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Quick detection of leaks in compressed air, gas or vacuum systems

In todays industrial plants and facilities, many of the machines, tools, robotics, product handling and many more pieces of equipment all operate with compressed air, gas and vacuum systems, which provide a vital source of converted energy that is much more easier and convenient than other sources of energy such as electricity, however these resources are compromised by wear and poor maintenance practises.

The greatest of wasted energy in a compressed air, gas or vacuum system is leaks, which can often be hidden behind machinery or hard to inspect areas and are generally at connection points, overhead in fixed pipes or in cracked / worn hoses, these leaks can eventually cause downtime in the equipment or production facility that all adds to the cost.

Fluke ii900The hidden cost of wasted air:

A U.S. Department of Energy study has shown that a single 3mm leak in a compressed air line can cost upward of $2,500 a year and that an unmaintained facility can waste 20% of its total compressed air production capacity through leaks, these findings were also backed up by New Zealand’s government figures that showed that system leaks can account for 30% to 50% of a compressed air system’s capacity.

So, to compensate for these inefficiencies, companies tend to buy bigger compressors than is necessary, which in turn causes addition energy costs, but the biggest potential costs is if the leaks cause a system failure, leading to production delays or unplanned downtime.

Getting to the heart of the problem:

Finding and fixing leaks isn’t an easy process and many production facilities don’t have a leak detection program and neither do they have the expertise or resource to quantify the amount of waste and determine the cost involves as it often needs specialists or consultants with energy analysers, so often a failure is the first sign there is a major problem.

How leaks are generally found:

Normally the age-old method of listening for hissing sounds (which are very hard to hear in industrial environments) or spraying soapy water over the suspected area (which can cause a slip hazard) and looking for bubbles is the basic way of leak detection.

Apart from this method, the other tools for finding compressed leaks is an ultrasonic acoustic detector, which is portable tool that recognises high frequency sounds that are associated with air leaks, but these are time consuming and complex to use and require the operator to be close to the leak, so very difficult for hard to reach locations such as ceilings and this is often only used during system downtime.

Fluke a game-changing technology:

Fluke have launched the ii900 sonic industrial imager (187-6163), that can pinpoint the precise location of leaks from up to 50m away, whilst being in noisy environments and without shutting down any equipment.

The Sonic imager is a hand-held device that can detect a broader range of frequencies than traditional ultrasonic devices, using their SoundSight™ technology to produce visual scans of air leaks, like that of infrared cameras detecting hotspots.

The following video illustrates how simple it is to identify leaks using the Fluke ii900 Sonic Imager:

The real benefit over the ii900 over traditional more complicated test equipment can clearly be demonstrated in the following video, which compares the two technologies and shows the ii900 can be learned in around ten minutes.:

Examples of where leaks can be found:

  • Couplings
  • Hoses
  • Tubes
  • Fittings
  • Threaded pipe joints
  • Quick disconnects
  • FRLs (filter, regulator, lubricator combinations)
  • Condensate traps
  • Valves
  • Flanges
  • Packings
  • Air lines

ii900 in action

How much air is being wasted?

The complete article from Fluke (link at the bottom of the page) details testing to determine the leakage, but in any compressed air, gas and vacuum systems you can expect some leakage, but anything above 10% is considered wasteful, so using the Fluke ii900 sonic imager to identify where the leaks are coming from (and at distance), is a great time saving solution and can ensure facility downtime is minimised. 

The Fluke ii900 Sonic Imager is available from RS (187-6163)

The complete Fluke article and datasheet are available at the bottom of this article:

With a background in electronics and electrical engineering, with a keen eye on innovation and how things work.