Compressed air study helps save Newpro $40,000 a year

Roger Smith, Plant Manager, beside air compressor.

Smithers composite panel manufacturer relies heavily on compressed air

When Northern Engineered Wood Products (Newpro) expanded its production capacity a few years ago, it was not surprised to discover that the plant's compressed air capacity also needed a boost.

But a few years later, there was a surprise. With a compressed air system study, Newpro was on a path to big savings with nearly no cost.

Aerial photo of NEWPRO particleboard plant, Smithers, B.C.

Newpro is a composite panel manufacturer based in Smithers. The plant uses waste residue from sawmills to produce composite wood panels that are commonly used in kitchen cabinets and office furniture.

The plant has been in operation since 1980 and has about 50 employees.

"The entire facility uses compressed air," says Roger Smith, Newpro's Plant Manager. "We've got two units that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, about 350 days a year."

Up until 2007, Newpro's operations were powered by a single 150 hp compressor, with another of the same size in place as a backup. Then, they expanded.

"We put a new melamine paper overlay line in, and we found we didn't have enough air with just one compressor, so we found we needed the second compressor running," says Smith. "Unfortunately, it was running all the time, but it was probably only really needed, capacity wise, for about 20% of its capacity. So it was basically running and discharging and just wasting a lot more than we were actually using."

Energy efficiency: study reveals low-cost fixes

Newpro partnered with BC Hydro to investigate efficiencies, and the initial compressed air study targeted storage.

With additional storage tanks, the plant could operate with just one compressor and still have capacity for peak usage times. But as they took steps towards their new project, more information came to light.

View of the particleboard cooler

"Between the guys with the study and our maintenance staff, we found a problem in the system itself," says Smith. The problem lay in a minimum pressure check valve on one compressor.

"By repairing that — a relatively simple fix, a couple hundred dollars and about a half an hour — we were able to just shut that second compressor back off. We realized a huge savings just from that. The audit made a huge difference, even if it had done nothing more than just found that one problem in the system."

The other low cost fix Newpro implemented as the result of the audit was to change the operation of four small compressed air lines that were blowing air to keep dust off of photocell "eyes." They were running continuously — but the study found they could give one blast of air every hour or so without jeopardizing operations.

"Now they run intermittently instead of all the time — that was quite considerable savings as well," says Smith.

Savings hit about $40,000 a year

As a result of the air study and some simple fixes, Newpro is now saving 599,000 kWh of electricity per year — or about $40,000*.

"You know, we've got a full complement of maintenance staff, but we're not compressor experts," says Smith. "We'd been running since 2007 with two compressors, and [the problem valve] was just never discovered until the audit came along. All along we would have been able to run with just one compressor if it weren't for this mechanical problem in our system.

"What it really comes down to, in our discussions with BC Hydro, is that we found some fairly significant savings with really not doing much work. If it hadn't been for the audit, we would just have just continued to basically waste energy. It was about as simple as that."

* Based on an average blended rate of 6.7¢ per kWh.