Why compressed air leak detection matters – and how to maximise its benefits

Compressed air systems include not just the compressor, but the pipes, valves, and other parts too. While air production is important, air leakage is a costly aspect of these types of systems. Even a minor 3mm gap creates a pressure drop, lost air, and increases energy costs by thousands of pounds.

The older the system is, the likelier it is to suffer from compressed air leaks. Valves get left open by mistake, fittings become looser, or pipes are no longer airtight. Pinpointing leaks in a busy production facility with considerable background noise is like finding a needle in a haystack, without specialised equipment to find leaks efficiently.

Why Should a Business Be Concerned About Air Leaks?

Any facility that relies on compressed air should be wise to the inconvenience of air leaks. Air tools depend on reliable access to compressed air. Notably, pressure drops due to air leakage interfere with workflow and by extension, plant efficiency.

By some estimates, the global industrial complex consumes roughly ten percent of all energy production for compressed air generation. Compressed air leakage runs above 10 percent in most facilities for older systems often nearing 30 percent. This is a surprise to many plant managers who don’t imagine that a few small air leaks will create such a substantial loss.

What Are the Potential Losses from Air Leaks at a Facility?

The potential financial consequences of compressed air leaks vary depending on a few factors:

· Size of the source of the leak.

· BAR pressure level.

· Power is used to produce the compressed air at the required pressure level.

· The number of hours the air compressor system is operational weekly.

If we use an example of a 3mm diameter hole, using 7 bar of pressure, with equipment operational for 120 hours per week, the potential air leakage is 7.1 l/s, and the energy loss would potentially be over £10,512 annually. Also, from an environmental standpoint, this potentially equates to over 15 tonnes of wasteful CO2 emissions.

Whilst the diameter size of air holes will vary, the larger, older, and more complex the compressed air distribution system is, the greater the potential for multiple air leaks. Simply put, if there’s one leak somewhere, then there are probably many others too.

Indeed, most systems won’t remain airtight forever. However, isolating and resolving most air leaks is possible by using the latest ultrasonic detectors.

Indirect Consequences of Using Leaking Compressed Air Systems

Compressor systems using more energy than necessary due to air leakage problems don’t only operate at a higher cost. The equipment must attempt to compensate for air pressure losses within the system, or operate for longer than normally necessary, putting the equipment under greater strain. This leads to more maintenance, repairs, and replacement parts.

Irregular air pressure levels cause sensitive air-operated tools to sputter and stop on occasion. Stoppages or air tools no longer running at peak efficiency affect staff operator morale and add to operating costs too.

Plant managers worry about the inconvenience of obtaining a detailed report on air leaks and whether it’ll pay for itself in future energy savings. Yet this ignores the reality that many compressed air systems develop costly air leaks over time. Ignorance isn’t bliss in this case. Instead, the losses are all but silent except for the occasional hissing sound that’s heard over the operational din.

Worst Culprits for Air Leakage in a Compressed Air System

Just like there isn’t usually one air leak discovered during a leak detection survey, the same is true for the source of air leakages too.

Here are a few of the more common sources in an industrial setting:

·     Old pipes.

·     Joints connecting long stretches of pipe 

·     Leaky pressure regulators.

·     Couplings, seals, flanges, or hoses are not airtight due to dirt.

·     Damaged or missing O-rings.

·     Filters and lubricators past their prime.

·     Inferior sealants and/or too infrequently applied.

·     Valves left open by default (condensate drain valves and shut-off valves, particularly)

·     Air equipment is not turned off when not in use.

·     Non-maintained air tools leaking during use.

Leak Detection

Old-school leak detection involved using soapy suds on all relevant areas and looking for air bubbles to appear. If this reminds you of attempting to track the source of a bicycle puncture, you’re not wrong…  It’s inefficient, time-consuming, and shouldn’t be used any longer.

Instead, the latest high-tech approach is ultrasonic detectors. These clever handheld devices include a camera with an ultrasonic image overlayed across it. This provides the air leak tester with a reliable method to detect leaks at their source. It is done without any disruption to operational facilities too.

Ultrasonic detectors use a combination of low-pressure turbulence and high-pressure laminar flow to isolate changes indicating an air leak. The ultrasonic signal becomes more prevalent at the point of the leak, helping to isolate its precise location.

Get an Air Leak Detection Report from Anglian Compressors

Anglian Compressors have considerable experience performing complete air leak surveys on behalf of our customers.

We use highly sensitive ultrasonic leak detection equipment that not only identifies each air leak location but also estimates the size of the leak and the losses occurring because of it.

Our compressed air leak detection process includes the following:

Stage 1 – A review of the air network to understand the system and how it’s used.

Stage 2 – Air network audit. Our ultrasonic leak detection process confirms all detectable air leaks, their locations, the litres per minute of compressed air lost, and the approximate financial losses.

Stage 3 – Manual tagging where each leak has been located, including relevant data like the estimated flow rate of the air leak.

Stage 4 – An Air leak detection report is provided, including the locations, tagging information, leak volumes (l/s), a photo of each leak, estimated air leak losses, and a repair expense estimation.

We recommended that operations that use compressed air recheck their system annually to inspect for new leaks. Ageing compressed air systems are likelier to spring more leaks as the system ages ungracefully.

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