Top Factors for Air Compressor & System Maintenance

Performing regular maintenance on your compressor system helps to keep everything operating in peak condition and ensures you’re not wasting unnecessary energy. Just as you perform regular routine maintenance on your vehicles, a compressed air system also needs a little TLC to keep things running smoothly. Neglected maintenance items can lead to increased energy costs, high operating temperatures, and coolant carryover. Much of these issues can be eliminated simply by performing routine maintenance on the components of the system.

According to the Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems by the Compressed Air Challenge (1), components within the system that need maintained include: the compressor, heat exchanger surfaces, lubricant, lubricant filter, air inlet filter, motors, belts, and air/oil separators.  

The compressor and all surfaces of the heat exchanger need to be kept clean and free of contaminants. When these components are dirty, compressor efficiency is greatly reduced. Any fans and water pumps should also be regularly inspected to ensure that they’re functioning properly. The air inlet filter and piping should also be cleaned. The quality of the air in the facility will impact the frequency, refer to the manufacturer’s specifications for ideal intervals for performing scheduled maintenance.

The lubricant and lubricant filter must also be changed per manufacturer’s specifications. Old coolant can become corrosive, impacting useful life and damaging other components while reducing efficiency. While synthetic lubricants are available that have an extended life compared to standard coolants, this does not extend the life of the lubricant filter itself.

Belts should be routinely checked for tension (every 400 hours is reasonable) to alleviate bearing wear. Belts will stretch and wear under normal operation and must be adjusted periodically. It’s a good practice to keep some spares on hand in the event of a failure.

End use filters, regulators, and lubricators should also be periodically inspected and filter elements replaced as needed. If left unchecked, a clogged filter will increase pressure drop. This can cause both a reduction of pressure at the point of use or an increase in the pressure supplied by the compressor, leading to increased energy costs.

Another often overlooked maintenance item is leak detection and repair. Leaks contribute to unnecessary air usage, pressure drop, and increased energy costs. EXAIR offers an Ultrasonic Leak Detector that can be used to identify the leaks in your system and allow you to make the necessary repairs.

EXAIR Ultrasonic Leak Detector

In order to keep your system running in peak condition, regular maintenance is critical. By paying close attention to the manufacture’s recommendations, and implementing a regular maintenance schedule, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your system components.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

(1) Scales, W. (2021). Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems : Second Edition (2nd ed.). The Compressed Air Challenge,.

Compressor system image courtesy of Compressor1 via Flickr Creative Commons License

Determining Leakage Rate and Cost of Compressed Air Leaks

The electricity costs associated with the generation of compressed air make it the most expensive utility within an industrial environment. In a   poorly maintained compressor system, up to 30% of the total operational costs can be attributed simply to compressed air leaks. While this wasted energy is much like throwing money into the air, it can also cause your compressed air system to lose pressure. This can reduce the ability of the end use products to function properly, negatively impacting production rates and overall quality. Luckily, it’s quite easy to estimate the leakage rate and is something that you should be including in your regular PM schedule.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a well-maintained system should have a leakage rate of less than 5-10% of the average system demand. To estimate what your leakage rate is across the facility, first start by shutting off all of the point of use compressed air products so that there’s no demand on the system. Then, start the compressor and record the average time it takes for the compressor to cycle on/off. The compressor will load and unload as the air leaks cause a pressure drop from air escaping. The percentage of total leakage can be calculated using the following formula:

Leakage % = [(T x 100) / (T + t)]

Where:

T = loaded time (seconds)

T = unloaded time (seconds)

The leakage rate will be given in a percentage of total compressor capacity lost. This value should be less than 10% for a well-maintained system. It is not uncommon within a poorly maintained system to experience losses as high as 20-40% of the total capacity and power.

