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ONLINE CASE STUDY EXCLUSIVE: Something special in the compressed air

Jun 1, 2001 12:00 AM

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For an industrial facility, there’s a fourth utility: compressed air. Although it’s only a line item on the operating ledger, today’s industrial market is beginning to recognize the savings available in terms of energy efficiency, air quality, equipment, reliability and customer service. The proper compressed air system can offer effective plant operation and energy savings that increase profitability.

Quebecor World Hazleton (Hazleton, PA) is one of the nation’s largest producers of telephone directories, printing more than 40 million phone books each year. Its four non-heatset, web offset presses process huge rolls of paper as fast as 2,000 fpm, or about 30 miles an hour. The presses print 30,000 64-page signatures per hour, and at any given time, the plant is processing up to two dozen different books simultaneously.

The process, according to plant engineer Bob Fogg, is highly dependent on compressed air. "Throughout the plant, from prepress through printing to shipping, we rely on compressed air to pick up, handle and move the paper and product we produce," Fogg explains. "I can’t count all the places that compressed air is diretly involved in our production process. If we lose air, the plant stops--at a cost of thousands of dollars an hour in lost production."

Quebecor World’s aging compressed air system couldn’t meet the facility’s demand. The four reciprocating compressors, non-cycling dryers and closed-loop cooling system produced poor air quality, more than $50,000 in annual maintenance costs, and significant downtime and lost production.

"We’d been considering options to solve our air system problems for several years," observes Fogg, "but the capital expense was always difficult to justify."

Justification finally came in the form of savings projections made by Quebecor World Hazleton’s compressed air equipment supplier, Taylor Air Center (Whitehall, PA).

After examining its client’s production process and evaluating the facility needs, Taylor Air recommended a state-of-the-art approach that guaranteed Quebecor World the quality and reliability it needed.

The concept was to buy air, not equipment. Commonly called "air-over-the-fence," this notion refers to purchasing the amount, quality and pressure of compressed air needed in a plant without actually buying or maintaining the equipment necessary to produce it. Air-over-the-fence gives industrial manufacturers the opportunity to buy only what they need and the freedom to use their maintenance crews for work on core business equipment.

Fogg found the approach appealing. "Our maintenance force has its hands full taking care of our printing equipment," he says. "Why should I make them become compressor specialists too? It makes more sense just to buy the quality of air and reliability we need, and let the compressor experts figure out the rest."

Quebecor World therefore opted to buy air and turned over responsibility for setting up the air system to Taylor Air Center. Taylor’s compressor experts immediately went to work with one goal in mind: to help Quebecor World Hazleton reduce operating and maintenance costs. They began by looking at air-cooled compressors that would eliminate problems with the existing closed-loop cooling system and a trim cooler that was costing the facility about $60,000 a year in water purchase and disposal. After careful consideration, Taylor Air Center’s team recommended a four-step approach.

First, the firm replaced the existing system with three SSR 250-hp Ingersoll-Rand two-stage, air-cooled rotary screw compressors; two thermal mass cycling dryers; a non-lube module, Intellisys System Controller, receiver and accessories. The new equipment offered greater reliability and efficiency improvements.

Second, Taylor Air relocated the compressor room from the middle of the plant to a separate 1,600-sq.-ft. building outside the plant.

"Taylor Air took care of everything from designing and constructing the building to installing the piping, ductwork, sprinklers and electrical system," notes Fogg. "We gave them the location, and they completed the rest of the project."

Third, Taylor’s team installed a heat recovery system on the compressors, which uses the heat naturally generated by the compressors to warm part of the plant.

Fourth, the company provided Quebecor World Hazleton with a five-year, fixed-cost maintenance contract that covers both anticipated and unforeseen expenses.

"Before, our maintenance budget was unpredictable," Fogg says. "One month, it would be basic; the next, a major part would break and our costs would hit the roof. With this maintenance contract, there will be no surprises that jeopardize either our budget or our air quality. We know what our maintenance costs will be for the next five years."

And to give Quebecor World the best financial impact possible, Taylor Air packaged the whole project into an operating lease that doesn’t show up on the facility’s balance sheet as a capital expenditure, according to Taylor Air president Bob Abadessa. "The result is that we now have the right equipment in place to guarantee air supply to meet their needs," Abadessa notes.

The savings are multifold:

  • Efficiency.

    More efficient operation means lower energy costs--a savings of about $10,000 annually.

  • Heat recovery.

    Using heat generated by the compressors to warm the plant, Quebecor saves about $15,000 yearly on its gas bill.

  • Water reduction.

    The air-cooled system eliminates the need for supplemental trim cooling water, equating to a cost reduction of about $60,000 annually.

  • Minimized downtime.

    After tolerating an average of one hour a day of downtime for presses and bindery equipment, Quebecor World expects to save about $30,000 or more a year in downtime, lost production and internatl labor costs from the new system.

After factoring in the cost of equipment and maintenance contract, Fogg estimates that Quebecor World Hazleton will net a savings of about $50,000 a year.

"I was skeptical of the numbers Taylor projected at first," Fogg notes, "but we’re finding them to be consistently right on the money or even more to our advantage than they had estimated.

"I had no idea how significant compressed air could be. I knew how important it is to our plant operations but didn’t totally understand the effect it could have on our bottom line until now. These signficant savings will go far in helping us reduce overall costs, maintain quality and improve long-term profitability."

For more information on Taylor Air, contact Robert Abadessa, president, at (800) 322-9038 or visit