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Quick wins to reduce compressed air use

22 May 2023

Andy Macpherson explores some quick sustainability wins that can be easily implemented to help quickly reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency on a plant floor.

Despite years of publicity, many manufacturers are still wasting so much money through the poor use of compressed air. 

Some electrical drive manufacturers advocate that the way to achieve CO2 reduction and hit sustainability goals is a simple matter of replacing pneumatics with electric drives, but this is an over-simplification of the reality facing machine builders and operators in the food sector.

A complex process
Achieving carbon neutrality is a complex process but investing time in the optimal selection and operation of pneumatic systems can deliver significant sustainability wins, reducing energy consumption, reducing waste, and driving down costs. 

Working for Festo, a manufacturer with roots in pneumatics but today focusing more and more on electric drive technology, I can take a step back and take a balanced view of improving energy efficiency in food production machinery. 

We share the responsibility to use energy efficiently. When compressing air, a substantial percentage of energy can be lost as heat. However, the latest heat recovery systems can recover up to 90% of that energy to offset other energy requirements. In the Festo Scharnhausen factory, this energy is used to heat offices and raise the temperature in anodising processes – the biggest single energy consumer in the plant. Waste heat from compressed air generation in food production can be similarly captured and used elsewhere.

At a plant level, Festo has also invested in energy monitoring and mapping to stagger the loading of its air and electric networks, using recycled and recovered energy wherever possible and reducing peak loading. It has optimised its compressed air installation network, reducing the standard ring main to provide 4-4.5 bar. It uses a far smaller higher-pressure network and local air intensifiers for outlying, older applications that still need higher pressures. 

There are significant savings at a CAPEX plant level – paybacks are frequently within two to three years. However, the many marginal gains quickly add up at the individual machine and even actuator level. Often these don’t have to cost more, other than taking the time to break from the pattern of what has been done before. 

Andy Macpherson is Food and Packaging Industry Sector Manager at Festo UK.

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