Compressed Air Leak Surveys and Their Importance in Industry
A compressed air leak survey is the starting point of a compressed air leak management program. Compressed air leak management refers to preventive/corrective maintenance practices performed to minimize leaks in a compressed air system that are recurring and documented to ensure system reliability and efficiency.
A compressed air leak survey involves using an ultrasonic leak detector to audit all parts of the compressed air system for air leaks. Why is this important? A standard compressed air system that does not have an air leak management program can attribute 30% of its air requirement to leaks. This in turn leads to a higher demand requirement for the compressor and more overall run-hours. Depending on the size of the system, leaks can have a major impact on facility energy costs.
Performing a compressed air leak survey annually can generally help reduce air leaks by up to 50%, which can decrease the demand for the air compressor, lead to lower operational pressures and potentially eliminate the need for additional compressors within the system.
What is the UE UltraView Camera?
To conduct a compressed air leak survey, an ultrasonic leak detector is a necessity. There are many different kinds with varying levels of technology incorporated; however, they all accomplish the same task: determining the decibel level of a leak and converting that to a cubic feet per minute (CFM) equivalent of air. Ultrasonic leak detectors are special because they can pick up sounds that are in the “ultrasonic” range that would otherwise be inaudible to facility personnel. Once you determine the CFM equivalent of a leak, you can quantify the energy savings that would be generated by fixing it.
Our staff has experience with different types of ultrasonic leak detectors. The newest technology that has been acquired and used is an ultrasonic camera, which displays the location of air leaks in real time and quantifies decibel and CFM values. This ability allows for quicker and more accurate surveys and a much easier learning curve for operators. Our specific camera is the UE Systems UltraView Leak Detection Camera.
What does the process look like?
Before diving headfirst into a leak survey, it is ideal to plan a path to systematically and efficiently cover all branches of the compressed air system. Get a copy of the compressed air piping diagram and plan the route; if not available, have knowledgeable staff help create a route. For larger facilities, it may help to break up the facility into sections to be completed over the course of a year (e.g., do a section every quarter). You will also want to ensure that your ultrasonic leak detector is properly calibrated and ready to go.
During the leak survey, you will follow the planned path, utilize the detector to sweep for leaks along the compressed air piping and focus on areas that have a higher probability of leaks, such as joints/fittings. For each leak detected, tag and document the leak information for reporting purposes and so that it can be easily found to fix later. It is a good idea to track reoccurring leaks so that problem areas can be identified and checked more often. Note that there are apps designed to streamline the documentation and reporting for air leak surveys that are easily accessible with a simple search.
Once the leak survey has been completed, a report is created to summarize the results. These results show leak size, estimated cost, and energy and greenhouse gas savings, as seen in the example below. The total savings can often be mind-blowing!
The last and most important step is fixing the leaks in a timely manner to ensure savings are achieved. It is beneficial to start with the major leaks before moving to moderate and then minor ones. Be sure to remove tags once leaks are fixed and to keep a record of the fixes to avoid repeat work.
Compressed air leak surveys are a great way to reduce energy consumption at your facility and maintain optimal performance of the compressed air system. Whether this is done in-house, with the purchase of an ultrasonic leak detector, or by utilizing third-party specialists such as Advanced Energy, this is a key low-cost, high-reward step toward meeting your energy efficiency or greenhouse gas reduction goals. Remember, air leaks will continue to occur, so having periodic air leak surveys is an ongoing critical process to ensure good air leak management.