Energy savings 4.0
We have all read about it: leak detection should be a top priority since, if no leak detection program has been implemented, leaks can account for 30 to 40% of consumed volume. So, why is this issue still on the table? Why is it difficult to change things in the field?
In the industry, one of the most common applications when using ultrasonic detectors is to search for leaks to achieve energy savings. For both service providers and maintenance engineers, the hardest task is not to localize the leaks, which is child’s play if you have the appropriate tool, but to generate a report, organize the required repairs and communicate on the resulting savings within the company. A company-wide cost reduction program will be efficient only if all stakeholders are involved. When the implementation of an efficient program aiming at minimizing the energy costs related to compressed air leaks fails, it is not due to technology, which never fails, but to human factors. All surveyed companies that had initiated a leak detection program that did not last in the long term had something in common: a lack of communication.
Good Communication a Key Requirement
The successful implementation of an energy-saving strategy relies on good communication between all stakeholders involved, directly or indirectly, in this approach. What you need to do is to nominate 5 different people, each having a very specific role to play in this campaign. The first person is the Inspector: he/she knows the network and where to find the losses. The second person is the Purchasing Officer: he/she buys the equipment required to manage the program and possibly negotiates power supplies. The third person is the Planning Manager: he/she will schedule the repairs to be done further to the inspection of the network. The fourth person is the Technician who will repair the defects that have been localized. The fifth person involved is the most important one: he/she is the “Sponsor” whose role is to communicate the savings achieved. By communicating these savings within the company, he/she will make the project come alive with visible and measurable results.
It is easy to say, but in reality it takes a lot of time and organization. However, since the advent of smartphones, tablets and other connected devices in the maintenance world, you can now use free assistance tools available as iOS/Android applications to measure leak-induced costs and document them with pictures. These applications can also be used to assist the various stakeholders and monitor the different steps to complete the implemented program (e.g., LEAKReporter, LeakSurvey). These tools are now able to automatically assess the costs of the defects detected over an entire year. Communication between all departments affected, directly or indirectly, by the program is now simple and natural.
Giving New Life to a Project
In 2018, we worked with a company located in the North of Manchester, which, for many years, has used measuring instruments to detect leaks. However, no energy savings have been observed nor measured. As a result, the team was experiencing a loss of motivation and had given up on its cost reduction strategy. Thus, our customer’s request was simple: give new life to their projects. The first steps consisted in clearly redefining everyone’s role. The second step was to train the team to the use of newly available tools: leak detector and mobile applications. The third step was to set up a “think tank” inviting all stakeholders to reflect on the best approach to adopt in order to manage and organize a leak detection campaign before, during and after our intervention (see diagram below). Finally, the fourth step was to celebrate our results with all the people involved in the project.
After two days on site, everyone knew precisely what was expected of them. Seventeen leaks were localized, representing potential annual savings of 3 934 GBP (4 481 EUR) and, after the quick repair of seven leaks, actual savings of 1 648 GBP (1 877 EUR). As a result, the inspector has a better control of his/her network and of compressed air losses and actual needs; the purchasing officer can calculate the return on investment; the technician feels valued by the savings generated by his/her work; and finally, everyone is thankful to the sponsor for (re)establishing communication between the different departments.
As Finnish energy company Fortum digitalises its operations, new alternatives are also being actively pursued in the detection of leaks in the district heating network. In a pilot project launched in partnership with Advian Oy, the location data of the existing district heating network is being combined with satellite data to detect possible leaks.
As the required time-to-market for industrial products becomes ever more aggressive, so does the need to keep machinery and other assets working efficiently. Alongside this is the equally urgent requirement to reduce the cost of maintenance and speed-up time-sensitive repairs.