Maintenance for your Air Compressor

In one of my previous jobs, I was responsible for the operation of the facility, and one of my biggest jobs was the operation of our air compressor.  Like with many industries, the compressor system is the life blood of the company.  If the compressor fails, the whole facility will stop.  In this blog, I will share some maintenance items and schedules for air compressors. 

Because the cost to make compressed air is expensive, the compressed air system is considered to be a fourth utility.  With such an important investment, you would like to keep it operating as long and efficiently as possible.  To do this, it is recommended to get your air compressor a “checkup” every so often.  I will cover some important items to check.  Depending on the size and type of air compressor, some items may or may not apply.  It is always best to check with the manufacturer. 

Intake filter:  The intake filter is used to clean the air that is being drawn into the air compressor.  The better the filtration, the less debris that will get into your system.  Particles can damage the air pump mechanisms over time as well as plug filters and heat exchangers downstream.  If they are not properly monitored and cleaned, the air flow can be restricted.  This will cause the motor to operate harder and hotter. 

Compressor Oil:  This would be for flooded screws and reciprocating compressor that use oil to lubricate the bearings and sleeves in the air pump.  Most systems have an oil sight gage to verify levels.  The oil can also be checked for acidity which will tell the degree at which the oil is breaking down.  Just like the motor oil in your car, you will have to replace it out after so many hours of operation. 

Belts & couplings:  These items transmit the power from the motor to the air pump.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  You should have spares on hand in case of any failures.

Electric Motors:  A mechanical device that turns electric energy into rotational energy.  It is the main component that uses much energy to make compressed air.  So, some checks are required to foresee any potential issues and major shutdowns.  For the windings inside, the resistance should be measured with a multimeter, and it should fall within the motor’s specifications.  Another check should be on the start capacitor.  The start capacitor stores energy to give the motor a powerful boost to get it turning.  One other item is the centrifugal switch.  Just like the name states, it will disconnect the start capacitor when the motor starts spinning.  One other item for large electric motors is the phase convertor.  These are typically capacitors, and they are designed to keep the direction of a three-phase motors going in the correct rotation.  Both types of capacitors can be checked with a multimeter. 

Air/Oil Separators:  This filter removes as much oil from the compressed air before it travels downstream.  It returns the oil back to the sump of the air compressor.  If the Air/Oil Separator builds too much pressure drop, excess oil can travel downstream.  Not only will the air pump loose the required oil level, but it will affect the performance of downstream parts like your air dryer and after cooler.  Also, the pressure drop is a waste and can rob your air system of workable energy.  

Internal filters:  Many air compressors will come with an attached refrigerated air dryer.   With this type of air compressor, they will place coalescing filters to remove any residual oil.  These filters should be checked for pressure drop.  If the pressure drop gets too high, then it will rob your compressed air system of pressure, and you will not get the required performance.  Some filters come with a pressure drop indicator which can help you to determine the time to change the element.    

Unloader valve:  When the air compressor unloads, this valve helps to remove any of the compressed air that is trapped in the cavity.  When the air compressor restarts, it does not have to “work” against this air pressure.  If they do not fully unload, the air compressor will have to work harder to start, wasting energy.

Preventative maintenance is very important.  As for a schedule, I created a rough sequence to check, change, or clean certain items that are important to your air compressor.  You should also check with your local compressor representative for a more detailed maintenance schedule. 

Daily:

  • After stopping, remove any condensate from the receiver tank.
  • Check oil level. 

Monthly:

  • Inspect cooling fins on air pump.  Clean if necessary
  • Inspect oil cooler. Clean if necessary

Quarterly:

  • Inspect the inlet air filter.  Clean or replace if necessary. 
  • Check the belt for tension and cracks.  Tighten or replace.
  • Check differential pressure indicators on outlet compressed air filters.
  • Ohm check on the electric motor

Yearly:

  • Replace Air Inlet Filter
  • Replace the air-oil separator
  • Test safety valves and unloader valve
  • Replace compressed air filters
  • Change oil
  • Grease bearings if required

Keeping your air compressor running optimal is very important for pneumatic operations and energy savings.  To help your air compressor, you should also check your pneumatic system for optimization.  EXAIR manufactures engineered products that can blow, coat, clean, and cool at reduced air consumption rates; saving you money.  As an example, the model 1102 Mini Super Air Nozzle can save your company $1,872.00 per year for one blow-off device by replacing a 1/8” NPT open pipe.  You can contact an Application Engineer to determine how much EXAIR products can save your company and your air compressor.   

