By opening a window to visualise their compressed air energy consumption in real time, production teams are defending against rising costs and achieving operating efficiencies with relatively little effort.

Manufacturers are facing unprecedented challenges to stem rocketing energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. As the so-called “fourth utility” of manufacturing, compressed air systems can frequently be the cause of wasted energy.

Compressed accounts for 10% of energy use in a typical manufacturing operation, rising to 30% in heavy use industries. It’s estimated that manufacturers waste around 30% of the compressed air they generate.2 But, until now, operators have only been able to get a limited grasp on how much energy is actually being used or by their compressed air systems, and where the problems lie.

Even with a modern energy management system, a maintenance team may only survey the plant every three or six months. External companies may conduct periodic spot check audits. The data provided is reliable only for one moment in time, and little can be gleaned about any trends or patterns. Do some machines use more compressed air than others, when, and why? How can compressed air energy reduction best be targeted across entire processes and production halls?

‘Bolt-on’ Transparency

By feeding the data from accurate instruments into new cloud-based monitoring systems, sensor manufacturers are introducing digital services that are easy to ‘bolt on’ to production process with minimal set-up and no programming. The results can be remarkably revealing, and SICK customers have been surprised by the discoveries they can make.

SICK has developed a turnkey solution for continuous compressed air energy management. The SICK FTMg is a multifunctional flow sensor that enables the measurement of live values for compressed air energy in kWh. Using data from SICK FTMg flow meters strategically positioned around a plant, and usually close to machines or cells, a wealth of both real-time and historic data about compressed air usage, including energy consumption, is available.

Data from the FTMg flow meter is made transparent through graphics presented in the SICK FTMg Monitoring App. With the click of a button, users can start visualising all this continuous compressed air data in a way that is easy to use and interpret. As well as values for pressure, temperature, flow velocity, mass flow rate and volumetric flow rate in real time, the system provides totals for energy use, volume and mass over a pre-defined period.

The user-friendly dashboard makes it easy to interpret data to detect leaks or overconsumption and to look for changes and trends. Email alerts can be set up for maintenance reminders or to give pre-defined warnings with job recommendations, for example, when data strays beyond pre-defined limits. Users can drill down to identify costs, for example for individual production centres or by shift.

Unexpected Insights

We are already seeing how early adopters of the FTMg Monitoring App are gaining unexpected insights. They have been able, for example, to make start-up and shutdown management of processes and machines more efficient, improve compressor control, and manage peak loads.

By tracking consumption over time, losses are easier to spot and correct. For example, energy waste is clear if the compressed air usage graph does not baseline close to zero at weekends. Is there a surge in power usage on a Monday morning when machines are turned on? Then, perhaps, a more efficient power-up sequence could be adopted to prevent overloading the compressor.

The system makes it possible to monitor energy usage close to the machine cells where the compressed air is being used. Armed with additional information, production teams can pose specific questions: How much air is cell number 1 using, compared to cell number 2? If cell no 3 uses a lot more compressed air energy, then keep it offline as long as possible. How much compressed air energy is needed to produce one type of component compared to another?

As well as enabling resources to be used more sustainably, the data insights support better operational efficiency and help achieve reduced carbon targets. The information can contribute towards ISO50001 Energy Management certification, or compliance with the UK Government’s Energy Saving Opportunity Scheme (ESOS).

  1. British Compressed Air Society Reducing Energy Consumption from Compressed Air Usage
  2. Carbon Trust, Compressed air, Opportunities for Business (2012)