Compressed Air Leak Management
Good industrial practice says you should always fix your leaks once identified. Natural gas leaks certainly present “imminent danger” issues if not addressed to both personnel and property. Water leaks provide “slip hazards & safety issues” to plant personnel unless rectified. Compressed air however doesn’t seem to hold the same sense of urgency unless it is a massive air leak.
Every plant should subscribe to the development of a “Compressed Air Leak Management” program to assess and correct, on an ongoing basis leaks that are present in their compressed air system. Small leaks can turn into big leaks in a short period of time if not immediately addressed. The decision needs to be made to either purchase your own ultrasonic leak detector or you can contract with a company that performs these types of services. The goal is to identify, tag and fix the leak as soon as possible. A respectable goal would be to insure no more than 10% of your total air consumption is lost to leaks. This is not a one and done plan but an ongoing strategy to insure your leak load is always under control. Depending on the size of your plant you could divide the plant in quarters and every three months perform an ultrasonic leak audit, tag and fix the leaks in each quadrant of the facility. Many large plants try to audit their entire plant only to find the task of fixing all the leaks at once is overwhelming. We have seen leak tags a year and sometime two years later still hanging and never repaired. The old saying “The best way to eat a 500 pound elephant is one bite at a time” certainly applies in this scenario.
The cost of one ¼” leak at 120 psi (assuming .05c/kwhr) is just under $10,000 a year. Any smart business person realizes the odds they have more than one ¼” leak are high and that $10,000 could add up very quickly if not addressed. The chart below shows both the amount of air lost depending on the size of the leak and the cost. Remember the cost is assuming a low energy cost so if your blended power cost (generation & transmission) are at .10c/kwhr you would double your cost shown below to not fix leaks. Remember leaks leak 24/7 unless you turn your compressed air system off each night which many companies can’t or don’t think to do.