6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)

A production equipment mechanic with the 76th Maintenance Group, takes meter readings of the oil pressure and temperature, cooling water temperature and the output temperature on one of two 1,750 horsepower compressors. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

In one of my previous jobs, I was responsible for the operation of the facility.  One of my biggest responsibilities was the air compressor because it supplied pressurized air though out the facility to feed the pneumatic systems.  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 preventative maintenance items and schedules for your air compressors.

Because the cost to make compressed air is so expensive, compressed air systems are considered to be a fourth utility.  And with any 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 as well as a recommended schedule for checking.  Depending on the size of your air compressors, some items may or may not apply.

1. Intake filter:  The intake filter is used to clean the air that is being drawn into the air compressor.  Particles can damage the air pump mechanisms, so it is important to have the proper filtration level.  But, as the intake filter builds up with debris, the pressure drop will increase.  If they are not properly monitored and cleaned, the air flow will be restricted.  This can cause the motors to operate harder and hotter as well as reduce the efficiency of the air compressor.

2. Compressor Oil:  This would be for flooded screws and reciprocating compressors that use oil to operate the air pump.  Most systems will have an oil sight gauge to verify proper levels.  In larger systems, the oil can be checked for acidity which will tell you the level at which the oil is breaking down.  The oil, like in your car, has to be changed after so many hours of operation.  This is critical to keep the air pump running smoothly without service interruptions.

3. Belts and 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.

4. 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 or gets damaged, excess oil will travel downstream.  Not only will the air pump lose the required oil level, but it will also affect the performance of downstream parts like your air dryer and after cooler.

5. Internal filters:  Some air compressors will come with an attached refrigerated air dryer.   With these types of air compressors, 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 air pressure.  Some filters come with a pressure drop indicator which can help you to determine the life of the internal filter element.

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

Preventative maintenance is very important, and checks need to be performed periodically.  As for a schedule, I created a rough sequence to verify, change, or clean certain items that are important to your air compressor.  You can 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.

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 optimally is very important for pneumatic operations and energy savings.  I shared some important information above to assist.  Another area to check would be your pneumatic system downstream of the air compressor.  EXAIR manufactures engineered products that can reduce air consumption rates.  You can contact an Application Engineer to discuss further on how we can save you energy, money, and your air compressor.

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

 

About Air Compressors: Air Intake Best Practices

Take a second and think about where the air compressor is located within your facility.  It is more than likely not a major focal point displayed prominently in the floor layout. There is a better chance it is tucked away in a corner of the facility where operators seldom travel.  No matter the type of air compressor, it still has an intake where it pulls in the ambient air from around the compressor then sends it through some process and on the demand side of your compressed air system.  These intakes can easily be placed out of sight and out of mind especially in older facilities that were designed when compressors were loud and the piping layout kept them away from operators due to sound level restrictions.

Air Compressor
Antique Air Compressor (Not safe for use!)

That’s why your compressor manufacturer supplies a specific grade of air inlet/intake filter, and this is your first line of defense. If it’s dirty, your compressor is running harder, and costs you more to operate it.  If it’s damaged, you’re not only letting dirt into your system; you’re letting it foul & damage your compressor. It’s just like changing the air filter on your car, your car needs clean air to run correctly, so does your compressor and the entire demand side of your compressed air system.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, as a compressor inlet filter becomes dirty, the pressure drop across the inlet increases, this is very similar to the point of use compressed air filters.  The inlet filter on the compressor is the only path the compressor has to pull in the air, when restricted the compressor can begin to starve for air very similar to if you only had a small straw to breath through and told to run a marathon.  A clogged inlet filter can give false symptoms to compressor technicians as well.

The effects can mimic inlet valve modulation which result in increased compression ratios. If we were to form an example based on a compressor with a positive displacement, if the filter pressure drop increases by 20″ H2O, a 5% reduction of the mass flow of air will be present without a reduction in the power being drawn by the compressor. This all leads to inefficiency which easily amounts to more than the cost to replace the depleted inlet air filter.

compressor
Compressed Air System

Where you place the filter is just as important as how often you replace it.  There are some tips to be used when mounting the inlet filter.

  1. The filter can be placed on the compressor, but the inlet pipe should be coming from an external area to the compressor room or even the building if possible. The inlet should be free from any contaminants as well.  Some examples that are easy to overlook are nearby condensate discharges, other system exhausts and precipitation.
  2. Depending on the type of compressor being used, a lower intake air temperature can increase the mass flow of air due to the air density.  A compressor that is lubricant injected is not susceptible to this due to the air mixing with the warmer lubricant before being compressed.

If you would like to discuss improving your compressed air efficiency or any of EXAIR’s engineered solutions, I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Images Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge and thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons.