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Stop The Flow of Compressed Air Leaks

Compressed Air Leaks

What Are Compressed Air Leaks?

Even if you have never been around industrial compressed air, odds are you have found yourself by an air leak before, even if you never realized it. Compressed air is a lot more common than you might think. If you’ve ever heard a ball lose air, a bike tire go float, or someone pop a pool floaty, then you have heard the release of air that was previously under pressure. The slow hiss of a leak can sometimes be so subtle that you can’t even hear it, and other times the leak can cause a rapid release of energy in the form of a loud bang.

As the pressure on the air increases, the amount of energy being stored increases as well. And the more energy being stored in your air means more money being lost in a leak. But there is a rhyme and reason behind some of these compressed air leaks. Air leaks can be found in two different types, planned and unplanned.

Your planned compressed air leaks are being used somewhere in the system, whether it be purge air, blowing, or any other use. Unplanned leaks, on the other hand, you want to minimize as much as possible; seems pretty self eself-explanatory? Unplanned leaks can be tricky as they can be nearly impossible to detect with your senses alone, and they often require specialized and expensive equipment to detect.

Compressed air leaks may be expensive and hard to detect, but they are not always a bad thing. Unintentional leaks can sometimes have a positive effect, for example some leaks can be turned into a positive like a “cooler” leak. These types of leaks may come about due to an accident, but leaks with a cooling effect can provide unplanned benefits for production staff and equipment.

No matter the effects of the compressed air leaks, one thing always stays the same, they can be costing you a lot of money. Studies have shown that poorly maintained systems can have losses up to 20-30% of air capacity and power. In other words you are paying 20-30% more in energy costs than you need to be, as you are making that much extra air to achieve demand.

Your compressor is already working hard when it is sized properly to the demand, often in challenging conditions. Continuously having to go beyond traditional ramifications will eventually cause early wear and maintenance issues. Air Compressors are investments and with proper maintenance a traditional reciprocating compressor could last anywhere from 10-20 years, but overworking it could mean you need a new one in as little as 5 years.


Why Should You Care About Air Leaks?

Well for starters, you should care about compressed air leaks because they waste your energy and your money. Not only can these leaks be the equivalent to a pile of cash and a leaf blower, they can also cause problems for your system as a whole:

  • Pressure drops throughout the system
  • Inefficient functioning of air tools affecting production
  • Shortening the life of your equipment
  • Additional maintenance and downtime due to your compressor running more than needed
  • Degrading the overall dewpoint quality

These leaks can cause damage that will lead to much bigger problems than losing money to excess energy costs. Tools not functioning properly can be the difference between products that sell or ones that can’t even leave the plant. Having poor dewpoint control can lead to excess moisture in your pipes and equipment.

If you don’t know what happens with extra moisture in your pipes, well it simply ruins the equipment. Depending on the material, size, and amount of moisture, it can even cause your pipes to burst, potentially harming employees or facilities. So not only do these leaks cost you money, but they can cost you even more in potential and future replacements.

So we have mentioned air being lost in air leaks, but without the numbers it can be hard to fully grasp how these leaks work in terms of cost. To give you a better understanding of how much air is lost in a leak, take a look at the chart below.

Around 20%-30% of your energy costs consist of compressed air leaks in your system. That means that your compressor is making 20%-30% more air than is actually required by your demand. This excess air needing to be made is the culprit of the problems downstream as well. By having to make more air it can cause undesired pressure changes, and potentially worse problems.

According to a study done by the U.S Department of Energy, “1/8” (3mm) leak in a compressed air line can cost upwards of $2,500 a year” while costing about 20% more in energy costs. Compressed air leaks are just sapping you of extra money as they can almost always be fixed as the battle with leaks is a never ending cycle.

As much as we wish it were the case, air leak detection and repair is never going to be a one and done process. As time passes or production changes, different airflow may be needed or the compressor may not output enough, the list goes on and on of what could happen over time.

A good rule of thumb is unless you have a variable speed compressor, you will need to resize your compressor after getting your compressed air leaks fixed. This will help you to prolong the periods in between needing to get replacements and updating your equipment.


How Do You Detect Compressed Air Leaks In Your System


There are three tried and true methods to detecting compressed air leaks in your system. The methods are as follows:

  • You guessed it, Feeling and Listening
  • Soapy Water
  • Ultrasonic Leak Detection

Each method increases in cost and effectiveness as you work your way down. You are going to spend more money on an ultrasonic leak detector, but it is going to be able to find leaks that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Soapy bubbles may reveal air leaks that you were unable to hear, ultrasonic detectors can find leaks in even the loudest environments.


Tactical Discovery

A pretty self explanatory method for finding your compressed air leaks. All you have to do is walk around and try to find where leaks may be occurring in your system. Whether you hear or feel it first does not matter as long as you can find it this way.

