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Measuring argon…and realizing potential savings of up to 50%

A snapshot in argon control, by VPInstruments.

As an industrial gas professional, you are no doubt more than aware, but it’s sometimes worth asking ourselves and our customers the question – do you know that argon is a ‘precious’ gas? It is not flammable, and it’s used for a wide range of applications; from creating a special atmosphere around the metal being welded to prevent oxidation of the material during the process, to its use for the packaging of meat and food to preserve freshness and colour.

Argon is, therefore, incredibly valuable to so many end uses, but it’s also valuable in its sourcing and cost – an approximate price of $0.14 – $0.17 per cubic foot renders this an expensive gas. Any savings that can be realised through effective measurement and control cannot be ignored.

Automotive case study

A case in point is at an automotive manufacturing plant in Tennessee, in the US, where argon and argon mixtures are used as a protective gas for MIG/ TIG welding robots.

Recently, the site manager decided to place a VPFlowScope In-line flow meter from VPInstruments in the main argon supply line. Like most manufacturers in the industry, the plant purchases argon in liquefied 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 in question. During one of the first weekends after installation of the 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, the client found that a steady flow of 14 SCFM was consumed by equipment, without any production. During normal production days, consumption was around 27 SCFM.

In total, the annual cost for argon is around $ 165,000 per year for this client. “This means with nearly 50% of reduction, that there is a tremendous savings potential,” it affirms. “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 figures speak for themselves, with an estimated savings potential of around $80,000 from using the right technologies in analysis and control.

The next steps

Argon is not the only utility being used at this plant. It also uses a gas mixture, so two additional VPFlowscope In-line flow meters will soon be installed to measure consumption.

In addition, compressed air will be monitored too; with 3 x 250 kW compressors onsite, there may be a large savings opportunity in compressed air as well. This client has already ordered an additional five flow meters, each for a different plant, such is the potential for savings with the right equipment.

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Permanent monitoring of your compressed air and other utilities is key to maximizing energy savings. It comes with many benefits as the example above shows, including data-based investment decisions, alarms, increased awareness, and in some cases even an increase in production. Our team experts provide free-of-charge an online presentation to you and your team on the benefits of permanent monitoring. Interested? Make your appointment today!

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