Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring, Part 5 – What now?

This is the last article in Automate’s article series on Compressed Air Monitoring.

Read previous parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

This last part focuses more on rationalizing the decision to adopt modern technologies. We’ve already discussed the benefits and features of these systems in detail, but the reality out here is that a majority of plants today are still running without any complex monitoring systems and appear to work – apparently – completely fine.

Traditional plant managers and operators would argue that most existing issues in plants can be fixed with a more simplistic approach than installing complex monitoring systems. Their argument being that a pareto analysis of any typical plant will show that nearly 70% of all major symptoms arise from only the top 30% of all issues and fixing just those 30% issues can create significant jumps in performance. It may thus seem arguable whether an elaborate monitoring solution – once that requires investment in software, sensors and instrumentation – is it worth the excessive cost when the tradeoff is an often-smaller cost in manual inspections and audits?

While an operational approach to this dilemma would see sense in conserving costs and sticking to a simpler solution if it achieves similar results, it’s the short-term approach to such issues that can lead to more severe long-term problems. What this short-term approach overlooks, is the impact of compressed air leaks on the rest of the plant.

Compressed air leaks don’t just waste energy and affect production, a lowered system pressure for longer duration significantly deteriorates plant assets, compressors and pneumatic equipment. It causes tools to function with lower efficiency, affecting the quality of production; equipment cycles are increased, which shortens their remaining useful life. This extra load leads to extra maintenance cost and time, more unscheduled downtime and ultimately damage to assets which incurs losses that go well beyond any potential savings that could have been made by bypassing continuous monitoring.

A well-planned continuous monitoring solution not only helps conserver energy, it also ultimately helps increase the plant and its assets’ life and output. As the world moves towards higher efficiency and accountability for organizations tightens, adopting technology that helps you reduce wastage, and adhere to environmental and statuary compliance concerns will only help organizations break ahead of their competition and lead the world.

If you would like to learn more about compressed air monitoring or other services Automate International offers for Pneumatic Systems, please feel free to contact us.

compressed air online monitoring

Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring Part 4 – putting intelligence to use!

How is intelligence utilized? Part 3 of the Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring series discussed different ways intelligence can be utilized to monitor compressed air performance, but how is that information useful and who uses it?

Read part 1 here
Read part 2 here
Read part 3 here

This article talks about the different use cases for this information and how it helps personnel make better decisions while saving up on energy utilization.

One of the more interesting things about the Internet of Things revolution and the realization of Moore’s law is the immense computational power available for any application and the ease of connectivity across the world. What this means for this article is that modern monitoring solutions can go far beyond simply monitoring a parameter and generating alerts – and this is where business intelligence comes in. Modern business intelligence systems can deliver role-based screens and dashboards, granting access to information for different levels of users who can make use of that information. There are usually three hierarchical levels for this information and use roles.

1. Floor Level

The simplest case for this intelligence is at the Floor Level, where shift operators, maintenance teams and other operational personnel can get access to information that requires immediate attention, with the usual timeframe for these tasks being daily. Monitoring solutions for this level consist of information geared towards impending reliability issues and addressable operational concerns. Typical dashboards and screens for such solutions are thus focused on basic running insights, consumption, production lines’ status, leak locations and other errors. This information can:

  1. Help operators address production flaws and concerns e.g. under/overloaded compressors, blocked lines etc., and
  2. Help maintenance teams address leaks and other faults before they get serious

2. Plant/facility Level

At the plant level, information gathered from monitoring can help plant managers and maintenance supervisors plan their delegation activities, assess performance, evaluate their budgets, and identify potential for improvement. The typical timeframe for these activities is weekly or monthly. Monitoring solutions at this level show trends instead of alerts for leaks, production, process performance, energy consumption and related plant variables. The objective of this information is to:

