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Detect The Undetected: Compressed Air Leaks

Compressed Air leaks detection

Detect The Undetected With Compressed Air Leak Studies

 

People will tell you all about the noise and money they lost when you ask them if they have had any compressed air leaks, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg and most people don’t even realize. Compressed air leaks that are detectable to the human ear in a facility with operating industrial equipment have to be pretty loud. Even if you can hear it after the equipment shuts off and the air is leaving the system, every decibel louder it gets is exponentially more money lost. 

No wonder people complain about how much money they were losing when the noise was a nuisance, audible leaks are basically just taking a leaf blower to your profits. Due to the value of compressed air, you are only hurting your business by ignoring them; it may cost more upfront to fix all of the leaks but at least that money will be staying in the pipes. 

Don’t let this scare you, leaks are a natural part of a compressed air system, you cannot completely prevent them. Compressed air leaks are going to happen, whether you want them to or not. So you cannot prevent them, but you can prepare for them and run routine maintenance to catch them early on. 

Wait, if only the most expensive compressed air leaks are detectable to the human ear, how can we possibly find them early?

Detecting the undetectable is impossible on your own, but with the right equipment it can be as simple as taking a video of your environment and following the arrows. It’s really quite simple, almost too simple but that doesn’t mean it is too good to be true. 

The Prosaris is going to be the best piece of equipment for detecting compressed air leaks. By using three clusters of 8 microphones connected to a tablet and its camera, this equipment can pick up on the specific frequencies that compressed air leaks make. We will go over the details later on when we break down the process of detecting compressed air leaks.

 

But First, Compressed Air Leaks

Compressed air leaks can be detrimental to your wallet and the health of your compressed air system. The system is having to work harder to keep up with demand if it is losing a specific percentage of air to leaks. Every system is going to have leaks and that means there are two different types of leaks planned and unplanned.

Planned leaks are designed into the system for a specific use like blowing, drying, sparging, and other industrial production processes. These leaks can even be designated “coolers” for your staff, where the air is purposefully released to cool off employees or equipment during hot periods. 

Even with planned leaks, the percentage of cost lost to leakage should be below 10% in a properly maintained system. However, poorly maintained systems are going to be losing between 20-30% of air capacity and the related power. Up to a third of of your compressed air being lost to leakages is not the most cost effective strategy. (if you can even call it a strategy)

With air leaks at this size, you can save up to 50% on your electric bill if you fix them. With large amounts of Air Loss you are going to either have a lot of little leaks or some little leaks alongside a few big ones that you can hear without any equipment.  So we know that there is a difference between audible and not but what is the threshold, where is the point our senses stop?

The baseline frequency range for human hearing is 20 Hertz (Hz) to 20 kilohertz (kHz) with the upper limit for most people being 16kHz to 17kHz. Ultrasonic which is beyond the capacity of our senses starts at 20kHz and above. Compressed air leaks are usually at 40kHz, which you will want to know for the sake of finding them.

The key to finding these leaks is with ultrasonic instruments aka ultrasonic leak detectors like the Prosaris One can be set to a specific frequency or frequency range for detecting leaks. With the Prosaris you can directly set your frequency window to be 36kHz to 40kHz to easily find compressed air leaks while filtering out all that unnecessary noise. 

However, if you have a device that needs to be set to a specific frequency you’ll want to set it at 38kHz. By setting it in the middle of your parameters you are going to catch the most possible, just not as much as if you were able to detect a range. 

Getting the newer equipment might not always feel like it is worth it but when it comes to detecting compressed air leaks it’s an investment in the health of your system and your wallet. By being able to detect more leaks you can fix more leaks and if you fix more leaks you will be losing less money over time. 

Getting money back that you lost to energy bills is just an increase in your profits with all your cost up front for a long term solution that will continue to pay you back the longer that you stay on top of it. It seems like a pretty simple choice when you look at the long term, especially when less advanced options aren’t that much cheaper.

