Why and How To Perform A Vacuum Audit

Manometer on vacuum system

Vacuum holds material in place, gathers up solids and liquids, provides transport, and keeps chambers and enclosures free from gases that would affect process performance. It’s essential in many production operations and a system that’s performing badly will impact costs and quality.

Regular vacuum audits provide insight into how a system is running and identify when work is needed. They are a form of preventive maintenance that can yield significant cost savings, and they ensure equipment continues working as intended.

Relying on Vacuum

Industries and processes relying on vacuum ranging from papermaking to packaging, with coating, forming and a host of others in between. One of the challenges with vacuum is that it’s hard to tell when a system isn’t performing as designed. This may take the form of a lack of suction or flow, but there may also be too much suction, as would happen if a regulator was set wide open.

Usually it takes a processing failure, recurring quality defects or a workholding problem to instigate an examination of the system. This reactive approach results in higher than expected energy bills as motors work harder than intended, plus unplanned downtime, and customer complaints are likely.

Energy costs often attract the most attention, and yet they can be the smallest of the costs arising from an under-performing vacuum system. Lost production, delayed shipments and overtime costs can all be far greater, while a poor reputation for quality can sink an otherwise successful business.

Fundamentals of an Industrial Vacuum System

Every system comprises a vacuum pump, a distribution system, and the end application. Pumps and end applications take many forms but distribution is usually through a network of pipes with valves regulating flow. Filters and access points are included to protect the pumps and allow for removal of debris.

Instrumentation provides a way of measuring system performance. Current drawn by the motor and vacuum, measured with a manometer, should be monitored to ensure the system is operating as expected. Note that vacuum should ideally be measured at multiple locations throughout the distribution system.

Importance of Vacuum System Audits

Audits are an essential element of preventive maintenance. Without periodic checks there’s no way of knowing if the system is performing suboptimally, and that means you’re probably incurring excess costs and risking major problems. Although JH Foster does not offer vacuum system audits, we highly encourage you to conduct your own audits periodically.

Elements of an Audit

An audit should cover the three components of a system: vacuum pumps, distribution system and demand applications. The time needed for an audit depends on the size of the system or systems being assessed, the size of the site and the level of audit requested.

An audit can be set up to be as detailed as time and budget allow. It may also make sense to perform a regular overview audit and supplement this with a less frequent detailed examination. The options are:

  1. Detailed audit that includes installation of instrumentation and data capture over an extended period plus close visual examination of every component.
  2. System evaluation – a thorough visual inspection but without the instrumentation, (although instrumentation already in place will be used for data points.)
  3. Off-site analysis. This is more a design study that looks at whether the pumps and distribution are appropriate to the current needs. Off-site analysis can also include instrumentation with remote access for data collection and analysis.

Outputs From a Vacuum System Audit

Similar to a compressed air audit, The level of detail will depend on the type of audit undertaken. However, key elements should include:

  • Identification of any defects or deficiencies in the system
  • Observations on system efficiency, including opportunities to reduce overall demand
  • Recommendations to improve system performance, (prioritized, in more detailed audits)
  • Quantified costs and savings (on more detailed audits)

Benefits From Regular Vacuum System Audits

The benefits most easily quantified are reductions in energy consumption. These will show up most clearly in the pump motors, but there may be savings elsewhere as processes operate more effectively with the right levels of suction and flow.

Other benefits, like reduced downtime and customer complaints, fall under the heading of “cost avoidance”. They are harder to quantify but could be far larger than the energy savings. If you think preventive maintenance is expensive, try not doing any!

Vacuum Systems From JHFoster

Vacuum is a strange force to work with. While compressed air can be felt and heard, vacuum is largely invisible: we see only what it does. This makes vacuum systems difficult to work on.

If you have conducted a vacuum system audit and determined that you are in need of a replacement or upgrade, our specialists have deep experience of industrial vacuum systems to help match you with the right system for your application. Contact us to discuss your needs.