Considering how crucial compressed air systems are for the industrial sector, it is rather surprising that more companies aren’t keeping a closer eye on compressed air energy efficiency. In many shops and factories around the world, as long as the necessary level of pressure is maintained, managers and operators are satisfied.
That’s where Key Performance Indicators — often abbreviated as KPIs — come in. KPIs as an approach can be used in any and every business and industry. They reflect a more quantitative approach to efficiency and performance. They give managers the data to make better decisions and more precise adjustments in order to save money and increase profitability.
So why aren’t you applying KPI thinking to your compressed air system? As you search for systems and operations within your business that could be leaner, compressed air is a great place to start. That’s why we’ve put together this guide for using KPIs to improve your compressed air efficiency. We’re going to explore individual KPIs within compressed air systems and discuss how you can apply data collecting to minimize costs and maximize profits.
Overall system pressure is the KPI with which most compressed air system operators are familiar. Even if you’re only monitoring the pressure gauge, you’re paying attention to system pressure KPIs. But there are more aspects to system pressure than simply maintaining a minimum pressure level.
Let’s consider this statistic from Compressed Air Best Practices’ analysis of pressure KPIs. On average, power consumption in screw compressors increases .5% for every increase in psi in discharge pressure. Similarly, unregulated compressed air flows increase at a rate of 1% for every increase in psi.
While maintaining minimum pressure is important, these data show that having too much pressure can increase electricity costs. So if all you look at is maintaining minimum pressure without also considering the ways in which you’re unnecessarily exceeding minimum pressure, you could be losing money.
There are other factors that complicate KPI monitoring of system pressure. If you have an advanced system, especially one that includes filters and air dryers, the pressure gauge — which usually measures pressure before it goes through cleanup equipment — may not be accurately depicting the real pressure delivered to your tools.
That’s why it’s important to have more robust system pressure monitoring if you really want to apply the power of KPIs. If you only watch the pressure gauge, you could be losing money by not holding your average pressure at the minimum needed to keep your operations running. Similarly, the pressure gauge may be reporting real pressure inaccurately, meaning your tools might not be getting the power they need, hurting tool performance and worker efficiency.
Despite countless incentives — let alone savings — to be gained through improved energy efficiency within today’s industries, many companies don’t closely monitor or measure the power consumption within their compressed air systems. In fact, Compressed Air Best Practices asserts that power consumption is the single least measured KPI.
One of the primary reasons is because operators are overly trusting of the energy rating provided by the manufacturer.
However, there are a number of factors that could cause your compressed air system to consume far more energy than it should. A small malfunction could cause an otherwise energy saving operating cycle to actually do the opposite of what it was designed to do. Furthermore, many components of more advanced compressor systems — such as those with filtration drains and dryers — are independently powered. While your actual compressor may be working fine, a small malfunction or complication with additional components may be causing them to use far more electricity than assumed.
By using advance data analysis, you can discover countless savings by simply tightening up the way your whole system consumes electricity. Furthermore, this kind of a data is important for claiming energy efficiency incentives.
The level of air flow produced by a compressed air system is also difficult to quantify. But this kind of data is essential for measuring the overall efficiency of system.
This is especially important if you have a complex system with the ability to vary capacity, modulate operations in alternate ways or blow off excess pressure. Not only do such variables make a simple air flow measurement insufficient, but they also present numerous opportunities for inefficiencies, especially if there are malfunctions. Such is the case with air dryers that use purge air for operation or nitrogen converting systems. While such systems pose advantages, especially when it comes to efficiency, monitoring is essential for ensuring that you’re reaping the benefits.
That being said, tracking these KPIs has only gotten better with the implementation of new, affordable and easy to use monitoring technologies.
Considering air dryers, they provide an essential process for improving the functionality and efficiency of compressed air systems. Yet they themselves so often go unmonitored.
The best way to track the efficiency of air dryers is to measure dew point. Because moisture within compressed air systems can lead to underpowered and malfunctioning tools, ensuring that the dew point within the system stays at a constant level is a crucial KPI measurement. Furthermore, variations in the dew point are the first warning of impending malfunctions, including the total failure of the dryer control system.
Not to be confused with overall power consumption, specific power measures the number of kilowatts (kW) required to produce a certain amount of air pressure, usually standardized as 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm).
By collecting this data, you’ll get the best sense of your system’s overall energy efficiency, and will be able to make close comparisons against how your system should be performing.
Using a Compressed Air Best Practices case study as an example, a certain company was using a compressed air system rated at 18 kW per 100 cpm. The factory’s system consumed 435 kW and was thus able to produce around 1500 cpm. However, this means that they were actually operating at a rate of 29 kW per 100 cpm, a rate over 60% less efficient then intended.
Specific power is an excellent indicator of your overall efficiency, but it generally needs to be combined with other KPIs in order to isolate the problem. That’s why many companies that haven’t previously been tracking KPIs throughout their systems turn to specific power first. It gives you the kind of big picture data you need in order to dig deeper into isolated issues.