 

Why Should You Care About Compressed Air Leaks

In addition to wasting your electricity and increasing your energy bills, air leaks can cause a plethora of problems for your compressed air system.  These problems include but are not limited to:

  • System pressure drops
  • Inefficient functioning of air tools affecting production
  • Shortening in equipment life
  • Additional maintenance and downtime due to your compressor running more than needed
  • Degrade dewpoint quality

Compressed air leaks are a significant source of wasted energy and the hidden culprit to system operation problems. Air leaks result in a fluctuating system pressure that will reduce the efficiency of your air tools and air operated equipment, which if you didn’t guess, can really negatively affect your production. 

You know like if it gets so bad it will come to a screeching halt. That sounds like a problem you would want to avoid with your system, just some food for thought.

So just how much does a compressed air leak cost? What is the average amount people pay in energy costs for their air leaks? Well according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a single 1/8” (3mm) leak in a compressed air line can cost upwards of $2,500 a year. For an opening that small you are losing quite a bit of money a year.

The costs start to get really scary when you take into account the fact that they increase exponentially when it comes to compressed air leaks. If your plant has not been well maintained you could be losing 20% of your total compressed air production, your compressor is working harder for you to waste the air.

Overproducing compressed air obviously increases your energy bill, but that increase in air demand is going to be harmful long term to your compressor. It will cost you tremendously more to replace your air compressor after it gives out early on you. Compressors that run outside of their ideal demand range have a high likelihood of failing.

Depending on what type of compressor you have determines the demand it is capable of withstanding. In other words, piston compressors should not exceed 50% runtime and screw compressors should not run below 60% and are much better suited for applications around 100% demand. Pistons that run too often are unable to rest properly and they end up overheating. Screw compressors that are utilized too little will require earlier maintenance and a decreased lifespan.

Compressors aside, if you have not been properly maintaining your compressed air system you can cut an industry average of 31% off your energy costs. Unfortunately, these leaks aren’t a one off event that you can fix and wipe your hands off for good. The older your system gets the more changes it could potentially undergo and require even more attention to maintain leaks. 

If you want a long term solution for compressed air leaks you are going to need to invest in making leak detection and repair an ongoing part of your process. If you are serious about increasing your savings you will want to make it a program that will be solely concerned with this aspect of your system.

 

How Do You Detect Compressed Air Leaks

Detecting compressed air leaks is a difficult task even with the right process and equipment, but there are a few different “right” ways and it all depends on who you ask. Some people may tell you that all you need is good old fashioned looking and listening, nothing but the basics.

We know that’s definitely not what you want to do because you are going to miss most of your leaks, especially if you have piping on the ceiling or in hard to reach areas.

But this isn’t where the bad information stops as some other people might try to tell you that the best way to find compressed air leaks is with soapy water that you use on any areas you might suspect leaks, now this is a little bit better than using your senses but definitely not the best answer for finding all of your compressed air leaks.

The same out of reach issue is present here, if you can’t reach it you can’t check. Not to mention the soapy water is going to leave behind a big mess for someone to clean up.

The most effective, and easiest way to check for compressed air leaks is with ultrasonic leak detection equipment like the Prosaris One. It turns this potential chore into a virtual reality game where you need to pinpoint specific targets.

Obviously that’s a bit of an exaggeration of what this type of equipment does, but it’s not too far from the truth when you compare it to the other, more simplistic methods of leak detection.

For the remainder of this section we will be using ultrasonic leak detection as our primary means of finding compressed air leaks. The procedural information will be focused on the Prosaris One as it is our preferred ultrasonic leak detector, but it is still applicable to other ultrasonic devices.

 

Detection

The first step to being able to locate compressed air leaks is to fire up the ultrasonic detection device. Once it is turned on you will want to make sure your visual display is ready to go. You will then want to set your initial frequency range to 20kHz to 100kHz, although this probably won’t be where you end up leaving it.

If the environment has excess ambient noise that might disrupt your process, but if you have it on 20kHz and above you will be starting just outside of the frequency humans can perceive. So you won’t have too many problems with picking up extra noise but if you find yourself picking up noises you don’t want to be you can narrow in your frequency range.