Although feeling and listening may be the easiest route to find air leaks, it is nowhere near the best possible option. This means of detection is limited by our physical sense, a lot of air leaks may occur in areas that are out of reach or emitting a sound that is outside of our perceivable range.


Soapy/Bubbly Liquid

In terms of cost and efficiency, using a medium such as soapy water to locate compressed air leaks is going to be the better option than just your senses alone. It also allows you to check more than one area at once, which you cannot do with just your hands and ears. By allowing you the ability to multitask, this method is the superior choice of the two.

All things considered, this is not the most effective method of leak detection either. As it would take a lot of time and money to cover your whole system in soapy water to find all of the leaks, not to mention the mess it would make. You are still limited by your reach and locations that you can actually use the soapy water.


Ultrasonic Leak Detections

The best choice but also the most expensive, is going to be ultrasonic leak detection. Fitted with high frequency microphones, cameras, and digital displays, these devices find the leak for you, all you have to do is point it in the right direction. Some designs are so advanced they detect the leak with pinpoint accuracy thanks to three different microphones. 

But as we mentioned before, ultrasonic leak detectors do not come cheap, some getting up to $25,000 for one unit. This technology is very finely tuned and requires high attention to detail to manufacture. Locating compressed air leaks is a simple but not easy job to do, and ultrasonic leak detectors make that process pain free.

No matter what method you end up going with, each one is going to have their individual pros and cons. Personally, we recommend ultrasonic leak detection for your main method of finding compressed air leaks. The initial financial investment is a large hurdle, but the cost gives you the best option out there and will minimize your work in the future.


Where Do You Find Leaks

Leaks can occur almost anywhere in your compressed air system, however, there are some locations that are more likely to blame than others. Exactly as you would expect, these points are your connections, turns, and any other area you think might be susceptible to leaks. The not so short list of potential culprits are:

  • Fittings
  • Pipe Joints
  • Quick Disconnects
  • Couplings
  • Hoses
  • Tubes
  • FRLs (filter, regulator, lubricator)
  • Condensate Traps
  • Valves
  • Flanges
  • Packing
  • Thread Sealant
  • Point-Of-Use Devices

Components that have a high likelihood of leaking are usually ones that are connecting two pieces of equipment, or high traffic areas in your compressed air system. Finding the leaks is the first step to reducing turbulent flow and restoring laminar flow in your compressed air system.


Fixing The Flow

So how do we fix the flow of our compressed air system? When you have a compressed air leak, your air flow is being disrupted. Disruptions in air flow result in the state of air changing as well. Smooth flowing air exists in what is called a laminar flow, this is clean, smooth and consistent, while disturbances can cause turbulent flow. Turbulent airflow is inconsistent, rough, and all over the place.

As you can see, turbulent flow is less than ideal for having a consistent and reliable airflow. Leaks disrupt the laminar flow by allowing a pathway for air to deviate. As the air deviates, the pressure begins to act upon the air as it moves around to fill in the space left by the compressed air leaking out. This contributes to all of the little movements you see in the turbulent flow diagram. 

Going from a confined precisely measured space to open air releases all of the energy as the air jumps from high pressure to ambient pressure. Following the expected results, this disturbance disrupts the internal air flow and will lead to all sorts of problems downstream.


The Cost of Leaks

Leaks are an important but often overlooked aspect of your compressed air system that can cost you thousands of dollars a year. People often overlook them due to the fact that they very rarely can be heard or felt without being centimeters from it. Even at that distance some leaks can be undetectable. It is important to keep tabs on your leaks, as they are basically pin holes in your profits.

Imagine being able to reduce your overall costs by 30%, that would be fantastic right? Well odds are you are losing anywhere from 10%-30% in excess energy costs from air being lost. It may not seem like much when you notice one or two leaks, but those are just the tip of the iceberg that are compressed air leaks.

Luckily, there are a couple formulas available for you to be able to determine how much air you are losing and just how much money is being lost by those compressors. However, if you don’t have the time to read about or care for the formulas, use the information below for an idea for how it works:

At $0.05 per kWh:

  • $100/year leak – you can’t feel or hear
  • $400/year leak – you can feel, but not hear
  • $700/year leak – you can feel and hear

Another way to look at it is a leak as small as ¼-inch can result in losses anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000 a year. Now multiply that across multiple leaks throughout the facility and those unnecessary losses start to add up. You are setting yourself up for failure by knowing you have leaks and doing nothing about it. 