One of these specific issues is leaks. While your compressor may be operating at peak efficiency, you may still find that you aren’t getting the kind of power you need from the compressor’s various applications. That’s because a perfectly operating compressor can’t do anything to prevent pressure loss further down the line.
One of the easiest ways to measure this is to observe individual applications and compare them with the overall specific power data. If a particular operation is requiring a severe increase in specific power, it likely that some element within that operation is causing a leak. With that information, maintenance crews can be employed in order to deal with the problem without wasting labor on components that are operating efficiently.
This important KPI that should be used in conjunction with air dryer and dew point monitoring. While air dryers may be operating properly, an excessive heat discharge can lead to increased moisture within the system. In this case, the malfunction isn’t in the dryer but instead is whatever is producing the excessive ambient heat. No amount of tweaking with the dryers will make the system operate at peak performance as long as the excessive heat is still produced.
Reducing carbon footprints have become important initiatives within many industries, whether they have been implemented internally or through external financial incentives.
In order to keep up with such initiatives — and collect the financial rewards if they’re available — you’ll need to track and log these data.
Thankfully, KPIs related to carbon emissions are useful throughout a number of applications, so don’t consider them as an added burden, but instead as another potential application of robustly relevant data.
Further Thoughts on Energy Management Systems Certification
One such incentive that has grown to be especially important throughout many companies and industries is the ISO 50001 Energy Management Systems certification. While this certification is completely voluntary, it is a wonderful tool for companies looking to save money on energy while proving their commitment to energy efficiency to outside parties.
However, in order to receive this certification, it’s important that KPI’s be tracked and logged. This can be done through the installation of permanent monitoring systems, which will have continued value as they can log data for future analysis and efficiency adjusting. You can also employ external energy auditors if a temporary solution makes more sense for your business.
Coordination With Other Plant-Wide KPIs
It is also helpful to track compressed air system KPIs alongside other plant-wide KPI initiatives. While many of the compressed air factors and functions tracked are contingent on operational issues specific to the systems themselves, some KPIs may fluctuate in accordance with human resource factors. For example, increased seasonal workload may be putting abnormal pressure on compressed air systems. Your system may be more than able to satisfy the standard loads, but may be straining and inefficient during the elevated periods.
Furthermore, within companies that operate multiple plants, drawing broad comparisons can be a helpful tool for understanding how site-specific operations and procedures may be affecting compressed air efficiency. By developing company specific best practices based on the plant that is operating most efficiently, you can increase efficiency company-wide.
KPI Tracking Without Instrument Installation
While the most precise data collection and logging must be done with specifically designed equipment, installation could be cost prohibitive for smaller operations. Fortunately, there are ways to track KPIs without installing extra monitoring equipment.
For example, equipment ratings can be used to approximate output efficiency and then compared with data collected manually. While this won’t give you the same level of precision as monitoring equipment, it can give you a general sense of your KPIs. If you fear that you’re not operating at the level of efficiency that you should be, this could serve as justification for hiring an outside auditor. However, if you appear to be operating at or near the rated efficiency, then you may not need to invest in further auditing.
You can also collect more qualitative data in order to address potential sites for further investigation. For example, if employees report underpowered tools during certain parts of the day, then that might be an area worthy of additional review. While these data weren’t collected using precision instrumentation, the experience and expertise of seasoned workers should not be discounted. Their input can prove invaluable moving forward, and can be easily tracked through manual record keeping.
Auditing With Quincy Compressor
If you’re ready to track KPIs and are looking for outside help, then look no further than Quincy Compressor’s industry leading EQ auditing program. By combining years of experience manufacturing compressed air systems with an understanding of the most technologically advanced tools, we’ve helped countless businesses improve their overall energy efficiency, while also ensuring that their compressed air systems are operating at peak performance.
The EQ: Efficiency Quotient process, which received accolades from Frost and Sullivan, this program collects relevant data while providing a keen understanding of industry-approved best practices in order to give you the information you need along with appropriate adjustments moving forward.
The program begins with a free plant walkthrough, to help you establish an energy efficiency baseline. Then, we collect information through monitoring equipment in order to identify energy cost reduction opportunities. We finish it off with an exhaustive action report that equips you to make the necessary changes in order to save your business money.
However, our engineered audit is even more exhaustive and a great way to establish KPI levels and uncover opportunities for improvement throughout your compressed air system. This is a great option for a company that is looking to maximize efficiency but is not able to afford the installation of permanent monitoring equipment. By employing one of our audits, you’ll get the kind of data normally provided by high-end equipment without the cost of purchase and installation.
No matter which route you take, tracking KPIs is a great way to minimize costs and maximize profits. While any and every industry operation system can afford the quantitative approach of KPI analysis, such analysis is especially beneficial for compressed air systems. While compressed air systems provide unrivaled durability, reliability and usability for plants of any size, they can be heavy electricity users. As more companies look at energy costs as an opportunity for lowering their bottom line, compressed air systems are a great place to start. So if you’re ready to start taking a serious approach to KPIs, begin with compressed air. As the leader in compressed air systems manufacturing, we look forward to partnering with you to help identify opportunities for improvement and equip you with the tools to turn opportunities into savings.