Detection is possible due to the way sound waves are directionally transmitted. The microphones on the front pick up these sound waves and are able to identify where it is coming from based on the height, speed, and direction of the waves. The microphone then uses this data to pinpoint where the leak is coming from and displays an arrow on the screen in the direction of the leak.

Once you have found a leak, you will be locked in on it based on the arrows on the screen which triangulate on the leak itself, However, there is even more you can do in your basic leak detection process with the Prosaris One that you can’t with other devices.

And that’s it for detection, by turning it on, setting your frequency range, looking around till you see an arrow, and then following the arrow to the leak, and now you have successfully found the compressed air leak.

Evaluation

The software in the Prosaris application is able to read the sound waves detected by the microphone and using data about the system (that you had already input prior to detection), it will give you a calculation of the potential loss created by the compressed air leak. 

You can then set your distance via a slider at the bottom to get the most accurate reporting on your reports. You can get information that might take weeks to get back after it is reviewed and analyzed. You’ll save valuable time and be able to prioritize leaks based on their projected costs.

 

Documentation

Just like with everything else this part of the process is simplified with equipment like the Prosaris One. It is as simple as taking a picture, placing the marker on the leak, adding any notes you might have, and just before you go take one more picture from a wide angle so the guy doing repairs can find it quickly. Once you finish with the documentation you send it off so that a plan can be made on how to repair and improve your system.

 

Detection Done, Onto Improvements

Now that the leak detection process has been completed, what are the next steps that you should take. You have identified leaks but that isn’t going to fix them, so the next step is to make a layout of your leaks so that you can prioritize the most costly leaks. You want to collect all your ducks and then put them in a row so you can make a plan of correction.

Compressed Air Leaks

Once you have identified and determined the impact of your leaks you will be able to make an efficient plan to start fixing your compressed air leaks. This means you are onto your next step in the cycle of leaks, fixing the leaks, the main reason you started leak detection. Well now’s the time to fix your leaks.

Once you have fixed your compressed air leaks, it’s time to verify the changes with another inspection of your system. This inspection should take a fraction of the time the initial air study took, maybe due to the fact that all of those leaks from the first inspection have been fixed. Your second pass through is to confirm that the work to fix the leaks actually paid off, which if you did it right it will.

After you inspect your system and confirm your maintenance, it is time to reevaluate your Compressed Air System. But why are we reevaluating our system if we just fixed the problems with it? By fixing our compressed air leaks we are reducing the overall demand on your compressed air system, so if you were operating with no problems and had all of those leaks, your compressor was making a lot more air than actual demand required. 

Unless you are using a Variable Speed Compressor, your current compressor will most likely be outputting more air than you need and using more energy than is necessary. Which means you can afford to resize your compressor to better fit your compressed air needs. 

“But why spend even more money if I’m going to have to do this again?” Is a very valid concern to have when looking at this process and considering the overall costs of this process, but don’t let your concerns get ahead of you. You will only need to resize your compressor the first time you truly fix up your system. Once you have resized it, you will be able to detect and fix leaks early by changes in pressure or output that are not related to your demand.

Once you have accounted for and corrected your demand to not include air leaks, your compressor will most likely only change due to an increase in demand. That sounds like a pretty good reason to invest in a new compressor if you ask me. But that’s exactly what this process is, an investment in the health and longevity of your compressed air system.

This portion of the cycle is about optimizing your system to its absolute best for your demand, while leaving room for growth because you are going to grow. But once you have done this you are prepared for the future and you can return to operations as normal. With a new baseline you will be able to tell when the system is starting to get out of balance when more compressed air leaks are popping up. 

Remember, it is a WHEN and not an IF for compressed air leaks popping up. They are a natural part of compressed air operations and exist in a cycle for a reason, because you are never truly finished with compressed air leak detection and correction.

 

Warthog Leak Detection

Whether you were looking for a reason to find compressed air leaks, or looking for equipment to do it on your own, Warthog has you covered.  With the Prosaris in stock and ready to ship, you can be conquering your own compressed air leaks sooner rather than later. 

And if you are just looking for more information about Compressed Air Systems head over to Warthog University, your destination for compressed air education. 

 

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