Pneumofore: An example of vacuum and compressed air setup

Pneumofore, a leading supplier of centralised vacuum and compressed air for industrial applications, discusses the pneumatic machinery and engineering works it carried out for Envases Universales at its Pachuca plant, near Mexico City, in 2019.  

Pneumofore successfully installed three separate systems for vacuum, including both low and high pressure.  After three years of continuous operation, the measurable results have been hailed as outstanding by the customer.

The engineering work for optimising system performance

At an altitude of 2,432 metres, the exceptional situation in Pachuca required attention to the pressure where the air is “thinner” due to the reduced ambient pressure. The cooling system in every vacuum pump and air compressor was dimensioned to cope with this altitude-related challenge, with larger coolers and stronger fans being installed. The ventilation of the compressor room, as well as the evacuation of hot air, required engineering work with calculations of ducts length, size, layout and the necessary fans.

Pneumofore’s A180.8 compressors at Envases Universales

The initial decision to have three pressure lines to run the factory proved to be the most appropriate solution. The low-pressure loop is served by dedicated low-pressure compressors, which perform at their greatest efficiency when designed to run at the low pressure of 4 bar(g). There’s greater nominal compressor power installed for the low-pressure than for the high-pressure loop. The third pressure line is dedicated to vacuum.

The customary installation of only two-pressure lines, one for compressed air and another for vacuum,  coupled with the use of pressure reducers to match the different compressed air pressure levels required in production is a simple but costly solution. In short, compressing up to 8 bar when only 4 bar is required results in half the work being wasted. Compressors are energy intense machines which merit the same careful attention in selection and installation as required by three-piece can factories.

Machines alone don’t constitute the entire pneumatic system. The setup of three different pressure lines follows both the pipe and duct calculations to optimise system performance. The pipeline length and receivers are integral parts of the system. Often, dryers are installed to discharge all the condensed humidity. At Pachuca, the entire system was calculated, designed, and installed with practical dimensional safety criteria to contain the costs, whilst yielding the best overall performance.

Ensuring enduring performance and low environmental impact

The overarching objective of the customer was to install equipment with enduring performance.  Fortunately, lasting performance efficiency is at the heart of Pneumofore’s design and technology.  The machine performance is constant for over 120,000 hours without overhaul. Ordinary maintenance is performed once a year. With regular service and the use of original consumables, Pneumofore’s rotary vane machines have maintained the same level of performance since their installation in 2019.

This remarkable result was made possible due to installing a total electrical capacity of 3.77 MW. With the Mexican industrial electricity price of $0.1 for 1 kWh, the annual generated electricity cost for all the machines is $3.3 million, or nearly $10 million over the three years. This value is much higher than the machine cost at purchase. The performance has remained as good as new, with no further costs other than ordinary service foreseen for the next 10 years.

Besides the raw materials for production, the electricity bill for the compressors and vacuum pumps is the largest expense when it comes to running a can factory.  A loss of performance of the compressed air and vacuum system by as little as 1% costs an additional $33,000 a year. When machines are new, once they are fine-tuned they usually perform well. Once the production has started, it’s prudent to keep it running and stop as little as possible. By doing so, hour-counters turn, and millions of cans are produced while millions of dollars are spent on energy to keep the manufacturing up and running.

Pneumofore’s goal is to install machines with the lowest possible environmental impact. It’s not about machines with a fantastic performance for a few months only, but rather the aim is to maintain a good performance preferably for 10+ years. We offer a five-year warranty for functionality and efficiency for the pumping air-end in every machine. Any manufacturing defects occur in the first three years of operations, and if this doesn’t happen, it’s likely that the entire pneumatic system will keep performing for decades.

Older Pneumofore installations from 2016 have ran trouble-free in Mexico under tougher conditions than two-piece can production, with more than 50,000 hours of operations, thus providing sound evidence of their performance integrity. Elsewhere in Europe, other can making facilities have had UV vacuum pumps running 24/7 since 1998, with more than 200,000 hours without overhaul. These and other examples consolidate the company’s reputation with 99 years of experience as a global leader in vacuum.

Industry 4.0 and our tailor-made solutions for efficiency

Innovative design is essential to stay up to date. Latest industry 4.0 trends focus on electronic devices and offer tremendous potential of control and management. In Pachuca, Envases Universales requested the electrical panels be made with Allen Bradley components and required variable speed drive as well as a programmable logic control (PLC) and a human machine interface (HMI). The information on the touch screen offers immediate access to all key parameters of the machine. Also, the units are connected and communicate to have even working hours. The flexibility required to specific customer needs  cannot be achieved in mass production factories. Pneumofore adapts machinery to the various climatic, voltage or PLC requirements for a perfect fit.

Substantial works are now underway at the Envases Universales’ new can factory in Waco, Texas in the US, where we are once again installing the three-pressure lines for this growing player on the international two-piece can world scene.

In short, at the core of any decision regarding industrial machine investment, we’re committed to developing tailor-made solutions to ensure equipment efficiency over time. Sharp spikes in electricity and gas prices call for a new approach with greater emphasis on longevity, rather than the purchase price alone. Running power costs of energy-intense equipment, like compressors and pumps, make the largest share of their total life cycle costs. The constant efficiency over time offered by Pneumofore’s rotary vane technology is highly appreciated and translates into big money savings, so that the return on investment when replacing other technologies, namely screws, is sometimes shorter than 18 months.

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