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Pneumatic processes account for about 20% of the total power consumption of the factory. However, when air is optimized it becomes a game changer that has been shown to improve energy efficiency.

SMC Corporation ANZ Energy Conservation Group Manager Bill Blyth.

SMC Corporation ANZ Energy Conservation Group Manager Bill Blyth.

In a recent white paper, Andy Still, Industry Projects Manager for Energy (EU) at SMC, shared his thoughts on how companies can optimize their energy efficiency in line with one of the industry's best-kept secrets.


Although it is possible to introduce compressed air efficiencies, some systems today still suffer from leak rates of 20 to 50% as well as other forms of waste.

It is well known that the typical operating pressure (for main compressed air lines) in industrial plants is around 7 bar. What is less well known, however, is that systems can reduce their energy consumption by up to 15% by simply lowering the pressure to 5 bar. Lowering the pressure to 4 bar offers savings of up to 29%.

Says Still, “The global understanding of pressure reduction is that it affects performance. Although this statement is true for some devices, it has to be said that most processes can work efficiently at reduced pressure. "

Bill Blyth, manager of the Energy Conservation Group at SMC Corporation Australia New Zealand, confirms this assessment, saying that SMC has found an effective and reliable way to reduce pressure without compromising performance, although performance is critical in any facility remain.

"The aim is to ensure that 1) the available power is used optimally and 2) the demand peaks are smoothed out."

Identify the problems

Worldwide, the SMC energy saving team can carry out an energy saving audit that is geared towards these possibilities. An audit will be carried out in a few days without any business interruption.

“The first step is to evaluate the operation of the compressor, taking into account the filter components and air distribution, to ensure that the system does not have unnecessary pressure drops and that the flow is efficient across the entire pneumatic circuit,” says Mr. Still.

SMC determines the air quality through an air quality analysis.

“Then we examine various processes across the entire site, identify opportunities and quantify existing waste. Finally, our experts examine all devices that have an increased air requirement and identify compressed air inefficiencies and energy costs. "

These initiatives identify all existing conditions as well as existing and potential minimum pressure requirements for a facility's compressed air system.

Based on the results of the energy saving audit, SMC offers recommendations and solutions – including estimated costs – to eliminate inefficiencies and ensure system reliability in reducing pressure and flow rates.

“Companies often think that there are significant costs involved in the outcome of an audit – this is not always the case. In many cases it is possible to reduce operating pressure, reduce flow rates and avoid waste without the need for significant system updates, ”says Blyth.

Mr. Still adds that the order of priority must be:

  1. Elimination of waste (including leaks)
  2. The smoothing of flow peaks
  3. The reduction of overpressure
  4. The realization of improved energy efficiency on each of the components.

The elimination process

"Much like a car in need of maintenance, costly problems can arise if a pneumatic system is not properly maintained," says Blyth.

Regarding the disposal process, Mr. Still says: “We identify waste, often simply by repairing seals or hoses, for example. However, this action only works as a temporary improvement. More leaks inevitably occur, and small leaks eventually become larger. There must be a policy in place that ensures leak repair is an ongoing, ongoing project. A leak detection system (as simple as an in-line flow switch) can easily detect future leaks with the associated costs and wasted energy. "

When looking for components that create an excessive demand for compressed air, Still says air-blowing systems need to be considered.

“These can account for around 42% of global compressed air consumption and, if not optimized, can impair the efficiency of the entire system. To counter this problem, we can, for example, offer a solution that reduces the consumption of blown air by up to 85% through more efficient air control technology, or investigate alternatives to replacing the blown air system.

“This choice is associated with a low investment, but the quick return on investment is due to the typically high consumption of blowers. It's also important to consider vacuum systems, which make up 9% of global consumption. One example is a vacuum unit with SMC's energy-saving digital pressure circuit, which enables systems to reduce air consumption by 93%.

“Intelligent control with appropriate valve technology also serves to balance the circuit, reduce peaks and, if possible, enable a lower pressure. For example, the return strokes (non-working) of the actuator can often operate at a lower operating pressure – sometimes 2 bar or less. "

Achieve 75% less energy consumption

“The next and not so complicated step will be to optimize individual machine components,” says Still. "Small improvements can bring big profits."

“Pay attention to the stroke, the connections and the assembly of a cylinder. The right size is crucial here, ”adds Mr Blyth.

Adding a digital gap checker to machining applications (to confirm workpiece placement) can also make a remarkable difference as it reduces air consumption by 60%. This detection principle ensures a flow rate of 0 L / min when the workpiece is in its holder.

The combination of reduced operating pressure and system improvements brings enormous savings in energy consumption – usually around 75%.

Mr. Blyth concludes with the words: “SMC offers our customers dedicated support in saving energy. Customers can feel confident that we have the knowledge and experience to reduce system pressure without risk. "

About SMC

SMC was founded 60 years ago and operates in 83 countries and employs 19,000 people worldwide. It has an R&D engineering team of 1,450 people and 8,200 sales people who are experts in their fields and who work closely with SMC's customers.

To provide automation solutions for its diverse customer base, SMC offers more than 12,000 basic products with over 700,000 variations.

SMC is the world's leading pneumatics supplier and has been voted one of the most innovative global companies by the leading business magazine Forbes for three years in a row and is listed in FORBES Global 2000 as one of the world's largest public companies.

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