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Image courtesy of Compressor1Creative commons license

Air Compressors: Air Intake and Altitude

Flow rate is the quantity of material that is moved per unit of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are in units of pounds per minute or kilograms per hour.  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute or liters per hour.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used for a compressible gas in different altitudes.

From the history of air compressors, they could calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of the cylinder.  With the volume of the compression chamber and the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric air flows.  As conditions change like air density, temperatures, and relative humidity; the values of the volumetric flowrate changes.

Since we are looking at the intake flow rates of an air compressor, what happens when they run at different altitudes?  I remember that when I was in Denver, I got easily winded.  Now, this could be that I was out of shape, but it was also because the air is less dense.  That means for a volume of air, the mass of air was less.  This is called the specific volume.  Air compressors work the same way.  So, let’s look at the Ideal Gas Law; Equation 1.

Equation 1:

P * v = R * T

v – Specific Volume

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

P – Absolute Pressure

In a comparative relationship, we can show the changes that can occur with an air compressor at different altitudes.  Since we are looking at altitude, the air density and pressure will change at different elevations above sea level.  If we keep the temperature the same, we can derive a formula from Equation 1.

Equation 2:

P1 * v1 = P2 * v2

P1 – Absolute Pressure at Sea Level

P2 – Absolute Pressure at elevation

v1 – Specific Volume of air at P1

v2 – Specific Volume of air at P2

Specific volume is the inverse of density, so it has the units of ft3/lb or M3/Kg.  If we use an example of a 40 CFM air compressor at sea level, it will produce 40 cubic feet per minute.  We can calculate the flow rate of air that it can produce at 5,000 feet of elevation.  The absolute air pressure at sea level is 14.7 PSIA, and at 5,000 feet, the air pressure is at 12.2 PSIA.  So, if we look at Equation 2, we can rearrange the values to find the change in specific volume from sea level (position 1) to 5,000 feet (position 2):

v2 / v1 = P2 / P1 = 12.2 PSIA / 14.7 PSIA = 0.83

With the 40 CFM air compressor, it will now only produce 40 * 0.83 = 33.2 CFM of compressed air at 5,000 feet.

When sizing an air compressor, it is important to know the conditions.  In this blog, I discussed the effects of altitude as it applies to the intake of an air compressor.  But, no matter the size, elevation, or type of air compressor, EXAIR blow-off products like Super Air Knives, Super Air Nozzles, and Safety Air Guns will help you to save energy and increase safety.  You can speak to an Application Engineer to see how.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Piping and Instrumentation diagrams (P&ID)

When it comes to drawings and diagrams to map out a process system, the piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID) are a great way to situate and find components.  They use different symbols to represent the type of products, the layout in the system, installation, and process flow.  These standard symbols are created by ANSI or ISO.  They are used in electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic processes.  Since EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983, I will cover some pneumatic symbols and the process flow in this blog.

A colleague, Russ Bowman, wrote an article about “Knowing Your Symbols Is Key To Understanding Your Drawings”.  As a reference, air compressors are the start of your pneumatic system, and there are different types as represented by the symbols below.

The one on the left can be used for any air compressor. The others denote specific types of air compressor (from left:) Centrifugal, Diaphragm, Piston, Rotary, and Screw.

Air compressors are considered the fourth utility in industries because they use so much electricity; and they are inefficient.  So, you need to use the compressed air as efficiently as possible.  As a typical pneumatic system, the air compressors, receiver tanks and compressed air dryers would be on the supply side.  The distribution system, or piping, connects the supply side to the demand side.  This symbol is represented by a simple line.  The demand side will have many different types of pneumatic devices.  Since there are so many, ANSI or ISO has created some common types of equipment.  But if there isn’t a symbol created to represent that part, the idea is to draw a basic shape and mark it.

From top left, and then down: Automatic Drain Filter Separator, Pressure Regulator, and Super Air Knife

As an example, if I were to do a P&ID diagram of the EXAIR Super Air Knife Kit; it would look like the above diagram.  The kit will include the Super Air Knife with an Automatic Drain Filter Separator and a Pressure Regulator.  The Filter Separator is a diamond shape and since it has an Automatic Drain, a triangle is placed at the bottom.  Filter Separators are used to clean the compressed air and keep the Super Air Knife clean.  The Automatic Drain will discard water and oil from the filter bowl when it accumulates over a float.  The next item is the pressure regulator which is represented by a rectangle with an adjustment knob to “dial in” the desired blowing force.  And at the end, we drew a rectangle, which does represent a Super Air Knife, as marked.

