The Cost of Compressed Air Leaks — And a Proactive Approach to Address It

Leaks in compressed air systems are a significant source of energy waste. It takes a lot of time and resources to locate and repair them, especially if the facility has no effective leak management program. The solutions are often reactive. But what if we take a proactive approach to address these costly leaks?

The real cost of compressed air leaks

Air may be free, but the energy required to compress it is not. Compressors are one of the most power-hungry pieces of equipment in a plant, so even a small leak can equate to considerable loss of resources.

In a report, the Air and Mine Equipment Institute Australia calculated the annual cost of leaks. Left unfixed, a single 6.4-diameter leak can cost $3,404 while a 12.7-diameter leak can blow up the loss to $13,619. These numbers can be higher depending on the operation hours and the energy cost per KWH in your location. (these figures are at 1994 pricing  -25 years ago – my table is more up to date) (one hole 12.7 diameter is totally unrealistic, but multiple small holes could add up to this – better to explain this)

Of course, hardly any plant would operate with a 12.7mm hole in their pipework, but multiple small leaks throughout a reasonable size plant could quickly add up to create bleeding compressed air and energy bills.

Compressed air leaks also cause a pressure drop in the system. This decreases the efficiency of the tools that use the air which in turn translates to less production or lower quality of work.

With leaks, compressors tend to cycle more frequently as well. This may shorten the life of almost all equipment in the system, including the compressor unit itself. This leads to an increase in unscheduled downtime and additional repair and maintenance costs for the entire system.

As they cause costly energy waste during production, leaks should be addressed at the front end, either when installing a new compressed air system, rerouting an existing one or upgrading an entire system.

Designing leak solutions on the front end

Leaks can occur at any point along a compressed air line, but they mostly arise in joints and connections. These include pipe joints, valves and even air hose fittings. Before, threaded piping was the only option to join air systems. But this type of connection is slow and tends to leak during operations, especially if poorly installed. Poor thread cuts, uncleaned threads and improperly applied thread sealant can lead to leaks.

If you can assure flawless installation, then threaded piping is still an option to connect pipes. But in recent years, many engineers have begun to recommend press-to-connect or press-fit systems instead.

In press-fit systems, a pipe is cut to size, deburred and marked to specify insertion depth before it is inserted into a coupling, valve or fitting. The pipe will then be pressed using a handheld pressing tool to create a mechanical interlock that ensures a rigid, permanent joint that prevents leakage.

Press-fit systems offer additional benefits, including safe, flame-free installation. Since pipes are pressed onto joints, they also do a better job of standing up to the rigours of plant operations than threaded piping. The thinner wall piping increases flow rates and the smoother bore decreases pressure losses.

Solutions for compressed air leakage shouldn’t be reactive. If you have the chance to address the issue with intelligent design and reliable equipment during installation or rerouting phase, take it. With no or reduced leak issues, you can save energy and keep operational costs down all year round.

If you want to know more about press-fit connections and systems, don’t hesitate to contact us today.