Compressed Air Leak Detection
In one month, a leak in your compressed air system of just a quarter of an inch will create a loss of 3 million cubic feet of air in a system with 100 PSIG. This results in 107,000 kWh of energy loss at power levels of 18 kW/100 cubic feet per minute (CFM) — at $0.10 per kW, that's a $10,700 value. The higher your system’s pressure, the more expensive the loss.
Compressed air system efficiency can be significantly compromised by air leaks. On average, air leaks are responsible for 20-30% loss in total air in most manufacturing plants. In cases where no compressed air system maintenance is performed and leaks go undetected, the loss can exceed 50%. So how can you find these leaks and fix them?
How to Detect Compressed Air Leaks
There are several different methods for detecting compressed air leakage:
- Listening: Sometimes, just listening for the hiss of air as you walk by a compressed air line can alert you to a leak. This method can be effective for large leaks that you can listen for during off-hours or when the pipe is close by and easily accessible. Other times, if your facility is louder or doesn't have any shutdown time, you won't hear a leak.
- Soapy water: By applying soapy water to the pipes, you can look for the buildup of bubbles. These bubbles quickly direct you to the leak. However, this method won't work well if the pipe is hard to get to, and it won't tell you much about the size of the leak.
- Ultrasonic acoustic detector: An ultrasonic detector works even in loud areas and is the most reliable way to see if your air compressor is leaking. It listens for specific high frequencies that leaks make using directional microphones, audio filters and amplifiers. Some advanced ultrasonic devices estimate the size of the leak and can even conduct visual scans.
While leaks in the hoses and tubes are common, they often occur at connections, too. You might find them at couplings, pipe joints, shut-off valves, condensate traps and filters.
The Effects of Compressed Air Leaks
Since compressed air leaks can account for such a high portion of a compressed air system's capacity, finding and fixing leaks is critical to save energy, boost productivity and reduce costs.
By eliminating leaks, you can:
- Reduce the need for large-capacity compressors. Because leaks make it seem like you're using more air than you are, many businesses opt to purchase larger compressors than necessary, thinking they need it to keep up with demand. In addition to the higher capital costs, it also increases energy consumption as leaks are still in place.
- Improve productivity. If air compressor equipment doesn't get the pressure it needs, it can fail or struggle to complete the task at hand. This performance can cause downtime, quality issues and undue wear on the equipment. Without leaks, you can keep air pressure consistent and at the right level for your tools.
- Use energy more efficiently. If your air compressor isn't using up energy to produce wasted air, it works much more effectively. The cost savings can be significant.
Leaks can appear frequently, and staying on top of them typically requires a proactive leak detection program. These programs involve an identification and tagging system, repair and verification. Employee involvement is also important since the staff works closely with these systems and can often perform compressed air leak detection methods.
How Energy Efficient Is Your Compressed Air System?
Do you have a comprehensive system in place to identify and fix leaks? If not, we can help you get there with our access to advanced tools and a team of knowledgeable experts.
Contact C.H. Reed to schedule an ultrasonic leak detection analysis. Using structured compressed air data analysis and reporting tools, we can help you identify air leaks, share detailed metrics and analytics and help identify cost-saving opportunities that increase energy efficiency and profitability for your business.