Did you know that argon is a “precious” gas? It is not flammable, and it is used to create a special atmosphere around the metal being welded to prevent oxidation of the material during the process. It is also used for the packaging of meat and food, to keep it fresh and to preserve the color. Argon is expensive costing USD 0.14 … 0.17 per cubic foot.
Savings at an automotive manufacturing plant
At the automotive manufacturing plant in Tennessee, USA, argon and argon mixtures are used as a protection gas for MIG/ TIG welding robots. Recently, the manager decided to place a VPFlowScope In-line flow meter in the main argon supply line. Like most manufacturers in the industry, the plant purchases argon in liquified tanks. The argon is vaporized in large heat exchangers, then reduced to the right pressure and send in to the factory to all production lines.
The manufacturer invested in a plant-wide condition monitoring system for all rotating equipment, which can be read wirelessly. “It was very easy to connect the VPFlowScope In-line via the 4..20 mA output and to get it online in our system” explains the manager.
Establishing the baseline
During one of the first week-ends after installation of the VPInstruments flow meter, the plant was able to close the main supply to the factory for a short time and the flow went to zero, as it should. Then, after opening a valve, they found that a steady flow of 14 SCFM was consumed by equipment, without any production. During normal production days the consumption was around 27 SCFM.
In total, the annual cost for argon is around $ 165,000 per year. “This means with nearly 50% of reduction, that there is a tremendous savings potential” explains the manager. “Now we have a method to measure usage and to show facts to our management. We think 80% of the leaks are easy to fix, by replacing old solenoid valves and dried out hoses (the factory is approximately 30 years old). The remaining 20%; well, we will have to see how we handle these, but we will get there eventually. And now we have a tool to keep track of these savings.
The products that are used:
- VPFlowScope In-line, calibrated for Argon
- Wireless, 4..20 mA transducer
- Third party condition monitoring software
The next steps
Argon is not the only utility being used at this plant. They also use a gas mixture, so two additional VPFlowscope In-line flow meters will be installed to measure consumption. In addition, compressed air will be monitored as well. With 3 x 250 kW compressors on site, there may be a large savings opportunity in compressed air as well.
The client already ordered in addition 5 x flow meters, each for a different plant.