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The Unseen Forces That Drive Your Air System: Understanding Demand

When asked what drives an air system, most people instinctively think of compressors. After all, they're the mechanical workhorses, constantly pumping to maintain a steady supply of compressed air. However, this conventional perception might be misleading. In truth, a compressor is merely the reactor, the responder to events that have already occurred elsewhere in the system. Like the tail of a dog, it follows but does not lead. So, what does lead in an air system? The answer lies in the concept of demand, often an overlooked yet vital component of any compressed air system. This article delves into why understanding and managing demand is so critical.

Demand: The Invisible Puppeteer

In many industries, the neglect of demand can lead to profound operating and capital cost implications. A common misconception is to view air leaks or inefficient operations as 'one deep cut,' a single, isolated problem. In reality, many plants are suffering from 'a thousand nicks' - a multitude of small inefficiencies that add up to a significant cost over time. Each unattended leak, every inefficient component, and all instances of unnecessary air consumption compound the overall cost of running the air system.

To understand this, let's consider a case study. The FK pump in a high-energy-cost plant serves a finish mill that only operates at night. At some point, someone bypassed the solenoid valve feeding the pump. This bypass led to an extra energy expenditure of $11,000 per year. This might seem like a singular issue, a 'deep cut.' But this extra cost is part of the broader picture of demand inefficiencies - one of the many 'nicks' bleeding the plant's resources.

Interestingly, the solution for this problem cost the plant absolutely nothing. By simply ensuring the proper functioning of the solenoid valve and eliminating the bypass, the plant could save $11,000 per year. A substantial return, indeed, but one that could only be achieved by understanding the nuances of demand in the air system.

Building a Culture of Efficiency

However, it's not just about identifying and rectifying these issues. It's also about cultivating a culture where operators understand the cost of compressed air and act accordingly. This awareness is paramount because operators are at the forefront of system operations, and their actions directly influence demand. By instilling an understanding of how demand drives system cost, operators can make more informed decisions, adjusting system operations to optimize efficiency and minimize costs.

For example, operators can be trained to identify and report leaks, monitor system pressure, and switch off equipment when not in use. Additionally, they should be encouraged to contribute to continuous improvement efforts, such as suggesting changes to improve efficiency or participating in routine system audits. This inclusive, efficiency-focused culture can significantly reduce demand, leading to substantial savings.


In the end, compressors may be the most visible part of an air system, but it is demand that truly drives the system. Recognizing this fact, and adjusting the management strategy accordingly, is a significant step towards improved efficiency and reduced operating costs.

By acknowledging the impact of 'a thousand nicks,' plants can begin to understand the compounding effects of small inefficiencies. With this understanding, simple fixes, like the one in our case study, can lead to significant cost savings.

Moreover, building a culture of awareness and efficiency can enable operators to contribute proactively to system efficiency. This shared responsibility, coupled with a better understanding of demand, can create a more efficient, cost-effective air system, making the journey towards energy efficiency a collective endeavor.

Indeed, knowing where to look is only the first step. It's the action that follows this knowledge that ultimately makes the difference.

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