  1. Help plant managers cut costs and optimize operations by lowering air consumption, wastages, artificial demand and inefficient operations
  2. Help plant managers control emissions and environmental impact from leaks and misuse
  3. Help maintenance teams increase uptime and reliability by detecting failure trends and catching pneumatic system failures and air leaks before they occur
  4. Help maintenance teams reduce costs of periodic inspections and preventive maintenance of pneumatic systems by giving a better predictive maintenance schedule based on monitored system health

3. Corporate Level

At the corporate level, information gathered from monitoring becomes all about long-term performance, feasibility and related KPIs. Solutions aimed at the corporate level don’t just focus on a single dimension like compressed air leaks, but instead integrate long term trends and historical data from air monitoring alongside other facility-wide metrics like production, process, asset health, emissions, profitability, and human development. Compressed air monitoring and intelligence can help corporate decision-makers better evaluate performance of their facilities, evaluate/plan TQM and Six Sigma programs across the enterprise, and forecast business potential with higher accuracy.

Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring, Part 3 – where’s the intelligence?

This article is part 3 of Automate’s Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring series.

Read part 1 here
Read part 2 here

The previous two parts emphasized on the need to monitor compressed air systems, and components and practices that lead to compressed air leaks. This article expands that discussion to cover how monitoring activities work and what intelligent solutions bring to the table.

Once the sources of air leaks and pressure drops are known, the simplest tools to detect air leaks are human ears. Any operation/maintenance personnel can pick up major leaks across running systems just by paying attention to the sounds around them as they move about their plants. Ignoring leaks of that magnitude is a fatal mistake no personnel should ever be guilty of.

Audible leaks are a double-edged sword for staff that isn’t trained or equipped for handling compressed air system leaks. Since these leaks are so obviously present, they create a false sense of accomplishment upon rectification as they hide the presence of potentially thousands of smaller leaks that might collectively be causing much more damage than those few large leaks over a longer period.

The traditional way to deal with these leaks then is to perform periodic system audits. These audits can vary from simple walk-the-line inspections where major flaws and leaks are identified and rectified, to full audits with flowmeters, leak detectors and other analyses-ready equipment for a thorough analysis of the entire compressed air system. The best plants have a continuous improvement program through which periodic audits are performed either internally or with help from external subject-matter-experts, these audits are used for a long-term evaluation of plant performance while plant staff are trained and encouraged to perform individual walk-the-line inspections of their systems each time they’re on duty.

While this approach sounds great, any manager who has had to implement a continuous improvement regime can attest to the myriad issues that arise during such large-scale behavioral and business process overhauls. Enter intelligent monitoring: a simple and cost-effective solution to quickly address plant and equipment concerns with minimal dependence on personnel. A simplest monitoring solution is one that just monitors the flow from a compressor. This flow is compared to an ideal value based on a first-principles model of the entire section this compressor feeds. Differences in recorded flow during various processes and load cycles give a very accurate estimate of the amount of compressed air being leaked across each compressor train.

Adding just a few more demand-side flowmeters can enhance the capabilities of this plant model significantly by providing exact locations of leaks and areas to monitor. This monitoring is further enhanced by predictive analytics that estimate the rate of plant performance degradation, potential damage to equipment and components, and even compressor health status. All that with just a few flowmeters and state of the art analytics software.

Perhaps the most useful feature of monitoring and collecting data is the potential to have an AI-enabled learning system to monitor performance signatures in plants and, over time, accurately predict all aspects of installed systems. Imagine having access to information on leak locations and nature of leaks, component health, future leak locations, and eventually overall plant performance including failing components, compressor maintenance and process optimization.

The next part in this series will cover how all this information is utilized to give meaningful insights and actionable data to key decision makers.

Pneumatic Car Assembly plant air leakage monitoring

Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring, Part 2 – what to monitor?

As discussed in part 1, compressed air leaks can account for as much as 30% of total compressed air utilized at a plant. These leaks can come from multiple sources varying from design issues and aging equipment to negligence and mismanagement.

Read Part 1 here.

