Compressed Air System Maintenance

Air Compressor and Storage Tanks

Compressed air is the life blood of a manufacturing plant, and the air compressor would be considered the heart. To keep things “fit”, it is important to check all areas and to optimize your system to keep your plant running safely and efficiently. You do not have to be a doctor to do these “operations”. If your compressor fails, the entire facility will stop working. In this blog, I will cover some simple preventative maintenance that can really help you.

As margins get tighter and cost of manufacturing climbs, industries are looking into other areas to be more economical. A big focus today is the compressed air system. Compressed air is considered to be a “forth” utility behind gas, water, and electricity, and it is a necessary to run your pneumatic systems. But it is the least efficient of the utilities. So, it is very important to use this utility as practical as possible and to use a PM program to keep it going.

If we start at the beginning of your compressed air system, this would jump us to the air compressor. This is the machine that uses an electric or gas motor to spin a crank. It compresses the ambient air into a small volume to generate stored energy to be used by your pneumatic systems. Because the air compressor is complex and intricate, I would recommend a trained service personnel to do the maintenance. But, if your staff is familiar with air compressors, I wrote a blog to help look at certain parts periodically. You can read it here: “6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)”.

The next part after the air compressor is to look at the aftercoolers, compressed air dryers, receiver tanks, filters, and condensate drains. Some facilities may only have some of these items.

The aftercoolers are designed to cool the exit air from your air compressor. It uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature. It is easy to check the fan to verify that it is spinning and to keep the coils clean from debris.

The compressed air dryers can range in size and type. For the refrigerant type air dryers, you should periodically check the freon compressor with ohm and amp readings, the condensers for cleaning, and the super heat temperature as well. For desiccant type air dryers, you will need to check the operation of the valves. Valves are used to regenerate one side of the desiccant bed. The valves can fail and stick either open or closed. In either way, if the desiccant cannot regenerate, then it will allow moisture to go down stream and eventually destroy the desiccant beads.

The receiver tanks have safety relief valves that will need to be checked to make sure that they are not leaking. If they are, they should be changed.

As for the filters, they collect contamination from the compressed air stream. This will include liquid water, oil, and dirt. A pressure drop will start to increase with the contaminants, which will reduce the potential energy. If they do not have pressure drop indicators, you should have two points of references for pressure readings. You should change the filter elements when the pressure drop reaches 10 PSID (0.7 bar) or after 1 year.

With all these items above, water is created. There should be condensate drains to discard the water. The most efficient types of condensate drains are the zero loss drains. Most condensate drains will have a test button to be pressed to verify that they open. If they do not open, they should be replaced or fixed. Do not place a valve on them and partially open for draining. For float type drains, they will have a pin inside that can be pressed to open. You can verify that all the liquid has been expelled.

The distribution system are the pipes and tubes that run compressed air from the supply side to the demand side of your pneumatic system. One of the largest problems affecting the distribution system are leaks. That quiet little hissing sound from the pipe lines is costing your company much money. A study was conducted by a university to determine the percentage of air leaks in a typical manufacturing plant. In a poorly maintained system, they found on average of 30% of the compressor capacity is lost through air leaks.

To put a dollar value on it, a leak that you cannot physically hear can cost you as much as $130/year. That is just for one inaudible leak in hundreds of feet of compressed air lines. Unlike a hydraulic system, compressed air is clean; so, leaks will not appear at the source. So, you have to find them by some other means.

Digital Flowmeter


EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector

Most leaks occur where you have threaded fittings, connections, hoses, and pneumatic components like valves, regulators, and drains. EXAIR has two products in our Optimization product line that are designed to help find leaks in your compressed air system.

The Ultrasonic Leak Detectors can find air leaks, and the Digital Flowmeters can monitor your system for loss of air. When an air leaks occur, it emits an ultrasonic noise caused by turbulence. These ultrasonic noises can be at a frequency above audible hearing for human. The EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector can pick up these high frequencies to make inaudible leaks audible.

With the Digital Flowmeters, you can continuously check your system for waste and record it with a USB Datalogger.  Air leaks can occur at any time within any section of your pneumatic system.  With a Digital Flowmeter, you can also isolate an area to watch for any flow readings; telling you that the air is leaking in that section.  With both products included in your leak-preventative program, you will be able to reduce your waste and optimize your compressed air system.

Family of Nozzles

At the point-of-use areas, this is the easiest target area for compressed air maintenance. If you are using open tubes or drilled pipes for blowing, they are loud, inefficient, and unsafe. They can be easily change to an engineered blow-off product from EXAIR which are very efficient and OSHA safe. EXAIR offers a range of Super Air Nozzles and Super Air Knives to simply replace the current blow-off devices that overuse compressed air. If we go back to the beginning of your system, the air compressor is a mechanical device which will have a MTBF, or Mean Time Between Failures. The hour meter on your air compressor is like a life monitor. By using less compressed air, your air compressor will extend that time in MTBF.

Keeping your compressed air system running optimally is very important for a business to run. With a simple maintenance program, it can help you with your pneumatic operations and energy savings. Like stated above, your compressed air system is the life blood of your company, and you do not need a PhD to keep it well maintained. Just follow the target areas above. If you would like to discuss further about the health of your compressed air system, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR. We will be happy to help “diagnose” a solution.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Contaminated Air Supply Leads To Unwanted Results

Rust from the air supply found inside a compressed a Reversible Drum Vac.

One of the greatest attributes of EXAIR products is their ability to stay in operation for years on end without any maintenance.  With no moving parts to wear out, there really is little-to-no upkeep required.  So, when we receive notice from a customer that an EXAIR product is not working properly, we most always seek to establish the pressure, volume, and quality of the compressed air supply.  By examining these three variables, we can usually pinpoint the source of the performance discrepancy.

I had an exercise in this routine a few days ago with a Reversible Drum Vac (RDV).  The RDV had arrived at EXAIR after the customer noticed a drop in performance.  The RDV went from operating normally to gradually loosing strong vacuum when vacuuming liquids out of a coolant sump.

The end user and I discussed the air supply pressure, line size, and available volume of compressed air to operate the RDV which all seemed to be in order.  Compressed air supply pressure was 80 PSIG, they were using the EXAIR supplied (properly sized for the product) compressed air hose, and the unit had functioned in this exact setup for some time, so we were confident in the ability of the compressed air system to supply adequate volume.

In most cases, when an RDV gradually loses vacuum, or experiences a change in performance without a change in application parameters, contaminants from the compressed air system can be found inside of the RDV.  And, that is exactly what happened here.

Reversible Drum Vac “plug” – notice the rust on the everything below the O-ring (everything in contact with the compressed air supply)

I first tested the RDV for vacuum level and flow, both of which were low.  When I disassembled the RDV I noticed what looked like rust on all surfaces which are in contact with the compressed air stream (photo above).

Internals of the Reversible Drum Vac “body”; littered with rust

Then, I peered into the body of the drum vac and saw the root of the problem – dirt and rust from the compressed air system had accumulated within the RDV, restricting compressed air flow and causing the decay in performance.

Rust and shim as they were dumped out of the Reversible Drum Vac body
Another photo of the rust

After a quick cleaning of the RDV, performance was perfect and the RDV was ready to go back into operation.  The end user and I discussed my findings along with proper air filtration to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.  They were glad to know their RDV was in working order, and we were both glad to confirm the root cause.  With a new filter separator installed at the compressed air line feeding this RDV, trouble-free and maintenance-free performance can be expected for a long time to come.

If you have a similar application need, or think an EXAIR solution may benefit your process, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer