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Optimize Air Flow: The Usage Of Flow Meters To Improve Overall Efficiency

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Compressed air systems are required for operating various types of equipment, and approximately 70% of all manufacturers have a compressed air system. Most manufacturers measure their plant's consumption of water, gas and electricity, but not air although it is one of the most expensive plant utilities. Installing flow meters at various checkpoints can improve your plant's overall energy efficiency and reduce total cost.

Flow Meters Remove Inaccuracies of Calculations and Offer Direct Measurement

Most manufacturers have various systems in place that calculate overall air flow through the entire system by extrapolating the assumed relationship between the compressor's electrical consumption and overall system pressure and the relationship between air flow at various checkpoints in the system. The keyword here is extrapolating. In short, it can be difficult to obtain an accurate and precise measurement.

Instead of working with extrapolated information, flow meters remove all inaccuracies by providing a direct measurement. To improve overall efficiency, obtaining a direct measurement is crucial. The direct measurement can provide further insight into specific areas in the system where air may be used in a nonproductive manner, as you can easily witness and observe the signature of demand events in real-time. Flow meters provide immediate information on a display that are easy to understand.

Usage of Flow Meters to Determine Air Compressor Sizing

More often than not, manufacturing plants are unaware of inefficiencies that are caused by improperly sized air compressors. With the data obtained from flow meters, you can easily match flow characteristics with the manufacturer's provided curve in order to get the best fit possible. The main problem that most manufacturers have is purchasing and installing oversized air compressors. This creates nonproductive usage of compressed air and waste. Oversized air compressors continuously turn down their overall operation, which results in them running at the lower end of their performance curve.

Flow data can also help identify numerous inefficiencies and suggest possible improvements, such as:

  • where leaks may be present, and the amount of compressed air that is lost. A recent case study where 625 leaks were identified at a steel plant. The measured volume loss was approximately 3,250 standard cubic feet per meter (scfm) with an average leak size of 5 cubic feet per meter (cfm). Although the repair cost was $68,000, the actual recoverable energy reduction was close to $333,158 each year.
  • whether more efficient nozzles need to be installed to reduce peak demand.
  • how to program a solenoid valve to reduce air loss during operations.
  • whether there are any higher pressure areas in the system that require booster pumps.

Flow meters log airflow data and will also send out alerts if the airflow exceeds any limits that have been pre-set. Most of these flow meters come pre-calibrated, and can be installed directly onto the system without any welding required. The data that is collected is generally shown on the display, and will also be fed directly into a host computer at different intervals for a more detailed preview and record.

Prime Locations for Installing Flow Meters

After familiarizing with the benefits that flow meters offer, many manufacturers want to know where flow meters should be installed. Although there are no set areas where flow meters should be installed, most experts recommend considering placing flow meters ahead of each production machine. Mark down the flow for each machine when it is running, sitting idle and between cycles to easily pinpoint any conspicuous activity that may be due to an unexpected increase or decrease of airflow. 


Regardless of what type of manufacturing plant that you may have, you should highly consider installing flow meters if your operation relies on a compressed air system. By directly measuring airflow or your sullair air compressors, you can easily determine whether there are any inefficiencies that need to be addressed, and can quickly correct any problems that may be present.