More efficient variable speed drives are cutting energy costs by up to a third for one manufacturer.
Manufacturers always aim to get the most out of their equipment for as long as they can. And with rising energy costs, ensuring a machine's reliability is critical during manufacturing.
With CSR Roofing manufacturing terracotta roof tiles at its Vermont (Melbourne) factory for over seven decades, producing roof tiles that last generations, it was not surprising that the company chose an Atlas Copco VSD (variable speed drive) compressor to replace its aging machine.
John Tilli, maintenance manager at the Vermont facility, said longevity and reliability are very important for CSR Roofing as the factory operates 24/7, apart from just three weeks of the year.
"I have always been impressed with Atlas Copco's reliability, but when I saw the results of the air measurement survey, that was the real clincher in the deal," he said.
"Surveys showed that VSD technology can save CSR Roofing thousands of dollars every year, and with the carbon tax incentives and energy savings, we were able to get the capital funds needed for the new compressor, and very close to a 3-year pay-back period.
He explained that CSR Roofing is continually striving to lessen its carbon footprint and "We have had Atlas Copco compressors here for over 20 years and the machines have always performed to what the company said they would, and we expect no less with this new one.
"They predict our energy savings will be around 30 per cent," he said.
"It could be more, but our plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the compressor running all the time, even when we are not producing product. This is mainly due to our kiln, which runs 24/7, and needs a small amount of air to keep it operating."
Mr Tilli said many people don't realise compressed air is one of the most expensive utilities to produce, because you need another utility to create it.
"This is where the Atlas Copco VSD compressor really comes into its own, as they produce the world's leading compressor regarding turn down range.
"Because if the compressor doesn't turn down enough you don't get any savings and as a result, the overall operating range of the machine becomes very important.
"So for us, it was important to get a machine with a really good turn down range and keep those energy savings going.
"For example, if we only use 20% of the compressor's capacity at night, and the turn down is not low enough, say at 50%, then we are wasting 30% of the air on energy," he said.
As well as Atlas Copco's VSD technology to reduce CSR's energy usage, Tilli said he is also looking at isolating parts of the plant at night when they are not in use.
"We can turn a section off so we don't have to worry about air leaks in that section. We have a lot of old gal piping here, and you can't stop it leaking.
"To change the piping, the cost involved would be massive and the payback could run to 10 to 15 years or so," he said.
Tilli went on to state that the manufacturing plant, with just 30 people in total, is automated.
"We manufacture terracotta roof tiles here and all the automated machinery has some sort of air requirement with pneumatic cylinders and vacuum cups.
"So it's important for us to have a constant supply of clean, dry air as we can't afford to have breakdowns and production downtime," he said.
"At the moment, while we are waiting to install the new Atlas Copco Workplace design machine, a GA55VSDFF latest generation with in-built refrigerated dryer and DD/PD filters, we are running a 25-year-old machine as a stand by.
"But it is producing a lot of water and causing me all sorts of problems with the machinery.
"Our main compressor, which was only slightly younger, and had done a considerable number of hours, eventually broke down and needed a full rebuild hence the search for a new more efficient machine," he said.
Tilli's advice to other manufacturers looking to reduce their energy costs and their carbon footprint is to get an air measurement survey and have a close look at VSD technology.
Igor Kotliarski, Sales Engineer with Atlas Copco's Industrial Air Division, agrees, saying getting an air measurement survey is a smart first move.
"The compressed air measurement survey report is free and customers can see at a glance the upside of investing in VSD technology.
"Companies can clearly see what their compressor demand is on a daily basis, and how much electricity they are currently using. Our software can also simulate the proposed energy savings into the future should they wish to invest in a VSD machine.
"With CSR Roofing, we were up against another major air compressor manufacturer, who also undertook its own audit. But Atlas Copco audits have the 'smarts' in the software to simulate and accurately predict future energy savings.
"CSR Roofing was very satisfied with the results of what we proposed and the detailed nature of Atlas Copco's air measurement survey," he said.
Kotliarski explained that for a compressed air energy audit, Atlas Copco engineers simply connect up their data loggers to the compressor, and leave them on site for a period one-week.
"With this in mind we usually ask our customers to select a period when plant is running at maximum capacity.
"We then collect the data loggers and upload the data into proprietary software and produce a detailed report on the proposed compressor for the client.
"Having an air measurement survey is very important, and Atlas Copco's software is one of a very few programs on the market that can simulate the optimum size VSD machines and predict energy savings for the customer."
Kotliarski said this makes it a lot easier for the customer to justify the purchase, as Atlas Copco can demonstrate to its customers the proposed payback and return on capital when customers invest in an Atlas Copco compressor.
"Our competitors can estimate the current used on an air compressor, but they have to rely on a certain degree of guesswork when selecting a new machine.