uses: Any application that methods besides compressed air could complete more efficiently. Examples: open blowing, sparging, padding, vacuum generation, diaphragm pumps, personnel cooling, etc.
  • Leaks: When compressed air is lost to ambient conditions. Some common leak problem areas include: disconnects, pipe joints, flanges, and thread sealants.
  • Increased demand because of excessive system pressure: This is when additional compressed air usage comes about because of higher pressure levels than what is needed for equipment to run properly.


How to solve this problem: Minimize all three demands. There are three ways you can do so:

  1. Only use compressed air when appropriate
  2. Identify and fix leaks
  3. Lower system pressure to the minimum level needed for production


Compressors Working Separately via Manual Controls

When compressors operate independently via manually controls—especially different air compressors from different manufacturers—they often can’t communicate with one another or work together.  This results in multiple inefficiencies like:

  • Inefficient compressor operation
  • Inability to match compressor output to production demands
  • Unnecessarily high system pressure set points
  • Constantly oscillating system pressure


How to solve this problem: One way is to replace OEM controls and/or piggyback on them to network the air compressors and ensure they operate as a cohesive system instead of an inefficient group of individual compressors.

Check out this case study here to learn how we provided this solution to one of our long-term clients, General Motors.


Unreliable PLC Performance

It is very difficult to efficiently control an air compressor if your programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are not purpose-built to control an air compressor.  For instance, this might lead to compressors that “fight” each other instead of operating in sync.

How to solve this problem: For one of our client’s (Air Flow Industrial Air Solutions) customers, we retrofit their air compressors with air compressor controls.  Read the case study here to learn more!


Blow Off Valves Used—Often—as Pressure Control with Centrifugal Compressors

Though blow off valves are used as a pressure-control method of last resort for centrifugal air compressors, they should not be relied upon for regular pressure control.

If you use your blow off valves regularly for pressure control methods, you’ll waste all of the energy that went into pressurizing the air they release.

Frequently, this is caused by control systems that lack the necessary intelligence to utilize the full extent of a centrifugal compressor’s turndown range and/or the inability to monitor the blow off valve position (open/closed).

How to solve this problem: Install controls that eliminate this lost energy through two means: 1) Closely monitoring the compressor’s blow off valve position and 2) Only opening the blow off valve once the compressor turns down as far as possible.

To learn more about centrifugal blow-off reduction, check out this whitepaper.


No Data Collection (Metrics/KPIs)

Without data collection capabilities, compressor and compressed air system KPIs, and other performance metrics, it’s hard to maintain, troubleshoot, and operate your compressed air system to its fullest potential.

Moreover, without robust metrics, you won’t receive a complete performance picture of your system.

How to solve this problem: Explore total system management opportunities through cloud-based analytics and software programs.

At Bay Controls, we use our BayWatch system to provide our clients with continuous, cloud-based monitoring and compressed air system management.

Questions about this post?

If you have questions or comments about this post, please contact us!