A question folks who spend time working with compressed air systems seldom hear is “What’s new?” Air compression has been a staple industry for decades and is viewed as the “tried and true” solution to a multitude of situations, conditions and problems. The truth is that the compressed air industry is very mature. Little has changed in compressed air equipment over the last 20 years and unless some breakthrough technologies become available, meaningful improvements in machine design will not take place. This has focused the majority of design advancements on efforts to increase part load efficiencies, electronic controls and packaging. It has also resulted in the emphasis shifting away from individual machine design to a more comprehensive compressed air system approach.

A far more frequent question is, “How can we make a compressed air system more efficient and reliable,” explained Ron Nordby, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Eagan-based John Henry Foster (JHF). With today’s economy and energy awareness, our customers are more aware of the true costs of operating an inefficient compressed air system and its effect on their bottom line. In fact, that was the question recently asked by a major manufacturing company located in central Minnesota. The business was faced with the breakdown of a compressor that had been installed in the 1940’s. With very little reliable backup capability available, the concern was that further breakdowns would make it virtually impossible to support production. They were looking to address three (3) main issues.

  1. Acquire more efficient and reliable compressors
  2. Establish 100% backup capability
  3. Improve the efficiency of the compressed air system

Providing 100% backup and reliable compressor operation is critical due to the air compressor system being a key part of a plant’s operation. Without a reliable backup system in place, any unexpected failure would result in the inability to fulfill production obligations. “Having to shut down operations because of one malfunction can be costly,” said Dan Jahnke, JHF Account Manager. Addressing the compressed air system’s overall efficiency was important due to the fluctuations in demand between shifts and weekend production. The manufacturing facility operated three shifts, with the 2nd and 3rd shift utilizing nearly the same amount of energy and generating similar costs while supporting reduced production levels.

“Often, a primary challenge for us,” Nordby said, “is designing an efficient compressed air system utilizing compressors of different manufacturers and control technologies.” When designing complete compressed air systems, air compressors, as well as all other components integrated into that system, need to be examined and applied carefully. Understanding the limitations and operating characteristics of the equipment allows the designer to utilize each component to assure the maximum efficiency of the system as a whole. Many system designers fail to understand that focusing only on the individual efficiency of a single system component does not necessarily result in an efficient system. It is not uncommon to see energy efficient equipment inserted into a poorly designed system operating very inefficiently.

Once the decision has been made to improve system efficiency, the next question is where to begin? The logical starting point is to partner with a compressed air system specialist with the capability to perform energy audits. Remember, if you cannot measure it, how will you be able to manage it? The specialist should not only be well versed in the latest technologies and systems approach available, but also have full knowledge of  available federal, state and local energy provider rebate programs as well. Energy providers such as Xcel Energy offer programs that are designed to assist companies in identifying initiatives to reduce energy use and operate more efficiently. Key JHF players in this area are mechanical engineers Ryan Koepsell and Dustin Nord. The audit begins with an in-depth look at the entire system, then establishes a baseline to address “what if” scenarios for system improvements and ends with practical recommendations and data to support return on investment. “We make sure you’re using the most efficient technology possible and not spending more money on compressed air than you need,” explained Koepsell. To date, they have conducted over 450 audits and identified company savings of over $4 million.

The results of JHF’s compressed air audit study conducted at the central Minnesota manufacturing facility revealed that recommendations within the audit report would result in a reduction of 420 kW. This would qualify for an anticipated rebate through Xcel Energy Compressed Air Program exceeding $150,000.00. Upon completion and implementation of the new energy efficient system, Xcel Energy conducted their own verification audit on the facility and found they were in agreement with JHF. Final analysis of the energy efficient system resulted in a rebate of $168,000.00.

“We offer our customers the experience of knowing what type of equipment will work most effectively in each situation,” Nordby said. “The engineers who manage plants and other facilities have responsibilities in a wide variety of areas and being responsible for operating compressors represents only one part of their concerns. We are involved with virtually every industry since motion control technology and air power generation is used in some form within each industrial application. Our customers have confidence in us and trust us to know what best fits their needs.”

John Henry Foster has been providing innovative solutions and value for over 70 years and has established excellent working relationships that are a direct result of the faith those customers have in their judgment.


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