A leak that is equivalent to the size of a 1/16” diameter hole will consume roughly 3.8 SCFM at a line pressure of 80 PSIG. If you don’t know your company’s air cost, a reasonable average is $0.25 per 1,000 SCF. Let’s calculate what the cost would be for a plant operating 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

3.8 SCFM x 60 minutes x $0.25/1,000 SCFM =

$0.06/hour

$0.06 x 24 hours =

$1.44/ day

$1.44 x 7 days x 52 weeks =

$524.16 per year

A small leak of just 3.8 SCFM would end up costing $524.16. This is just ONE small leak! Odds are there’s several throughout the facility, quickly escalating your operating costs. If you can hear a leak, it’s a pretty severe one. Most leaks aren’t detectable by the human ear and require a special instrument to convert the ultrasonic sound created into something that we can pick up. For that, EXAIR has our Model 9061 Ultrasonic Leak Detector.

ULD_Pr
Model 9061 ULD w/ parabola attachment checking for compressed air leaks

Implementing a regular procedure to determine your leakage rate in the facility as well as a compressed air audit to locate, tag, and fix any known leaks should be a priority. The savings that you can experience can be quite dramatic, especially if it’s not something that has ever been done before!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Intelligent Compressed Air: Compressed Air System Components

In any manufacturing environment, compressed air is critical to the operation of many processes. You will often hear compressed air referred to as a “4th utility” in a manufacturing environment. The makeup of a compressed air system is usually divided into two primary parts: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side consists of components before and including the pressure/flow controller. The demand side then consists of all the components after the pressure/flow controller.

The first primary component in the system is the air compressor itself. There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy.

Still on the supply side, but installed after the compressor, are aftercoolers, and compressed air dryers. An aftercooler is designed to cool the air down upon exiting from the compressor. During the compression, heat is generated that carries into the air supply. An aftercooler uses a fan to blow ambient air across coils to lower the compressed air temperature.

When air leaves the aftercooler, it is typically saturated since atmospheric air contains moisture. In higher temperatures, the air is capable of holding even more moisture. When this air is then cooled, it can no longer contain all of that moisture and is lost as condensation. The temperature at which the moisture can no longer be held is referred to as the dewpoint. Dryers are installed in the system to remove unwanted moisture from the air supply. Types of dryers available include: refrigerant dryers, desiccant dryers, and membrane dryers.

Also downstream of the compressor are filters used to remove particulate, condensate, and lubricant. Desiccant and deliquescent-type dryers require a pre-filter to protect the drying media from contamination that can quickly render it useless. A refrigerant-type dryer may not require a filter before/after, but any processes or components downstream can be impacted by contaminants in the compressed air system.

Moving on to the demand side, we have the distribution system made up of a network of compressed air piping, receiver tanks when necessary, and point of use filters/regulators. Compressed air piping is commonly available as schedule 40 steel pipe, copper pipe, and aluminum pipe. Some composite plastics are available as well, however PVC should NEVER be used for compressed air as some lubricants present in the air can act as a solvent and degrade the pipe over time.

Receiver tanks are installed in the distribution system to provide a source of compressed air close to the point of use, rather than relying on the output of the compressor. The receiver tank acts as a “battery” for the system, storing compressed air energy to be used in periods of peak demand. This helps to maintain a stable compressed air pressure. It improves the overall performance of the system and helps to prevent pressure drop.

Finally, we move on to the point-of-use. While particulate and oil removal filters may be installed at the compressor output, it is still often required to install secondary filtration immediately at the point-of-use to remove any residual debris, particulate, and oil. Receiver tanks and old piping are both notorious for delivering contaminants downstream, after the initial filters.

Regulator and filter

In any application necessitating the use of compressed air, pressure should be controlled to minimize the air consumption at the point of use. Pressure regulators are available to control the air pressure within the system and throttle the appropriate supply of air to any pneumatic device. While one advantage of a pressure regulator is certainly maintaining consistent pressure to your compressed air devices, using them to minimize your pressure can result in dramatic savings to your costs of compressed air. As pressure and flow are directly related, lowering the pressure supplied results in less compressed air usage.

