Global economic downturns provide prime opportunities to invest for the future, according to Eberhard Veit, Ph.D., chairman of the board of directors at Festo AG & Co. KG, the Esslingen, Germany-based supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technology. “Festo, as a family-owned company, has always seen that downturns offer big chances,” Veit told a gathering of international journalists at the 7th International Festo Press Conference, Dec. 2-3 in Delft, The Netherlands.
Consequently, said Veit, Festo is making significant investments during the current downturn with an eye toward developing closer, long-term relationships with customers. A major focus involves innovation in products, systems and services that can help end-users and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers become more efficient. Indeed, “Mission: efficiency” was the theme of the international press event.
Among other things, Veit said that Festo is establishing 23 engineering solution centers worldwide to work closely with customers in adapting flexible Festo products to more precisely meet customer needs for more efficient operation. Additionally, Festo invests 1.5 percent of sales in education and training; the Training and Consulting division of the company’s Didactic unit supports and educates customers in the cost-effective application of pneumatics. “Each year, we have 42,000 engineers trained within our Didactic to get the know-how to be more efficient,” Veit said.
Veit and others at the event also provided details of a global cooperation agreement signed between Festo and LeekSeek International Ltd., a British-based company that specializes in detection and management of leaks in compressed air systems. By pooling their expertise in the area of efficient compressed air applications, Festo and LeekSeek say they can offer a comprehensive service package to help customers reduce compressed air consumption, which can produce significant savings.
Typically, at least 10 percent of an industrial company’s electricity is used to generate compressed air, according to LeekSeek. In Europe alone, about 8 terawatt-hours per year are used for compressed air production, said Niklas Rydell, director of LeekSeek Group. This is the equivalent of about 7.5 nuclear power plants, or about 30 coal-fired plants, he said. “But the bad news is that about 50 percent of that is wasted.” About 40 percent of the waste comes from leaks, while another 10 percent comes through inefficient system design.
As part of the combined service, LeekSeek performs a series of surveys of customer production systems, using ultrasonic scanners and other tools to locate compressed air leaks. Each leak is marked and classified by size, and documented in a Web-based software program. This documentation enables customers to determine savings potential and initiate leak elimination and system optimization measures.
Fix it fast
It is at this point that Festo services connect to those of LeekSeek. “We have found that effective leakage management is not only a matter of finding the leaks, but repairing them very, very fast,” observed Sven Lensdorf, head of Service Management International for Festo. Many companies today operate with limited staff and maintenance budgets, making it difficult for them to eliminate leaks in a timely manner. Festo offers to carry out the necessary repairs or replace faulty components quickly and professionally, said Lensdorf.
The LeekSeek deal is not Festo’s first experience with compressed air energy savings services. In fact, the company has been offering such services for the past six years. Besides leak elimination, these services also include working with customers to analyze machine design and optimize machine air consumption, and help in dealing with air quality issues. “A lot of customers don’t realize that a lot of leakage is caused by bad air quality,” Lensdorf said, noting that contamination of compressed air with oil, water or particles can negatively affect the service life of pneumatic components.
In the end, customer projects have shown that optimized application of pneumatic components and better maintenance and repair of systems can lower compressed air consumption by up to 60 percent, LeekSeek and Festo executives said. In many cases, customer return-on-investment comes in at less than six months.
As the next step beyond its energy savings services, Festo has also developed a new system for monitoring and diagnostics of air consumption in pneumatic systems, said Matthias Prinzen, head of Product Management, Control Systems, for Festo. After air leaks have been detected and eliminated, and machines have been optimized to minimize air consumption, the monitoring system, known as GFDM, can help customers maintain that state.
Using the optimized condition as a reference, the GFDM relies on a data acquisition system using pressure and flow sensors, a diagnostic controller and visualization tools to alert users when air consumption deviations occur. This enables customers to detect air problems early, and intervene before process quality is diminished, Prinzen explained.
Festo is currently testing the GFDM system at one of its own European plants, and also has a pilot system in place at a Tier One automotive supplier. An additional step may involve integration of the GFDM system for use with various vendors’ control systems as part of large, plant-wide or multi-plant implementation, said Prinzen. This would involve an OPC server—based on the OPC open connectivity standard—on top of the GFDM system to provide “a very easy plug-in” to connect to various vendors’ visualization tools, he noted. On this front, Prinzen said, “we are working with some big control system suppliers, like Rockwell Automation, and also Siemens, in Europe.”
Festo AG & Co. KG
LeekSeek International Ltd.