This part in the Compressed Air Monitoring Intelligence series focuses on compressed air leak sources. These sources can be grouped in 6 major categories:


These are perhaps some of the most common and frequent sources of air leaks; poorly installed fittings, flanges or couplings across a plant can add up to significant pressure drops across the entire pneumatic system. Low quality components, mismatched threading or improper thread sealants are some of the major culprits for these leaks.

Pipework, joints and manifolds

The most obvious places to looks for leaks are in pipework, joints and manifolds which transport compressed air through the system. While leaks in the actual pipework aren’t nearly as frequent as one may think, the largest source of leaks in this category comes from joints. Poorly welded, aging or too many joints in a system lead to air leaks and pressure drops across the system.


At the supply end, frequent leaks come from connecting tubing and hoses. In addition to leaks from deterioration, common issues arise from push-to-lock fittings for tubes. In the case of hoses, damage from surrounding equipment causes abrasions, eventually leading to leakages. Improperly sized hoses or tubes stress their connecting joints, which leads to further leaks.

Filters, Regulators, Lubricators (FRLs)

A lesser suspected cause of leaks are FRLs. Deteriorated components, low quality first-cost/replacement parts or improper installation/replacement of these components lead to air leakage. Moreover, lack of a proper maintenance plan may result in choked filters which significantly drops pressure and air flow.

Valves and Cylinders

Another overlooked category; deterioration, corrosion and erosion in cylinders can lead  to leakages resulting in pressure loss. Similarly, degraded valves not only result in leaks from poor sealing, the loss of full functional range can leave valves partially or even completely open during operation, resulting in significant air pressure loss. Condensate drain valves, if left unattended or overlooked during operation can result in major air losses.

Idle devices

This last category is more about optimal practices and optimized design than actual losses from conditional defects. Systems or sections when not in use but still connected to the pneumatic system consume energy that could otherwise be conserved very easily. Isolating idle systems can help save energy costs from both unwanted utilization of compressed air and any potential leaks that the idle section may have.

Knowing where leakage and losses occur is only the first step in resolving the energy conservation issue. The next article in this series will discuss how to monitor these leaks and track an entire plant using intelligent systems.

Intelligence in Compressed Air Monitoring, Part 1 – Why Monitor?

This article is the first part of a small series of articles aimed at introducing pneumatic system industry professionals to advanced monitoring and the evolution to Industry 4.0

Why monitor?

Compressed air systems and pneumatic actuation make up an industry that is worth over 10 billion dollars, with applications in industries from oil & gas to automobile manufacturing, food & beverages to chemical processing. Although electrical actuation systems have improved significantly, and the market for those has increased many times over, pneumatic systems remain the most sought after means of automation due to their low cost and simple operation.

Regardless of its application, the bulk of all energy consumed by a compressed air system is in the air compression stage. In a lot of cases, the energy consumed by compressors also makes a significant chunk of all energy consumed by a plant, typically between 5% to 10%. It doesn’t help to know that only 10% of the power consumed in compressing air is actually utilized for plant operations. Conserving this energy and reducing compressed air wastage thus directly affects the energy cost of a plant.

Being the primary source of energy consumption, it makes sense to monitor how compressed air is used. Compressed air wastage is typically clubbed under two causes:

  1. Poor design, i.e. too many bends, wrong fitting sizes, inaccurate pressure/demand analyses, inappropriate compressor and air treatment selection/design
  2. Air leakage from different components and piping network

Design issues are uncommon because of the maturity of pneumatic system design over the last few decades and growing expertise of system integrators. Most compressed air system issues and operators’ worries stem from air leakages. A mere 0.5mm leak can cost up to $75 in surplus annual energy consumption. Move that up to just two 3.5mm leaks, and annual energy consumption goes up by $5,000. Poorly maintained plants lose anywhere between 20%-30% of total compressed air as leaks from their pneumatic systems.

The next article in this series will discuss where and how these leaks occur, and what to do about them.