Compressed air is often considered the fourth utility and, like gas, electricity and water, it is possible to simply buy the compressed air you need without the requirement to invest in capital equipment. Peter Eckberg, Managing Director of Kaeser Compressors Australia explains how, and the benefits this method offers the end user.

For the majority of manufacturers, like gas, electricity and water, compressed air will be an indispensable utility to their operation. However, unlike gas, electricity and water, compressed air is more often than not produced the conventional way – via a compressed air system that the manufacturer actually owns. Here, the manufacturer not only pays for the utility itself (the compressed air produced), but at some point in time will have had the capital outlay for the purchase of the compressed air equipment, as well as the ongoing costs to service and maintain the compressed air system.

Compressed air contracting presents a viable alternative to investing in, and maintaining your own compressed air system. Here, the end user simply purchases the compressed air they use, in the same way they would purchase gas, electricity or water. And, they can immediately enjoy the advantages of a cost-effective, energy-saving compressed air supply with no need for the initial capital investment. Compared to operating a conventional compressed air station, contracting models also offer a number of further benefits.

With contracting, the compressed air partner takes care of all aspects of planning, installation and operation in accordance with the end user’s requirements. This allows the user to save 100% percent of the investment cost of a compressed air station and removes the burden of having to allocate staff and funds for maintenance and servicing work. In addition, contracting models provide a key tax advantage – by obtaining compressed air at a contractually established price per cubic metre, fixed costs are converted into variable operating costs, which can immediately be claimed for tax purposes.

Users who decide to purchase only the required volume of compressed air at the quality they require – instead of a compressed air station – allow their business to benefit from improved cost transparency. Instead of a composite calculation, they can rely on the fixed price per cubic metre of compressed air, which is contractually agreed well into the future, thereby serving as a reliable basis of calculation.

As an example, with the Sigma Air Utility operator model from Kaeser, the basic price set for the entire term of the contract will cover system and operating costs, as well as consumption of a mutually-agreed base volume of compressed air. Should consumption exceed that amount, the surplus air charge that has also been contractually agreed is applied. Precise measurements guarantee that users are charged only for the volume of compressed air actually drawn from the system.

By having the compressed air system provider take care of operation and maintenance of the compressed air supply system, maximum dependability and energy efficient performance are also assured at all times. The provider of course has a vested interest in adapting the system to meet the needs of changing operating conditions and to incorporate the very latest technological innovations.

There are also significant advantages when it comes to maintenance. As an example, the compressed air supply delivered via the Kaeser Sigma Air Utility operator model comes complete with a Sigma Air Manager 4.0 compressor controller. This allows Kaeser to constantly monitor the compressed air system, with a built-in connection to the Kaeser Service Centre. This effectively ensures maximum efficiency and compressed air availability whilst enhancing production reliability.

As energy costs remain a key concern for manufacturers with higher input costs for electricity biting into margins, finding ways to optimise energy usage has never been so important. Compressed air contracting represents a highly attractive option for compressed air supply where rapid energy efficiency improvements are desired: in this case and many others, outsourcing offers a sophisticated solution.

The potential savings that can be achieved vary in each case. When a company changes to compressed air contracting, the contracting partner usually installs a completely new compressed air system to ensure full utilisation of any and all potential energy savings. The degree to which compressed air costs are reduced depends on the system being replaced; however it is certainly not unusual for customers to achieve savings of 30% and beyond over the long-term.

Moreover, that is continuously over the long-term, since the contracting partner (who is providing the compressed air at a fixed rate) has the greatest interest in ensuring that the system operates as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Contractors therefore always use the most advanced technology, such as high efficiency compressors and intelligent, PC-based compressed air management systems. Together with efficient and smart 3D pressure control, these innovations enable maximum system pressure to be reduced, which in turn dramatically cuts energy consumption.

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