Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies are placing compressed air systems front and center, despite usually being in the shadows.
Contributed by Graham Coats, Sales Director at CMC
Until very recently, the air compressor has been nothing but a workhorse; a key tool in the manufacturer’s toolbox, certainly, but one that’s kept away in the back room and rarely given much attention.
A bit like the waste collection service, air compressors — or at least the service they provide — are often taken for granted. Until they fail, of course, and then their absence is deeply felt in the form of high repair costs, downtime and possibly lost revenue.
Given how air compressor failure can lead to a series of unproductive and expensive scenarios, it’s in the manufacturer’s interest to monitor their assets’ performance and health.
This is where scheduled maintenance has traditionally played a role, whereby air compressors are periodically serviced and dusted off until the next engineer’s visit. Although even at the point of servicing, engineers rarely pay much attention to the immediate environment in which the assets are operating to ensure that it’s cool, clean and dust free, all of which can significantly impede performance. Yet, a lot can happen between service intervals. And how do you know how effective your assets are performing in-between?
This is where IIoT is elevating the role of the air compressor and enabling its users to maximize their effectiveness.
The traditional model vs. the 21st century way
Prior to the real-time opportunities that IIoT facilitates, air compressors were managed and monitored manually.
This typically meant that there was an overreliance on only a handful of engineers who were able to make sense of reams of data. Performance could be monitored, but only when the engineer gave the asset attention — and even then, the engineer could only make a decision based on information taken at that moment in time. The result was ad-hoc analysis, laborious number crunching and an absence of the bigger picture.
Add the fact that engineers tend to focus on the actual asset and neglect the environment in which it’s located means that dust levels and ambient temperature, for example, are rarely acknowledged and assessed as contributory factors towards poor performance.
Now, via cloud-based air compressor monitoring, performance and control solutions, the health of each and every air compressor can be monitored during every second the asset is in use — either independently or as an entire interrelated compressed air system.
Sensors — or tags — that monitor every aspect of a compressor’s performance including operating temperatures, pressures, power levels and output flow, so that true asset-specific efficiency can be assessed, are now being installed within compressed air assets to feed live data back to the cloud. This is then interpreted into a visual interface that quickly and effectively communicates important data to those responsible for getting the most from their assets.
Those happy to lean harder into the technology can even let the command and control system use the data to automatically adjust the compressor, whilst it’s operational, in order to optimize its performance.
In adopting technologies such as these manufacturers are not only able to guarantee accountability of their assets, but also the accountability of the service providers employed to keep them running effectively.
Compressors no longer need to cost the earth
Air compressors are critically important for industry. However, they’re also very expensive to run. Approximately 10% of industrial electricity is used to generate compressed air, making it one of the most expensive forms of energy.
When you consider the perennial problem of compressors running unloaded, or take into account compressed air systems that aren’t running optimally, be that through faults with individual compressors, poor synchronicity between a group of compressors, or simply inefficiencies that haven’t been spotted, it’s easy to see how there quickly becomes an environmental cost, too.
Against the backdrop of increasing carbon emissions and global pressure to reduce them, volatile energy costs and carbon taxes beginning to take shape, it’s now in a manufacturer’s interests to reduce their compressed air consumption for both financial and environmental reasons.
IIoT technology in practice
According to IOT Analytics*, which provides markets insights on the Internet of Things (IoT), global spending on IoT by enterprises is expected to have grown 24% in 2021. Furthermore, it anticipates IoT spending to grow at 26.7% annually, highlighting how important asset tracking is becoming in the modern world.
In the context of air compressors AIRMATICS, CMC’s IoT portfolio of products that provide real time data, analytics and insights at the push of a button, is positively impacting manufacturers around the globe.
Take one Fortune 100 company responsible for producing military and passenger aerospace parts from its South Carolina site, for example, which was trying to manage compressor-related inefficiencies, mechanical breakdowns and constant repair work across its compressed air system.
To manage the repeated breakdown of four of the plant’s fixed speed water-cooled compressors, which range from 125 to 250 hp, the manufacturer was regularly arranging on-site repair work and paying large air compressor rental fees in order to avoid downtime and keep the plant operational. However, this was not always achievable; at one stage, downtime was so high that some machines were only able to deliver three days of production in a month. Following a compressed air audit by I&M Industrials, the decision to install AIRMATICS was taken.
To assess their investment and explore the savings afforded by installing AIRMATICS, the manufacturer agreed to run a trial in which the newly installed remote monitoring platform was turned off for one week to provide a comparative analysis.
During February 12 – 19 2021, the AIRMATICS Aero control system was switched off to allow the 125 and 250 hp compressors to run as they had been prior to the installation of AIRMATICS. During this period, non-productive and productive energy stood at 37% and 63% respectively.
AIRMATICS was then switched back on again on for the period February 19 – 26, during which time non-productive energy decreased to 23% whilst productive energy increased to 77%.
The average efficiency level reached when AIRMATICS was switched off amounted to 25.8 kW/100 cfm compared to the 20.1 kW achieved with AIRMATICS switched on. With a continuous saving of 5.7 kW/100 cfm, it is now expected to save the business $500,721 kWh a year and reduce the annual compressed air energy bill at the plant by $35,050, delivering a return on investment in only one year.
The future’s bright with IIoT
The fact that IIoT can transform traditional assets into smart assets means that manufacturers are likely to increasingly rely on its capability.
As for the humble air compressor, it no longer needs to remain hiding in the shadows. In fact, with IIoT there is no longer anywhere for it to hide, as every aspect of its performance can now be analyzed and optimized in a way that could never have been achieved prior to advancements in IIoT.
In tandem with IIoT, the air compressor has earned its right to shine and the future now looks very bright, more sustainable and less expensive for manufacturers worldwide.