EXAIR manufactures a wide variety of products utilizing this compressed air to help you with your process problems. If you’d like to discuss your compressed air system, or have an application that necessitates an Intelligent Compressed Air Product, give us a call.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Compressor Image courtesy of Compressor1 via Creative Commons License

Non Hazardous Purge Cabinet Cooler Systems

Last fall, when our youngest “flew the coop” and moved into a dormitory to begin his college experience, my lovely bride and I also embarked upon an exciting adventure: finding, purchasing, and moving in to our “empty nest” dream house.  While packing up the contents of the house where we had raised a United States Marine AND a hippie college student, I moved my trusty laptop from its perch on a desk in a dark basement corner, where it had resided, in that one spot, for more than a couple years.

As I was looking for its carrying case, I noticed the fan grill was almost completely obscured with more than a couple years’ worth of environmental contamination (or dust).  I vacuumed out the grill, but wondered how much more environmental contamination (dust) had made its way into the deep recesses of the laptop…and more importantly, what might it be doing to the sensitive electronics inside my trusty internet browsing device?

If a computer’s fan in a residential environment can get this dusty, imagine how much worse a control panel on a factory floor can get.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but electronics and dust don’t mix.  We have this conversation a LOT with callers inquiring about our Cabinet Cooler Systems.  The protection they offer against environmental contamination is integral with the protection they offer against heat.  In the panel cooling market, our Cabinet Cooler Systems are unique in that respect: a total protection solution.

When properly installed on a sealed enclosure, the only thing the inside of that enclosure is ever exposed to is cold, clean, moisture free air.  But what if the enclosure can’t be completely sealed?  One option is to use a Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System.  It works just as the name implies:  cold air is continuously flowing into the enclosure, creating a constant purge flow…if that cold air is blowing out of any openings in the enclosure, there’s no way for environmental contamination to get in.  Problem solved.

Well…almost.  Something else I’m sure you already know is, compressed air is costly.  Organizations like the Compressed Air & Gas Institute (CAGI) and the Compressed Air Challenge (CAC), who are devoted to optimizing industrial use of compressed air, have lists of “inappropriate uses of compressed air”, and panel cooling is on that list…EXCEPT when they’re thermostatically controlled.  At EXAIR, we couldn’t agree more, and if a caller asks any of us Application Engineers about a Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System, they’re inviting us in to a conversation about that.

Sometimes, the initial question is cost…well, we have to pay for the components that make up the Thermostat Controls, so we ask our customers who want those products to as well.   A quick conversation about the operating cost of continuous operation vs thermostat control is usually all that’s required in those cases.

Other times, a panel that can’t be sealed is installed in a particularly dusty or dirty environment, and they want the continuous flow of cold air, as described above, to keep those contaminants out.  A Continuous Operation Cabinet Cooler System will, of course, do that.  But EXAIR wants you to get the most out of your compressed air use, so we developed a “best of both worlds” solution: Non-Hazardous Purge Cabinet Cooler Systems.  Here’s how they work:

  • Based on a few key pieces of data that you can submit in our Cabinet Cooler Systems Sizing Guide, we’ll specify the appropriate Cabinet Cooler System to manage that heat load.
  • The system will be thermostatically controlled: a bimetallic Thermostat, mounted inside the panel, will open and close the Solenoid Valve plumbed in the compressed air supply to operate the Cabinet Cooler as needed to maintain temperature inside the panel.
  • The Solenoid Valve is modified to pass a small amount of air flow (1 SCFM) even when it’s closed.  This saves you from using the full rated air consumption of the Cabinet Cooler when cold air isn’t required, and still maintains enough purge air flow to prevent environmental contaminants from entering a less-than-ideally-sealed enclosure.

Whatever you do, DON’T do THIS to your panel.

The Non-Hazardous Purge option is just one way that EXAIR Corporation can help you address specific environmental challenges that may be presented in electrical and electronic panel cooling applications.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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