Kokomo Casting Plant | Kokomo, IN
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Kokomo Casting plant produces die cast aluminum automotive components, transmission and transaxle cases, and engine block castings for the merged international automaker. The plant, in Kokomo, Indiana, which began producing parts for Chrysler in 1965, has undergone several major expansions over the years. At its current size of 625,000 square feet covering 35 acres, the plant claims status as the world’s largest die cast facility. Compressed air is a major energy consumer at the Kokomo plant; it is used not only to power the die casting machines, but also in the coordinate measurement machine room and for air tools that perform maintenance work. The Kokomo plant was one of only two Chrysler facilities that were not yet using Bay Controls compressor controls, which were standard at all other Chrysler production facilities. The goal at Kokomo was to duplicate the energy savings achieved at the other plants by installing Bay Controls equipment.
The layout of compressors at the Kokomo plant presented a challenge. The plant has five centrifugal compressors, from two different manufacturers, that feed the same air header from three separate locations spaced out over nearly a quarter of a mile. Two 4,500 cfm units are in place at one location; one 6,000 cfm unit sits at a second location; and two 2,500 cfm units are at a third location.
This spread-out distribution caused system-wide pressure fluctuations that were being addressed by setting individual compressors at higher than optimal pressures. System pressure was maintained at about 104 psi, with individual compressors often set higher to provide enough air for the demanding die-casting process. To meet the unpredictable fluctuations in air pressure demand, additional compressors were started manually during peak periods.
Bay Controls engineers proposed a solution that would reduce compressed air use by upgrading the control system and lowering system pressure. The installation called for retrofitting all five compressors with Bay Controls controllers, networking the units and configuring them to operate as a single, unified system rather than individual, stand-alone units. After Bay Controls compressor controllers were installed, the compressors were networked, and the distance between them was no longer an obstacle to efficiency. Even though the compressors were from multiple manufacturers, they were now in constant communication with each other, allowing them to work together at a single facility-wide pressure rather than operating at individual set points. In fact, overall system pressure was reduced to 99.5 psi without impacting the production process. In addition to the compressor controllers, the project included the addition of BayView and BayWatch modules. BayView is an on-site monitoring and control system that allows plant engineers to control the entire compressed air system from a central workstation, and BayWatch is a cloud-based monitoring and alerting system that is accessible from anywhere via an internet browser.
Operating with the Bay Controls instrumentation and software has enabled the Kokomo plant’s compressors to perform as an integrated system instead of as a collection of isolated units. As a result, air pressure no longer fluctuates dramatically during production periods, which allows the plant to run at a lower system pressure. Lower pressure requires less electricity consumption, and the energy savings from this project were large enough that the plant received a utility rebate, which shortens the payback period.
In addition to reduced energy costs at the plant, its engineering personnel now enjoy the convenience of controlling and monitoring the compressed air system from their desks with BayView. They also can see the compressors’ key performance data—including energy consumption—from remote locations using BayWatch. This close monitoring enables them to respond quickly to correct or alleviate any potential problems. Although the compressors are primarily operated remotely within the plant using BayView, the compressors can still be operated manually when required.
Although plant personnel were initially uncertain about networking compressors from multiple manufacturers, as well as the viability of the proposed system in a die-casting facility, with its characteristically inconsistent and often rapidly vacillating air pressure demand, their concerns have been alleviated by observing the system’s effectiveness. In fact, plant managers anticipate realizing additional energy savings and convenience benefits in the short term when they begin using the new system’s full automation capabilities (such as on/off, load/unload, etc.) to control the compressor network.