The Formulas You Need

Compressed air leaks can be draining your profits with no indication that you may be losing money. Being able to find your leaks is only part of the problem, with these leaks comes the question of how much do they cost you. So don’t worry we have you covered for combating your compressed air leaks with formulas

There are going to be two different formulas to help you find out your total leakage:

  • Leakage (%) = (T x 100) ÷ (T + t)T = onload time (minutes), t = offload time (minutes)
  • Leakage (cfm free air) = [(V x ( P1 – P2) ÷ (T x 14.7)] x 1.25
    • V= Total volume of air
    • P1= Initial Pressure
    • P2= Ending Pressure
    • T= Time

The 1.25 multiplier is to correct the leakage back to normal system pressure for your calculations so that reduced leakage with decreasing system pressure is accounted for.

And just remember that leakage rates are identified in CFM or cubic feet per minute and are proportional to the square of the opening. If the opening doubles in size, your leak flow rate will quadruple. 

Additional Considerations

The biggest thing that you need to remember about compressed air leaks is that they never end. As much as we all want them to be fixed once and work, air leaks operate on a cycle. You may fix every single one, but given enough time new leaks will form and you will not be able to pass go and collect $200 without fixing those compressed air leaks.

The battle with compressed air leaks leaks may be never ending like a game of monopoly, but there are a few things you can do to reduce the total number of leaks in the future:

  • Ensure that fittings, disconnects, hoses, and tubing are all high quality
  • Make sure the thread sealant is properly applied
  • Isolate all non-operating equipment with a valve in the distribution system
  • Lower the air pressure of the system

If you are looking to truly revamp your system, you are going to want to go to your local distributor for an air audit. An air audit is going to take a look at your entire system over the span of a few days to a week. Locating compressed air leaks in a matter of moments, and leading you to it. They will then review this information to find all of the areas for improvement that are present. 

With this new information, they are able to give you recommendations for updating your equipment to fully capitalize on the energy savings being made. Your current system is using 20-30 percent more energy than they need to be due to compressed air leaks. You are throwing away those savings if you keep using the same equipment from before.

You should make note of all of the compressed air leaks that are revealed during the audit and tackle them from biggest to smallest. Just make sure that you get it fixed within a week of the audit so that you can staunch the financial bleeding as soon as possible.

Fixing your leaks but running the same compressors, is wasting energy costs. Redesigning gives you an opportunity to capitalize on the energy savings, unless your system relies on a Variable Speed Drive compressor.


Before You Buy

Whenever you are about to make a large purchase, or anything for your business you should try to take a moment to step away and go over the overview of benefits and detriments of going with that potential product. It is better to wait than purchase too fast and not get exactly what you need, especially in this industry.


Main Takeaways

  • The average system loses between 30% and 50% of its volume to compressed air leaks.
  • One key problem with detection is that 80% of leaks are inaudible.
  • Ultrasonic leak detection devices not only find leaks that other methods miss, but also detect leaks in other systems, leading to even more savings.
  • Proper leak detection and system optimization can be turned into a competitive advantage. 

Through proper leak detection, you will be able to minimize losses due to excess energy costs while having a healthier system overall. You will be able to reduce operating costs, minimize unplanned downtime, increase your equipment’s life span, and more by simply keeping tabs on your system and energy consumption after an audit or leak study.

There might be multiple methods for detecting compressed air leaks, but ultrasonic leak detection is far and away the best choice you can make. Our senses are incredibly limited when it comes to detecting leaks, and spraying soapy water causes more problems and risk than leaks. Those two methods may be cheaper in the short term, but over time your leaks are only going to get worse and your system will suffer.

Ultrasonic leak detection may have some models that will break the bank, but there are others that are just as effective if not more, and they cost less. However, whatever your initial investment into leak detection may be, the amount of money you will save will make it all worth it in the long run.


The Best Compressed Air Leak Detection

If you are looking for your own in-house leak detection, then you have come to the right place. With the Prosaris Ultrasonic Leak Detector, you will be able to find leaks quickly and easily, for a fraction of the cost of competitor costs. Large areas can be scanned quickly by simply moving the camera and the interface will guide you to whatever leak it finds.

With three microphones attached to the device, the equipment is able to detect the exact spot of the leak more effectively than a single microphone device. Not only does this device have more microphones than most devices, it is also about the size of a hockey puck and connects directly to a tablet. By connecting to a tablet with a USB-C port, the sensor is able to use the cameras on the tablet and the microphones on the puck. 

This connection allows both the comfortability of a tablet with the familiar touchscreen, user interface, and cameras alongside the high quality microphones from the puck give you the best of both worlds. The Prosaris software allows you to get exact measurements in real time, take high quality photos of leaks, and upload the documentation to the cloud. This allows your coordinators access to the photos and other techs as well.

If the Prosaris sounds like a good fit for you, then you have come to the right place. As one of the first US based Prosaris distributors, you aren’t going to be able to get this level of quality at this low of a cost anywhere else. With the Prosaris you will be able to completely change the way your system operates and cut your energy costs at the same time.

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