Using the P&ID diagram for the process flow is also important.  You noticed that the Filter Separator will come before the Pressure Regulator.  This is significant when installing this system.  Remember the statement above about “using your compressed air as efficiently as possible”?  Inefficiencies come from two basic areas; pressure drop and overusing your compressed air.  Pressure drop is based on velocity.  The lower the velocity, the lower the pressure drop.  If the Filter Separator is placed after the Pressure Regulator, the lower pressure will increase the velocity.  Since air expands at lower pressure, the volume of air will increase.  And since the area of the compressed air pipe is the same, the velocity will have to increase.   For the second part with overusing compressed air, the Pressure Regulator will help.  You want to use the lowest amount of air pressure as possible for the Super Air Knife to “do the job”.  The lower air pressure will use less compressed air in your operation.

EXAIR products are engineered to be safe, efficient, and effective in your compressed air system.  If you need help to place them in your P&ID diagrams, an Application Engineer can help you.  It is important to have the pneumatic devices in the proper place, and if you want to efficiently use your compressed air, you can use EXAIR products for your blow-off devices.

John Ball
Application Engineer

Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Compressed Air and Pneumatic Systems

Compressed Air Pipe

Compressed air is used to operate pneumatic systems in a facility, and it can be segregated into three main sections; the supply side, the demand side, and the distribution system.  The supply side is the air compressor, after-cooler, dryer, and receiver tank that produce and treat the compressed air.  They are generally found in a compressor room.  The demand side is a collection of devices that will use the compressed air to do “work”.  These pneumatic components are generally scattered throughout the facility.  To connect the supply side to the demand side, a distribution system is required.  Distribution systems are pipes or tubes which carry compressed air from the air compressor to the pneumatic devices.  The three sections have to work together to make an effective and efficient system.

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different ways, and it is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  But most people think that compressed air is free, and it is most certainly not.  Because of the cost, compressed air is considered to be a fourth utility in manufacturing plants.  For an electrical motor to reduce a volume of air by compressing it, it takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) to compress 4 cubic feet (113L) of air every minute to 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing air compressors larger than 1 horsepower, the amount of energy needed is extraordinary.

Let’s determine the energy cost to operate an air compressor by Equation 1:

Equation 1:

Cost = hp * 0.746 * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)

where:

Cost – US$

hp – horsepower of motor

0.746 – conversion KW/hp

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, US$/KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

As an example, a manufacturing plant operates a 100 HP air compressor in their facility.  The cycle time for the air compressor is roughly 60%.  To calculate the hours of running time per year, I used 250 days/year at 16 hours/day.  So operating hours equal 250 * 16 * 0.60 = 2,400 hours per year.  The electrical rate for this facility is $0.10/KWh. With these factors, the annual cost to run the air compressor can be calculated by Equation 1:

Cost = 100hp * 0.746 KW/hp * 2,400hr * $0.10/KWh / 0.95 = $18,846 per year in electrical costs.

Filters and Regulator

If we look at the point-of-use or demand side, the compressed air is generally conditioned to be used to run and control the pneumatic system.  The basic units include filters, regulators, and lubricators.  The filters are used to remove any oil, water, vapor, and pipe scale to keep your pneumatic system clean.  They fall into different types and categories depending on the cleanliness level required.

Filter Separators are more of a coarse filtration which will capture liquid water, oil, and particulate.  The Oil Removal Filters are more of a fine filtration which can capture particles down to 0.03 micron.  They are also designed to “coalesce” the small liquid particles into larger droplets for gravity removal.  One other group is for removing oil vapor and smell.  This type of filter uses activated charcoal to adsorb the vapor for food and pharmaceutical industries.  Filters should be placed upstream of regulators.

Pressure Regulators change the pressure downstream for safety and control.  Pneumatic devices need both flow and pressure to work correctly.  The lubricator, which is placed after the Regulator, helps to add clean oil in a compressed air line.  Air tools, cylinders, and valves use the oil to keep seals from wearing with dynamic functions.  Once the compressed air is “ready” for use, then it is ready to do many applications.

For EXAIR, we manufacture products that use the compressed air safely, efficiently, and effectively.  EXAIR likes to use the 5-C’s; Coat, Clean, Cool, Convey and Conserve.  We have products that can do each part with 16 different product lines.  EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  Compressed air is an expensive system to operate pneumatic systems; but, with EXAIR products, you can save yourself much money.  If you need alternative ways to decrease electrical cost, improve safety, and increase productivity when using compressed air, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to help you.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb