Don't blow your budget on compressed air

Five steps that will reduce utility costs

By Ann Thompson, Hypertherm
Posted on 04/07/2020 in SPARK the blog, Plasma cutting

Most shops depend on compressed air for general use. It’s great. You can power tools and run key processes like air filtration, sandblasting, and plasma cutting. However, because compressed air is everywhere (and truly invisible), it’s easy to overlook.

Business owners already know they need to keep an eye on the bottom line, but some overhead expenses become routine, and ultimately, just accepted. That’s what happened at Hypertherm. We lost sight of how much money we were spending on compressed air and the electricity used to power those systems.

Realities of production

“We were surprised when we measured the electricity costs used for compressing air. It was one of our highest utility costs,” said Robin Tindall, an engineer on Hypertherm’s Corporate Social Responsibility Team. “The compressed air alone at one of our manufacturing buildings was costing us $10,000 a month. That’s hard to imagine.”

The facility Tindall is speaking about uses compressed air to assemble our X-Definition™ and HyPerformance® plasma power supplies, as well as to machine the plasma consumables used by both product lines. What’s shocking is this facility is just one of eight manufacturing buildings in New Hampshire, and this expense is further multiplied when we include our production facilities in Washington, Minnesota, and Italy. ...The point is these costs add up fast.

How to save money

We knew we needed to do something to reduce costs and save resources. Here’s what we did:

1. Turn it off

As a three-shift production facility, we sometimes left equipment on when it wasn’t being used. We made shutdowns a standard process, posted signage, and installed indicator lights. Now everyone knows when and how to turn equipment off. 

2. Utilize valves

Air compressors often power several machines at the same time. By installing or utilizing existing valves, diverters, and slide gates, idle machinery can be shut off easily.

3. Regulate pressure settings

By checking instruction manuals and equipment gauges, we dialed pressure down when the equipment was over-pressurized. In one case, the compressed air was at 120 PSI, when only 90 PSI was needed.

4. Perform preventive maintenance

Check instruction manuals for maintenance schedules and perform maintenance regularly. Not only will it prevent unexpected breakdowns, but it will also improve equipment performance and efficiency. We now check and change our compressor filters on-time.

5. Find leaks

Leaks are common and can be hard to find. This can be frustrating, but worth the effort. One way to listen for leaks is to power-off all the equipment but leave the air compressor on. We did this on the weekends when the shops were closed. This helped us identify and replace leaky fittings and valves as well as worn hoses and pipes.

Helpful tools

These free public resources helped us cut costs. We hope the information on this website and tip sheet will help you too.   

Business advantages

Keeping a competitive edge is a real concern for every business. As a manufacturing company, we need to be rigorous when it comes to controlling production costs. We must identify ways to improve how we bring products to market. It’s a very dynamic process and one that requires ongoing commitment.

Rod Aldrich, one of Hypertherm’s Facilities Technicians knows this first-hand. He explained, “Most production costs are out of my control, but the cost of compressed air is something I can impact with ongoing systems maintenance and monitoring. It requires diligence, but diligence adds up to significant savings.”

It’s the persistent work of Aldrich and other Hypertherm Associates, that ensures we’re not spending more than we need to on compressed air and electricity.